Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thomas Moore (1760-1822)
MSA SC 3520-15918


Born in 1760 in Trenton, New Jersey. Son of Thomas Moore Sr. (1730-1799) and Elizabeth Moore. Four Siblings: Amy Moore (Taylor), Asa Moore, James Moore, Ann Moore (McCormick). Married Mary Brooke (July 27, 1760 - July 6, 1840) on September 21, 1791. Four Children: Mary Moore Jr. (b. July 8, 1794); Asa Moore (b. April 25, 1797); Ann Moore (b. November 17, 1799); Caleb Moore (b. April 26, 1802). Died October 22, 1822 in Brookeville, Maryland.

Thomas Moore Jr. was a farmer, inventor, entrepreneur, surveyor, and engineer who worked on several significant public works projects and contributed to the development of better agricultural methods in the years of the early Republic. Moore lived in Brookeville, Maryland, a town outside of Washington D.C. and worked closely with the leading national political figures of his day including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Mason. The respect and patronage that Moore earned from influential statesmen placed him in high positions, particularly as Chief Engineer for the Virginia Board of Public Works, an office that he held from 1818 until his death. However, Moore's professional skills were largely self-taught and he demonstrated technical deficiencies that led to criticism from his contemporaries, notably Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Today, Moore is best remembered for inventing an icebox for which he became the first to bestow the name refrigerator. 

Moore's grandfather, James Moore was a Quaker who lived most of his life in Waterford, Ireland. In 1740, illness killed his wife and six of his children. Looking to make a better life, James left Ireland for Philadelphia with his only surviving son, the ten-year-old Thomas Moore (Sr). In Philadelphia, Thomas Sr. was apprenticed to a shoemaker. In 1754, he endured expulsion from the Quaker community for marrying Elizabeth, a non-Quaker. The young couple left their city and moved to Trenton, New Jersey for the next decade. It was there that Thomas Moore Jr. was born in 1760.1

Three years later, the family petitioned to rejoin the Quaker Meeting in Trenton. With the consent of the Philadelphia branch, the Moores were brought back into the Meeting and the family remained devout for the next several generations. During the 1770s, the Moores returned to Philadelphia where they stayed throughout the Revolutionary War. In 1780, the family (then with five children) moved to Loudoun County, Virginia. While there, Moore began to learn the trade of cabinet making.2

On September 21, 1791, the 31-year-old Moore Jr. married Mary Brooke, a woman of the same age from the environs of Sandy Spring in Montgomery County, Maryland.3 Brooke was a daughter of Roger Brooke IV, and descended from one of the wealthiest landholders in the county. When Moore married Brooke, he was brought into this tight knit community of very successful and affluent Quaker families. Moore became a member of the community's Quaker religious meeting at Sandy Spring, where both he and his wife became incredibly active.4

His marriage also came with over 400 acres of land that Brooke had inherited from her father's death the year before. So, in 1794, Thomas Moore formally settled on Mary's inheritance and became the de facto owner. That same year, their first child, Mary Moore Jr., was born.5

Unfortunately for Moore, the soil on the property was of poor health.6 Perhaps to make ends meet through those initial years, Moore began to advertise a sale of two hundred eighty acres (over half his wife's land) as early as February 1795 and made the sale by June for a considerable amount of money.7 It was also in that year that he began to experiment with deeper plowing techniques in an attempt to return nutrients to the top soil.

In the following years from 1797 to 1800, two more children, Asa and Ann were born. Meanwhile, through trial and error, Moore achieved success in reviving the health of his farm by using a large plow of his own design. In 1801, these experiments culminated with a published treatise entitled The Great Error of American Agriculture Exposed. This small book outlined Moore's findings on such agricultural techniques as plowing and proper crop rotation.8 That year, in recognition for this achievement, Moore was elected President of the newly formed Farmer's Society of Sandy Spring.9 This organization (of which Moore was also a founding member) was dedicated to the improvement of agricultural methods in the community and disseminated those developments among its constituent farmers. 

Around 1800, Moore's brother-in-law and neighbor, Richard Thomas Jr., laid out a small town around his mill, which was also adjacent to Moore's farm. This town, called Brookeville, would quickly become a small outpost of industry in this otherwise agrarian county. The enterprising Moore found himself as a leading citizen in this town and participated in its growth. On April 26, 1802, his fourth and final child was born. He was named Caleb Moore, ostensibly after Moore's brother-in-law and fellow Brookville resident, Caleb Bentley.

Yet, at this point in his life, Moore was not so wealthy as his relatives and neighbors. Evidently, his treatise on agriculture had not been the financial success that he had hoped it would be. On April 2, 1802, Moore wrote to Secretary of State James Madison asking him to promote the book among the members of Congress, especially those from the southern states, for the express purpose of recouping the expense of publishing.10 It is not known if Madison complied. Although the two men would eventually become close acquaintances, perhaps even friends, they could not have known each other well at his point. Moore's request was written in an uncharacteristically formal style and he even managed to misspell Madison's name.

Nevertheless, like many of his generation, Moore was guided by ingenuity and a belief that necessity is the mother of invention. In 1802, Moore received a patent for an invention that he called a refrigerator.11 This device was a wooden box with a tin chamber inside. Moore placed ice between the wood and the tin and then insulated it with rabbit fur along the exterior. The result was a storage vessel that could keep its contents very cold for relatively long periods. He used it for transporting butter to market, although he recognized its potential for many other uses. Moore was so pleased with his refrigerator that, on June 21, 1802, he invited President Thomas Jefferson to visit him in Brookeville to inspect it.12 Jefferson was impressed and took notes and drawings of the refrigerator and even purchased one some years later. In 1803, Moore published a short pamphlet concerning his refrigerator and ice-houses. Through this pamphlet, Moore was able to promote his invention and supplement his income through the sale of patent rights.13

The years 1805 and 1806 marked a turning point in Moore's life. Early in 1805, he attracted the attention of the people of Georgetown and Washington when he was contracted to oversee construction of a causeway from Mason's Island (now Theodore Roosevelt Island National Park) in the Potomac River to the Virginia mainland. How Moore managed to construct this causeway or why he was chosen to do so is unknown. He had received no formal training in bridge construction and considered himself a farmer up until this point.14 Perhaps Moore's brother-in-law, the surveyor and engineer, Isaac Briggs was responsible for recommending him to Briggs's close friend John Mason, who owned the island. Regardless, the project effectively launched Moore's lifelong public works career. In addition, Moore earned the attention and respect of John Mason, who would prove to be an invaluable ally in the forthcoming years. It was also this project that likely touched off Moore's informal study of rivers and water flow.

On March 29, 1806, Congress approved an act to "regulate the laying out and making a road from Cumberland [Maryland]... to the State of Ohio."15 This act marked the infancy of what would become the National Road to the west. President Jefferson was authorized to appoint three commissioners to oversee the project and selected Thomas Moore that summer.16 Why Jefferson selected Moore is not clear, again owing to fact that he was without credentials. Yet, the two men knew each other well, and it is not impossible to imagine favoritism at play. Moreover, the act allowed for a surveyor to accompany the commissioners. Therefore, their task was largely logistical and technical expertise was not strictly necessary. Ten years later, the engineer Benjamin Henry Latrobe recalled in a letter to President James Madison that the "road was laid out by three Commissioners none of whom were professional men."17 

By August, Moore and the other commissioners set out with their surveyor and three assistants to mark a proposed route with stakes while writing a detailed report back to the President. Shortly after, Moore wrote to Jefferson trying to finagle more personal compensation than was originally approved by Congress. The reply was a stern reprimand from the U.S. Treasurer, Albert Gallatin.18

Moore's request is understandable given the difficult conditions in which he and the commissioners were working. The task was arduous and slow moving. In his report to Jefferson, Moore wrote that: "through a country so irregularly broken, and crowded with very thick underwood...the work has been found so incalculably tedious that, without an adequate idea of the difficulty, it is not easy to reconcile the delay."19 By December, the team had failed to complete their assignment before winter. They returned to the frontier in the spring of 1807, but by the time that Moore left the project in January of 1808, work still had not been completed.20 Difficult as the task probably was, it seems that Moore and the other commissioners were also ill-prepared. Nevertheless, in the end, Moore left the project with a much greater understanding of topography and surveying.        

After spending a year and a half in the frontier wilderness, Moore turned his attention to local affairs. Three years earlier, he purchased a piece of property on the west side of Brookeville which would eventually become the Brookeville Tannery. The tannery was primarily used to make soles and upper leathers for shoe manufacturing. He owned the tannery until 1818, when he sold it to William Woodward and Henry Howard. In 1809, he expanded his involvement in manufacturing, joining his two brothers-in-law, Isaac Briggs and Caleb Bentley to found a small town north of Brookeville known as Triadelphia.21 This community was centered around a diversified milling operation that principally processed cotton. Of the three men, Moore had the smallest investment but was still peripherally involved for the next twenty years. Unfortunately for Moore, it was never a profitable enterprise within his lifetime, although during the period of the War of 1812, the mills offered a great hope for independence from foreign imports. Also in 1809, Moore was elected to the American Philosophical Society, signaling his arrival into America's elite class of intellectuals.22

The following year, Moore's new notoriety earned him an offer from the Potomac Company to join them as chief engineer.23 This quasi-private company had been founded in 1785 by George Washington with the hopes of making the Potomac River a viable waterway to the Midwest through a system of canals that bypassed certain unnavigable rapids. At the time of his invitation, the president of the company was Moore's old friend John Mason. Although Moore turned down the offer, he maintained a professional relationship with the company for the rest of his life.

Moore passed on this opportunity because, in 1810, he was already engaged in a different engineering project on the Potomac. For the previous two decades, silt deposits had built up to such quantities in the Potomac that a large sandbank was obstructing ship traffic around Georgetown. The city council had been looking for a way of removing this impediment to support trade, and Moore proposed a solution as early as 1806 (shortly after completing the Mason's Island causeway).24 His plan called for the construction of an angled wing dam on each side of the river. Moore believed that these dams would push incoming water towards a fixed center point, thus increasing the speed and volume of water flow. This powerful stream of water would then hit the sandbank, forcing out the silt and deepening the ship channel.  

The Georgetown City Council approved the plan and contracted Moore and his neighbor David Newlin to construct the dams and maintain them for two years. Newlin was the owner of his own milling operation in Brookeville where he produced plaster and therefore could provide building materials at a low cost. The two men stood to gain a lot from the project. Whereas Moore had been paid four dollars a day to lay out the national road, he and Newlin would make a total of $10,000 if the plan worked, and $5,000 even if it did not.25

Work began in September 1810, but there was dissent almost immediately. The Washington Bridge Company obtained a temporary court injunction against the project out of fear that the forced water might damage their bridge downstream. Work was halted until the court could make a final judgment that January.26

To build their case, the Washington Bridge Company called in Benjamin Henry Latrobe as an expert witness. Latrobe was, arguably, the foremost American engineer and architect of his day. Born to American parents in England and educated there, Latrobe was (and still is) well-respected for designing many early American building projects, notably the U.S. Capitol Building. He was initially hesitant to testify out of respect for Moore's reputation and financial interests. However, when Latrobe was summoned to court, he had no alternative but to provide his honest opinion. His experience had taught him that water hitting the walls of the wing dams would not be funneled into the center of the river but rather, deflected outwards creating eddies and rogue currents. Moreover, he testified that the project might damage the Washington Bridge. On January 23, 1811, the court placed a moratorium on the project based on his testimony.27

Immediately, the citizens of Georgetown sought to petition congress to overturn the decision. In the meantime, Moore wrote to Latrobe on February 2 and in a curt letter, subtly threatened to go to the press if Latrobe did not retract his opinion. When Latrobe incredulously rebuffed the threat, Moore denied ever making it.28 Nevertheless, Moore subsequently published an attack in both a local newspaper and a separate pamphlet.29 The attack campaign contained Latrobe's private correspondence to Moore alongside Moore's own 28 page critique of Latrobe's deposition. In his response, published a year later, Latrobe noted that Moore's "publications are in many places so inaccurate as to be unintelligible."30

His project in limbo, Moore turned back to the Potomac Company for work. Probably with much regret and frustration, he was hired as a consultant for the engineer now in the position he had turned down only a year earlier.31

The following year, a Congressional hearing convened to examine the petition of the citizens of Georgetown. In March 1812, Latrobe was called in again and delivered much the same testimony.32 He published this deposition along with a detailed version of his argument and a rebuttal of Moore's pamphlet in April.33 By May 20, Latrobe wrote that he was confident that the House of Representatives would heed his advice, uphold the court's decision, and permanently kill the project despite continued protestations from Moore and the people of Georgetown.34 The bill supporting Moore and Newlin's construction died before the House of Representatives ever voted on it. Less than a month later, war was declared on Great Britain and the War of 1812 drew attention away from the controversy.

Despite this setback for Moore, the war brought another opportunity. Starting around 1813, he secured employment as chief manager of the Union Manufacturing Company near Ellicott's Mills.35 The large factory produced textiles from cotton, similar to the Triadelphia Mills but on a much larger scale. To keep up with the demand of the war, the company constructed a second mill in 1813 and worked over 6,300 spindles. On December 15, 1815, shortly before the end of the war, part of the factory burned down.36 It's not clear how long Moore worked for the company or if he oversaw the mill during the fire. 

Regardless, by 1817, Moore was back in Brookeville to oversee the construction of his new mansion, "Longwood." Moore's nephew Thomas McCormick, a carpenter and future Methodist minister, built this elegant brick neoclassical house around the frame of the old Moore home, a log structure that the Moores had named "Retreat."37 The grandeur of Longwood was a clear status symbol for the man who had built a reputation of success among his friends and neighbors. "Longwood's" fine construction solidified its place as an outstanding example of Montgomery County architecture that still stands today. Back in Brookeville for a short time, Moore kept busy. He once more became involved in the Quaker meeting at Sandy Spring, becoming an elder in the local meeting.38 He also took on duties at the Triadelphia factory and in Brookeville, writing to Isaac Briggs that "a great proportion of the Triadelphia Business and of the concern at Brookeville have fallen to my lot. Those are both bad concerns and have given me a great deal of trouble."39

Perhaps not coincidentally, Moore achieved the zenith of his career one year later. In 1818, by the recommendation of John Mason, Moore was selected as the Chief Engineer to the Board of Public Works of the State of Virginia.40 The position paid a handsome salary of $3,500 per year plus expenses. As Chief Engineer, it was Moore's responsibility to oversee the various public works projects underway in the state, make assessments of their progress, and advise the Board with expert opinions. Moore was principally engaged in evaluating the viability of the Potomac Canal.

In 1819, the Potomac Company (the same one that Moore had worked for several years prior) applied to the Virginia Board of Public Works for assistance in judging how best to proceed with its burgeoning debt and stalled progress. The company had been floundering for decades and many believed that it could no longer fulfill its mission. In response, the General Assembly of Virginia directed Moore to examine the length of the Potomac from Washington D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland to determine whether or not transportation on the river was still possible. If not, Moore was also to evaluate the possibility of a continuous canal independent of the river. Moore started on June 30, 1820 and submitted his completed report on December 27 of that year.41

His report was mildly supportive of continuing efforts to make the Potomac navigable over an independent canal. He provided conservative estimates as to cost for both alternatives, but largely deferred to the legislature to decide the next course of action without taking a strong stance either way.42 By January, the Virginia and Maryland legislatures had worked together and assembled a new committee to further examine the issue. This time, Moore was joined by Isaac Briggs and five other men from both sides of the Potomac. It was their initial impression that the Potomac Company's current state of fiscal ruin had put it past the point of no return. On July 31, 1822, the committee set out to examine the course of the river with a new objective: to seriously evaluate the possibility of an independent canal that relied on a system of locks rather than the natural slope of the river.43

By September the commissioners' progress was halted by a bout of sickness resulting from the malarial swamp-like conditions of the river. On September 18, 1822, the group disbanded and left Moore (who was until then healthy) to continue alone.44 Shortly after, Moore contracted typhoid and stumbled back to Brookeville in a state of delirium. He died there on October 22, 1822.

Supposedly, while on his deathbed, Moore asked Briggs to finish the report that they had started together.45 This new report, submitted to the Governor of Maryland on January 27, 1823, was primarily authored by Briggs, but was based off of much of the data that Moore had collected. In it, Briggs was so heavily critical of the old Potomac Canal plan that it single-handedly killed the project.46 In its place arose the genesis of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Jackson Gilman-Forlini, DAR Research Fellow, 2012.


  1. Bronwen C. Souders,  "Thomas Moore, From Waterford to Waterford," (Waterford, VA: The Waterford Foundation), Information regarding the early history of the family can be found among the Quaker records kept at the Swarthmore Friends Library in Swarthmore, PA. 
  2. T.H.S. Boyd, The History of Montgomery County, Maryland from its Earliest Settlement in 1650 to 1879, (Clarksburg Maryland, 1879), pp. 90-93. A few unconfirmed anecdotes such as this one exist in a biographical sketch of Moore found in this volume. They appear to have been the childhood recollections of Moore's nephew, Thomas McCormick when he was eighty-eight years old.  
  3. Monthly Meeting at the Clifts Collection, marriage certificates from Sandy Spring, West River, and Indian Springs meetings, marriage certificate, Thomas Moore and Mary Brooke, September 21, 1791, pp. 203-204 [MSA SC 2978, SCM 639-1].
  4. Mary became an elder (a leader and role model in the community) herself in 1806. See Baltimore Quarterly Meeting, West River: (Minutes) Ministers and Elders, 1759-1814, February 1, 1806 [MSA SC 3123 SCM 574]. Thomas himself served as a representative to many Quarterly and Yearly meetings. He also participated in one of the meeting's causes. In 1803, he and a group of Quakers petitioned the Maryland General Assembly to protect the freedom of freed slaves. See Letter, Thomas Moore to Dear Brother (Isaac Briggs), Retreat, 11/12/1803, Brookeville Letters Vertical File, Sandy Spring Museum, Sandy Spring MD; see also General Assembly, Votes and Proceedings of the House of Delegates, November Session 1803, p. 18, Archives of Maryland Online [MSA SCM 3198, p. 394]. Notably, Moore never owned slaves, a testament to his devotion to his faith.
  5. Sandy Spring Meeting records, Register of Births and Deaths: Births, pp. 25-26 [MSA SC 2978 , SCM 667-3, 638-1].
  6. Thomas Moore, The Great Error of American Agriculture Exposed (Baltimore: Bonsal and Niles, 1801), p. 30.
  7. Advertisement, "Land for Sale," Federal Intelligencer, (Baltimore, Maryland), February 24, 1795, p. 4; MONTGOMERY COUNTY COURT (Land Records) June 29, 1795, Deed of Sale from Thomas Moore to William Gaither, part of tract of land known as Addition to Brooke Grove, Liber F-7, p. 15 [MSA CE 148-7].
  8. Thomas Moore, The Great Error of American Agriculture Exposed (Baltimore: Bonsal and Niles, 1801).
  9. "Agricultural Society," The New York Gazette, November 20, 1801 (New York, NY), p. 3.  
  10. Thomas Moore to James Madison, 2 April 1802, Letter, James Madison Papers 1723-1836, Library of Congress.
  11. Thomas Moore, An Essay on the Most Eligible Construction of Ice-Houses (Baltimore: Bonsal and Niles, 1803).
  12. Thomas Moore to Thomas Jefferson, 21 June 1802, Letter, Thomas Jefferson Papers 1606-1827. Library of Congress.
  13. Moore, An Essay on Ice-Houses. 
  14. Robert J. Kapsch, The Potomac Canal (Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2007), p. 272; In his 1803 pamplet on refrigeration Moore wrote, perhaps prematurely, that "the height of my ambition is to become a good practical farmer." 
  15. Thomas B. Searight, The Old Pike (Uniontown, PA: 1894), p. 25-27.
  16. Searight, The Old Pike, p. 28.
  17. Benjamin Henry Latrobe to James Madison, 8 April 1816, The Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe Vol. 3, Tina H. Sheller, et. al., eds. (New Haven: Yale University, 1988), p. 750.
  18. Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Moore, 16 September 1806, Jefferson Papers.  
  19. Searight, Old Pike, p. 40. 
  20. Ibid.
  21. Esther B. Stabler, "Triadelphia: Forgotten Maryland Town," Maryland Historical Magazine 43, no. 2 (1948) p. 108-120. Although Stabler's article is poorly cited, her descendancy from the greater Brooke family, her ownership of primary documents, and her general accuracy with corroborative details makes her account of Triadelphia (the only scholarly one to date) fairly reliable. 
  22. American Philosophical Society website, Member History/Directory, (Search for Thomas Moore in search bar).
  23. Kapsch, Potomac Canal,p. 273.
  24. Thomas Moore, Address to Citizens of Georgetown and Washington, on Improving the Navigation of the River Potomac (Georgetown, D.C. 1806).
  25. "Ship Channel to Georgetown," Agricultural Museum 1, no. 6 (12 September 1810) p. 96. 
  26. Injunction to Corporation of Georgetown et al., issued 17 Sept. 1810, Washington Bridge Company et al. v. Corporation of Georgetown et al., RG 21, National Archives.
  27. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Opinion on a Project for Removing the Obstruction to a Ship Navigation to Georgetown (Washington, D.C., 1812).
  28. Thomas Moore to Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 7 February 1811, Papers of Latrobe, p. 28-30. 
  29. Papers of Latrobe, pp.47-48 n.5.; Spirit of 'Seventy-Six (Georgetown, D.C.); Thomas Moore, Ship Navigation to Georgetown (n.p., 1811).
  30. Latrobe, Opinion on a Project, p. iii. 
  31. Kapsch, Potomac Canal, p. 273.
  32. Sheller, et. al., Papers of Latrobe, pp. 47-48 N5.
  33. Sheller, et. al., Papers of Latrobe, pp. 47-48 N5.
  34. Sheller, et. al., Papers of Latrobe, pp. 47-48 N5.
  35. Advertisement, "Woolen Manufacturers," Baltimore Patriot, June 12, 1813; Boyd, History of Montgomery, p. 91. 
  36. The amount of spindles operating at the Triadelphia mill was quite extraordinary in comparison to similar local mills. For example, David Newlin's woolen mill was operating with only 400 spindles by 1820: Fourth Census of the United States, 1820, Manufactures (Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1965) p. 199, 22, 239; James Walter Peirce, Guide To Patapsco Valley Mill Sites, (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2004). 
  37. "Longwood," Sandy Spring Museum Website, via Internet Archive Wayback Machine, accessed 14 November 2013.
  38. Quarterly Meeting for the Western Shore; Rough Minutes, Ministers and Elders, 1814-1826, May 10, 1817, p. 28 [MSA SC 3123 SCM 574-1].
  39. Letter, Thomas Moore to Isaac Briggs, 26 November 1817, Sandy Spring Museum.
  40. Kapsch, Potomac Canal, p. 289.
  41. George Washington Ward, The Early Development of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Project (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1899), pp. 39-43.
  42. Kapsch, Potomac Canal, p. 289.
  43. Ward, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, pp. 39-43. 
  44. Kapsch, Potomac Canal, p. 237.
  45. Commissioners of the States of Maryland and Virginia, Message of the Governor of Maryland Transmitting A Report of the Commisioners Appointed to Survey the River Potomac, January 1, 1823 (Annapolis: J. Hughes, 1822).
  46. Kapsch, Potomac Canal, pp. 291-296.

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