Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William C. Somerville (b. 1790 - d. 1826)
MSA SC 5496-050792
War of 1812 Claimant, St. Mary's County, Maryland


William Clarke Somerville was born March 25, 1790 in Maryland to William A. Somerville and his wife Elizabeth Hebb.1 William C. Somerville never married or had children. However, he was engaged to Sarah Conyers of Richmond, Virginia but she unfortunately lost her life in a fire at the Richmond Theatre in 1811.2 Somerville was later engaged to Cora Livingston, daughter of the Hon. Edward Livingston, Secretary of State, under President Andrew Jackson.3 Somerville inherited Mulberry Fields from his father William A. Somerville.4 He later renamed Mulberry Fields to Montalbino.5

Somerville served as an army major in the War of 1812 which lead to his tour of Europe.6 During the war, six of Somerville's slaves escape from his property to the British forces.7 Robin Bond a slave belonging to Somerville's brother Henry V. Somerville fled to the British at the same time as his slaves.8 Slaves belonging to Somerville's father also escaped. William Somerville owned 48 slaves prior to the war.9 In 1821, Somerville applied to the General Assembly to remove two negro slaves, George and Jacob, from the District of Columbia to St. Mary's County for his use and benefit.10 

George Plater the V, the step nephew of William C. Somerville, deeded his inherited property Sotterley to Somerville in July 1822.11 However, Somerville sold Sotterley to Thomas Barber shortly after the transaction.12 At this time William Somerville purchased Stratford Hall, the birth place of Robert E. Lee, in Virginia.13 Stratford Hall came with a library that consisted of about 3,000 books, some of which Somerville later tried to sell to Thomas Jefferson.14 Somerville was also a writer of books and published "Letters from Paris, on the Causes and Consequences of the Revolution" in 1822.15 

In that same year Somerville was appointed United States Minister of Sweden by John Quincy Adams.16 During this time he travelled extensively through Europe. William Somerville died January 5, 1826 in France while he was on a diplomatic mission for the United States.17 The Marquis de Lafayette wrote a letter from France to Somerville's brother Henry, notifying him of William's death.18 Somerville was buried at the Chateau de la grange, estate of the Marquis de Lafayette, in France.19 Prior to his death William Somerville wrote a will which was given to the Marquis de Lafayette to be forwarded along to his brother Henry V. Somerville.20 In his will he left everything to his brother Henry V. Somerville including his remaining slaves, whom he wanted to be gradually manumitted once they arrived at a certain age.21 One slave Jacob he stated would be allowed to purchase himself. for $150 to be paid to Somerville's brother Henry.22
1.    Charles B. Tiernan, The Tiernan Family in Maryland, (Baltimore: Gallery and McCann, 1898), 92.
2.    ibid.
3.    ibid, 114.
4.    "Mulberry Fields," Maryland Historical Trust Inventory of Historic Properties,
5.    ibid, 8.
6.    ibid.
7.    Claim of William C. Somerville, St. Mary's County, Case No. 643, Case Files. Ca. 1814-1828, entry 190, Record Group 76, National Archives, College Park.
8.    ibid.
9.    ST. MARY'S COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE TAX (Assessment Record, Slaves) 1804-1821 [C1544]
10.  GENERAL ASSEMBLY (lAWS), 1820. MdHR 820908-1, 2/2/6/ 12
11.   David G. Brown, Sotterley: Her People and Their Worlds (Baltimore: Chesapeake Book Company, 2010), 50.
12.    ibid, 51.
13.    Tiernan, 103.
14.    Letter to William Clarke Somerville, 1823 May 29. Small Special Collections at the University of Virginia, MSS 10028.
15.    William Clarke Somerville, Letters from Paris, on the Causes and Consequences of the French Revolution (Baltimore: Edward J. Coale, 1822).
16.    "From the Paris Constitutionnel, 23 January 1826." Daily National Intelligencer. 5 April 1826, 1
17.    Tiernan, 109.
18.    ibid.
19.    "From the Paris Constitutionnel, 23 January 1826." Daily National Intelligencer. 5 April 1826, 1.
20.    Tiernan, 109.
21.    ibid, 107.
22.    ibid, 108.

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