Painting a family portrait

Exhibit: Warfield descendants include several prominent people, and their history will be on display in Howard County.

November 20, 2003|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Richard Warfield was alone when he came to Maryland as an indentured servant in the mid-1600s, but today his descendants are spread across the state and the world.

An exhibit opening Saturday at the Howard County Historical Society highlights some of the members of the Warfield family tree - including two Maryland governors, a famous writer and an infamous duchess - and offers glimpses of life in past centuries.

When Jean Keenan, a Warfield descendant and Historical Society volunteer, suggested the display, Executive Director Michael Walczak said he wasn't sure it would appeal to people outside the family.

But, he said, feedback from the community has been positive.

"I found out a lot of people are Warfields in this county," he said.

And this is a more interesting family tree than most.

Its branches include Maryland Govs. Charles Carnan Ridgely and Edwin Warfield; The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald; and Paul Warfield Tibbets, who flew the Enola Gay to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Wallis Warfield Simpson, for whom King Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England, is also a relation, among others who were accomplished writers, soldiers and doctors.

Keenan, of Ellicott City, and Barbara Feaga, another Warfield from West Friendship, relieved Walczak of his responsibility for planning, collecting and setting up society exhibits by acting as guest curators. Keenan said she and Feaga thought the exhibit would work "because between us we had a lot of stuff and could get a lot."

There were also plenty of relatives to talk about. "The family is really diverse," Feaga said. "They just have gone in so many directions."

Based on research by her grandfather Joshua Dorsey Warfield and several other family members interested in genealogy, Feaga says she believes that Richard Warfield completed his indenture, married and acquired a significant amount of land. He had seven children who married into local families, starting a web of connections to families with names that are familiar today, including the Dorseys, Ridgelys, Gaithers, Welshes and Snowdens.

One of the first Warfields to become well-known was Dr. Charles Alexander Warfield, who led a group from what is now Howard County (part of Anne Arundel County at the time) to Annapolis in 1774 to protest the arrival of a ship full of tea. Colonists had put an embargo on tea in protest of British taxes, and angry rebels demanded that the ship's owner, Anthony Stewart, burn the ship or be hanged, Keenan said.

Stewart chose to save his life. A 1911 oil painting called The Burning of the Peggy Stewart, on loan to the exhibit from the Daughters of the American Revolution chapter in Annapolis, depicts Stewart on his ship with a torch as Charles Warfield and several other men watch from a dinghy.

A charred piece of the ship will also be on display.

"It took a lot of guts" to stand up for the Colonists, Keenan said. "Howard County and Maryland can be very proud of him and those men that went down there."

In addition to identifying members of the family, the exhibit uses photographs and artifacts to highlight the way these people lived, particularly in Howard County.

Keenan has several candid snapshots of her grandparents, father and uncles at their farm near Glenwood. In one glass display case, artifacts from Longwood Farm, also in Glenwood, show a cross-stitch sampler from 1839, dolls, clothing, china and a "hairbarium" display of locks of hair tied with ribbons and noted with family names. A ledger from Longwood's owner, Dr. Gustavus Warfield, lists the names of patients, medical procedures he performed and payments.

"Somebody took good care of [the items], thank goodness," Keenan said.

Another heirloom, a quilt with the names of family members written in each square, came to Keenan unexpectedly. A friend of hers saw an advertisement that a dealer had put in Yankee Magazine listing some of the names on the quilt. The dealer had bought it at an estate sale in West Virginia and sold it to Keenan, returning it to the family 160 years after it is believed to have been made.

Figuring out the best way to show the collection was a challenge, Feaga said. But it was a labor of love.

Some people like to do crossword puzzles, she said, but she prefers the riddles of history. "I like filling in all the blanks: what makes people do the things they do, what makes them go the places they go," she said.

Family members she never knew surface occasionally.

"I think I'm going to be surprised when I see who comes on Saturday," she said.

The exhibit will open with a reception at 1 p.m. Saturday and remain on display through February. It will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays at the Howard County Historical Society, 8328 Court Ave., Ellicott City. At the opening, a $10 donation to benefit the society is requested. Information: 410-750-0370.

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