Shipley family descendant to share history with genealogy buffs

Baltimore resident Thomas R. Shipley will read from his book, sharing his deep Arundel and Howard roots

  • Thomas Shipley will be presenting the Howard County Genealogical Society regarding the Shipley family and their earliest days in Howard County. SPECIAL TO THE SUN / COLBY WARE No Mags, No Sales, No Internet, No TV
Thomas Shipley will be presenting the Howard County Genealogical… (COLBY WARE, BALTIMORE SUN )
May 07, 2011|By Janene Holzberg, Special to the Baltimore Sun

"It was late in the spring of 1923 and the very popular Anne Arundel County strawberries were running very late. It seemed like the rain would never stop and the sand was being splashed up onto the waiting berries.

"Finally, the sun — greeted with mixed emotions — came out in all its glory and beat down on the Maryland hillside. Mixed emotions because now, acres and acres of strawberries would ripen suddenly, needing to be picked, packed, and shipped to Baltimore quickly or the entire spring cash crop would be lost … perhaps a call to a Baltimore agent would yield some help."

excerpt from "True Short Stories"

As they tumbled out of a small bag onto the dining room table in a Baltimore rowhouse, the shiny coins gleamed like pirate's treasure. But closer inspection reveals the initials "R.L.S." stamped onto what are actually thin wafers of brass, not gold.

The initials stand for Richard Luther Shipley, an Anne Arundel County farmer who, like many others in the early 1900s, used the specially made tokens, called "picker checks," to keep migrant farm workers on the job until they'd picked a week's worth of strawberries and could redeem their currency.

The tokens were passed down to Baltimore resident Thomas R. Shipley, an 11th-generation descendant of the family, who will read three selections from his "True Short Stories" at the Wednesday meeting of the Howard County Genealogical Society.

The Shipley family tree, which can be traced back 340 years in this country, offers a window into the research that goes into tracking one's roots, said Frank Herron, president and program manager of the society. Genealogy buffs come to listen and learn so they might apply the methodology to tracing their own ancestry, he said.

There is also a Howard County connection to the Shipley family's earliest beginnings, which Shipley will discuss in greater detail at the meeting.

"It's important for all of us to know about the history of Howard County and the state of Maryland," Herron said. "And by hearing about the [well-documented] histories of local families, we can also learn to do our own family trees."

And, oh, the tales Shipley can tell.

"It was in February of the year 1668 when a midsized sailing vessel from Yorkshire, England, docked at the pier in Annapolis. Already a bustling port of some significance in the New World, similar arrivals were common.

"Down the gangplank came ten young men, ready to start their new lives in what was to them a land of unimaginable opportunities. Into the dock office walked one young man – probably about eighteen at the time – dirty, unsure of his surroundings, and somewhat frightened. He was to be picked up by an Amish man … whom he had never met, but a man who had agreed to pay his fare from England in exchange for five year's work on a farm in Pennsylvania."

Five years of indentured servitude was the price paid by 18-year-old Adam Shipley for the privilege of being transported by ship to make a new life in Maryland.

"You have to remember that this was not an African slave, but a white man," said Shipley, who at age 78 works full time in information technology and enjoys writing "tell-your-grandchildren types of pieces."

Though slavery existed at the time, indentured servants were the preferred choice of planters in the Chesapeake, he said. Farm owners would not only get cheap labor for the price of room and board, but they were granted 50 acres for each servant whose fare they paid, he said.

Eventually, Adam founded what was to become a prolific Maryland dynasty by marrying a daughter of Capt. Cornelius Howard, a wealthy landowner who farmed in a portion of Anne Arundel County that would later become Howard County and where some Shipley descendants settled, Richard Shipley said.

"Because respectable, eligible, educated young ladies were fairly rare in a port city and because Adam had picked up a certain set of standards from his Amish family, he crossed over what would soon become the county line to court Miss Lois Howard."

"That makes Lois the matriarch of all the Shipleys, so there are a lot of us 'cousins' out there who are connected to Howard County families," said Richard Shipley.

"The Shipley family story is as strongly a Howard story when you consider that Lois is responsible for half of the family tree," he added, while acknowledging the existence of a debate over Lois Howard's connection to the Shipley family and that "some will deny it."

Yet when Adam Shipley died without a will in his 40s of unknown causes and his eldest son was entitled to all the land, records show the heir decided to share the wealth and deeded 280 acres and a house to his mother, Lois Howard, Richard Shipley said.

Also, one of a set of seven commemorative plates commissioned by family members 50 years ago depicts "Shipley's Discovery," the 1726 Howard County homestead of one of Adam and Lois' direct descendants, he said.

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