Ridgelys as Entertainers

A sketch depicting a scene of a ball at the Hampton mansion.
Artist depiction of a ball (dance) being held at the Hampton mansion.

NPS/Harpers Ferry Center

“Within the doors I found true hospitality where I am informed it has long presided; assembled in the spacious apartments of this palace, a constellation of grace, wit, and beauty not to be excelled. The entertainments were all social and intellectual; presenting a fine opportunity to grow in knowledge and grace. The repast was such as refinement alone could prepare, consisting of the richest viands.” -1832 newspaper account of a dinner at Hampton.

The earliest recorded case of entertaining at the Mansion dates from the late 1780s when the Ridgely family had just moved in. Early public gatherings included the housewarming celebration for the mansion, with Methodist services hosted by Rebecca Ridgely and card parties hosted by her Captain Charles Ridgely.

 
Modern day photo of the dining room set for entertaining.
Modern day image of the dining room set for entertaining guests.

NPS/Tim Ervin

Revolutionary leader Charles Carroll described a party at Hampton in the early 1800s for which 300 invitations were issued. Such events were staged not only for entertainment but to cement business and political ties. Hampton mansion was ideal for such festivities: its Great Hall measures 51 by 21 feet and could seat more than 50 dinner guests. An English visitor noted in 1805 that Charles Carnan Ridgely was said to “keep the best table in America.”

In 1840, the list of provisions for a party for hundreds of guests hosted by John and Eliza Ridgely included 6 dozen chickens, 300 hundred hard crabs, 5 dozen bottles of champagne, and a cake so large it required 6 dozen eggs. Even smaller parties in this era were extremely elegant. Elizabeth Wirt Goldsborough said of a visit to Hampton in 1848 that hostess Eliza “had prepared a sumptuous dinner. Everything was served up in European style—splendid china, glass, silver & a succession of courses, variety of wines—and everything beautifully garnished with flowers—and she sat at the head of her table—like a Queen—full of animated conversation & aimable attention to everybody.”

In order to maintain such a lavish social lifestyle, a large labor force made up mostly of enslaved persons, in the kitchen, gardens, smokehouse, icehouse, butler’s pantry, Great Hall and Dining Room was required.

 
historic black and white image of Carte-de-visite.
: Carte-de-visite, Lady Georgina Fane, British aristocrat and abolitionist, c. 1861.

NPS

Hundreds if not thousands of people came to visit Hampton while the Ridgelys lived there. Some stayed a few hours, others for days, still others for months. In the early days, famed British agriculturalist Richard Parkinson visited Hampton as part of a three-year tour of agricultural practices of American farmers. Other English visitors include the Marquess of Hartington, Colonel Charles Powell Leslie III and Lady Georgina Fane.

The eldest grandson of John and Eliza, Henry White, was a highly regarded diplomat in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and thought of his own time at Hampton as a training for future service, since he was so often surrounded by “foreigners of distinction.” He himself brought to Hampton First Lady Edith Kermit Roosevelt, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Signor des Plances, the Italian Ambassador in Washington, D.C, and other persons of note.

Margaretta “Margie” Ridgely, who served as a missionary in Liberia and helped to found a girls’ school there, invited Walter Henry Overs, the Bishop of Liberia and an African chief, to visit in 1924.

Last updated: June 13, 2020

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