The wife of Captain Charles the builder, Rebecca Dorsey Ridgely,1740-1812,was the first mistress of Hampton. She witnessed the construction of the mansion, but she did not live there for long as she turned the new house over to her nephew when her husband died. Rebecca was a fervent Methodist and donated a great deal of money to Robert Strawbridge, a pioneering Methodist Minister.
Some Notable Ridgely Women
The mother of fourteen children, twelve of whom survived to adulthood, Priscilla Dorsey Ridgely, 1762-1814, embodied the ideal woman of her era. The birth of the new American nation saw the development of the Republican Motherhood, which viewed mothers as the guides to the new nation by raising upstanding citizens. Women were expected to be models of virtue. As a Methodist Elder, Priscilla modeled this not only as a light for her children, but also for her fellow women who were only just beginning to come into prominence in the religious world in America.
Eliza Eichelberger Ridgely, 1803-1867, is one of the most recognizable of the Ridgely women. Her portrait by Thomas Sully, “Lady with a Harp,” is currently exhibited in the National Gallery of Art. Throughout her life, many people would write of her beauty, elegance, and sense of fashion. Among her contributions to Hampton were the expansion of the formal gardens and installation of the Italian marble urns around the mansion. According to legend, Eliza planted Hampton’s giant Cedar of Lebanon in the 1840s after bringing it back from Europe as a seedling in a shoebox.
Margaretta Sophia Howard Ridgely, 1824-1904, was widowed in early middle age when her husband, the fourth master died. Margaretta was a firm mother and strong-minded woman. She established the Ridgelys’ Jersey cattle herd and controlled the family finances for decades, even after her husband’s death.
A dedicated woman, Margaretta Ridgely, 1869-1949, served for 28 years as a missionary in Liberia. There she built a school for girls and taught there until the age of 63. In 1927 the Liberian government honored her service be naming her a Knight Official of the Humane Order of African Redemption.
Like her mother-in-law, Margaretta, Helen West Stewart Ridgely, 1854-1929, was an excellent manager who cared for the finances and other matters of the family estate. She encouraged her children to write and paint – two of her own favorite hobbies. She also continued her own education and authored two books. A woman of extraordinary energy, she was known to have worked on the farm all morning, clean up and, in the afternoon, travel to Washington D.C. to dine with her friends, President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt.
Last updated: February 26, 2015