The Ridgelys

A black and white photograph of women on the front porch of the Hampton mansion.
Four generations of ladies and girls of the Ridgely family on the north portico of Hampton mansion, 1878.


The Ridgely family’s roots in Maryland reach into the colony’s earliest settlement. Robert Ridgely, an attorney from Lincolnshire, first settled at Inigoes Creek, in St. Mary’s County, possibly as early as 1634. Ridgely men, from the beginning, served in government and military posts. They also practiced law and ran mercantile businesses.

Robert Ridgely’s son, Charles, started the family tradition of landowning. The estate known as Hampton evolved from tracts of land acquired by the Ridgely family over generations. During the 1740s and 1750s, Robert Ridgely’s grandson Colonel Charles Ridgely purchased wilderness land for agricultural plantations, an ironworks, and forges. By 1761, Colonel Ridgely ordered teams of enslaved people, indentured servants, and convicts to clear the land and develop an ironmaking site with supporting farm adjacent to his large Northampton tract about twelve miles north of Baltimore.

A painting of Captain Charles Ridgely holding a spyglass
Painting of Captain Charles Ridgely, who commissioned the building of the Hampton mansion, by John Hesselius


This eventually helped to fund his son and business partner Captain Ridgely’s most lasting achievement, Hampton Hall, known as “the house in the forest” and “the palace in the wilderness,” beginning in 1783.

Hampton was an extensive family business, with a mercantile business importing English goods, mills, quarries, the ironworks, an iron store near Baltimore harbor and diverse agricultural interests, including grains, orchards, livestock, and dairy products from the plantation. After the Revolutionary War, the Ridgelys no longer contracted for indentured workers to labor at ironmaking and farming and instead relied almost exclusively on the labor of enslaved people, where the Ridgelys operated as Enslavers and Overseers. Generations of Ridgely wealth founded on these institutions would allow the family to become one of the most prominent and influential families in the state and region.

At the height of this affluence, the Ridgely’s property of nearly 25,000 acres equaled half the area of present-day Baltimore City. The Ridgelys hosted lavish gatherings, bred and raced thoroughbred horses, indulged their taste for fine furnishings, art and music, traveled widely, and created formal gardens. There is ample evidence of this inheritance throughout the mansion, grounds, and stables today.

The American Civil War and emancipation proved to be a turning point for the Ridgely family and Hampton. With a large portion of the labor force now gone, or being paid, in addition to continued dividing of lands among heirs, financial troubles began to set in. The family continued to spend decades living lavish lifestyles, traveling to Europe, philanthropic contributions, and throwing parties all while their agricultural income continued to diminish. Eventually the Hampton estate had fallen into disrepair and John Ridgely Jr. looked for ways for the site to be preserved in the 1940s.

Black and white photograph of John Ridgely Jr. and his wife Jane with a black servant carrying their bags on the front porch of the Hampton mansion.
John Ridgely Jr. and his wife, Jane, leaving the Hampton mansion with an unidentified African American employee, taken by Baltimore Sun photographer A. Aubrey Bodine©.


John Ridgley Jr. was able to sell the property to Avalon Foundation for $90,000, who then turned the site over to the National Park Service. This historic transaction then opened the door for the creation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In addition to their handing over of buildings to the National Park Service, the Ridgelys also handed over thousands of artifacts and archives which today allows for the recreation of elements of nearly two hundred years of Maryland history. One of the most powerful resources from this are written accounts of the Ridgely family. Hampton has an archive of correspondence, memoirs, diaries, scrapbooks, account books and legal and financial documents which provide context for a host of public records, newspaper articles, escape ads and other historical documents that provide a unique, in depth, history of plantation life with the backdrop of the American story.


Leard More

  • The Ridgely Family of Hampton
    The Ridgely Family

    The Ridgely Family owned and managed the Hampton Estate for almost 200 years. Explore their impact on history!

  • African American Woman, Nancy Davis, and little white girl Eliza Ridgely
    Learn about more
    People of Hampton

    Hundreds of people lived, worked, and were enslaved at Hampton coinciding America's development as a nation. Explore more of their stories.

  • Enslaved workers working on the plantation farm by the overseer's house and slave quarters.
    Slavery at Hampton

    From the colonial period through 1864, the Ridgelys enslaved over 500 people. Enslaved persons, from young children to the elderly

  • Drawing of people working on a dock
    Indentured Servants at Hampton

    Indentured servants were not willing laborers and the working conditions at Northampton Furnace was grueling.

  • An artist's depiction of an overseer in the fields watching the enslaved. With a whip behind back.
    Forms of Control

    From physical to mental abuse for the youngest ages to the oldest. Learn about the harsh truths and forms of control.

  • Artist depiction of a ball (dance) being held at the Hampton mansion. NPS/Harpers Ferry Center
    Ridgelys as Entertainers

    Learn about the Ridgelys events and how in order to maintain such a lavish social lifestyle, a large labor force made up mostly of enslaved.

  • Artist depiction of horse racing at Hampton. NPS/Harpers Ferry Center
    Horse Racing and the Ridgelys

    Learn about the importance of horses and racing for the Ridgelys.

  • The Cedar of Lebanon covered in snow, Winter 2020. NPS
    Travels of the Ridgelys

    The wealth of the Ridgely family allowed for many extensive world travels.

  • Painting of Night scene of a battlefield with soldiers standing by cannons. Background are camps.
    Hampton During the Civil War

    The Ridgely's passed their lives without worry until it became apparent that a civil war was about to impact their lives.

  • c. 1897 image of a tenant farmer woman outside the Enslavement Quarters. NPS
    Revealing the Lives of the Enslaved

    A recent Ethnographic Study uncovered major information on the lives of those enslaved at Hampton and their descendants. Read about it here.

  • A historic picture of a part of the flower gardens called a parterre. A gardener in the middle. NPS
    History & Culture
    History & Culture

    Hampton National Historic Site today preserves the core of what was once a vast commercial, industrial, and agricultural plantation.

  • Black and white historic image of the cemetery gates.
    The Cemetery

    An overview of the Ridgely Family Cemetery

Last updated: May 30, 2024

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Mailing Address:

535 Hampton Lane
Towson, MD 21286


410-962-4290 (option 2)

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