Last updated: March 12, 2015
- Towson, MD
- Country seat of the Ridgely family, the house and grounds are a remnant of the early 1800s estate.
- National Park, Heritage Area, National Register of Historic Places, HABS/HAER/HALS
- OPEN TO PUBLIC:
Most people today know Hampton as a sedate Georgian mansion, elegantly furnished and settled amid gardens and shade trees. Built as a country seat just after the Revolutionary War by the prominent Ridgely family of Maryland, the house and its immediate surroundings are just a remnant of the Hampton estate of the early 1800s.
In its heyday, Ridgely property equaled half the area of present-day Baltimore, land that made its owners rich through iron production, agriculture, and investments. Hampton is the story of a family business, early American industry, and commerce, the cultural tastes of the times, the deprivations of war, and the economic and moral changes that finally made this kind of life obsolete.
Needing labor in abundance, the Ridgely family employed many types of workers. In just the last fifty years of the eighteenth century they bought over 300 indentured servants. They also employed free workers, British prisoners of war, and enslaved African-Americans. Slavery was part of the Hampton estate for over 100 years, ending only when Maryland State law ended the institution in 1864. Its presence predated the construction of the mansion. Slaves were instrumental in building the mansion, and their work supported the gracious lifestyle of the Ridgelys in the mansion.
Slavery at Hampton was unusual for two reasons. First, the Ridgelys were involved in industry, resulting in industrial jobs for some of the enslaved population. This is unlike the typically agricultural plantation of the Deep South. Second, Hampton is very close to the slave free state of Pennsylvania and the city of Baltimore with its huge population of free blacks. Refuges for runaways were close by. It is very difficult to make an accurate estimate, but the Ridgelys enslaved literally hundreds of people, certainly over 500, over those years. The second owner of Hampton enslaved approximately 350 persons at his death. In his will he manumitted females between the ages of 25 and 45 and males between the ages 28 and 45. This is one of the largest manumissions in the history of Maryland, but it did not end slavery at Hampton. His son purchased some sixty or so more slaves and manumitted only one.