In 2009 I spent two days glued to a table in the Maryland Historical Society Library examining the Thomas Meredith Papers (MS1795). I had found the Finding Aid to the collection several years earlier during one of my semi-annual Google searches and had been dreaming of the day I might examine the papers. The collection of letters, receipts, bills and checks far exceeded my expectations.
This overview of the abstracted genealogical information is also published on WeRelate.org.
The Thomas Meredith Papers were examined April 29-30, 2009 at the Maryland Historical Society Library for genealogical information. The collection contains letters, receipts, bills and checks belonging to Thomas Meredith, a Baltimore merchant in the early/mid 19th century. The collection also contains items that seem to have no relation to Meredith or known members of his family.
Thomas Meredith was a son of William Meredith and Caty Yerby Meredith of Lancaster County, VA. His father left an 1808 will naming children William, John, Frances F. Pullan, Thomas, Robert, Nancy, Caroline, Joseph and Hannah. Thomas became a wealthy merchant in Baltimore, where he seems to have spent his adult life. According to the Finding Aid associated with the collection, he joined William Meredith & Co. as a partner in 1807. Outside records show he married Maria Spalding in 1810. They apparently had no children, but maintained close relationships with his brothers, sisters and numerous nieces and nephews. No receipts or letters from or to Thomas Meredith dated after 1850 were found. Meredith died in 1853.
The collection contains a few receipts from the estate of Meredith's father, William of Lancaster County, including a note (Box 3/Folder1)1806 March 1st to Wm Kelley Dr for $6 for schooling his daughter Caroline.
The only references to his mother are a note she signed dated Oct. 24th, 1809 (Box 3, Folder 1) requesting her son pay a debt apparently related to her husband's estate and the 1820 letter from brother John Meredith (Box 1/Folder 2):"...mother & myself have made the sausage meat. I go there - pretty much as a boarder, but do what I can to assist her in her crops...."
It is unclear whether the William Meredith of the Baltimore company was his father, who died in Lancaster County, Virginia in 1808, or more likely his brother William, also believed to have died in 1808. There are at least two receipts (dated 1814 and 1817) naming Thomas and William Meredith, the name the dry goods company was operating under. However, no further reference to William (or any to the brother Robert named in the 1808 will) was found in the family letters (mostly dated from 1832-1849) or receipts. Family correspondence did refer to a Mrs. Margaret Meredith and her granddaughter Louisa or to “sister Margaret and Louisa” suggesting a Meredith widow was living in Baltimore. 1850 census records show a Margaret Meredith, born 1774 in MD living with a Louisa Menzies and her family (indexed as Murzier), born 1825 in MD. (Margaret Louisa Menzies was named an heir in Meredith's 1853 will). It seems probable that Margaret Meredith was the widow of Thomas's brother William Meredith.
The collection includes letters from his brothers John Meredith (dated 1820, 1832, 1833), Joseph Meredith (1833) and sisters Caroline Shearman (1833-1838) and Hannah Yerby (1838). The last reference to Joseph is in an Oct. 15, 1834 letter from James where he states he and Joseph are well. He is presumed to have died soon after. The collection includes letters announcng the death's of John's widow, Ann(e) Steptoe Brent in January 1835 and of Caroline in 1838. Hannah’s husband Ellyson Yerby was apparently in business with Meredith, for the collection includes numerous letters concerning business ventures in the 1840s. John Meredith’s 1820 letter refers to their sister Nancy and their mother. Later letters do not refer to any other siblings, though there is an 1840 letter from nephew William Pullen of Lancaster County who was a son of sister Frances Meredith Pullen.
NIECES AND NEPHEWS
Thomas Meredith paid for the education of several nephews and at least two nieces at Catholic institutions. These included Thomas M. Taylor (son of his wife’s sister) at St. Louis College and Maria Taylor at a school in St. Louis, T. Meredith Jenkins (son of another sister of his wife) and Joseph W. Shearman (the only child of Meredith's sister Caroline) at Georgetown College, William G. Corbin (sister Nancy's son) at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, MD, and Margaret Meredith (John’s daughter) at St. Joseph’s in Emmitsburg. Jenkins later became a Jesuit priest.
Nephew T.J. Meredith (eldest son of John Meredith), referred to as James in the family correspondence, was in business with his uncle by 1832 when he was working at a store at Totuskey Bridge in Richmond County that brother Joseph Meredith managed. James (T.J.) Meredith acted as guardian for his younger sister Margaret and brothers Thomas William and William V. following his father’s death in 1834 and that of his stepmother (Anne Brent Meredith) in 1835. He supervised their housing, their education and seems to have been intimately involved in their lives during the 1830s. Caroline Shearman was also involved with caring for the children, until her death in 1838. Following her death James moved to Baltimore.
Hannah's children Lemuel, George, Maria and Virginia Yerby are mentioned in letters from their parents.
Nephew William Pullen writes to his uncle in 1840 and is referenced in letters from Margaret Meredith. In 1848 she mentions that cousin William Pullen’s wife has died and that cousin Joseph Shearman is recovering from recent illness.
Note: The Finding Aid refers to Joseph H. Meredith as a nephew and successor to Thomas Meredith in his Dry Goods business. However, no documents examined had any relationship to Joseph H. Meredith (a silversmith, and son of a Winchester, Virginia silversmith). No other research has suggested any relationship with the family of Joseph H. Meredith. When the research librarians were questioned about the Finding Aid reference they suggested that the information may have been based on city directories.
OTHER FAMILY CONNECTIONS
A G.W. Yerby writes several letters during the 1840s seeking business advise and funding but does not refer to Thomas as his uncle. He may be a son of Hannah and Ellyson Yerby who have a son George.
There is one letter, dated 13 June 1834 from an Albert A. Doggett from Spottsylvania County, Virginia introducing himself as “your Fathers sisters daughters Son”. He gives no names, but states he lives in Fredericksburg, that his father is a farmer and that his younger brother is in the cabinet business. Other research shows that Thomas Meredith's aunt Judith Meredith married a William Doggett.
A letter dated 21 Mar 1843 from Richard McSherry Jr. of Martinsburg, Virginia sends “sincere regards to Cousin M. (Maria?) and Cousin __ James”.
The letters reveal something of Ellyson Yerby’s background. He is referred to in almost all correspondence as Cousin Ellyson suggesting a family connection independent of his marriage to Hannah Meredith. Other in-laws are referred to as sister or brother, aunt or uncle. He is the only one referred to by a relationship different than that he would have by marriage. An 1834 letter refers to his father Capt. Thomas Yerby of Lancaster County, whose estate was administered by the late Col. William Gibson. Letters from the 1840s refer to children George, Lemuel, Maria and Virginia. A Lemuel Yerby writes to order a cloak in1836 and refers to “my brother Ellyson” and family. Ellyson leaves Lancaster County in the mid 1830s, finding the life a farmer precarious and demanding. He spends some time in Baltimore, and then settles in Richmond City, Virginia where he runs a dry goods store during the 1840s.
LANCASTER COUNTY NEIGHBORS
The letters often include references to friends and neighbors. John Meredith refers to a Lancaster County neighbor Mr. Payne who has “an amiable family” (26 Aug 1820). In 1832 T.J. (James) Meredith writes from Totuskey Bridge that Mr. Cooke has died and that he is setting out to get the body and return it to Virginia for burial. In December 1832, brother John includes notes that his neighbors Henry B. Lawson and Spencer George (who married a daughter of Capt. Lawson) both died recently, likely of cholera. W.G. Corbin includes a cryptic “Aunt Clory (or Cloy?) is dead” in Nov. 1833.
In 1840 nephew Wm. Pullen passes on regards from his own nephew George Kirk. In 1848 niece Margaret Meredith Palmer writes from Kilmarnock, Virginia that she is considering Col. Hall, Mr. Kelley or Mr. Gresham as guardians for her children following her husband’s death. She also mentions that cousin William Pullen’s wife has died and that cousin Joseph Shearman is recovering from recent illness.
Thomas Meredith was a devout and active Catholic. Living in Maryland he had free access to the church, something his Catholic relatives in Virginia lacked, but he exerted considerable effort toward providing as much support to their spiritual life as he could. His niece Margaret Meredith Palmer wrote of feeling lonesome at home in Virginia during the Easter season but eager to visit him in Baltimore so she might “make Easter”. His nephews and nieces were educated at Catholic schools in Maryland, the District of Columbia and St. Louis. Two nephews, T. Meredith Jenkins and William V. Meredith became priests.
He devoted considerable economic resources and time to the Cathedral in Baltimore, purchasing sheet music from Europe and an organ, and providing further funds for its maintenance. He paid for coal for the St. Mary’s Female Orphan Asylum and supported it with other financial gifts. He maintained correspondence with priests at GeorgeTown College in Washington, D.C. and Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg independent of his nephews' educational bills or reports.
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