Chaptico's Church

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Christ Church is truly
one of Chaptico's most cherished historical sites.  Legend has it that the famous 18th century architect, Sir Christopher Wren, was its designer.  Originally, the church had doors on either side, with four aisles forming across in the center of the structure, as was common with churches of that period.  Writer Robert Pogue credits the church's red brick and Flemish bond for it having withstood two and a half  centuries to include a raid by the British, the power which ordered it built in the first place.  It was here that John Coode, an early vestryman used the church to plot and organize a rebellion against Lord Baltimore in 1689--causing Charles Calvert's loss of the colony and the end of religious freedom until the Revolution.

The British Desecration

Joseph Norris, in a written history of  Chaptico, describes how the church and town were desecrated--never to be the same again.  He said during the War of 1812, British frigates lay off of St Mary's County and for two years "pour forth the most barbaric depredations upon the helpless farmers...burning homes and confiscating property" and hauling off both slaves and masters alike.  He cites July 30, 1814 when Brit Admiral Cockburn visited Chaptico, and afterwards writing his superiors to say he 'took quiet possession without opposition...and caused no further inconvenience to them" (other than taking some cattle, stock and tobacco.)  But American reports differed severely, according to the Alexandria Herald.  Maryland's governor wrote this to the newspaper:

  • "I passed through Chaptico shortly after the enemy left it, and I am sorry to say that their conduct would have disgraced Cannibals; the house was torn to pieces, the well which afforded the inhabitants was filled up, and what is worse, the church and the ashes of the dead shared an equally bad or worse fate.  Will you believe me, when I tell you, that the sunken graves were converted into barbecue holes!  The remaining glass of the church windows broken, the communion table used as a dinner table and then broken to pieces!  Bad as the above may appear, it dwindles to insignificance, when compared with what follows: the vault was entered and the remains of the dead disturbed.  Yes, my friend, the winding sheet was torn from the body of a lady of the first respectability, and the whole contents of the vault entirely deranged!  The above facts were witnessed by hundreds as well as myself, and I am happy to say, that but one sentiment pervaded our army...Cockburn was at the head of it; that they also destroyed the organs; that Judge Key's lady who had been last put into the vault was the person alluded to, that her winding sheet was torn in pieces, and her person wantonly exposed; and that his men were exasperated to desperation by his conduct."
British soldiers used the church as a stable for their horses, and hadstripped and humiliated some of the town's women by forcing them to stand for an hour and a half before the British officers.  Other reports say all doors and windows in the town were dashed before the Brits took their loot and sailed off. Norris remarks that even as they were desecrating the tomb of the Key family in Chaptico, lawyer Francis Scott Key, their descendant, was about to become British prisoner aboard ship and was soon to write the Star Spangled Banner--a song that would echo the sentiment of a nation struggling to free itself from oppression.

Above: one of the Key family markers in Christ Church's cemetery.  Below: Hayden's headstone.
The crowning irony of the desecration committed at Christ Church is that it was the King and Queen Parish--a church which belonged to the Church of England.  Put simply, he adds, "they destroyed their own church!"  The following year, the vestry of the church petitioned the Maryland Legislature to approve a lottery to raise money to repair the church.

Chaptico would never be the same, Norris concludes.  The port town with its prominent homes and buildings destroyed left most people in financial ruin.  With the western frontier opening up to colonization, many pulled up roots and headed west with a wagon train to Kentucky.  Pogue reports the entire county's population in 1790 was 15,544 but by 1820, it was down 3,000 inhabitants.  Some of the Maddox's removed to Kentucky and others remained to prosper as the county was rebuilding, only to suffer next during the bloody Civil War.

The Civil War--brother against brother

St Mary's county was sympathetic to the south, and being only a river's crossing from the Confederacy, was virtually held by Union soldiers who imposed a curfew on the town and also ran an infamous prisoner of war camp at the county's southern tip, Point Lookout.  Some, mostly freed slaves, joined the Union.  Many young men joined the south and some townspeople prepared shipments of food and supplies for the Confederates. The cemetery at Christ Church holds the gravestone of one George Hayden, killed at the battle of Gettysburg where he marched to his death across an open field into Union fire with others of the Second Maryland on the Confederate side.

Chaptico remains a tiny village.  Its countryside is dotted with homes of a 17th century flavor.  At the center, the old church and graveyard has stood well and seen a goodly share of American history and Maddox ancestry.

See Military Maddox chapter and the Southern Chapter for more Civil War stories.