Historical Family Origin
The Weems family is one of the oldest families in Maryland, originally settling in Anne Arundel County in the eighteenth century. The family originated in Scotland, being descended from the noble Wemyss line, although there is disagreement among genealogists concerning how the American and Scottish lines are connected. Family tradition suggests that William Wemyss, killed in 1715 at the Battle of Preston, was the father of the American immigrants. More recently, researchers have suggested that a James Wemyss fathered the American line.
Evidence in the Weems Family Papers, along with material from various primary and secondary sources, suggests that David, James, and Williamina Weems emigrated from Scotland between 1715 and 1720. According to a family history written by John Weems in 1854, David, James, and Williamina Weems immigrated to Maryland at the request of their mother Elizabeth’s brother, Dr. William Loch (also spelled “Lock” and, more recently, “Locke”), who did not, at that time, have an heir. Loch apparently made some effort to secure his nephews’ and niece’s financial security, as he provided his nephew James with a medical education.
It is known that at his death, William Loch bequeathed portions of his lands in Virginia and Maryland to James Weems, who subsequently settled in Carroll County, Maryland. What caused Dr. James Weems to return to Maryland may have been the confused status of the “dwelling-plantation” (Loch Eden) after the death of Dr. Loch’s son, William Loch, Jr., in 1750 (See L H. and McH. 463; 1772 Md. William Chew’s Lessee against James Weems and others). The Weems family eventually gained possession of this land.
The extent of David Weems’s landholdings and whether or not he also inherited land from William Loch remains unclear. Further research is needed to determine not only the amount of land Weems owned, but also whether his various holdings formed a contiguous estate or were scattered throughout Anne Arundel County.
Weems’s home plantation was Marshes Seat, which consisted of the original Marshes Seat grant and Pascall Purchase, later known as Barwell Plantation. The estate of Marshes Seat consisted of all the land between Parkers Branch and Selby Cove in southeastern Anne Arundel County. The estate, also referred to as Herring Bay within the family papers, was a portion of Pascall Purchase, an early division of land in the Maryland colony.
The various proprietors of Marshes Seat gradually expanded the plantation during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In October 1651, Lord Baltimore granted Marshes Seat to Thomas Marsh. The estate passed to several owners during the subsequent decades: John Hall (1681); Thomas Knighton (1684); Christopher Vernon (1701); William Vernon (1726); and David Weems (1859). It was William Vernon who, in 1704, purchased Pascall Purchase or Barwell Plantation and consolidated into a single plantation.
David Weems was the patriarch of large, illustrious family. He married twice, first to Elizabeth Lane, the daughter of Samuel Lane and Sarah Harrison, and second to Ester Hill, the daughter of Abel Hill and Susannah Gott. Weems fathered nineteen children, among them five sons bearing his name. He died in 1779.
His youngest child, Parson Mason Loch Weems, was a prominent literary figure in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Best known for a biography of George Washington, which included the famous cherry tree story, Parson Weems died in 1825 and was buried at the ancestral home of his wife, Frances Ewell, near Dumfries, Virginia. In 1777, David Weems’s namesake (the fifth son of that name) married Margaret Harrison and inherited the estate of Marshes Seat two years later. Weems and Harrison had seven children. Gustavus Weems, the couple’s second son, whose Autobiography is a key piece of the collection, inherited Marshes Seat upon his father’s death in 1820. His older brother, David Weems, who might otherwise have inherited the estate, had become a British citizen after being impressed by the Royal Navy.
Gustavus, who married Dorcas Gray, combined his farming operations with a store in Huntingtown. Dorcas and Gustavus had seven children, including David Gustavus, Jane Dorcas, and Rachel Thomason, whose correspondence and family history manuscript are prominent features of the collection. Gustavus died in 1852.
Gustavus’s son, David Gustavus Weems, became the owner of a portion of Marshes Seat following the death of his father. David Gustavus married and had several children, among them Octavus Tennyson, Robert F., J. E., and George Washington. Octavus Tennyson Weems moved west and worked in the laundry and lumber businesses. Robert F. Weems became the editor of the Vincennes, Indiana, Commercial, and J. E. Weems managed the Pure Ice Company in Quincy, Illinois. George Washington Weems married the widow of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s brother. Correspondence between the sons of these brothers and Rachel Thomason Weems Reynolds (daughter of Gustavus) forms an important portion of the collection.
Two important branches of the Weems family originated in the early- to middle-nineteenth century. These branches emanated from two daughters of Gustavus Weems.
Rachel Thomason Weems married Dr. Thomas Reynolds, who was the son Joseph W. Reynolds, an old friend of Gustavus Weems. Thomas and Rachel had two children, Edward and Hattie. Hattie remained unmarried and became an early environmental activist. Her commitment to conservation and preservation culminated in her appointment as Maryland’s first female game warden.
Edward, the second child of Rachel and Thomas Reynolds, married and eventually fathered Helen Dunnington Reynolds. Helen married Charles Brewer, establishing the Brewer branch of the family. Helen was the last family owner of Sherwood Forest, the Reynolds family’s estate in Upper Falls, Baltimore County. After her death, the Maryland Department of Forests and Parks purchased the estate in 1965.
Jane Dorcas Weems married Dr. John Petherbridge of Annapolis. The couple had several children, among them Wilbur, a planter who became the county’s Register of Wills and developed the Petherbridge Index to Maryland Wills. This index was well-received by genealogists of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. One of the couple’s other children, Coleridge, became a writer.
A third branch of the family was established in the latter half of the nineteenth century when Margaret, daughter of David Gustavus Weems, married William Harris. Margaret and David had at least four children, several of whom married into other local families. One child, Maria Harris Kennard, moved to Pennsylvania after her marriage.
Relatives of the Weems family have remained prominent in Annapolis, in Maryland, and throughout the United States. Physicians, historians, and writers are common with all branches of the family, both historically and currently.
A series of charts detailing the branches of the family related to the collection are attached to this guide as Appendix A.
More organizational charts can be seen here.