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Weems-Reynolds Family papers

 Collection 0156-MDHC

This collection contains the papers of the Weems family, one of the oldest families in Maryland, and of the Reynolds and Petherbridge families, which were related to the Weems family by marriage. The collection consists of correspondence, maps and monographs, and addresses such subjects as state and local politics; the Republican National Convention in Baltimore (1893); Weems family genealogy; horticulture; the family's history as enslavers; religion; and election fraud in Maryland.


  • 1713-1940
  • Majority of material found within 1880-1900

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the special collections reading room staff.


1.50 Linear Feet

19 Items

Scope and Content of Collection

The bulk of the Weems-Reynolds Family papers consists of correspondence, and the majority of this material is associated with two women, Rachel Thomason Reynolds and her daughter, Hattie. The correspondence, both to friends and family members, provides considerable insight into the world view of American women of the Victorian era. The importance of family roots, in both a genealogical and spatial sense, is a common theme throughout the correspondence. The correspondence documents the concerns of women of their time and class.

The collection also contains material that illuminates the businesses in which members of the Weems and Reynolds families were involved in the nineteenth century. The shift in the roles they played from enslaving farmers, to mercantilist store and ship owners, and finally to professionals not directly associated with the land had a profound effect on the Weems and Reynolds family. Nostalgia for the land expressed in the families' correspondence was one of the results of the rise of the American middle class during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Weems-Reynolds Family papers covers the period from 1713 to 1971, with the bulk of the material from the period 1880 to 1900. The earliest manuscript material in the collection consists of a land grant from Queen Anne dated 1713, and the latest of these materials are documents related to the estate of Helen Dunnington Reynolds Brewer dated 1940. Newspaper clippings related to marriages and deaths within the family date from the middle of the nineteenth century through 1971.

Family History

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' 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' 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.

All three Weems siblings oversaw large families. James' and David's family lines feature heavily in this collection and in the Weems Family papers, which contain the papers of John Crompton Weems, a descendant of James' line. John Crompton Weems' daughter, Mary Wharton Weems, was a cousin and correspondent of Rachel Thomason Weems Reynolds, whose correspondence forms a significant portion of this collection.

David Weems was the patriarch of a 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' 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.

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 Reynolds and Jane Dorcas Weems Petherbridge.

Rachel Thomason Weems married Dr. Thomas Reynolds, who was the son of Joseph W. Reynolds, an old friend of Gustavus Weems. Thomas and Rachel had two children, Edward and Harriet (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. She was a prolific writer and contributed many articles in journals such as Birds and Nature Magazine and the Guide to Nature, particularly on the birds of Maryland.

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.

Rachel Thomason Weems Reynolds corresponded with several Weems relatives, including her nephew, Wilbur Petherbridge; her cousin, Jesse E. Weems, first a railroad engineer and then the manager of Pure Ice and Cold Storage Company in Quincy, Illinois; her nephew Octavius Tennyson Weems, who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and eventually settled in New York City; a cousin from the James Weems’ line of the family (though he affectionately addresses her as “aunt” in his letters), Robert F. Weems, a newspaper owner and editor in Indiana; and others. Family history was often a topic of her correspondence.

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 William 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.


The papers are organized as five series.

Series 1
Series 2
Family Manuscripts and Legal and Financial Records
Series 3
Miscellaneous Documents
Series 4
Series 5

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Mrs. Sumner Rowe, nee Margaret Brewer, donated the Weems-Reynolds Family papers to the University of Maryland Libraries in May 1980, in memory of her sister, Virginia Wemyss Brewer, a graduate of the University.

Related Material

The Maryland Historical Society holds several items relating to the Weems family, including Gustavus Weems' family Bible. The Society has published a summary of the records contained in the Bible.

The Weems and Reynolds families have a long history of association with Anne Arundel County and Annapolis and have left their mark in a series of place names throughout the county. Martenet's 1860 map of Anne Arundel County (#AA41 in the Marylandia Collection) shows the locations of many Weems family homes in the mid-nineteenth century. The St. James Lothian Church off Route 2 in Anne Arundel County is the site of Dr. William Loch's tomb. St. Mark's Parish Church in Anne Arundel County is the site of the Weems family plot. All Hallows Parish Church, a National Register property where Mason Locke Weems served as rector in 1785, is also located off Route 2 in Anne Arundel County.


The following is a selected bibliography of published historic, literary, and genealogical sources relating to the Weems-Reynolds family.
  • "Anne Arundel County Estate Distribution, 1679-1750." Maryland Geneological Society Bulletin 1980, 21: 243-291. (Maryland Stacks F180.M36)
  • Bradford, James. Anne Arundel County, Maryland: A Bicentennial History. Annapolis: Anne Arundel County Bicentennial Committee, 1977 (Maryland Stacks F187.A6A56)
  • Dryden, Ruth T. "Anne Arundel County Census, 1800." Maryland Geneological Society Bulletin 1979, 19: 243-291 (Maryland Stacks F180.M36)
  • Earle, Carville. The Evolution of a Tidewater Settlement System: All Hallows Parish, Maryland, 1650-1783. Chicago: University of Chicago, Department of Geography, Paper No. 170, 1975 (Maryland Stacks HC107.M3E52)
  • Leary, Lewis. The Book Peddling Parson: An Account of the Life of Mason Locke Weems. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Press, 1984 (Maryland Stacks PS3157.W83Z75 1984)
  • Newman, Harry Wright. Anne Arundel Gentry: A Genealogical History of Some Early Families of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Annapolis, 1970 (Maryland Stacks) F187.A6N4 1970
  • Wroth, Lawrence Counseman. Parson Weems: A Biographical and Critical Study. Baltimore: Eichelberger Book Company (Maryland Stacks E302.6.W4W9)

Processing Information

The collection was originally processed in 1980. As there is no documentation to explain how the collection was ordered when it was received, it is unclear whether the arrangement of the collection before it was reprocessed in 1995 represented its original order, or if an order was imposed. That arrangement was by family grouping, with several subseries for each branch of the family. A consequence of this order was the division of correspondence exchanged between two people into separate subseries. When the collection was reprocessed in 1995, it was arranged by principal correspondent, rather than family branch. Under each principal correspondent heading, letters to or from minor correspondents have been arranged chronologically.

All materials have been placed in acid-free folders and boxes. Letters with associated envelopes or multiple pages have grouped with padded, non-reactive fasteners. Photographs have been transferred to the photograph collection, and memorabilia has been placed in the memorabilia collection. A book that was originally part of the collection, Parson Weems: A Biographical and Critical Study, has been transferred to the Marylandia and Rare Books Department. Due to their size and fragile condition, the Certificates of Indentured Servitude, the 1713 Land Grant, and the complete newspaper issues have been placed in oversize storage. In June 2011, photographs that had been previously removed to the Biographical Print Files were reintegrated into the collection.

Guide to the Weems-Reynolds Family Papers
Processed by unknown
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 1995: Addenda incorporated and guide revised by James M. Harmon.
  • 2001: Subsequent revisions by Jennie Levine and Max Grivno.
  • 2007-04-15: EAD markup checked and verified using JEdit software by Jennie A. Levine.
  • 2017-07-28: Finding aid checked and verified following ArchivesSpace migration by Nancy Harrison Gage.
  • 2018-06-07: Finding aid reviewed and minor updates made by Adam Gray.
  • 2021-05-18: Hannah Frisch made minor updates to language regarding enslavement.
  • 2023-06-02: Jen Doherty and Liz Caringola updated the Family History note.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742