Thomas Bacon's Life
Birth and Family
Thomas Bacon was the son of William Bacon and his second wife, Elizabeth Richardson,
the daughter of Anthony and Lydia Richardson. The couple were married in St. Bees,
Cumberland, on 27 August 1710. Thomas was probably their eldest child, born c. 1711 or 1712,
followed by a younger brother Anthony, who was baptized on 24 January 1716. William Bacon
also had a son, William, by his first wife. No records mention that Thomas had any other
siblings. Although most sources state that Bacon was born on the Isle of Man, it is probable that
he was born in Cumberland and that his family later moved to the Isle. Lawrence Wroth, in A
History of Printing in Colonial America, mentions Cumberland as Bacon's birthplace and that
his father was a master mariner, but notes that he had been unable to document either as fact.
Little is known of Bacon's early life, but he clearly received an exemplary education,
both in academic studies and in music. He must have married by the early 1730s and had a son,
John, born soon thereafter. By the mid-1730s, he lived in Dublin, where he worked in the
customs service. In 1737, Bacon published his first work, A Compleat System of the Revenue of
Ireland, in its Branches of Import, Export, and Inland Duties, Containing I. An Abridgement of
English and Irish Statutes Relating to the Revenue of Ireland II. The Former and Additional
Book of Rates Inwards and Outwards, etc. III. A View of the Duties which Compose the
Revenue of Ireland, etc. IV. The Method of Making Entries, etc. Bacon's obituary referred to
this endeavor as a "laborious and judicious Performance." The abridgement of English and Irish
statutes indicates an early interest in the codification of laws that Bacon brought to his later
compilation of Maryland statutes.
Within a year's time, Bacon decided to study for the ministry, rather than continue in a
civil service career, and returned to the Isle of Man where he prepared under the tutelage of
Thomas Wilson, Lord Bishop of Sodor and Man. Wilson ordained Bacon as a deacon on 23
September 1744 at Kirk Michael and as a priest -- "in order to go into the Plantations" -- on 10
March 1745. Bacon sailed for Maryland in the spring or summer of that year.
Arrival in Maryland
Bacon's link to Talbot County, where he first settled, probably came through his brother
Anthony, who was in the colony as early as 1733, when he lived in Bullenbrook Hundred in the
household of his uncle, merchant Anthony Richardson. As Anthony Bacon was only about
seventeen at the time, he was undoubtedly learning the mercantile trade from his uncle, with
whom he was associated in business until the latter's death in 1741. Thomas Bacon's arrival in
the county was anticipated in a letter from Henry Callister to his brother Hugh, dated 28 July
1744. The Callisters were also from the Isle of Man, and Bacon was bringing letters with him for
Henry, who was a representative in Oxford for the Liverpool firm of Foster Cunliffe and Sons.
"This Mr. Bacon you speak of," wrote Henry, "I suppose is brother to Mr. Anto. Bacon who kept
a store on this River and is now a Merchant in London, for I heard that one Bacon, a Brother of
his in Dublin who wrote a Book of Rates, was expected in this Country after getting orders in
London to be inducted Parson of our Parish, and that he had another Brother in Dublin [William]
who kept a Coffee House."
St. Peter's Parish
Bacon took up the position of curate of St. Peter's Parish, assisting the aged and infirm
minister, Daniel Maynadier. According to Callister, "He is very much esteemed by the best of
our people, and almost universally he is esteemed a clever fellow, and I believe a good man (12
November 1744). After Maynadier's death, on 23 February 1746, Bacon received from
Governor Thomas Bladen a letter of induction appointing him to the position of parish rector.
Upon presenting the letter and his certificates of ordination to the vestry on 18 March, that body
unanimously voted to receive Bacon as their minister. In an August letter to a friend in the Isle
of Man, Callister wrote of Bacon, "He is now our parson, and I think him the worthiest
clergyman I ever knew, not excepting the Bishop" [of Sodor and Man, the Thomas Wilson who
had ordained Bacon]. By this time, Callister had moved from Oxford to the Head of Wye and
Bacon had relocated his family from the same town to Dover, on the Choptank River.
The two friends shared not only their origins in the Isle of Man but also a love of music,
easily indulged when they lived in the same town, more rarely pursued after they left it. In letters
written in November 1744, shortly after Bacon's arrival, Callister told friends in Man that "I
should have pass'd for a tip top Musician if the Revd. Mr. Bacon had not come in. . . . His
performance on the Violin & Violincello has afforded us much delight & his Conversation as
much. I have a pretty set of Musick & he has still a better. We have had several concerts
together, and may have frequent opportunities to divert ourselves in that way."
The following year found Bacon across the Bay in Annapolis, delighting the members of
the capital's most famous social group, the Tuesday Club, with his musical abilities. The
minutes of the 26 November 1745 meeting recorded that "This night the Rev. Mr. Thomas
Bacon, Being invited to the Society, entertained them agreeably with Instrumental music on the
violin, and was by the Society admitted an Honorary member." The Club often entertained non-members
in the status of Stranger, but made only a few guests honorary members. Bacon
attended meetings of the club irregularly, not returning for a second visit until 24 February 1747.
At that time, Charles Cole, in excusing his own absence from the meeting, wrote that "if the Rev
Mr. Bacon, one of our worthy honorary members, be with you, as have heard he will, Mr.
Speaker [Cole] being absent, must desire the favor of Mr. Secretary, to make my Compliments of
congratulations on his appearance in Club, after So long an absence."
Bacon returned on the 26th of May to help celebrate the second anniversary of the club's
founding, this time in the company of three other honorary members, one of whom, Robert
Morris, was now the Oxford representative of Foster Cunliffe and Sons. For the evening's
performance of string instruments and two singers, Morris played the violin and Bacon the viol
de gamba. His next visit came in November 1749, when he was accompanied by a "Stranger"
well-known to him, his brother Anthony, soon to leave for England and commissioned to procure
a seal for the club. The following year, Bacon returned in May for the fifth anniversary
celebration, at which the musical members played the anniversary music, "Consisting of an
overture, air for his honor [the club president], minuet, and Pastorale, Composed by Mr. Bacon,
otherwise Signr. Lardini."
Bacon, Morris, and the Rev. John Gordon constituted the "Eastren Shore Club" or
"Eastren Shore Triumvirate" of honorary members. In September 1750 the club noted with
regret the "late Inexpressible loss" of Morris, and approved the request of the remaining
members to replace Morris with Mr. James Dickinson. "The Revd. Mr. Thomas Bacon
Entertained the Club with Several excellent pieces of music Solo, upon the violin after Supper."
In May 1751, on the occasion of the sixth anniversary, Bacon requested a "Commission . . . for
the Eastren Shore Triumvirate," a request granted two days later, naming the three as "a Legal,
valid, effectual, and Right worshipful Triumvirate." At the same meeting, "our Trusty and well
beloved John Bacon Esqr." was appointed "a right worthy and dignified Squire of our Eastren
Shore Triumvirate under the noble title of Sir John."
John Bacon, known to club members as John Gabble, was a vocalist who had performed
during the anniversary program with "an excellent good Grace." He was also, almost certainly,
Thomas Bacon's son. On 6 August 1754, Governor Horatio Sharpe issued a commission
appointing John Bacon as third Lieutenant of a "Company of Foot now raising within the
province." Bacon appeared at the 24 September meeting of the club, requesting a commission
from the president to serve on behalf of the club against the French. The president refused his
request and the attorney general noted that Bacon "had sat all the time upon his Bum, and never
once offered to rise and make a proper obeisance to the Chair." Bacon replied that he had been
on guard duty, with the army's recruits, at the guardhouse the preceding night and did not have
the strength to stand for any period of time. The secretary then noted that Bacon was "Second
Leutenant to the Independent Maryland foot Company, now on their march, against the French at
the Ohio, which commission, it is supposed, he got by his gallant behaviour in the Station of
Thomas Bacon attended meetings of the Tuesday Club through 1754, continuing to
entertain with his musical performances and to compose music for the club's anniversaries. He
outlasted both of his fellow members of the Eastern Shore Triumvirate, Gordon's last appearance
being in May 1751 and Dickinson's in October 1752. Alexander Hamilton's The History of the
Ancient and Honorable Tuesday Club and the Records of the Tuesday Club of Annapolis,
1745-56 provide a complete account of Bacon's association with the Tuesday Club - a relationship
significant not only for the opportunity it provided Bacon to compose and perform, but because
the associations he enjoyed as a result of membership in the club undoubtedly aided him greatly
when he embarked upon his compilation of the laws of Maryland.
Ministering to the inhabitants of his Talbot parish was, of course, Bacon's primary
activity, the Tuesday Club being only a pleasant and sociable diversion, an interlude of
friendship and culture in the increasingly sophisticated capital of the colony. No Alexander
Hamilton, however, followed Bacon as he made his parish rounds, so the evidence for this aspect
of his life is less easily obtained. But some clues do exist that offer evidence of his concern for
the education of the children of his parish, for the religious upbringing of the slaves held by his
parishioners, and for the internal affairs of the colony's Anglican church.
Bacon, himself a slaveowner, combined a concern for the welfare of the parish's black
population with an acquiescence, at best, in a social order that saw Africans and African
Americans held in bondage as occupying their rightful place in the 'chain of being.' Two
Sermons Preached to a Congregation of Black Slaves at the Parish of S.P. In the Province of
Maryland, By an American Pastor (London, 1749), addressed to "my dear black brothers and
sisters," held that blacks occupied the same position with respect to whites as children did to
loving fathers, but that blacks who behaved properly, who did their duty toward their masters and
followed the teachings of the church, had the same expectation of going to heaven as did whites.
Four Sermons upon the Great and Indispensable Duty of All Christian Masters and Mistresses to
Bring up Their Negro Slaves in the Knowledge and Fear of God (London, 1750) signaled
Bacon's equal concern with the obligations of masters to the people they held in bondage. The
latter volume was included among books chosen for distribution by the Society for Promoting
Charity Working School
Bacon did not limit his concern for the well-being of slaves to their religious education.
In 1750 he initiated a movement to provide a school for free, manual training for children
without regard to race, sex, or status. The subscription paper seeking funds for the Charity
Working School cited the "profaneness and debauchery, idleness and immorality . . . especially
among the poorer sort in this province" as justification for its appeal. Yearly subscriptions
would allow for "maintaining and teaching poor children to read, write and account" and
"instructing them in the knowledge and practice of the Christian religion, as taught in the Church
of England." "God only knows," wrote Bacon, "the necessity of such work in this province,
where education is hardly to be attained to, at any rate, by the children of the poor." Within a
few years, Bacon had raised sufficient funds to purchase 120 acres of land from David Robinson
and built a substantial brick home and school. The school flourished for a time, but three
decades after its founding, with Bacon and most of the trustees dead, the property was turned
over to the county for use as a poorhouse.
Thomas Bacon's abilities were recognized as well within his congregation and among the
clergy of Maryland. The parish church at Whitemarsh had fallen into disrepair prior to Bacon's
tenure, but after his arrival, the church was enlarged to nearly double its original size to
accommodate the growing numbers of parishioners. Bacon also oversaw repairs to the chapel of
ease and reinstituted services in that location. When the clergy of Maryland met in Annapolis in
August 1753 to consider the question of clerical discipline and the quality of Lord Baltimore's
appointments, the gathering appointed Bacon as clerk and recorder of the proceedings. The
meeting had been prompted by an address issued by Thomas Cradock, a Baltimore County
minister, in which he laid the blame for the lack of religious zeal among the colonists to the
proprietor's practice of appointing unsuitable men to the parishes in his colony. The group met
for two days, at the tavern of Mr. Middleton, where they prepared letters to both the proprietor
and the governor, working from drafts written by Bacon. The governor's letter was delivered in
person, with the delegates met at the gate by Governor Sharpe, who conducted them into his
house and entertained them at dinner. It is ironic that following Bacon's death, the proprietor
named as his successor at All Saints Parish in Frederick perhaps the most unsuitable man ever to
receive a living in Maryland - Bennett Allen, to replace a man characterized by Barker as the
"most scholarly of the Maryland clergy."
A smaller group of clergymen reconvened in Annapolis in October of the same year "to
consider of an Address to the Proprietary against the dangerous Encroachments of Popery, and
its Growth in this Province." According to historian Charles Barker, Bacon played a
conservative hand in the meeting, preventing the group from organizing formally and thus from
taking any action as a body - a step opposed by the proprietor as an infringement on his
prerogative. The only account of the second gathering comes from Bacon's own pen, in an
account that he sent to England, probably directed to Cecilius Calvert, the Principal Secretary.
Bacon, aware of the apprehension experienced by the governor and "Some Friends of the
Government," encouraged the other Eastern Shore clergymen to remain at home, but, as he "told
his Excellency . . . I wou'd be upon the Spot; as well to prevent Mischief, if in my Power, as to
give him timely Notice of what was a doing, that he might take proper Measures: which he
approved." He had also discussed the matter with Edmund Jennings, the deputy secretary, "in
the Conference Chamber [of the State House] at a Ball given by the Governor," prior to Jennings
return to England on 15 September.
The more radical portion of the clergymen present were led by Rev. Thomas Chase
(father of Samuel), at that time minister of St. Paul's Parish in Baltimore. According to Bacon,
Chase "was the Man behind the scenes who managed the Wires, & some others present were
little more than Poppets played about by him in different Attitudes." Chase had drawn up a list
of seventeen queries, read to the group by one of his puppets, at which point he asked the others
to approve a resolution to present the list to the Committee of Aggrievances of the Lower House.
Bacon argued long and persuasively against such action, convincing the others that to assert as
fact charges that were mostly supposition and to interfere in political matters would only bring
further disrepute upon the clergy. He held that religious goals would be better served by diligent
attention to ministerial duties, instructing their congregations in the "Knowledge of the holy
Scriptures, those eternal Bulwarks against Error & Superstition," and thus enabling their flocks
to resist popery in all its forms. In the end, the entire body signed a memorial to the governor
and Chase with a few allies presented his charges to a member of the house committee. Bacon
reported that the "Memorial thrown by our rash Minority before the Committee, was by them
tack'd to their own Report concerning Popery, and fell together with it in the lower House."
Bacon's report to the proprietor reveals more than the moderating influence that he
attempted to exert upon the proceedings. The missive provides testimony to the intellectual
attributes for which he is known - the skill of his pen and the quality of his mind. But Bacon's
narrative also subtly reveals the place he enjoyed among the provincial gentry: he was
entertained as a guest by the governor both at a ball and at dinner, he enjoyed the confidence of
the deputy secretary, and he excused himself from the clerical gathering at one point "having
promised to meet Col. [Edward] Lloyd [of Talbot County] about this House, in Order to make
Oath before two Provincial Justices as one of the Witnesses to his Security-Bond as Agent [and
Receiver General], a man described as "the greatest merchant in the province" and one of the
colony's wealthiest men. The following year, perhaps in recognition of his efforts on Lord
Baltimore's behalf during the convocations of the clergy in Annapolis, the proprietor appointed
Bacon one of his domestic chaplains in Maryland, an honor that Bacon valued enough to identify
himself eleven years later on the title page of the Laws of Maryland as "Rector of All-Saints
Parish . . . and Domestic Chaplain in Maryland to the Right Honourable Frederick Lord
The middle years of the decade, beginning in 1754, proved to be difficult ones for Bacon.
The early moves of the first incident appear in the criminal records of the June session of the
county court, in two seemingly unrelated entries. The first entry consisted of a recognizance
bond, in the amount of £10 and dated the 6th of June, requiring Bacon to present himself at court
during the current session "from day to day to answer unto such things as shall he then be
charged with." The second entry related a prosecution by the Lord Proprietor against Rachel
Beck, "spinster a mulatto woman," who on 10 May 1753 "did commit fornication with a certain
person to the [grand] jurors af[oresai]d unknown . . . [who] "did beget then and there a bastard
child on the body of the same Rachel." Beck pleaded guilty and was committed to the custody of
sheriff James Dickinson until her fine and fees were paid. No further mention was made of
Bacon's bond nor did he appear in connection with any case heard at that session.
Rachel Beck reappeared in the criminal proceedings in August 1755 when the justices
again committed her to the sheriff's custody "until she give security in the sum of one hundred
pounds current money for her appearance at the next assizes to be held for Talbot County and
then and there answer until all such matters and things as shall be objected against her." The
brief entry in the criminal proceedings may have related to a case pending in the civil court,
which began when the justices ordered the sheriff on 9 June to produce Beck in court to answer a
plea of trespass upon the case initiated by Thomas Bacon, with William Goldsborough acting as
his attorney. The clerk entered the date in the court proceedings as 9 June 1755, but the
summons must actually have been issued in 1754, as the case was continued for more than a year
and yet reached a settlement in August 1755, the court session where the entry can be found. A
1754 date would mean that Bacon initiated his suit immediately after Beck's trial, rather than
having waited a full year to take action.
Bacon's charge stated that "whereas the said Thomas is a good true faithful chaste
virtuous and honest liege subject of our Lord the King . . . and of good name fame reputation
conversation and behaviour among his neighbors . . . entirely clear and free and unsuspected of
committing any adultery or any other diabolical or atrocious crime, . . . nevertheless the said
Rachel . . . most unjustly wickedly and maliciously intending the same Thomas not only in his
good name fame credit and reputation afd greatly to hurt and scandalize, but also into danger of
punishment by the laws of this province to be inflicted on persons committing adultery . . . the
twenty ninth day of April in the year ... seventeen hundred and fifty four at the county afd him
the same Thomas falsely and maliciously . . . did . . . charge and accuse with having committed
adultery with her the same Rachel and begetting a bastard child." By Bacon's account, during
the June 1754 court a bill of indictment charging Bacon with adultery on 10 May 1753 [the date
of the fornication for which Beck was prosecuted] was presented to both the justices and the
grand jurors as a true bill on the basis of false testimony. "The jurors of the said grand inquest
after a diligent inquiry of the matter . . . did endorse [the bill on the back] to the justices afd that
they thereof were ignorant." In other words, the grand jury referred the bill for trial but
expressed doubts that Beck had truthfully named Bacon as the father of her child. When the case
came to trial, only Beck was prosecuted, although Bacon had been required to attend the court in
anticipation of a charge against him as well. Bacon thus sued Beck for damages to the value of
£100 sterling for the loss of his reputation, his legal expenses, and the "hindrance [he suffered] in
doing his honest and lawfull affairs."
Beck, through her attorney James Nicols, requested a series of continuances, which
carried the case through to the August 1755 session, when it finally came to trial after Beck
entered a plea of not guilty. The sheriff, James Dickinson, called a panel of petit jurors to hear
the case, but Beck challenged it on the grounds that Dickinson was "a near kin" to Bacon and
might, therefore, have filled the jury with men disposed to favor Bacon. Dickinson, who had
come to the colony in the early 1740s, acted as a factor for Bacon's brother Anthony - and was
the first cousin of the two brothers, being the son of their maternal aunt Jane and her husband
The justices agreed that Beck's objection was sufficiently valid to warrant dismissing the
first panel and ordered the coroners to seat a second panel. Nevertheless, the jurors who heard
the testimony, which was not recorded in the proceedings, determined that Beck was guilty and
assessed the damages that Bacon had requested. Yet another time, Beck was committed to the
custody of the sheriff, to be kept in "the public prison" until the damages, fees, and costs were
paid. Curiously, although the jury found Beck guilty and awarded substantial damages in the
amount of £100 sterling (not current money, which would have been a lesser sum), they assessed
the court costs at only one pound of tobacco, so nominal an amount as to be the equivalent of
none at all. It is difficult to know whether that award signaled any hesitation on the jury's part
about the validity of Beck's accusation. And it is doubtful that Bacon ever collected that sum
from Beck, although he might have obtained some compensation - were he willing to pursue the
matter through further suits - from Feddeman Rolle, who had appeared as Beck's security,
making him liable for payment should Beck lose the case and fail to pay Bacon the sums
awarded. Bacon had ultimately prevailed, but not before being subjected to the public
humiliation of an accusation of having committed adultery and fathering a bastard child.
Death and Remarriage
Bacon's first wife died in the interval between the original prosecution of Beck for bearing
a bastard child and Bacon's suit against Beck for slander. In 1755, Bacon's son John (evidently
his only child by his first marriage) died while serving in the French and Indian War. The
Maryland Gazette reported in the fall of 1754 that two units of soldiers, "raised in this
Province to go against the French on the Ohio," had left Annapolis to march to Frederick County.
The second contingent departed under the command of Lt. John Bacon. On 8 April 1756, Jonas Green
published the report of a deposition of one James Tucker that he had been at Capt. Waggoner's Fort
in Virginia "and heard some of Capt. Waggoner's Company say, that Mr. John Bacon, Lieutenant of
Capt. Dagworthy's Company, was kill'd and scalp'd by the Indians about 4 or 5 miles from Cumberland
Fort." John Gabble would no longer accompany his father to Annapolis or add his voice to those of
other instruments at musical gatherings. The deaths of his only family members thus added to the
difficulties of these years. Bacon remarried in 1756, but while the marriage might have restored
in some measure the family that he had so recently lost, in its own way it embroiled the minister
in a different set of legal problems. Rather than challenging his moral authority through accusa-
tions of personal wrong-doing, the new cases called into question his faithful performance of his
On 10 December 1755, Bacon had officiated at the marriage of Elizabeth Bozman,
daughter of Col. Thomas Bozman, a prominent county resident, and the Rev. John Belchier, an
adventurer with one wife already in England. Bozman left her husband in Philadelphia when she
learned of the bigamous nature of her marriage, returned to Talbot County, and within the year
married Bacon. In neither instance had marriage bans been read from the pulpit or a public
notice been placed at the courthouse door or meeting house, nor in either case was there a
certificate from the clerk of the court or another minister stating that such notice had been given.
The legislature had set the penalty for failure to follow proper procedures at five thousand
pounds of tobacco - a portion of which fine would go to anyone informing the court of an
infraction of the law. Bacon found himself facing prosecution for his actions in both marriages.
The first case concerned Bacon's own marriage to Elizabeth Bozman. On 11 November
1756, the justices ordered the sheriff to bring Bacon to the March court to answer a civil suit
filed by Archibald McCallum, on behalf of himself as the informer and the Lord Proprietor,
demanding payment of the five thousand pound fine. McCallum, a Talbot innkeeper, charged
that Bacon "did privately contract marriage with a certain Elizabeth Belchier alias Bozman" and
that the couple married contrary to the Act of Assembly regulating marriages [it would appear
that Bacon himself performed the ceremony, as no minister was prosecuted]. "Although often
required[,] the afd five thousand pounds of tobacco or any part whereof . . . [Bacon] hath not paid
but the same to them to pay altogether refused and doth still refuse." The case was continued
through four court sessions to March of the following year, when Bacon finally agreed that he
"cannot gainsay the action but oweth . . . the said five thousand pounds," to which, by this time,
his refusal to pay without going to court added 258 pounds and 6d. in court costs.
In March 1757, at the same court session in which McCallum brought his civil suit,
Bacon appeared in court to answer criminal charges filed by James Nicols (who had been Beck's
attorney, but was now the proprietor's prosecutor for Talbot County). Nicols "gave the justices
to understand" that Bacon had married Bozman and Belchier without proper notice by which
action he forfeited a second fine of five thousand pounds of tobacco. The case was continued for
two years until the March 1759 session, "whereupon the attorney of the afd Ld Propr[ietar]y saith
that against the afd Thomas Bacon . . . the said Ld Propry will not prosecute." At one court
session, in November 1757, Bacon had said "that he was not thereof guilty and thereof of good
and evil did put himself upon the country," but for reasons not explained a jury was not
impaneled to hear the charges. Nor did Nicols offer any explanation for the decision to drop the
The toll that the events of these years took on Bacon's spirit is revealed by a letter written
to Henry Callister in March 1757: "'few are the friends I have now in this world. . . . If bad
[news] keep it to yourself for I have no other for some time past and begin to be heartily tired of
it. I would not write to you on such a scrap of paper, if I had plenty of it as formerly; but the man
without money or credit, must do as he can. Music has departed and gone into another world
Removal to Frederick
It is not surprising, therefore, that when the living of All Saints parish in Frederick -
considered to be the most lucrative in the colony and about as far removed from his troubles in
Talbot as any place in the colony could be - became vacant and was offered to Bacon by the
vestry, he accepted the position of curate, with eventual appointment as rector. The family
moved from Dover to Frederick, where Bacon was invested with the living of All Saints in 1760.
Little evidence remains of Bacon's activities in his new parish, but in 1763 he did receive an
appointment as a member of the board of visitors charged with organizing a free school in the
county. During these years, of course, Bacon worked on his monumental project of collecting
the colony's laws, by a laborious process of examining original records and transcribing entries,
and then arranging for their publication. As this project was drawing to a close, Bacon
apparently took up his pen once more to debate constitutional and political issues in the service
of the proprietor.
On 17 November 1763, the Public Ledger in London had printed an anonymous series of
questions concerning the character of Maryland's provincial government, questions clearly
hostile in tone to the proprietary position. The following year, another anonymous pamphlet,
similar in tone to the Ledger questions, appeared as written "By a Friend to Maryland," under the
title "Remarks upon a Message sent by the Upper to the Lower House" during the March-April
1762 session of the legislature. (According to Wroth's analysis of the typography, the
"Remarks" came from Benjamin Franklin's press, and presumably were written by Franklin.)
Toward the end of the year, a second pamphlet of one hundred and sixty pages appeared, also
written by a "Friend to Maryland," under the title "An Answer to the Queries . . . and to the
The Calvert Papers collection at the Maryland Historical Society contains a rough draft of
the latter pamphlet, a manuscript with extensive corrections in a different hand. Comparison of
the corrections with other manuscript materials in the collection points to Cecilius Calvert, the
Principal Secretary, as the editor. The original draft itself is not in Thomas Bacon's handwriting,
but Daniel Dulany, writing to Cecilius Calvert on 10 September 1764, stated that "It was said
that an Answer was preparing to the Remarks with the assistance of Mr. Bacon. He is an
ingenious man and well acquainted with the springs of our Political Disputes." Bacon cannot be
positively identified as the author of the rough draft, but a learned essay ably arguing the
proprietary side of the array of issues that embroiled Maryland politics would be entirely
consistent with the skills he demonstrated during the convocations of the clergy a decade earlier.
(The pamphlets, in an abridged form, are included as an appendix to volume 59 of the Archives
of Maryland, Proceedings and Acts of the Assembly, 1764-65, pp 372-457.)
Bacon died intestate in Frederick on 24 May 1768, leaving his widow Elizabeth and three
daughters, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Mary. The court-appointed appraisers valued his property at
£384.10.10, not an enormous estate but one that placed him well above the median wealth of his
contemporaries. Music may have departed, but Bacon retained his "old harpsichord" and "two
old violins." He owned a gold snuff box, valued at £22.10.10 and left as a legacy to his wife, and
a number of pieces of silver: six tablespoons, six teaspoons, and a strainer. A pair of temple
spectacles testified both to his age and to the library that he owned: a listing of titles that covered
four pages of the inventory and included a number of medical books, religious works, many
classics of literature, two gardening books, and two copies of his own "Bacon's Laws," one
stitched and one bound. Twenty-eight small framed and glazed pictures decorated his walls as
did two large portraits, one of Bishop Thomas Wilson and the other of his brother Anthony;
Bacon also owned three dozen prints depicting the same Bishop Wilson. And he owned three
slaves, a boy and a woman and child, valued at £100.
Elizabeth Bacon's payments out of Bacon's estate included £20 for her husband's
funeral, £3.5.0 for the coffin in which he was buried, and 2s. 6d. for having the corpse shaved.
The Bacons' evidently rented their land and home from Daniel Dulany, Jr., son of the developer
of Frederick County and still a major landowner in the area, paying £35 rent for the property.
The account submitted on 9 July 1769 listed payments totaling £188.1.1, but was not the final
accounting, although the only record to survive. In June of 1768, Benedict Calvert had
submitted a petition to the General Assembly on behalf of Bacon's daughters, but it was decided
in the negative by the Lower House on the second reading. The substance of the petition does
not survive but must have dealt with settlement of Bacon's estate. It is worth noting that a
number of prominent members of the house, including William Paca, James Dickinson, Thomas
Jennings, and James Hollyday, voted in favor of the petition and that Benedict Calvert was a
member of the upper house and governor's council. By the time that Bacon's brother Anthony
wrote his will in 1785, only Rachel and Mary were still living; Mary had married a Moses
Passapae and Rachel was the wife of Risdon Bozman Harwood.
Bacon's obituary, which appeared in the 9 June 1768 issue of the Maryland Gazette,
summarized his life as follows:
On Tuesday, the 24th Ult. Died at Frederick-Town, in Frederick County, the Rev'd
Thomas Bacon's Laws of Maryland
Thomas Bacon, Rector of All Saints Parish, in that County, Author of a laborious
and judicious Performance entitled, A Complete System of the Revenue in
Ireland, published in 1737, by Order of the Chief Commissioners and Governors
of the Revenue, in that Kingdom. He also published several other valuable
Pieces; and in the Decline of Life, by several years intense Labour, compiled a
compleat Body of the Laws of this Province, as lately published. - His humane,
benevolent Disposition and amiable Deportment, gained him the Love and Esteem
of all his Parishioners. He was likewise an affectionate Husband, a tender Parent,
a kind Master, and a most agreeable Companion; which renders his Death not
only a Loss to his acquaintances but to Society in general.
Planned Abridgement of the Laws
In his 1757 letter to Henry Callister, quoted in part above, Bacon had also written that
'[t]he laws are my employment and my amusement," referring to a project on which he had first
embarked in 1753 and which culminated in the work for which he is still known, the Laws of
Maryland at Large, with proper Indexes, printed in 1765 by Jonas Green. Lawrence C. Wroth,
in his comprehensive A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 1686-1776, described Bacon's
compilation as "not only the most important of the legal publications of the Province of
Maryland, but . . . also to have been a specimen of typography which has not been exceeded in
dignity and beauty by any production of an American colonial press".
Bacon submitted a petition to the Talbot County court in December 1753 that outlined his
initial proposal for an abridgement of all the laws currently in force, organized under an
alphabetical list of subject headings, similar to his earlier work on the Irish revenue laws. He
made this proposal, Bacon stated, "by approbation of his Excellency Horatio Sharpe, Esq.,
Governor" and with the encouragement of "several eminent lawyers, and other gentlemen."
Sharpe he knew from the convocation of the clergy that had taken place in Annapolis a few
months earlier; the lawyers and other gentlemen may well have been fellow members of the
Tuesday Club, parishioners, or neighbors. Because of the scarcity of printed copies of legislative
acts, Bacon's petition sought permission to consult the printed collection of laws that was the
property of the county and its justices. His request meeting with approval, the court granted him
the right to "apply to the Clerk of this County to have recourse to the Acts of Assembly,
afor[sai]d and that he shall not remove any of them out of the said Clerk's office."
1758 Petition for Legislative Support
Four and one-half years later, Bacon, having perhaps ridden the several miles from his
home in Dover to the courthouse to consult the Acts as frequently as his other responsibilities
and obligations allowed , announced in the 22 June 1758 issue of the Maryland Gazette a
prospectus for publication of his "compleated" abridgement. Bacon had prepared his manuscript
but now needed funds to print it. In the same announcement, however, he went on to inform the
public that he had applied to the last session of the General Assembly for support in making his
abridgement a supplement to a Body of Laws, to also include a transcription of the colony's
charter and "other useful matters." Because the Assembly had postponed consideration of the
proposal, Bacon invited readers to support his publication through subscriptions, which could be
arranged through agents who were prepared to collect the funds in several counties .
Bacon's proposal came before the Lower House on 3 April 1758, when it was submitted
by William Goldsborough, Esq. of Talbot County, a member of the Upper House and of the
governor's council, but also one of the two Talbot County men Bacon later named as agents for
his proposed subscription, and perhaps one of the lawyers Bacon had referred to as encouraging
his efforts. The timing of Bacon's petition is suggestive. Goldsborough (who also served on
Bacon's vestry in 1747, was a trustee of Bacon's Charity Working School, and had been Bacon's
attorney in his suit against Rachel Beck) may well have alerted Bacon to an earlier petition,
presented to the Upper House on 16 February on behalf of Thomas Clark and George Scott
(possibly Prince George's County lawyers), "setting forth that having spent some Time in
collecting the public Laws of this Province, which they propose to print . . . [and] pray that some
Encouragement may be given them by the Legislature toward the Publication of the same."
Bacon's June Gazette announcement stated that consideration of his petition had been postponed
"by a particular accident" - perhaps the nearly-concurrent submission of a competing proposal
leading the committee to which both requests had been referred to avoid making a choice by
taking no action at all.
Bacon's efforts to secure public funding for his proposed Body of Laws thus began in
conflict with the similar proposal by Clark and Scott, and they continued to be surrounded by
controversy for the next the next three years. Subsequent petitions ended in failure, however, not
because others wished to do the same work, but because they became pawns in the ongoing
struggle between the Upper House's defense of the proprietor's prerogative and the Lower
House's efforts to place limits upon those powers, a struggle intensified during these years by
profound disagreements over funding for the French and Indian War.
Second 1758 Petition
On 27 October 1758, the Upper House delegated Richard Lee to convey a new Bacon
petition to the Lower House, which noted its arrival on the 28th, when it was read and ordered to
lie on the table. A month later, on 29 November, Colonel Benjamin Tasker again delivered a
petition (perhaps the same one, perhaps a revision), endorsed by the Upper House, to the Lower,
where it was read and again ordered to lie on the table. Two weeks later, on 16 December, a
Saturday, a committee of nine members, charged with considering the proposal, met and
requested more detailed information from Bacon about his plans. Bacon, who was in Annapolis
at the time, supplied the answers the following Monday, stating that he would provide eighteen
copies of the Body of Laws for public use for the sum of £300 currency and that each subscriber
would pay £2 for his copy. The committee subsequently reported "their Opinion, that the
Publication of a Body of Laws of this Province, in the Manner proposed by the Petitioner, would
be of great and general Utility." They recommended that the Lower House appoint three
members to meet with Bacon to inspect the provincial records to determine what laws "are in
Force, or proper to be inserted." They agreed to the charge for the public copies, providing they
be supplied within eighteen months from the date the committee of three approved the original,
but recommended that the price for subscribers' copies be determined when the work was
complete and the number of sheets known.
Unfortunately for Bacon, the committee further recommended that any bill authorizing
the project contain a clause stating that "all Laws heretofore made, and more especially such, the
Force or Existence whereof have been any Ways questioned or disputed, shall remain, continue,
and be in the same State and Condition . . . as if the said Body had not been collected, compiled,
and published; and that no Law whatever, or any Part thereof, shall be repealed, abrogated, or
made null or void, or receive any additional Force or Strength, thereby." This last signaled the
point of conflict between the two houses: the status of the Tobacco Export Duty Act of 1704,
which the Lords Baltimore claimed allowed them to appropriate for their own personal use the
duty of twelve pence levied on each hogshead of tobacco exported from the colony. As long as
the two houses disagreed over the legitimate status of a legislative act, they would not be able to
agree on the content of the Body of Laws.
1760 Petition for Legislative Support
The Lower House, concurring with the report of its committee on 23 December, noted
that it was to be referred to the next session, the 23rd being the last day of the 1758 session. The
assembly met next in April 1759, but no reference to Bacon's petition occurs in the journal of
either house. The next meeting of the assembly began on 22 March 1760, with Bacon's petition
referred to the Lower House on 31 March. That body read the request on 1 April but deferred it
again to the next assembly session. The third session of this body of representatives began on 26
September 1760 and on the 11th the delegates once more took up Bacon's petition, reading it for
the first and second time, authorizing access for Bacon to old journals and copies of laws among
the records of the Lower House, and appointing a committee to draw up a bill for the purposes
outlined in the petition. At the second reading of the bill, on 15 October, the house passed, by a
vote of 22 to 7, a motion to include the committee members' names in the bill. No further
explanation of this change appears in the journal, but it suggests that the bill drawn up in October
1760 was essentially the same as that proposed two years earlier, by which the Lower House
would name the three individuals who would meet with Bacon to determine what laws "are in
Force, or proper to be inserted." Given that the two bodies already knew that a serious
disagreement existed on this issue, under no circumstances would the Upper House agree to a bill
permitting the Lower House to name all the commissioners. The Lower House passed its version
of the legislation during the morning of 15 October and sent it "to the Upper House by Mr.
Carroll and Mr. Hammond." By the time that Benedict Calvert had conveyed a bill from the
Upper House to the Lower and the delegates had read and passed it, Stephen Bordley appeared in
their chamber, returning the bill "for Encouraging a Collection and Publication of the Laws,"
endorsed "By the Upper House of Assembly, 15th October, 1760. Read the first Time, and will
not pass." Bacon's efforts had failed once more, but the Lower House took the unusual step of
ordering Jonas Green to print the bill in the Maryland Gazette, where it appeared on 30 October
[included in volume 56, Archives of Maryland: Proceedings and Acts of the Assembly, 1758-61,
Appendix III, 514-516].
1761 Petition for Legislative Support
A final attempt to secure passage of a bill occurred in the last meeting of this assembly,
the third convention that began on 13 April 1761. Ten days later the Lower House appointed a
committee of three to prepare a "bill for publication." On the 25th, Matthew Tilghman delivered
the bill to the full house, which read it for the first time. Three days later, before the second
reading, the house named four men to examine its journals to determine what members had
previously been appointed to revise the laws for prior publications of any collection of laws.
One assumes that they sought precedents for the authority they claimed to name the
commissioners appointed for that task. The committee reported back on the 29th in some detail
concerning the procedures followed in 1692 and 1715; in one instance each house named
representatives for a "Committee for Examination and Inspection of the Body of Laws" and in
the other members of the Upper House joined the Committee of Laws of the Lower House for
the same purpose.
The Lower House committee brought in its bill for discussion on the afternoon of 29
April. Delegates defeated a motion to send a message to the Upper House, asking it to name
three of its members to join seven men from the Lower House as a committee to examine the
laws. A revised motion, asking the Upper House to name its members to join the seven named
by the Lower House, passed by a vote of 18 to 17. The following morning the delegates resumed
consideration of the bill, succeeding on their third attempt in agreeing to wording that would
resolve to their satisfaction the status of the Tobacco Export Act. By a vote of 24 to 11, the
delegates resolved "That a Proviso be added to the said Bill, ordering that the Act by which the
Lord Proprietary takes the 12 d. Sterling per Hogshead on all Tobaccoes exported out of this
Province, be not inserted in the Collection of Laws to be made by Mr. Thomas Bacon, but put in
an Appendix thereto."
On the following day, 1 May, the "Proposals for Printing a Collection of the Laws of this
Province" were entered into the journal of the Lower House. These included several stipulations
as to the organization of the material, the requirement that a copy of the completed work be
submitted to the governor and both houses for approval by the next session after 25 August 1761,
that the governor and each house receive a printed and bound copy in return for a subsidy of
£200, and that any further payment to Bacon would come from the sale of subscription copies.
The proposals are dated 1758 and signed with Bacon's name, although they both differ from and
expand upon the responses he had given to the committee in that year. Before adjourning for
dinner, the delegates also sent a message to the Upper House in which they identified the
members they wished to appoint to the joint committee and asked that body to name its
representatives. When deliberations resumed in the afternoon, the Lower House, having received
a reply from the Upper House with the names of its committee members and having inserted
those names in the bill, read the draft for the second time, passed it, and sent the endorsed copy
to the Upper House.
The Upper House journal next mentions the legislation on 6 May, by which time it had
been carefully scrutinized and amended by that body, a group of men who also served as the
governor's council, were appointed by the proprietor, and defended his interests. Several of the
amendments were relatively minor: adjusting a salary for the clerk who would assist the
committee, stipulating that Bacon deliver printed copies to each county court in exchange for
payments spelled out in the revision, requiring verification of their delivery, and so forth. Two
changes, however, related to the disputed Tobacco Export Act. The second change deleted the
words "and Appendix," likely referring to the Lower House amendment that required Bacon to
include the 1704 act only in an appendix. The first change suggests that the bill of 1761
contained some of the language found in the failed bill of the preceding fall, whose text appeared
in the Gazette. The relevant passage from 1760 read: "Provided nevertheless . . . That all the
Laws, heretofore made, and more especially such, the Force or Existence whereof have been any
ways questioned or disputed, shall remain, continue, and be in the same State and Condition . . .
as if the said Collection and Publication had never been made." The Upper House amendment
struck out the italicized words. Thus, the Body of Laws, if printed according to the Upper House
bill, would have included the Tobacco Export Act among the laws in use and in force. The
Upper House passed its version and sent the endorsed copy to the delegates. It is most unlikely
that the Lower House would have approved the amended bill without changes, or that the two
houses would find wording acceptable to both, but the governor prorogued the assembly before
the delegates took any action of approval or disapproval.
Publication of the Laws of Maryland
The circumstances under which Bacon concluded his labors and succeeded in having the
Laws of Maryland printed are ably described by Wroth in A History of Printing in Colonial
Maryland, but will be summarized here, as that volume is out of print and copies are not readily
available. A request from the Board of Trade to Governor Horatio Sharpe for a printed edition of
Maryland laws led Sharpe to correspondence in January 1761 with Cecilius Calvert, Principal
Secretary to Lord Baltimore for the colony, on the subject of using Bacon's compilation to
satisfy the Board's request. Sharpe had paid for a transcript of laws for the Colonial Office out
of his own pocket in 1755, a sum for which the Assembly had refused to reimburse him, and he
knew better than to expect the Lower House to approve any funding for an edition of laws that
included the Tonnage Act. He therefore proposed that publication of Bacon's collection be
achieved through a general subscription, for which he requested both the proprietor's approval
and a contribution. In his answering letter of June 1761, Calvert conveyed agreement with
Sharpe's request and commitments toward the printing costs from Lord Baltimore for £100
sterling and from himself for £25. Sharpe subscribed £100 current money and obtained £50
current money each from nineteen men, drawn from "among the principal gentlemen and
officials of the Province." Seven of the men were members of the governor's council: Benjamin
Tasker, Samuel Chamberlaine, Edward Lloyd, Benedict Calvert, Daniel Dulany, Stephen
Bordley, and John Ridout. John Ross served as clerk of the Upper House and Upton Scott was
his son-in-law. Walter Dulany and George Steuart represented Annapolis in the Lower House,
where they generally voted as members of the proprietary faction; both Steuart and John Brice
were provincial court justices, and Steuart was also a judge of the Land Office as was Benedict
Calvert. Daniel Wolstenholme, Charles Wallace, and Lancelot Jacques were Annapolis
merchants, and Samuel Galloway of Tulip Hill was a wealthy planter with mercantile interests.
Although Thomas Johnson would become Maryland's first elected governor in 1777, at this time
he was studying law with Stephen Bordley and in the 1760s was a partner with Lancelot Jacques
in an iron furnace. Only Charles Carroll the Barrister and Charles Carroll of Annapolis appear to
be anomalies among this group. Sharpe's influence and support may have persuaded most of
these individuals to agree to contribute to the publication fund, but it is worth noting that twelve
of the nineteen may also have known Bacon through the Tuesday Club. The funds received from
the subscribers went to pay the publication expenses - paper, type, printing, and binding - with
the understanding that they would be repaid from sales receipts.
Working from original records in the office of the Provincial Secretary and from the
manuscript journals of the Lower House, Bacon gathered together all the acts passed by the
General Assembly for a period of one hundred and twenty-six years (with, according to Wroth,
only one possible omission). These included laws that received mention only in the Lower
House journals or whose titles were known only from subsequent repealing or continuing acts.
Those laws still in force (including, of course, the Tonnage Act of 1704) Bacon generally printed
in full and noted all continuations; for those no longer in force, he documented their expiration or
abrogation. The abridgement of laws, with which his project began, Bacon now used as the basis
for a comprehensive index. By the winter of 1762, according to Sharpe, Bacon had reached the
point of journeying to Annapolis for the task of comparing his manuscript with the original
Delivery of the Completed Manuscript
Thus, on 24 July 1762, Bacon and Reverdy Ghiselin, clerk of the Provincial Court,
appeared before two of its justices - subscribers John Brice and George Steuart - with six
manuscript volumes in folio, "containing a Transcript of the Acts of Assembly of this Province,
now in Force or Use from the Year 1637, to the Year 1762." They swore under oath "That they
had carefully and diligently Examined and Compared all the several Acts . . . with the Original
Acts which Passed the Great Seal of this Province . . . or to be found in the Secretary's Office of
this Province . . . And that the said several Acts . . . are true Copies of the Original Acts, or
Records respectively, . . . to the best of their Knowledge, Skill and Belief."
Printing the Manuscript
Although the title page of Bacon's work bears a publication date of 1765, it was just a
few days short of four years later that Sharpe wrote Hugh Hamersly, now the Principal Secretary,
that he was about to ship the first two bound volumes to England. In a letter of 4 June 1763,
Sharpe explained to the Board of Trade, in response to a renewal of their request for a copy of
Maryland's laws, that there had been delays in shipping the necessary paper, which Lancelot
Jacques had ordered from Bacon's brother Anthony. Nine months more elapsed before Sharpe
sent Cecilius Calvert the first thirty-four sheets of printed laws. On 13 November 1764 and 26
February 1765, Sharpe dispatched additional sheets, whose printing, he explained, carried the
publication through the laws of 1745. On 10 July 1765, he wrote that the "Acts are at length all
printed & I now send you copies of the last of them, & as soon as some Copies of the Index &
Preface can be printed the Books will be bound & exposed to Sale." But it was another year
before Sharpe wrote to Hamersly on 21 July 1766 to say that "I shall by a Ship of Mr. John
Buchanan . . . transmit you two bound Copies one of them for the Lords of Trade to be presented
with the inclosed Letter & the other for the use of the Council Office . . . , the next Ship Capt.
Richardson in Groves's Employ will bring you another Copy or two." Sharpe's letter to the
Board of Trade informed them that "a compleat Collection of the Acts of Assembly which have
been made in this Province & are now in force having been just printed here after many
obstructions & Delays I embrace the first opportunity to transmit Your Ldps a Copy in obedience
to your Commands some time ago signified to[.] Your Ldps most obedt. humb. servt."
Testimonials to Bacon's Work
Bacon's monumental task had ended, thirteen years after he first requested permission to
use the Talbot County records to prepare an abridgement of the colony's laws. The £100 sterling
contribution that Lord Baltimore had pledged for underwriting the project was converted to an
outright gift to Bacon in appreciation of his work, for which he also received from the proprietor
a small gold box - undoubtedly the gold snuff box that he left as a legacy to his wife when he
The proprietor was not alone is his appreciation of Bacon's efforts. "In scholarly and
systematic arrangement as well as in accuracy and completeness it excelled any of the former
bodies of law which the Province had possessed. . . . [U]ntil the publication of the Archives of
Maryland was begun in the closing years of the nineteenth century, it remained to the historian
and the antiquarian the most useful single source on the past of the Province of Maryland,"
according to Wroth. "To possess a collection of works on Maryland history from which a copy
of Bacon has been omitted is to have a house built upon sand, while a collection of colonial laws
or of works illustrative of American printing which does not include that work, by this omission
confesses itself incomplete." It is fitting, therefore, that Bacon's Laws of Maryland now
becomes part of the Archives of Maryland.
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Co., Inc., 1999.
Barker, Charles Albro. The Background of the Revolution in Maryland. New Haven: Yale
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University of Illinois Press, 1988.
Hamilton, Alexander. The History of the Ancient and Honorable Tuesday Club. Robert
Micklus, ed. Three volumes. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press for
the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1990.
Owings, Donnell M. Hist Lordship's Patronage: Offices of Profit in Colonial Maryland.
Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1953.
Papenfuse, Edward C., et al. A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789.
Two volumes. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979, 1985.
Pleasants, J. Hall, ed. Archives of Maryland. Volumes 55, 56, 58, and 59.
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Tilghman, Oswald, ed. History of Talbot County, Maryland, 1661-1861. Volume 2. Baltimore:
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Wroth, Lawrence C. A History of Printing in Colonial Maryland, 1686-1776. Baltimore:
Typothetae of Baltimore, 1922.
Talbot County Civil and Criminal Court Records
Jean B. Russo
Associate General Editor