John Hanson Briscoe & Historic Sotterley

During his retirement John Hanson Briscoe served as the president of Sotterley’s board of trustees. John Hanson, whose father was born at Sotterley and whose family owned the land for much of the nineteenth-century, was interviewed a few years after he left the board. In it, he discusses some of his favorite memories from Sotterley, what he felt about his accomplishments as a trustee, and some of what he wished he could have accomplished. Excerpts from that interview are, with Sotterley’s permission, provided below:

A future chapter of the John Hanson Briscoe Historical Project will cover the Briscoe family’s long history with the National Historic Landmark. Some of that history can be found now on Sotterley’s own website:

“Thomas Barber acquired the property soon after, and upon Barber’s death in 1826, Sotterley was willed to his daughters, Lydia Barber and her step-sister, Emeline Dallam. The property, including the enslaved population; was divided between the two women. Emeline, who had inherited the parcel of land with the plantation house, married Dr. Walter Hanson Stone Briscoe and during their sixty year marriage that spanned through the Civil War, Emancipation, and Reconstruction, made their living with a medical practice, running a girl’s boarding school, and farming a 400 acre mixed crop with over 50 slaves.

“As Confederate sympathizers, three of the Briscoe’s sons, Chapman, Henry, and David, went to Richmond and joined the Army of Northern Virginia. George W. Barnes (Briscoe), an enslaved Sotterley farmer, joined the U.S.C.T. 7th Regiment in 1863, opposing the son of his owner at the Battle of Petersburg. Sotterley’s owners supported their wealth and property through enslaved labor for 165 years. There were many examples of flight and resistance. Maryland emancipated slaves on November 1, 1864 through the state constitution. With the collapse of the slave system of labor and lack of industrialization, Sotterley with the rest of St. Mary’s County fell on hard economic times.”

“Today, Sotterley is the only tidewater plantation in Maryland open to the public that is a testament to all those that lived, died, labored, and resisted here. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000, Sotterley is older than Mount Vernon with a history that spans three centuries. A non-profit public charity, Sotterley is governed by a Board of Trustees that has included descendants of former owners and former enslaved, and is supported by fees, grants, memberships, sponsors, and events. The mission of Historic Sotterley, Inc. is to preserve, research, and interpret Sotterley Plantation’s diverse cultures and environments, and to serve as a public educational resource. As part of the Southern Maryland community, Sotterley offers a variety of cultural and educational tours, events, exhibits, and programs for all ages on its beautiful 95 acre site on the shore of the