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About this collection

Thomas Johnson, Maryland's first elected Governor, held a variety of positions throughout his life in the political arena as well as in the private sector. This collection includes letters written to Johnson from a variety of sources, and the commission of Gov. Johnson as one of the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Collection Location: C. Burr Artz Public Library, Frederick County Public Libraries

Letter addressed to Thomas JohnsonCollection Overview:

Scope and Content - Johnson material

The bulk of the Ross Manuscript collection consists of letters and various manuscripts relating to Thomas Johnson (1732-1819), the first elected governor of Maryland. Most of the items are correspondence to Johnson from a variety of sources including letters from George Washington, Daniel Carroll, John Jay and others. Also included is the commission of Governor Johnson as one of the Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Only the notes and the draft of a letter are penned by Johnson.

This small group of Johnson materials does not reflect the diversity and depth of Johnson's career, and can be considered to have a more intrinsic value to the Frederick community than any documentary scholarly value, which could add to our understanding of Thomas Johnson as an historical figure.

Scope and Content - Lafayette material

The Ross collection also contains 2 items that relate to the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) to Frederick in 1824. These items include the invitation to General Lafayette from a committee of prominent Frederick residents lead by Colonel John McPherson as well as Lafayette's handwritten reply.

Biographical Notes/Provenance

Ann Grahame McPherson Ross

Mrs. Ann Grahame McPherson Ross was born in Frederick, May 17, 1827. She was the daughter of Colonel John McPherson, Jr., whose wife, Frances Russell Johnson, was the daughter of Governor Thomas Johnson's eldest child, Thomas Jennings Johnson.

Ann married Worthington Ross, son of William Ross, a prominent Frederick attorney, on January 22, 1850. Worthington became an attorney as well; however he died at the age of 35 in 1854. Ann spent the next 42 years actively working in religious, patriotic and charitable activities in the city of Frederick.

Ross was a devout member of the All Saints Episcopal Church, a Charter member of the Frederick Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and one of the oldest members of the King's Daughters. She was the elected President of the Orphan House of All Saints Church from 1864-1894.

She founded and donated the Ross house on Record Street as a home for aged women in 1892. She subsequently set up an endowment for the home, helped establish a corporation for it, and encouraged others in the community to make donations.

As a direct descendant of Thomas Johnson and John McPherson, Ann was heir to the Johnson manuscript collection, the Lafayette letters, as well as a family portrait of the Johnson family painted by Charles Wilson Peale in 1772. Ross felt strongly that these materials should always remain in Frederick, and she was also aware of the pending establishment of a library in Frederick that was provided for in the will of Mrs. C. Burr Artz.

In 1896, Ross made a provision in her will to have the Johnson/McPherson family gifts deposited into the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore until Frederick had its own library. The manuscripts and painting were deposited into the new C. Burr Artz Library in 1937.

Biographical Notes/Provenance - Thomas Johnson

Thomas Johnson (1732-1819), Maryland's first elected Governor, held a variety of positions throughout his life both in the political arena as well as in the private sector. He was born on November 4, 1732, near Leonard's Creek, Calvert County to Thomas Johnson and Dorcas (Sedgwick) Johnson. He studied and practiced law in Annapolis and was a member of the Continental Congress. He married Anne Jennings in 1766, and had eight children. He moved to Frederick County in 1779 where he had built an elegant home called Richfield.

He served as Governor from 1777 to 1780, Supreme Court Justice in 1791, as well as the Commissioner of the new Capital in Washington, D. C. in 1791.   Johnson was one of the first directors of the Potomac Company, and a close friend of George Washington. He was responsible for nominating Washington as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Thomas Johnson died at the age of 87 at Rose Hill Manor, in Frederick, an estate that he had given to his daughter Anne Jennings Grahame. Originally buried in All Saints Parish Cemetery, Johnson is now buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick.

Biographical Timeline of Thomas Johnson

  • 1732 - Born to Dorcas Sedgwick and Thomas Johnson in Calvert County
  • 1710-1764 - Studied law with Stephen Bordley while clerk of Maryland Provincial Court
  • 1756 - Admitted to the Bar of Annapolis Mayor's Court
  • 1760 - Admitted to the bar of Frederick and Baltimore Counties
  • 1762-1774 - Elected to represent Anne Arundel County in the Lower House of Assembly
  • 1763-1765 - Patented over 21,000 acres of land in Frederick County
  • 1766 - Married Anne Jennings, had eight children
  • 1774-1776 - Member of the First and Second Continental Congress
  • 1776 - Raised money for Washington's army
  • 1777-1780 - First Governor of Maryland
  • 1780-1782 - Member of the Maryland House of Delegates
  • 1785 - Chosen by the Confederation Congress to be the judge between Massachusetts and New York in a dispute over the territory west of the Genessee River
  • 1785 - Joined Washington and others to form the Potomac Company to further
    navigation on the Potomac River
  • 1786 - Frederick county Representative in House of Delegates as well as Frederick
    County Representative at the state ratifying Convention
  • 1789 - Appointed by George Washington to be U.S. District Judge of Maryland
  • 1790 - Chief Judge in Maryland General Court
  • 1791- Appointed to U.S. Supreme Court
  • 1791-1794 Commissioner of the New Capital
  • 1792 - Retired from the Court to Frederick
  • 1800 - Gave a eulogy for Washington at the Frederick Memorial Service
  • 1800 - Sold Richfield to William Goldsborough and moved in with daughter Ann Jennings Grahame at Rose Hill
  • 1819 - Died at Rose Hill

Provenance - Marquis de Lafayette

The French General, Revolutionary War hero and ally to the American cause of independence, as well as a close personal friend of General George Washington, spent an entire year touring the United States in 1824-1825. On November 27th, Colonel John McPherson, a war veteran and presiding member of a Frederick Committee to invite Lafayette to the city, sent an invitation for the General to visit in late December. This handwritten copy of the invitation McPherson wrote in 1824 is in the collection.

General Lafayette was unable to be in Frederick for the exact dates that McPherson had suggested; however, on December 27, Lafayette answered that he would arrive on the 29th and stay until the morning of the 31st. Lafayette stayed at the McPherson residence on Record Street. This is the letter that Lafayette wrote to McPherson and his committee is also in the collection. These letters came to Ann Grahame McPherson Ross from her father Colonel John McPherson.

Bibliography for Thomas Johnson Research

  • Delaplaine, Edward S. Thomas Johnson, Maryland and the Constitution, Maryland State Bar Association, 1925.
  • Delaplaine, Edward S. The Life of Thomas Johnson, Frederick H. Hitchcock, New York, 1927.
  • Garraty, John A. & Carnes, Mark C, eds. American National Biography, Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Papenfuse, Edward C. A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature 1635-1789, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.
  • Maryland State Archives Biographical Series- Thomas Johnson at
  • Rose Hill Manor website
  • [Other collections of Thomas Johnson materials may be found in the Washington papers at the Library of Congress, in Record Group 59 in the National Archives, as well as in the Executive Records in the Maryland State Archives]

Collection overview provided by Waneta Gagne, Maryland Room Librarian and Archivist, C. Burr Artz Public Library, Frederick County Public Libraries.

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