The following is from a Historic American Buildings Survey report.
Sotterley mansion is located in St. Mary's County where Maryland's colonial
history began. From its site overlooking the tidewaters of the Patuxent River, it is only fourteen miles to the
Colony's first capital, St. Mary's City, the site of the founding of the First
Maryland Colony in 1634.
The mansion itself, a low white structure 100 feet long and
20 feet deep, one and a half to two stories high, is superbly situated on a
ridge from which gently falling meadows sweep down to sandy bluffs at the
river1 s edge. Its steeply pitched roofs and tall chimneys give the effect of a
long, low farmhouse. This picture of Sotterley mansion was familiar to
generations of seafarers whose vessels sailed into Sotterley Creek to pay
customs duties, or to deliver and accept cargo. In this way the productivity of
the plantation was woven into the commercial fabric of Maryland, of the other colonies and the
With its two and a half centuries of history and tradition,
this picturesque manor ranks high among Maryland’s
historically and architecturally important landmarks. Today, under the auspices
of the Sotterley Mansion Foundation, Inc. and the sponsorship of the Society
for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities, it is made available for the
enjoyment and education of the public.
1650-1729 History of Land on Which Sotterley Was Built
In 1650, Cecelius, Lord Baltimore, granted to Captain Thomas
Cornwallis a 4,000 acre tract on the western shore of the Patuxent River, about
10 miles above the river's mouth and opposite the present St. Leonard’s Creek,
Calvert County. To this property Captain Cornwall is gave the name Resurrection
Nine years later in 1659 Cornwallis sold it to John Bateman,
"merchant and haberdasher of London."
After Bateman’s death in 1663, claims were made against the estate by Henry
Scarborough of London.
There followed a long period of litigation ending in 1674 when the manor was
sold to Captain Richard Perry and the proceeds divided between Scarborough and
Bateman's sole heir, his daughter Mary. The ten years of Perry's ownership
marked a profound change in the nature of the property. At the time of its sale
in 1684, Perry was in a position to turn over not a simple tract of land
uncleared and unadorned, but, "... all the Manor of the
Resurrection," including all the outbuildings, tobacco houses, barns, and negroes
on said property for £500."
The purchasers this time were the cousins, Thomas and George
Plowden, scions of an ancient Shropshire
family and grandsons of Sir Edmund Plowden, self-styled Earl Palatine of New
Albion. It was during the Plowden ownership in 1694 that nearby St. Mary's City
was supplanted by Providence (later called Annapolis) as Maryland's
In all the transfers of the property by grant, sale, and
inheritance so far described, Resurrection Manor had retained the large part of
its original acreage. In 1710, however, George Plowden sold 890 acres to James
Bowles, a Freeman and a member of the Council of Maryland. The Bowles purchase
represented the first substantial division of the original manor. In the early
official records it is referred to as "Bowles’ Preservation," but is
also often called "Bowles: Separation." With James Bowles, a member
of the Council of Maryland, begins the record, so distinguished in later years
by the Platers, of owners identified with the political life of Maryland.
History of Sotterley
Sometime after 1717 James Bowles built the house which
almost undoubtedly constitutes the main part of the present mansion. He also
increased his land holdings in the neighborhood by some 400 acres, much of
which was cleared and farmed. From the inventory of Bowles' property at the
time of his death in 1727,
we have a picture of his home and plantation, and of the way of life of a
Maryland Gentleman in the first quarter of the 18th Century. In addition to the
residence there was a dairy, a meat house, an accounting house, a barn, a shop
and many other outbuildings. A platt drawn up from a 1716 survey of Bowles’
property conforms accurately to the outline of the present-day Sotterley.
In 1729 Bowles' widow, the former Rebecca Addison, married
George Plater II, thus commencing almost a century of occupancy by the Plater
1729-1822 Plater Period
With George Plater II began a remarkable tenure of this
property by four generations of the same family with the same given name. He
followed his father in the law and in distinguished service to the Provincial
Government as Naval Officer of the Patuxent District, member of his Lordship’s
Council and Secretary of the Province. When his wife, Rebecca (the former Widow
Bowles), died sometime between 1742- 1749, the property reverted to the three
Bowles daughters, Jane, Eleanor, and Mary, who by that time had married into
families. Although Plater as widower was entitled to remain on his wife's
estate as long as he lived, his attachment to the manor and the fact that he
had a son to whom he wanted to bequeath it, led him to purchase the property
from his step- daughters.
Upon his death in 1755, George Plater II "was able to
bestow upon his children a rich patrimony, and he established the name Plater
so firmly in Maryland,
it became synonymous with efficient and effective public service…"
George Plater III inherited the manor two years after
graduating from William and Mary
College in 1753. It was
he who first named the property "Sotterley” after the ancestral home of
the Playters in Suffolk, England, from whom he was
descended. The first known written reference to it by that name appeared as headings
on letters written by him in 1776.
His appointment as a delegate to the lower house of the
Assembly 1757-1759, marked the beginning of a 35 year career, during which he
held many important political offices. These included Naval Officer of the
Patuxent District 1767-1777, member of the Council 1771-1774, member of the
Council of Safety 1775, member from Maryland
in the Continental Congress 1778-1780, President of the Maryland Senate 1781,
President of the Maryland Convention which ratified the U. S. Constitution
1788, and Governor of Maryland from 1791 until his death on February 10, 1792.
After his death, at Annapolis,
his remains "were attended by honorable members of the Council, the
officers of State and a numerous company of citizens to South
River on the way to Sotterley, his seat in St. Mary's
County," He was
buried in the garden overlooking the Patuxent.
The next heir to Sotterley was George Plater IV who lived
only ten years after inheriting the property. His death in 1802 orphaned his
son, George Plater V, at the age of five. By the time the boy reached majority
and actually came into possession of Sotterley, he was already hopelessly in
debt and had mortgaged Sotterley to his uncle, John Rousby Plater Jr. In July
1822 he deeded Sotterley and other large holdings to his step-uncle, Colonel
William Clarke Somerville, for the sum of $29,000. Thus, after four generations, the estate
passed from the ownership of the family which had named it and had given it so
much of its amenity.
Within the month Colonel Somerville, who already owned
Mulberry Fields, resold Sotterley mansion and a large acreage to Thomas Barber
for $7,000. In 1826 the property was again partitioned by Barber's will; the
mansion and 425 acres passed to his step-daughter Emeline Dallam, while his
daughter, Lydia Barber, inherited an adjoining 500 acres.
The marriage of the heiress Emeline Dallam to Dr. Walter
Hanson Stone Briscoe in 1826, marked the start of a second era of almost 100
years in which Sotterley was to remain in the possession of a single family --
in this instance the Briscoes.
When Emeline Dallam Briscoe died she provided that Sotterley
be sold and the proceeds be divided among her children. One of her sons,
Reverend James Briscoe, bought Sotterley at auction in 1890 and lived there
until his death in 1904. He left the
estate to his daughter, Elizabeth Briscoe Cashner, and his son, James Briscoe,
Jr., who signed over his half interest to his sister. During the next six years
the Cashners lived at Sotterley only in the summer. They reserved a part of the
house for their own use, and leased the rest on a year-round basis to a tenant
farmer who used the panelled drawing room as his kitchen.
In 1910 the late Herbert L. Satterlee of New York bought the mansion, and farm. The
appeal of the charming old manor house in its matchless setting was enhanced
for him by the fact that, like the Platers, his ancestors had owned and lived
in the original Sotterley in Suffolk,
collection of books on Maryland's
colonial history and architecture served as a guide to the careful
rehabilitation of the house which he undertook.
His daughter, Mrs. Mabel Satterlee Ingalls, who inherited
the estate in 1947, has continued to use, preserve and improve the mansion in
the same spirit that motivated her father. The concept of the "restored
house," the house "brought back" to represent a single period of
time, has been rejected. Instead, every attempt has been made to sustain the
flavor of its total history as reflected in the taste of all its occupants,
past and present.
A chronological list of the owners and their dates can be
found at the end of these notes.
Sotterley mansion has already been described as a long, low;
white structure 100 feet long, 20 feet deep with its front facing the river.
Its plan is basically that of a long rectangle, running roughly north to south,
with a single wing extending west on the side away from, the river and joining
the main building at a point about one third the distance from its northern
end. It is one and a half stories except for the northerly 60 foot stretch on
the front, or river side, where the roof has been raised to create a two story
facade. The mansion is roofed with shingles colored Spanish Brown, evidence for
-which was found on original round butt shingles discovered under the later
porch; its siding is of wide, flush beaded boards, bevelled on both edges and
painted white. The three ends and the west side of the northern end of the
building are of brick. Four brick chimneys punctuate the roof line; one each at
the north and west brick ends, another at the end of the present dining room, and
a fourth at the south side of the small parlor.
A lantern or cupola crowns the roof at the point where the
ridge of the wing joins the roof of the main building. Except for this raised
section, the roof is steeply pitched from ridge to plate; then much more gently
pitched to form the portico roof, front and rear.
Just south of the mansion and connected to it by a covered
passage is a one and a half story brick building, built in 1914 in the colonial
style, with a kitchen on the ground floor and bedroom above.
The mansion's most conspicuous and pleasing exterior
features are the flagstone-paved portico which extends the full length of the
mansion on the river side, and the brick-paved portico in the rear or land
side. The portico roofs are one story high and are supported by tapered,
The ground floor plan of the mansion is as follows: at the
extreme north there is a drawing room; next comes the entrance hall and stair
well; then the small parlor which connects with the dining room. On the
southeast, the dining room gives on the back hall and stairs; on the southwest,
it gives on a storeroom and a long pantry. Finally, the wing of the mansion is
formed by the library which opens to the west from the entrance hall. Under the
library there is an old brick cellar, the other rooms all being on beams laid
directly on the ground.
On the second floor, bedrooms are located over the drawing
room, small parlor and library, all of which open off the upstairs hall and are
reached by the entrance hall stairs. Two other bedrooms are found over the
dining room and are reached by the back hall stairs adjacent to the dining
room, and by a small secret ladder in the closet off the small parlor. It leads
to the northern one of the two bedrooms.
Among the more arresting internal features of the mansion
are the unusual Chinese Chippendale staircase, the massive mahogany door to the
drawing room with its large brass rising hinges , the unique carved
shell-patterned alcoves flanking the drawing room mantel, and finally the pine
panelling of all walls of the mansion’s three major early rooms and stair hall
Sotterley mansion as it stands today is not the
architectural product of any one man or even of any one family. The successive
generations of Bowles, Platers, Briscoes, and Satterlees who have owned it have
fashioned it to their needs and tastes. The chronology of these changes is not
easily established. To supplement the
limited documentary evidence presently available, Walter M. Macomber, expert in
historic house restoration and advisor to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association,
made a detailed examination of the mansion. His observations and conclusions
are quoted freely in the discussion that follows.
Bowles Period 1710-1729
An "inventory of the goods and chattels of the
Honorable James Bowles Esquire Deceased" taken by Mr. Richard Hopewell and
Mr. Edmund Plowden on February 12, 1727, gives an excellent idea of the
dwelling and its furnishings at that time since it lists each room by name with
its contents. As described in the inventory, Bowles’ structure fits the plan of
Sotterley as it is today, allowing for the subsequent alterations and
On the ground floor there were the "Hall" (drawing
room), "New Room Passage" (present entrance hall), "New
Room" (present library), "Madame Bowles1 room" (present small
parlor), kitchen and kitchen chamber. On the second floor were the three
chambers, one each over the "Hall," "New Room" and
"Madam Bowles Room."
Two of them contained andirons or fire tools, but the one over the
"Hall" did not. The inventory also included 928 feet of plank, 3,000
cypress shingles and 20 dozen Newcastle
The physical evidence uncovered by Mr. Macomber, which will
be quoted fully under the "Plater Period" below, leads us to conclude
that in 1727 the house was still an unmodified, one and a half story structure;
that the rooms were very probably plastered and whitewashed, a usual practice
of the day, and that the ceilings of all first floor rooms were of similar
height. In addition, the original stairs were probably of much simpler
construction, and over the present front door there was a pediment.
Plater Period 1729-1822
According to Mr. Macomber the construction of Sotterley's
most notable features, the long portico, the Chippendale staircase, and the
magnificent panelling of the three rooms and hall took place in the mid-18th
Century. Specifically, he says: "…with an opportunity to review all the
evidence, I became convinced that the interiors of the parlor (drawing room) ,
the card room (small parlor) and the stair hair we re done at the same time the
library wing was added. This means that originally the ceiling height was the
same in the parlor as it was in the front hall and other rooms. The ceiling of
the parlor (drawing room.) was raised to accommodate the design of the room as
we now see it.
"I believe it is reasonable to assume that when the
ceiling was raised the porch was added, as raising the ceiling would have
affected the exterior cornice line or would have caused splayed intersections
of the exterior walls and the ceiling in this room. This would tie all our
problems in one small package - the wing - the porch and all the first floor
interiors, including the stair, having been constructed during the 1750 period,
as a good guess. This, of course, does not include the dining room which we
feel sure was considerably later than this date."
In the discussion of the raising of the drawing room
ceiling, Mr. Macornber states: "There can be no denial of the evidence
found establishing the fact that the main roof on this (the river) side of the
building was raised to its present appearance for the purpose of allowing more
head room in the bedrooms on this side and in the stair hall. Exposed beneath the
line of the porch roof was the original plate, upon which the studs which
carried this raised roof rested. This plate is level with the plate on the
opposite side where the roof is still in its original form. The exposed plate
shows the marks of the rafters where they rested originally when they formed a
symmetrical gable at each end of the building."
Furthermore, removal of a section of the porch roof near the
front door revealed that the front door had had a pediment over it and the
whole surface had been originally painted and sanded to give the effect of
stone. Mr. Macomber states that this was "a very unusual treatment, one
used by George Washington at Mount Vernon
about 1758, and also found on the "Lindens" - the King Hooper house
built in Danvers, Massachusetts, and now located in
Washington, D. C. The thin coating of paint and sand indicated that the surface
uncovered had not been exposed to the elements very many years before it was
covered by the present porch. It was in excellent condition and appeared to
have had only one treatment." It is not known which owner was responsible
for the elegant stone effect nor who replaced it with clapboard. The elaborate
architectural improvements which -were made early in the Plater period would
seem to suggest that as the most likely time this was done. In this same
uncovered section were remnants of several Spanish Brown butt end shingles.
The cupola which crowns the junction of the ridge of the
main building with the ridge of the library wing also dates from this same
period. Speaking of it, Mr. Macomber says, "It is quite apparent that the
lantern, or cupola, was built at the same time the wing was added, although a
quantity of modern material has been used in repairs, there is sufficient
original hand-hewn and sawn material to establish its period... It is also
apparent that this little structure was built to conceal the greater ridge
height of the library wing. Without this, the point of the library ridge would
have been shown projecting about 18" above the main ridge. Another
condition supporting its origin theory is the fact that the front of the cupola
rests only a few inches on the main roof whereas its major portion is resting
on the library roof --a treatment that would have looked extremely awkward in
the absence of the wing."
In renovating the mansion's interior, the Plater owner of
the "1750 period" selected a staircase style which is known to have
been employed also in two other colonial houses - "Bushwood,"
destroyed by fire in the 1930's, and "Bohemia," built about 1745 in Cecil
County, Maryland. Waterman
has described it as worked in mahogany "with detail as fine as
contemporary furniture." The
bannister "grille is notable for its continuous pattern and for the fact
that it finishes against the tread."
Another interior architectural feature that existed during
the Plater occupancy deserves mention. It was a transverse passage running east
to west between the small parlor and the dining room. Through it j one might
pass from the land sideto the water side of the house or gain access to the
small parlor or the dining room. This passage existed until its incorporation
into the dining room in 1914.
Briscoe Period 1826-1910
The Bowles-Plater house continued largely unaltered during
the long Briscoe ownership. However, during this period a kitchen was built at
right angles to the dining room and extending toward the river. The addition of
this kitchen wing obliterated the view of the river from the dining room. The
dining room was further darkened by the closing in of the portico between it
and the new kitchen to create a covered passage between them.
Photographs taken of the house in 1910, at the end of the
Briscoe Period, show it to have been sheathed in clapboard. Some of the boards
still in place are very wide old hand-hewn ones, while the second floor raised
front section and other parts had much narrower later-type boards.
During Dr. Briscoe's occupancy, the little customs house, in
which several generations of Platers as Naval Officers of the Patuxent District
had collected revenues, was moved from its position near the mansion into the
farm yard where it was used as a tool shed. It was still there in 1910.
Satterlee and Ingalls Period 1910-1961
The account of Sotterley's growth and architectural change
may be completed for the present with a brief description of the physical
alterations accomplished chiefly in 1914. In the years immediately preceding
Mr. Satterlee’s ownership, the mansion had fallen into a sad state of
disrepair. The rehabilitation that proceeded under his direction included the
replacement with brick of the rotted wood end walls of the drawing room and
library; the insertion of windows in the west brick end to lighten the closets
on each side of the chimney in the bedroom over the library, and the changing
of the cellar door from the west end of the library to the south side of that
wing. Brick was put into the west wall of the drawing room to replace the
clapboards in the 1920’s, when termites had been found undermining the ground
floor rooms. The dining room was lengthened by the inclusion of the transverse
passage. A pantry was installed in an old covered-in bit of porch on the west
side of the house (adjoining the dining room and leading to an open porch to
connect with a newly constructed brick kitchen building), The Briscoe kitchen
was removed, thus reopening the river view from the dining room. In 1910, for
the first time at Sotterley, a bathroom was installed in what is now the
A few years later (1914), approximately 5 feet was cut off
the bedroom over the drawing room to allow for a linen closet on the river side
and a bathroom on the land side, with an entry passage to the bedroom between.
In connection with putting in the bathroom, it was necessary to interrupt the
cuddy which had run from the upstairs hall all along the west side of the
bedroom, which at that time had no windows to the west. The two present dormer
windows on the west were put in then; one for the bathroom and one for the
A bathroom was also installed on the ground floor under the
new back stairs which led to the bedroom above the dining room.
The mansion roof was extended to cover this newly
constructed back stairwell and bath. This extension of thereof also covered
over the old vaulted, partly brick, storeroom, incorporating it into the house
along with the back stairwell and the new pantry. This made for a somewhat
unusual feature since the storeroom already had and continues to have a
shingled roof of its own.
About 1950 a bathroom was installed in the closet to the
right of the chimney in the bedroom above the library. Extensive revisions were
made in the part of the house created by Mr. Satterlee when he extended the
roof and put in the back stairs. Most recently, the marble fireplaces in the
drawing-room, small parlor, library, and dining room were refaced.
It is worth noting that the physical changes made in
Sotterley during this 51-year period have served to enhance and preserve,
rather than to change its essential character.
acknowledgment is made to John H. Scarff architect and former secretary of S.P.M.A.,
and to Phelps Warren, for the use, as major sources of material for this
account, of papers written by them on the history of Sotterley.
Chronological List of
Owners of Resurrection Manor, Bowles' Preservation and Sotterley
Captain Thomas Cornwallis; 1650-1659
John Batsman & Mary, his daughter; 1659-1674
Richard Perry; 1674-1684
Thomas & George Plowden; 1684-1710
Sotterley (Bowles' Preservation)
James Bowles & Rebecca Bowles; 1710-1729
George Plater II & Rebecca Bowles Plater; 1729-1755
George Plater III (Governor), Hannah Lee, & Elizabeth
George Plater IV, Cecelia Bond, & Elizabeth Sornerville;
George Plater V; 1802-1822
William Glarke Sornerville; 1822-1822
Thomas Barber; 1822-1826
Emeline Dallam & husband Dr. W.H.S. Briscoe; 1826-1890
Rev. James Briscoe; 1890-1904
James Briscoe Jr. & sister Elizabeth B. Cashner;
Elizabeth Briscoe Cashner & husband John; 1905-1910
Herbert L. Satterlee; 1910-1947
Mabel Satterlee Ingalls; 1947-1961
Sotterley Mansion Foundation, Inc.; 1961-
Provincial Court Deeds WRC 31, l676-1899 p. 350. Land Office,
Inventories, Liber 13 pp. 79-92 Hall of Records,
McKenna, "Sotterley, St. Mary's County,"
Maryland Historical Magazine. Sept. 1951, p.
Gazette, Feb. 16, 1792, p. 2.
a Tax Assessment book gives the following description of the House of Colonel
George Plater in Resurrection Hundred:
House 22x80, one story of wood; 13 windows 3x6; 11 windows
2x3; 1 Outhouse, brick 14x14; one -window 2x3. 2 houses, each 18x18 and 15x15 -
wood. From this overall length it would seem the dining room must have be en
added by this date.
Waterman, Thomas Tileston, The Dwellings of Colonial America, Univ. of North
Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1950, pp. 108, 109.