Friday, September 27, 2013

Spotlight on Molly Ridout

As we have mentioned in previous posts, one attendee of the resignation ceremony who will be featured in our exhibit is Mary "Molly" Ridout.

Molly was born in England in 1746, the second daughter of provincial Maryland governor, Samuel Ogle, and his wife, Anne Tasker Ogle. The Ogles were a prominent family, with influence in both England and Maryland throughout the eighteenth century. Molly's brother, Benjamin, later served as governor of Maryland between 1798 and 1801.

Molly's father, Samuel Ogle (c.1694-1752), Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1074.
Molly's brother, Benjamin Ogle (1749-1809), Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1071.
At age 18, Molly Ogle married John Ridout. An Oxford graduate, Ridout accompanied Governor Horatio Sharpe to Maryland as his personal secretary. Under Sharpe's patronage, Ridout quickly garnered several political positions including Judge of Probate (1761-1762) and naval officer of the Port of Annapolis (1762-1777). Upon Sharpe's departure from Maryland in 1773, the former governor left the couple his mansion, Whitehall, on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. This property, along with their Annapolis townhouse on Duke of Gloucester street known as Ridout House, played host to several social events attended by Maryland's high society.

In pre-Revolutionary Annapolis, the Ridouts found themselves at the center of an elite social circle. Molly Ridout's friends included Sir Robert Eden, the last royal governor of Maryland, Henry Harford (the illegitimate son of Frederick Calvert, the last Lord Baltimore), and the Weems family. Interestingly, the Ridouts also appeared to have forged a friendship with George Washington before the American Revolution, who dined at Ridout House in 1771.[1]

Ridout House, 120 Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis, Maryland. Photograph by Russell Wright, July 1982. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Trust.
Perhaps due to their strong links in both England and the colonies, the Ridouts stayed politically and militarily uninvolved throughout the American Revolution. However, by the end of the Revolution, Molly Ridout did express her opinions on the new nation to her mother, declaring, "Indeed My dear Madam you are exceedingly mistaken with regard to America. It is not at all disagreeable and as to our little town I believe I may...say you would like it as well as ever you did tho there are not so many people in it as when you left."[2]

On December 23, 1783, Molly Ridout ascended the stairs to the visitors' gallery of the Old Senate Chamber with other leading citizens of Annapolis to watch Washington resign his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. On January 16, 1784, Molly wrote in a letter to her mother, Anne Tasker Ogle, who was then residing in England, that "the General seemed so much affected himself that everybody felt for him, he addressed Congress in a short Speech but very affecting many tears were shed...I think the World never produced a greater man & very few so good."[3] Molly's letter is the only known first-person account of Washington's resignation written by a woman, and the only description authored by a member of the audience.

Excerpt of Molly Ridout's letter to her mother, Anne Tasker Ogle, 16 January 1784. Maryland State Archives, Mrs. James N. Galloway and Mrs. Frederick G. Richards Collection, 1784, MSA SC 358-1-2.
In 1784, Anne Tasker Ogle returned from England with Molly's son, Samuel, who would later become Mayor of Annapolis, serving in 1802 and 1805. After the Revolution, John Ridout held no public offices in the new government and largely spent his time at Whitehall, where he and Molly resided until their deaths in 1796 and 1808, respectively. Molly, John, and Molly's mother, Anne, are all buried at Whitehall.

Keep an eye out for the statue of Molly, which will be visible in the gallery of the restored Old Senate Chamber!

[1] Founders Online, National Archives, "Diary entry: 26 September 1771." Source: Jackson, Donald ed., The Diaries of George Washington, 1 January 1771-5 November 1781, vol. 3. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978, p.56., accessed 13 September 2013.
[2] Ridout Papers, MSA SC 504, #580.
[3] Mrs. James N. Galloway and Mrs. Frederick G. Richards Collection, 1784, MSA SC 358-1-2. Letter, M[ary] Ridout to Mrs. [Anne Tasker] Ogle, 16 Jan. 1784.

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