Finding James Offutt (and much much more)

One of the first posts in Family Epic was about my visit to Darnestown Presbyterian Church and Cemetery – many Offutts are there, the family of our father’s mother. But the patriarch, James Offutt (1803-1857), is not among them. Resources consulte…

One of the first posts in Family Epic was about my visit to Darnestown Presbyterian Church and Cemetery – many Offutts are there, the family of our father’s mother. But the patriarch, James Offutt (1803-1857), is not among them.  Resources consulted at the Montgomery County Historical Society and online identified the location of his grave and those of two young daughters at a private home nearby. (1)  James’ son from his first marriage and half-brother to Lemuel,  James Howard Offutt (our 2nd great uncle), lived on the property until his death in 1935 – a span of over 90 years of Offutt ownership. I contacted the current owners by letter and asked if I could come for a visit – and was rewarded by a most welcoming and generous phone call.

On Friday, April 30, Elise and I drove to Darnestown, and were bowled over by the beautiful home and grounds, the sight of ancestral headstones and a barn dating back to the 1840s. It was a gorgeous day, as you will see in the pictures. We were there two hours trying to take it all in – the markers nestled in a lovely garden, the barn, the stable and hen house, and the changing footprint of the house. We came home with 11 eggs laid (while we were there!) on the ancestral farm, beautiful pictures, and new friends, who were as interested in the Offutts as we were in the property. I am getting ahead of the story……but it was that kind of day.

Upon our arrival, Francie led us immediately to the grave stones which are laying flat on the ground in a garden near the pool – she thought they would like to be close to the action. The general consensus is that the cemetery itself is under the tennis court which was probably built in the 1980s, before she and her husband became the owners. She did a little clean-up for the photo-op occasion with vinegar and water.

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There is James Offutt, aged 53, 9 months, 27 days, his stone with the same crown symbol selected for his widow’s marker 22 years later. There are two daughters named Mary.
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The first, Mary C. V., was born in October 1854 and died in October of 1855. Two months after her death, another baby girl was born, and also named Mary V.  She lived until the age of seven. Her marker has a touching inscription at the top – “Gone Home” – with an arrow pointing towards heaven.

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These are Lemuel’s father and two younger sisters; he was four when the first Mary died, six when his father died and thirteen when the family lost the second Mary.  I am struck again by the painful losses constantly endured.

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The old barn was particularly moving. More than anything else there, it looks the way it did when the Offutts used it in their everyday farming life. Standing inside, you could feel yourself moving back in time. We walked around to the lower level where the livestock entered and exited and the stream was visible in the distance – and time was very nearly standing still.  Here are (perhaps too) many barn pictures. One shows a close-up of red sandstone; Francie said it was quarried nearby. The barn can’t be torn down, so maintaining it is a serious commitment on their part.  We are very lucky!

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The original section of the current house, now the living room, dining room and front hall on the first floor, was probably built in 1908 by James Howard Offutt, several years after he married Bessie Beall.  (2)  James was 61, she was 19, and it seems the homestead needed an upgrade. (3)  News coverage of her delayed wedding shower suggests that she did not move in until the new house was ready. (4)  Our hosts pointed out the corner of the living room where the original front door had been. They have made numerous improvements to the house in their 15 years, and they clearly love it. It is a beautiful home, with the emphasis on the word “home.”

Our father’s baby book records a visit to Darnestown in the late summer of 1926, just after his 10th birthday. (5) Not only that, but the Washington Post reported it in its “Keeping Up With The Suburbs” feature: “Mrs. James Ruffan and son, Pittsburgh, are guests of Mrs. James H. Offutt.” Yes, the name is slightly mangled but there’s little doubt as to the identity of the guests! (6)

I have yet to begin in-depth land records research but picked up the basic framework of ownership succession from the house files our host Oakley had on hand. After the visit, he sent the early aerial photo and several pictures of the house in about 1940, not too long after it left Offutt ownership – one is included in the slideshow below. I took along pictures of Lemuel and Sarah, a chart to show my connection to James, and a list of all his descendants for three generations. It was a mutual exchange of information.  

We think we behaved well enough to be allowed to return someday. We made several other Darnestown stops (another report!) but there is still plenty to do and see in the area, a lovely corner of Montgomery County.  

It was a wonderful day but slightly tinged with bittersweet regret that Dad wasn’t along for the ride. But I had a delicious omelet for dinner – the freshest eggs ever!

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(1) Montgomery County Planning Department. “Montgomery County Cemetery Inventory.”  MontgomeryPlanning.org (http://www.montgomeryplanning.org/historic/education/cemeteries_alphabetical.shtm : accessed 12 November 2009); citing materials held by Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, MD.

(2)  Anne W. Cissel, “Abstracts of Buildings & Real Estate in Montgomery County from Newspapers 1855-1910” (typed manuscript, 1977, Montgomery County Historical Society, Rockville, Maryland), Darnestown section, entry for James Howard Offutt. Original newspaper record has not yet been checked for additional information.

(3) “Rockville MD.” The Washington Post, 20 December 1908, p. E9; digital image, ProQuest Historical Newspapers (http://www.proquest.com : accessed 19 November 2009).

(4) 1910 U.S. census, Montgomery County, Maryland, population schedule, Election District No. 6, E.D. 111, sheet 10A, dwelling 194, family 194, James H. Offutt; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 November 2009); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 566.

(5) “Our Baby’s Record” for James Stephens Ruffner, Ruffner Family Papers; privately held by Malissa Ruffner, Baltimore, Maryland.  A list of Events is inscribed on a blank page, 5 leaves from the end of the book.

(6) “Keeping in Touch with the Suburbs.” The Washington Post, 5 September 1926, p. S9; digital image, ProQuest Historical Newspapers (http://www.proquest.com : accessed 19 November 2009.) 

 NOTE:  Trip photo credits shared with Elise.

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