TALES OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN
On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th president of the United States. The government was operating in crisis mode. Seven states, led by South Carolina, had seceded since the election. The confrontation over Ft. Sumter led to open warfare by April, prompting Virginia’s secession, taking Robert E. Lee with her. The Confederacy was now just across the Potomac.
Maryland was threatening to follow suit. Lincoln’s failure to stop this action would maroon his capital behind enemy lines. The election gave him little leverage, however. He had narrowly avoided an assassination plot in Baltimore on the way to his inaugural.
His 35% of the vote in a contentious four-way race was enough for victory only because of the nearly even split between John Breckinridge (Southern Democrat) and John Bell (Constitutional Unionist). In nine of the southern states, Lincoln’s name did not appear on the ballot. Though his name was on the Maryland ballot, Lincoln finished dead last with 2.5% of the vote statewide, and only 50 votes in Montgomery County.
This despite the presence of county resident Francis Preston Blair, who had organized the Republican Party’s founding meeting at his Silver Spring estate. Maryland was after all a slave state, with slaves making up 40% of the population. Although John Bell carried Montgomery County, Breckinridge (who had family ties to Blair), carried the state. This split reflected a difference of opinion over whether secession was necessary to save slavery.
Despite ongoing debate, neither faction could force a final decision on whether to join the Confederacy or stay in the Union.
Most Marylanders preferred things to remain the way they were.In the wake of Ft. Sumter, Lincoln required each state to send troops. To monitor pro-secessionist activities, he began stationing some of these troops in Montgomery County: 10,000 in Rockville, 8,000 in Laytonsville.
Fortifications went up along the Potomac River to deter Southern invasion. When a new push for secession appeared in September, the President ordered the leaders arrested and held at Ft. McHenry, and the effort died for lack of a quorum. Maryland remained an unenthusiastic partner in the Union, and many local residents fought for the South.
What were the sentiments of the landowners of the future Takoma Park, barely two decades hence? Gilbert’s first purchase was from the Gottlieb Grammer family. The German immigrant turned businessman spent his time in DC. The northern section of Takoma was purchased from Francis Preston Blair. The eastern half of Takoma comes from the Carroll family, and Samuel Sprigg Carroll ended up a brigadier general in the Union army before coming home to build his manor house.
The most fascinating story is Sarah Wilson. She first married John Hodges and then Christopher Brashear, and their farmland eventually formed the central section of Takoma. Sarah’s father, who owned a huge farm along Georgia Avenue, was killed by Union soldiers on his farm in a quarrel over a pig. Sarah’s brothers spent the war on opposing sides. Richard as a staunch supporter of the South while John defended the Union.