Pleasant Prospect - Isaac Duckett House, Woodmore Maryland
Pleasant Prospect reflects the wealth and elegance of the upper class of planters in Prince George's County during the late 18th and early 19th century. The house was unusually large and well appointed for its time, with a large hall or passage, formal parlor, separate dining room and a library in the main block of the first floor. The 1839 inventory of the personal estate of John Contee gives indications as to the use of the rooms. The parlor is referred to as the "drawing room" in the inventory. This is another term for the best parlor where guests were received. Contee*s inventory lists all the common accoutrements of the early 19th-century middle-to-uppermiddle class parlor including; drawing room carpet, large mahogany sofa, two lounges, one pair of mahogany card tables, mahogany tea table, one dozen mahogany chairs, mantel glass (mirror) and pair of mantel lamps, lot of books in drawing room and a piano. This compares well with what Elisabeth Garrett in her book At Home; The American Family 1750-1870 refers to the salient features of the late-18th to early 19th century drawing room which included: a pair of sofas, a dozen chairs, a twain of piers glasses (a mirror between two windows usually with a table beneath it) and tandem tables.
Likewise, the dining room at Pleasant Prospect was an indicator of wealth. Garrett points out that a separate room purely for dining was a symbol of economic success during this period. Generally, dining was done in the kitchen or multi-use room where other items (desks, game tables, sofas, etc.) might also be found. Contee's inventory lists a sideboard, one mahogany dining table, one set of mahogany dining tables, eight rush bottom chairs, eight green arm chairs, two knife cases, two large looking glasses, a brussels carpet, hearth rug and a (horse) hair (stuffed) sofa.
Pleasant Prospect was built by Dr. Isaac Duckett ca. 1798 on property he acquired from the Thomas Sprigg family following his marriage to Sprigg's granddaughter, Margaret Bowie. The property then consisted of 500 acres of "Sprigg's Request" patented by Thomas Sprigg in 1698. The Federal Direct Tax of 1798 describes the Duckett home as "a new Two story Brick dwelling, very elegantly furnished..." Dr. Duckett added various new parcels to the property, eventually repatenting what was then 825 acres as "Pleasant Prospect" in 1809.
On the 31st of December 1813 the only daughter of Isaac and Margaret Duckett, Eliza, married John Contee, eldest son of Richard Alexander Contee and his wife, Elizabeth Saunders. John was only nineteen years old, and Eliza, seventeen. They presumably lived at Pleasant Prospect although it legally remained the property of Dr. Duckett until his death in 1823. John and Eliza had four children: Mary Margaret, John Jr. , Eliza Jr. and Margaret. Eliza, however, died on the 12th of November 1821 while her children were only one to seven years of age.
When her father, Isaac Duckett, died a few years later he left his entire estate to John Contee for the sake of his grandchildren. As stated in his will, "Item, having the most full and entire confidence in the sound sense and discrete management of my most worthy son in Law, John Contee, I devise and bequeath my whole Estate, real, personal and mixed to be under his entire control and disposition for the best advantage of my grand children". Contee was given carte blanche to sell and otherwise disburse any of the property as he saw fit. As stated by Dr. Duckett, "only requesting that he may bestow his utmost care and attention in and about the morals and education of my grandchildren and will procure for them the best teachers and send them to the best seminaries, academies and colleges...." Evidently, Dr. Duckett had such confidence in his son-in-law that he went as far as to state that if either of his grandchildren were to marry without the consent of their father, they would "forfeit all right, title... to any portion or part of my estate".
In subsequent years John Contee added tracts adjoining Pleasant Prospect to the Isaac Duckett's original estate. John also had other property (including a plantation called Java in Anne Arundel County). Thus, John Contee was a man of great wealth, partly in his own right and partly through his marriages to women of wealth. John later remarried to Anne Louisa Snowden, daughter of Richard Snowden of Montpelier, in February of 1824. Together they had three more children: Caroline Snowden, Charles Snowden and Richard. In addition to being a planter, John Contee also served in the U.S. Navy, acquiring the rank of Lieutenant. He received a sword and metals for his gallant conduct during his service.
John Contee died on the 15th November 1839. His property passed to his wife, Anne, and the four of his children still living; John and Margaret from his first marriage, and Charles and Richard from his second. Anne received his plantation in Anne Arundel County known as Java. As stated in Contee's Will, John and Margaret received "All the estate of the late Isaac Duckett consisting personally of negroes and for the realty of the plantation called Enfield Chase.... also the estate on which I now reside called Pleasant Prospect....". John and Margaret where also made executors of their father's Will in order that they might, ". . . . carry into effect their grandfather's Isaac Duckett's will....".
As mentioned, Contee was a man of affluence. The inventory of the "Goods, chattels and personal estate" of John Contee lists the furnishings of an elegant home, as well as twenty-two slaves, sixty-five hogshead of tobacco, rye, hay, timothy, cultivators, wagons and other farming implements. It had been described previously in an 1820 advertisement for its sale as "1,095 acres in the forest of Prince George's County, about seven miles from Queen Anne where there is a tobacco warehouse on navigable water; ten miles from Upper Marlboro. A large brick dwelling 56 feet in length, 34 feet wide, two stories high, 3 large rooms below, 3 above, wing at one end....".
On the 28th July 1841 a formal agreement was made between Margaret and John that they divide their estate, John taking Pleasant Prospect and Margaret, Enfield Chase. This decision came upon the occasion of the marriages of each. Thus, Pleasant Prospect, along with a tract called 'The Woodlands, and with "articles of furniture and plate, and a number of negro slaves.... with all the work horses, cattle, sheep, hogs and all the farming utensils.. ." became the property of John Contee, Jr. John married Mary Lucretia Joliffe, daughter of James Joliffe of Norfolk, Virginia on the 6th of December 1840. Together they had six children, four of whom lived to adulthood (Florence, Mary Lucretia, Eliza Duckett and Sylvia Drayton; Louis and John Jr. deceased) . In addition to being a planter, John Contee Jr. also served in the U.S. Navy and was a graduate of the Naval Academy. He served as Captain of the Cavalry Company known as "The Planter's Guard".
John Contee, Jr., died at Pleasant Prospect on the 29th of May 1864. The property was then described as follows: "Upon the premises a brick dwelling house and overseers house, one good quarter, and two inferior quarters, six tobacco houses of which only two are in good repair, one corn house in good repair, and one corn house very much not of repair, a brick stable and carriage house very much not of repair, one frame stable not in good order, and a granary.... The tract of land upon which the mansion house is situated consists of about 600 acres... 20 acres in wood and the rest in arable land". The inventory of the furnishings mentions the following rooms: parlour, library, passage or hall, dining room, kitchen and bedrooms. The plantation then became the property of Mary L. Contee, his wife. She, however, passed away soon after, on the 6th of August of the same year.
Following the deaths of both John and Mary Contee, Pleasant Prospect went to equity sale. It was described as follows: "The estate was the residence of the late John Contee and is improved by a Large Brick Mansion. Upon the first floor there is a large Hall, with Parlor, Dining room and Library adjoining, and a Back Building and fine portico attached. The second floor contains four commodious chambers. The grounds are highly beautified with fine shade trees, walks, etc. ... garden with choice fruits, two large apple orchards..." A number of outbuildings were also listed, including tenant houses, large barns "capable of holding a hundred hogsheads of tobacco," stables, and corn houses. Growing on the plantation were tobacco, grasses, wheat and corn. The property was described as being in "the Forest of Prince George's County," fifteen miles from Washington and ten from Bladensburg. Pleasant Prospect was sold by the trustees for the Farmer's Bank of Maryland, Thomas Pratt and Daniel Clarke, to Jonathan T. Walker of Prince George's County in February of 1868.
Pleasant Prospect remained in the Walker family for an entire century. Jonathan Walker and his wife, Jane Amelia Walker lived here from 1868 until their deaths in 1885 and 1886 respectively. It was during their ownership that the house underwent renovation in 1885, the year of Mr. Walker's death. Numerous receipts for interior finishings among the administration papers of the estate of Jonathan Walker indicate that the current stairway, and possibly other finishings (including three mantels) were added at that time. It was probably at this time also that a gable was added to the front roofline and a porch across the facade. They may also have been responsible for the finishing of the third-floor rooms.
Upon the death of Jonathan in 1885, Jane received Pleasant Prospect along with "....the growing crop of wheat thereon... all the household furniture and other articles in the dwelling house, carriage and horses, livestock and farm implements and machinery upon the place.... corn and tobacco...." Mentioned in the inventory of furnishings are five bedrooms and a sitting room, presumably the three bedrooms and the former stairhall, now sitting room, on the second floor and the two finished rooms on the third floor. The property was appraised at this time and described as follows: "It is one of the best tobacco farms in the neighborhood. The dwelling house is of brick, large and substantial and in good repair and the other buildings necessary to the said house as a dwelling house are in good order. There are enough farm buildings upon the place in good repair for the purpose of farming and planting. There are three barns, and a cow house. .. . all in good order, and a good tenant house".
Upon the death of Jane Walker, her property passed to eight children. Pleasant Prospect became the property of her son, Edward Spedden Walker, according to her Will: "It is my desire and I so will that my son, Edward Spedden Walker have the land.... which adjoins his land that received by deed from my husband, J. T. Walker....provided that my son... pays unto my daughter Alice....$6,000. He had previously received "part of the tract known as 'Pleasant Prospect'" (248 acres and 7 perches) from his parents by a deed dated 17 April 1885. In a codicil to her Will, Jane Walker requested that the property be divided between Edward and his sister, Alice, but leaving him the option to buy Alice's share. A dispute over the intent of their mother's will as relating to this matter, and her neglect of the other siblings, brought the case to court in 1894. In the end, Edward paid Alice one-half of the appraisal value and obtained full ownership.
Edward Walker and his wife, Anna, lived out their lives here, farming the land and raising their ten children. The farm produced tobacco, hay, barley and corn, dairy cattle and other livestock. Edward died on November 13, 1940. The Great Depression must have taken its toll on Pleasant Prospect for the appraisal taken at the time of Edward Walker's death described the property as improved by "...a Colonial brick dwelling which has been allowed to deteriorate. All outbuildings are in a poor state of repair... . The land is in a poor state of cultivation". According to Edward's Will, "...unto my son, William Desmond Walker, seventy-five acres of my home place.... including the dwelling house where he now lives and barns and buildings there located.. .. rest and residue to Anna O. Walker, wife and Ann M. Walker, daughter... " Furthermore, a life estate in the farm "Pleasant Prospect" was given to Anna with the remainder to their ten children. Anna continued to live in the house but due to its continued deterioration eventually only the kitchen wing was inhabited. Anna passed away on the 11th of May 1973. William Walker eventually gained possession of the full 394.017 acres.
In August of 1982, Pleasant Prospect was sold to Raymond Garthoff and his wife, Vera. It has since been restored, including the removal of the Victorian era exterior detailing (the porch and gable front) and a historic preservation easement given to Maryland Historical Trust. Mr. Garthoff served a number of diplomatic posts for the United States government, specializing in the Russian language and culture.