Summary: David Floyd, son of Jesse Floyd, Sr., married Sarah Semmes from a prominent Charles County family. Their children, while still teenagers, inherited the historic Rose Hill plantation from an uncle and lived there for the rest of the 19th century. Most well-known is Olivia Floyd, who played a dramatic role in the Confederate underground.
David I. Floyd was the son of Jesse Floyd, Sr. (c.1746-1813) of St. Mary’s County and his fourth wife Elizabeth Taylor. His date of birth can be approximated as c. 1794/5 from his obituary. He was the eighth of Jesse Floyd’s ten children. He shared in his father’s inheritance but it was probably not substantial.
He married Sarah Semmes from an important Port Tobacco family. She was born Dec. 26, 1796, the daughter of Robert Doyne Semmes and Mary Neale (niece of later Archbishop Leonard Neale SJ). Her mother died when she was a child and then her father died in 1814 when she was a teenager. This branch of the Semmes family was particularly close to their Wills relatives. John B. Wills, Sr. had witnessed the will of Ignatius Semmes in 1764 (their wives were cousins) and then fifty years later their sons repeated the pattern when John B. Wills, Jr. witnessed the will of his second cousin Robert Doyne Semmes. The connection was strong enough that in the next generation Francis Reed Wills named one of his sons Robert Doyne Wills.
In fact, it was probably through her Wills cousins that Sarah Semmes met her future husband David I. Floyd. The Floyds were a St. Mary’s County family, but, after John B. Wills, Jr. married Ann Carey Floyd, they were often visiting Port Tobacco (see the letter of Joseph P. Floyd). The marriage of David Floyd (the late Ann Floyd Wills’ brother) to Sarah Semmes meant that the next generation — Olivia Floyd and Dr. Francis Reed Wills — were cousins on both their mother’s and father’s sides.
The young Floyd couple moved to Baltimore and are listed there in the 1830 and 1840 censuses. An 1831 mortgage to him calls him “David I. Floyd of Baltimore City”.
Then, in 1843, David and Sarah’s children, while still teenagers, inherited Rose Hill (a Georgian mansion built by George Washington’s physician Gustavus Brown) from their uncle Ignatius Semmes and the family move back to Charles County.
David died soon afterwards, as the Baltimore Sun (issued 3/26/1847) reports: “Died at Rose Hill, near Port Tobacco, Charles County, Md., David Floyd in his 53rd year, formerly of Baltimore.” The next year, his oldest daughter Mary married Catholic publisher John B. Piet and moved back to Baltimore.
But the rest of the family stayed on at Rose Hill for the rest of their lives (although curiously they are listed in the Bryantown district in the 1850 census). The 1860 Census lists the flourishing Robert Floyd, aged 32, as the head of the household, with $28,000 of real estate, and $20,000 personal property (mostly slaves); his mother Sarah with $7,000 (and 8 slaves) and his sister Olivia aged 34 with $78,000 (probably a mistake for $18000 or $28000). They were one of the wealthiest families in the county.
Then Bob left. When war broke out in 1861, the Potomac River became a battleground and all of Southern Maryland was affected. Robert Semmes Floyd joined the Confederate cavalry that first year, but in 1862 he returned on furlough long enough to record a power of attorney that he gave his sister Olivia (witnessed by their mother). On March 17, 1863, while fighting as a member of J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, he was seriously wounded and never recovered. He died on April 3, 1863 at the residence of a Dr. Cooper in Fauquier County, Virginia. Despite her grief, it is said that Olivia Floyd managed to conceal the fact from her mother for six weeks.
But the war went on, and at Rose Hill that meant the frequent presence of Union soldiers who were patrolling the Potomac and monitoring the activities of the local white population which was known to be sympathetic to the Confederacy. Olivia Floyd maintained an energetic disposition throughout her almost 80 years, and never more so than during those wartime years. Numerous stories are told of how defied the Federal troops, even pulling a revolver and firing when they teased her about being a “secesh”.
Her fame particularly rests on her role as the last link on the Confederate underground before crossing the Potomac. She hid papers in a wooden boat model made by her brother, concealed $80,000 in bank notes in a hassock, and is said to have saddled horses at night to ride down to the river to handover a message. The most notable of these exploits is her role in saving the lives of the St. Alban’s Raiders — a version of which you can read here. The end of her life climaxed with a celebrated trip to Louisville, Ky. in 1900 as guest of honor at the 10th Confederate Reunion.
The 1870 Census lists the elderly Sarah Floyd with $26,000 real estate and $2700 personalty, living with her daughter Olivia. Farming the property was H.H. Owen (white, literate, $300 personalty) with the help of N. Jones 43 (black male, $200), John Hemsley 11 (son of a neighboring mulatto family).
After the widow Sarah Semmes Floyd died November 7, 1882, Mary Floyd Piet with her husband made out a deed to her sister Olivia Floyd (1885).
8.1) Mary Floyd (1824-1898), marr. John B. Piet (1824-1906)
The Port Tobacco Times reported that the marriage on Oct. 12, 1848 “At Rose Hill, Chas. Co. on Tuesday morning, 10th Oct by Rev. F. Vetromile., John B. Piet of Baltimore to Mary, daughter of the late David I. Floyd of Charles Co. Md.” The Jesuit presence in the parishes meant a surprisingly literate clergy for a rural area. In this case, Port Tobacco was the first assignment for the newly ordained Fr. Eugene Vetromile, SJ., an Italian who later became a famous missionary to the Penobscot Indians in Maine, and translator of the Bible into Abenaki.
Her husband John Piet worked for a Catholic publisher and in 1858 joined a colleague M.K. Kelly to form a new company with a continued emphasis on books for Catholic readers. They also edited and published the archdiocesan newspaper The Catholic Mirror. Their southern sympathies led to their arrest twice during the Civil War for printing works of “treasonable character”. The firm became prominent and their post-war publications included Scharf’s 3-volume History of Maryland. His interesting biography and family history can be found in George W. Howard’s The monumental city, its past history and present resources (1873), pages 720-2.
The Baltimore Sun of 5/31/1898 gives a full obituary: “Mrs. Mary Piet, the wife of Mr. John B. Piet, 301 East 21st street, died about noon yesterday aged 74 years. She was born on Water street near South street, when that was a resident part of the city. Her father was David W. Floyd, a prominent tobacco commission merchant, and her mother, before marriage, was Miss Mary Semmes, a near relative of Admiral Semmes, of the Confederate navy. Miss Piet was a grand niece of Archbishop Neale, the second archbishop of Baltimore, and an aunt was Sister Mary Gabriel, of the Convent of the Visitation, Park avenue and Centre street. Mrs. Piet was educated at the Visitation Academy, Georgetown, D.C. She was a member of the Cathedral congregation for a number of years. At the time of her death she was a member of St. Ann’s congregation, York road. Mrs. Piet was married to Mr. Piet, October 10, 1848. She is survived by her husband, one son, John B. Piet, Jr., and a daughter, Miss Mary Susan Piet.”
The Piets are buried at New Cathedral Cemetery in Baltimore.
8.2) Anne Olivia “Olivia” Floyd (1826-1905) of Rose Hill
Olivia Floyd never married and lived her long adult life with her mother at the historic home Rose Hill. Olivia, who had broken her back in a childhood accident at age 10 that confined her to bed for a while, seems to have been a good farm manager. In 1848 at the first fair organized by the Charles County Agricultural Society, she also won a prize for quilting. See above for her wartime exploits. She died December 8, 1905 and is buried at St. Ignatius, Chapel Point.
8.3) Robert Semmes “Bob” Floyd, C.S.A. (1829-1863)
He died as a Confederate soldier (see above) and is buried at St. Ignatius, Chapel Point.
8.4) William Floyd (1830-1842)
William Floyd’s dates are known from the records of Humphrey Semmes.