The Wills family of Araby: Charles Wills (1782-1852) and his sons were a well-educated and successful 19th century family, who lived at historic Araby, but the next generation had poor health, little income and almost no descendants.
The eighth and youngest child of John Baptist Wills, Sr. and Anne Livers, Charles Wills was often grouped with his brother Frederick. In the 1796 will of their grandmother Mary Livers, they were jointly bequeathed “two Negro boys”, “to be divided between them” when they come of age. Together they were also named as under the guardianship of their brother John B. Wills, Jr. (although their father was alive) in the Feb 1799 Chas. Co Orphans Court. At that time, Charles’ birth was given as May 6, 1782. Charles and Frederick served together in the 1813 militia.
He was wealthy enough to keep cash on hand. The National Intelligencer, Dec. 2, 1816, reports: “$20 reward for lost or stolen pocketbook, near Middletown, containing $225 in paper & one doubloon — Charles Wills, Charles Co. Md.”
He married his distant cousin Jane Green, daughter of Henry Green and Sarah Coomes, and was named as executor of his mother-in-law’s 1822 will. In 1827, he paid $20 to John Allen and his wife of Baltimore for a one-third part of “Dundee” in Charles Co. (IB 17: 284). In the 1832 will of his sister Mary Helena Wills, Charles Wills is bequeathed “a debt of $400 due me on note” and “the use of three negroes during his life and after his death to his three sons Charles Henry, Leo, and William Wills, to be given at the age of 21”.
His wife must have died in the 1830s, since the only adults listed in the 1840 Census are himself and a white male (in his 20s). Also recorded are his three sons and one daughter (all aged 10-15), and 20 enslaved persons. He is listed in the 1850 census as aged 70 living alone at the farm St. George’s (because his son William was away at studies and his sons Charles and Leo were living on another farm).
These same three boys are named in their father’s will and they all signed the administrative accts of his estate. His will, dated 13 March 1852 and probated that August, was witnessed by his friend Walter Mitchell and his nephews Francis Thompson and Joseph I. Wills.
Children of Charles and Jane Green Wills:
8.1) Charles Henry Wills (1824-1896) of Araby, Consul to Managua
He was named after his father Charles and his mother’s father Henry. [Although the will of John B. Wills, Jr. (1844) leaves to “my nephew Charles H. Wills one negro boy”, presumably that is the son of Frederick Wills, who is the Charles Wills living at “his late uncle John B. Wills” died aged 22 in 1845.]
On January 29, 1850, Rev. Eugene Vetromile SJ married him and Anna M. Thompson, the daughter of his cousin Col. Francis Thompson and Charlotte H. Johnson. The Sept 1850 census lists him (aged 26) and his wife (aged 21) as having married within the year. They were living together with his brother Leo on the property later bequeathed them in their father’s will of 1852: “that tract of land at present occupied by them together with the woodland” adjoining Gerard Robey. They also received a piece of land their father had purchased from their cousin’s husband John H. Digges. Individually, he receives negroes Lewis, Adeline, and Maria.
A few years later, he and his wife received from her father the estate called “Araby”, which became their home. It was used as a Mass station for the western part of St. Joseph’s parish from the 1850s on. The pewter chalice and the old altar cloths and vestments from the residence were given to the Jesuit archives by their son Charles Hoffman Wills.
In the 1860 Census, he is recorded as a Farmer with $15,000 of real estate and $15,000 of personal property, mostly the 16 enslaved persons (ranging in age from 2 to 60) living in 5 slave houses. After the war, in the 1870 census, he is recorded with only $6000 for real estate and $1500 in personal estate.
The Port Tobacco Times covered his death in two issues (the second revising some of the dramatic details of the first).
“Stricken by Paralysis” (June 19, 1896)
Mr. Charles H. Wills, who lives near Glymont in Second district was stricken with paralysis while seated at dinner with his family on Monday. Owing to his age—seventy three years—death is liable to occur at any moment. Mr. Wills was appointed in 1885 by President Cleveland consul to Managua, Nicaragua, and served five years, when he was succeeded by a Republican appointed by President Harrison. On Saturday he was again appointed to the same position by President Cleveland in place of one recently appointed but whom the Senate failed to confirm, and at the time he was stricken, he was talking with his family about the appointment, he having only received the notice by mail a few moments previous.
A report from Dr. Robert Digges [his brother-in-law] on Thursday evening, who has been in constant attendance upon Mr. Wills since Monday, says there is no hope of his recovery and death is likely to occur at any moment.
Since the above was put in type, we learned that Mr. Wills died yesterday evening. His funeral will take place on Saturday at 10 o’clock at Pomfret Church.
“Laid to Rest” (June 26, 1896)
The remains of Mr. Charles H. Wills, whose death was briefly mentioned in The Times last week, were interred in the cemetery at Pomfret Church on Saturday morning. . . . He led a quiet and retiring life on his farm, and by his ever pleasant and courteous manner he made friends of all whom he came in contact. He was a devoted husband and father and a most conscientious member of the Catholic Church. A widow, three daughters and two sons survive him.
In politics he was always an unswerving Democrat and always felt a deep interest in the success of his party. In 1885 he was appointed by President Cleveland consul to Managua, Nicaragua, and stayed there for five years, when he resigned and came home. When Mr. Cleveland was elected the second time, Mr. Wills filed his application for the same position, but the President saw fit to appoint someone else. The gentleman appointed did not qualify and on Saturday the 13th ins., Mr. Wills was given the appointment. The notice, however, had not reached him before he was stricken with paralysis and, as he never fully recovered consciousness, he died without knowing of the appointment.
He was buried at St. Joseph’s Pomfret. “Sacred to the memory of Charles H. Wills. Born Sept 20 1824. Died June 18, 1896. We have loved him in life, let us not forget him in death”. A matching tombstone for his wife gives her dates as March 1, 1828 — June 10, 1898 (although the family bible has March 1, 1829 for her birth). A bar with gold coins from Nicaragua and the initials CHW-AMW has been passed down in the Thompson family.
Children of Charles Henry Wills and Anne “Annie” M. Thompson (births from Thompson Bible):
8.1.1) Alban Thompson Wills (Nov. 17, 1850-1879). The 1860 census lists him aged 10 and attending school. His tombstone: “Died July 21, 1879, aged 28 years”. The PTT 8/29/1879 obituary says he died July 22 and calls him the eldest son of Charles and Annie Wills.
8.1.2) Charlotte Jane Wills (1852-1933), named for her grandmother Charlotte Johnson. Her tombstone says 1849-1933, but the family bible has her birth as Aug. 25, 1852 . The 1860 census calls her “Lottie”, aged 8; in the 1870 census she is 17; in the 1880 census her age is coyly reduced to 24.
8.1.3) Edith Anna Wills (July 19, 1854 —died Nov 1857) (Thompson Bible).
8.1.4) Elizabeth M. Wills (TS: 1857-1913). Family bible calls her “Bettie Mae” but the date of birth is unclear. The 1860 census calls her “Bessy M”; 1880 “Bessie”
8.1.5) Paul Wills (TS: 1859-1944); bible “Paul Wills born April 5, 1858. 1880 census “Paul F.”
8.1.6) “Charles Marcellus Wills born 1861” (Thompson Bible), probably died young.
8.1.7) Mary Wills (TS: 1863-1940); 1880 census “Mary C.”, but land contract has “C. Mary”.
8.1.8) Charles Hoffman Wills (TS: 1865-1917), named after Georgetown professor Charles W. Hoffman, who taught his uncle William in the 1850s and then was one of founders of the Law School there in 1870. Since his uncle William lived at Araby after he was struck by paralysis, perhaps Hoffman had been a frequent visitor at that time. CHW himself studied at Georgetown at intervals from 1883, and in his 1896 letter to the college he gives information on several relatives who were graduates.
None of these children ever married and there is no further offspring of this family.
The fate of Araby
On Dec. 16, 1901, Cornelius and Charlotte Johnson purchased ten acres of the Araby estate for $450 from the five surviving children and B.W.B. McPherson (connection unclear), but the remaining Wills siblings lived in the main house for another generation.
Michael J. Mazzeo, Jr, a great-great-grandson of the Johnsons (writing to this author in 1984) describes what his great-grandmother had told him: “The Wills children held Mass at “Araby” many times, especially when the church was in need of repair. My great-grandmother knew all of the 5 children. She said that Paul Wills was blind. Apparently, as the story goes, he slept with the window open and during a storm was blinded by pieces of shingles on the roof. There must have been more than that. He did walk with a cane too. My grandmother and my aunt claimed to see a ghost there and had to get one of the Wills to walk them home, which was across the road.”
The pious but penurious elderly Wills siblings had no resources or offspring to maintain the property and the condition of the house and tract deteriorated. It seems to have been quite run-down by the time it was purchased in 1931 from Mary and Paul Wills by John C. and Eliz. Work and then four years later by Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher (of the Pacific Fleet in WW II) and his wife, who conducted an extensive restoration. Meanwhile, Mary and Paul Wills went off to the Sacred Heart retirement home in Hyattsville.
8.2) daughter(s) died in infancy
An 1826 letter of Joseph Floyd to F. Reed Wills mentions that “your uncle Charles lost his oldest daughter a few ago with dropsey”, which implies that by that date Charles Wills already had two daughters.
8.3) Francis Leo Wills (1827 — 1870/76), Confederate cavalryman
He is mentioned in the will of his aunt Mary Wills (1832) and in his father’s will (1852) where he also is given property jointly with his brother Charles Henry. He also receives negroes Joe, Hanson, Alfred and Amanda. In both documents, he is called simply “Leo”. The Sept 1850 census shows “F. Leo Wills” (aged 23) on the same property as his brother Charles along with his sister Mary J. Wills (aged 21). The 1860 Census records “Francis L. Wills” as a 30-year-old farmer in Allen’s Fresh (between Washington A. Posey and Charles Shaw) with $500 real estate and $4500 personal property (including 9 enslaved persons). Living with him was the physician George Lancaster and his family.
His Confederate service record: 2nd Cpl., Co. K (2nd). Born Charles Co. Md. Enlisted at Leesburg 5/14/1861 as a private, and was present until discharged 5/14/1862 aged 34. Later reenlisted and was present until appointed 3rd Cpl. 7-8/1862, then present through 12/1863. Appointed 2nd Cpl. and present through 2/1864. Transferred to Co. K, 1st Md Cav on 8/15/1864. He was 5’8”, brown complexion, black hair, grey eyes. Farmer.
In the 1870 Census, in the household of his cousin Augustine Wills Neale (who was also a Confederate veteran), there is an otherwise unplaced “F. L. Wills”, aged 42, with $500 personal estate. The gender is marked as “F” and the male citizenship box is not checked, but the occupation is “Farmer” (rare for a woman unless she is the head of household). In sum, it seems likely that the gender marking is a mistake and that Francis Leo Wills died at Johnsontown (where the cemetery was later plowed over).
He died intestate before Oct 1876, when the land that he and his brother Charles Henry had inherited from his father (“the woodland adjoining Gerard Robey’s land”) was sold by his heirs: his brother Charles Henry Wills and wife, and his nephew E. Hyland Brawner and wife.
8.4) Mary Jane Wills (c.1828— 1851) m. James Thaddeus Brawner (1829- 1853)
The 1832 will of Mary Helena Wills, after listing bequests to her brother Charles and his three sons, continues: “I give and bequeath to my niece Mary Jane Wills, three hundred fifty dollars, which sum I desire to be applied to her education. I also give and bequeath to my niece Mary Jane Wills, one negro woman Charlotte, my carriage and horse.”
She appears on the September 1850 Census, aged 21, in the household of her brothers Charles and Leo, but she soon married. In a court document (Equ. IS-#1 1852/56 p. 335), William Wills, F. Leo Wills, Charles Wills and minor Eugene H. Brawner are tenants in common. From this we can conclude that Mary Jane Wills had married a Brawner in late 1850, had a son, and died soon thereafter. We do in fact find a Mary Jane Brawner, aged 23, who died 16 Sept, 1851 at the home of her father-in-law. Although her obituary (PTT 24 Sept, 1851) poetically says she left a husband and “tender infants”, she died in her first year of marriage with only one child. The 1900 Census gives Eugene’s birth date as August 1851, a month before his mother’s passing. Her husband’s name is established by the 1863 will of Hezekiah Brawner which leaves his grandson Eugene Hyland Brawner 300 acres on the condition that he not contest various acts, accounts and estates—including the estate of Eugene’s late father, James Thaddeus Brawner. The tombstone of Thaddeus Brawner (along with his wife in St. Charles Cemetery in Glymont, very near Araby) says he was born January 19, 1829, and died October 8, 1852 (but should be 1853, since his will was written in Sept 1853, proved Nov 1853). Their one child was:
8.4.1) Eugene Hyland Brawner (1851-1916) m. Margaret Miles (1851-1890). After his parents died when he was an infant, he lived with his grandparents Hezekiah and Juliana Brawner. He raised his family on the Brawner farm in Glymont, but after 1900 moved to Alexandria, VA where he remarried another Margaret and died. Eugene, his first wife, and minor children Raymond and Eugene Jr. are buried at Glymont. Surviving children: Cecelia, Margaret Jenkins (m. Robert Boykin), Charles P., Mary Waring. This is the only continuing line of descendants of Charles Wills.
8.5) William Xavier Wills (1830/1 — 1865), lawyer
He is mentioned with his brothers in the will of his aunt Mary Wills (1832). He was named as executor of the will of his father (1852), in which his father bequeaths him “that tract of land upon which I at present reside called St. George’s” along with the equipment and cows, and “a piece of woodland called ‘Barbadoes’ adjoining the land of Col. F. Thompson”, together with the following Negroes to wit: Harrison, Bob, Harriet, and child Matilda, and Rachel”.
On Feb. 19, 1848, he matriculated at Georgetown College along with his cousin John B. Wills. A very good student, he won prizes in French, Mathematics, Philosophy and Chemistry. He was residing at Georgetown, aged 19, at the time of the 1850 Census. He delivered student orations at the Commencement exercises in both 1850 and 1851 when he graduated. In 1854, he studied at Harvard Law School for a year, where his home was recorded as “Glymont, Md”. He also received the M.A. from Georgetown in 1859. He died June 25, 1865.
According to a letter by his nephew Charles H. Wills, “My uncle Wm. X Wills was a graduate of G.T. having left in 1851, then studied law at Cambridge and practiced his profession for a short time in Frederick, Md. at which place he was stricken with paralysis and died here (at Araby) a few years later, his death taking place just after the close of the war. He taught at G.T. for sometime with the late Chas W. Hoffman. I think however that was before he studied law.”