Role in Ravensworth: being deceased, Parcel 1.1.4.5 inherited by his son

(The information presented here has been pieced together primarily from court cases. It establishes a tie between the Fitzhugh family and an important figure in America’s history – William Marbury. It also brings a note of scandal the aftermath of which clouded Richard Henry’s branch of the Fitzhugh family tree.)

Richard Henry Fitzhugh was the son of Richard and Susannah (Meade) Fitzhugh. His dates are unknown. By the second decade of the 1800s, he owned and operated a merchandise business in Georgetown, part of the new capital, Washington, DC. His store was on Bridge Street, today’s M Street, NW.

Mary Ann Marbury

Mary Ann Marbury was born on May 30 1798. After her first marriage ended, she married James S. Morsell (1775-1870) on October 21, 1829.1 He was a Judge of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, appointed by President James Madison in 1815 to fill the vacancy created by Nicholas Fitzhugh’s death. They had one child, also named Mary Ann, who was born on April 13, 1831. Five days later, on April 18, the mother died.2

Mary Ann Morsell's gravestone

Mary Ann Morsell’s gravestone in Zion Episcopal Church cemetery, Charles Town, West Virginia

Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner and the couple’s friend, wrote a poem eulogizing Mary Ann’s death, which is inscribed on her gravestone in Zion Episcopal Church cemetery, Charles Town, West Virginia.

Mrs. Mary Ann Morsell,
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE, APRIL, 1831,
IN THE 32D YEAR OF HER AGE.
“A LITTLE while,” this narrow house, prepared
By grief and love, shall hold the blessed dead;
“A little while,” and she who sleeps below
Shall hear the call to rise and live forever;
“A little while,” and ye who pour your tears
On this cold grave, shall waken in your own,
And ye shall see her, in her robes of light,
And hear her song of triumph. Would ye then
Partake with her the bliss of that new life?
Tread now the path she brightly marked before ye!
Choose now her Lord! live now her life! and yours
Shall be her hope and victory in death.

In 1816, he married Mary Ann Marbury (1798-1831).3 Her father was William Marbury, the famous plaintiff in the landmark Marbury v. Madison case that established the U.S. Supreme Court’s power to rule on the constitutionality of a law passed by Congress and signed by the President. This conclusion is supported by the following:

  1. The position for which Marbury sued in the famous Supreme Court case to have his 1801 appointment honored was justice of the peace for the District of Columbia. It’s most likely he would have been resident in Washington, DC.
  2. James H. Johnston fixes 1799 as the date William Marbury moved from Maryland to Washington, DC.4 His Georgetown home is today’s historic Forrest-Marbury House.
  3. The 1800 and 1820 federal census listed only one resident named Marbury in Washington, DC – William Marbury.5
  4. Richard’s father-in-law lived in Washington, DC in 1820, according to the two U.S. Supreme Court opinions cited below.

Richard and Mary Ann had one child, William Marbury Fitzhugh, born May 20, 1817 in Washington, DC.6

Forgery and Flight

Most of what’s known about Richard and the wider circle of his relationships is contained in or derived from two U.S. Supreme Court opinions: Marbury v. Brooks (1822) and Brooks v. Marbury (1826).

  • About New Year’s Day 1820, Richard admitted having forged several bank notes and feared arrest for fraud. When it was clear that neither he nor his father-in-law could arrange a settlement to cover the debt owed several banks, Richard fled.
  • Before leaving, on December 31, 1819, he deeded ownership of his home, store and other assets to William Marbury for the purpose of sale to cover the fraudulent notes and his other debts.
  • One of the creditors sued William Marbury seeking to invalidate the deed and get access to Richard’s assets. The case was twice heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal in Marbury v. Brooks (1822) and Brooks v. Marbury (1826).

Regarding Richard’s flight

  • The Court in Marbury v. Brooks (1822) observed that the banks “have not instituted any prosecution against him, but it is not stated that it has been in their power to do so or that they know where he is.”
  • When Richard’s father’s Ravensworth property was divided at the death of his widowed mother c.1857, Richard’s share went to his son William Marbury Fitzhugh. The shares were decided in a court case in which it was stated: “…Richard H. Fitzhugh…removed many years ago to Logan County in the State of Kentucky where he died in the year [blank] intestate, leaving an only child your complainant William M. Fitzhugh as his heir at Law and distributee.”7
  • It’s unknown whether Mary Ann and their son William moved to Kentucky with Richard or remained in Washington, DC perhaps living with her parents.

By October 1829, Richard’s and Mary Ann’s marriage had ended or he had died. For on October 21 1829, Mary Ann married James S. Morsell (1775-1870).


 

  1. “Washington DC Marriages for 1825-1830,” accessed September 2, 2014, http://genealogytrails.com/washdc/marriages/marr1825to1830.html.
  2. Mary Ann Morsell death announcement in “Mortuary Notice,” Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC), Volume XIX, Issue 5680, 3, accessed via GenealogyBank.com
  3. Marriage license issued on September 2, 1816: Wesley E. Pippenger, District of Columbia Marriage Licenses: Register 1, 1811-1858 (Heritage Books, 1994), 204.
  4. James H. Johnston, “A Different Look At Marbury,” Legal Times, April 4, 2005.
  5. 1800 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), District of Columbia, Page 848, William Marbury household, pdf image, (Online: ProQuest Company, 2010), Digital scan of original records in the National Archives, Washington, DC, subscription database, http://www.heritagequestonline.com/, accessed 8 August 2010; 1820 U.S. Federal Census (Population Schedule), District of Columbia, Washington, S of Eastern Branch Potomac Ri, Page 141, William Marbury household, pdf image, (Online: ProQuest Company, 2010), Digital scan of original records in the National Archives, Washington, DC, subscription database, http://www.heritagequestonline.com/, accessed 8 August 2010.
  6. Edith Moore Sprouse, Fairfax County in 1860: A Collective Biography (The Author, 1996), 665-666a.
  7. Maria M Fitzhugh, Etc. V. Hamden A White, Etc., original case number CFF32J, index number 1869-003, Library of Virginia online Chancery Records Index.