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    Narrative History of Brompton

    The history of Brompton, the iconographic home of John Marye, Jr. now owned by the University of Mary Washington, is a complicated weave of unknowns and educated guesswork. Possible dates for the construction of the property range from the 1740’s until 1838. Public memory, family lore, lack of historical documents and heavy renovation of the property make it almost impossible to pinpoint an exact history of Brompton.

    Though history shows that the Seacobeck Indians were inhabiting the land that now makes up the University, the first documentation involving the land on Marye’s Heights comes from the 1671 Buckner Royster Patent, the precursor to the layout of Fredericksburg. In May 1671 John Buckner and Thomas Royster patented the lease land grant. The land that would become Marye’s Heights was surveyed as apart of this grant. The boundaries of the Buckner Royster Patent were:

    …at marked foure branch pine the corner tree of the divident land surveyed for Mr. Lawrence Smith and bounding on the same S.W. by S. 2 degrees & ½, W. 1000 poles, thence N.W. 320 poles, & thence N.E. by Norley 2 degrees ½ E. 1000 poles to the river, and finally by the river side according to its several courses to the first mentioned station. [1]

    In 1752, Fielding Lewis purchased parcels of land that would make up his Kenmore Estate. Rumored that George Washington surveyed the land, this patent contained the land that would become the Marye’s Hill. Unfortunately, no primary source exists that exactly pinpoints Brompton’s date of construction. Many dates have been speculated through the study of archaeological resources and historic architecture. There is much confusion regarding the century that Marye’s house was built on the hill. Marye’s neighbor was Colonel Henry Willis, who built his house on Willis Hill (next to Marye’s property) by the 1740s.[2] It could be assumed that many documents relating to the Willis house were mistaken for Marye’s Brompton, therefore attributing an earlier construction date to the property. The Washington Avenue Historic District National Register nomination notes that an “impressive eighteenth century structure” sits on Marye’s Heights as a contributing resource to the historic district.[3] Of course this reference is to Brompton, because Willis’ original dwelling (which would have dated from the eighteenth century) burnt down in 1825. Historian Edward Alvey states that Brompton’s original core pre-dates the American Revolution, and that the house originally consisted of four rooms in a two story, central hall plan.[4]

    On November 22, 1813 William Barker purchased ten acres on the hill next to the Willis property. If the eighteenth century construction date of Brompton is accurate, then Barker purchased the acreage with the dwelling on the lot. William Barker’s Personal Property tax in 1813 is $3.86, which includes six slaves and 8 free white males.[5] By 1818 he pays $6.66; he has 9 slaves, 2 horses, and 4 white males.[6] Presumably, these slaves and other workers were for the benefit of a dwelling that Barker owned on the hill. A book on early American homes places the construction date of Brompton in 1818, during Barker’s ownership of the property.[7]

    On September 26, 1821 John Lawrence Marye purchased the same ten acres that were owned by William Barker. John Lawrence Marye was the great-grandson of Reverend James Marye, who immigrated to Virginia in 1729 and was rector of St. George’s church from 1735-1767. John Lawrence Marye named the plantation Brompton in honor of a town in England that he had fond memories of. Stuart Barnette, Assistant Architect of the Department of the Interior, places the construction of the original nucleus of the house during this time period, with other additions to follow. This original section of the house “comprised the first and second floor rooms lying on the north side of the hall,” (the study and bedroom) based on studying the brickwork of the area, but it is “impossible to determine the age of this section due to the absence of original architectural details.”[8]

    By 1824, Deed Records show that there were 2 dwellings owned by John L. Marye “Half mile west of town.” On January 17, 1825, Marye purchased three more acres to add to his lot on the hill. Historian William Wayne Griffith notes that “John Lawrence Marye, during the 1830s, enlarged and renovated a weatherworn little building,” but the Historic American Building Survey gives 1831 as the construction date for the whole structure.[9] [10]

    To add to the possible construction dates, page 41 of a document titled “Fredericksburg: America’s Most Historic City” lists 1836 as the construction date of Brompton.[11] Virginia Historical Society’s publication “Documents, Chiefly Unpublished, Relating to the Huguenot Emigration to Virginia” includes genealogies of families involved. The genealogy of the Marye family is included, starting on page 183, and stating on page 186 says that J.L. Marye built Brompton in 1838 and lived there until his death.[12]

    Though no one can agree on the original construction date of the structure, it is generally accepted that Marye made additions and improvements to his property after he acquired it. A Mary Washington College publication claims that in 1840, the “entrance hall with the rooms above it and the two one-story end wings were added; and a two-story portico with a flat roof was constructed shortly thereafter…the adjoining clapboard structure which now contains the dining room and kitchen and the dependencies…(were) probably built around the same time.”[13]

    By 1860, Marye’s Brompton was comprised of 780 acres of land. The Fredericksburg Census lists that Edward Marye (age 25), Stewart Marye (age 19) and Eveline Marye (age 16), along with at least 14 slaves were living at the plantation.[14] Historian Noel Harrison described Brompton in 1860 as being a two story brick structure with an elliptical fanlight, a full-façade, columned porch, with one story wings. A wooden kitchen was separate but connected to the house via a walkway. Four to six slave quarters and “several other dependencies were situated nearby.”[15]

    In 1862, Brompton became the focal point for the first Battle of Fredericksburg, with the Confederates fortified behind the famous Stone Wall at Sunken Road, directly in front of Brompton. General Longstreet chose Brompton for his headquarters, noting its defendable position and view of the town. During the war, J.L Marye had left Brompton for his home at Forest Hill as early as December 30, 1862. His neighbor Martha Stephens probably took care of Brompton in his absence.[16]

    An account from William Miller Owen, a first lieutenant in the Washington Light Artillery who was on the hill during the battle of Fredericksburg in 1862 gives a detailed memory of Brompton during the war. His reminiscences state that on the night of December 12, he and fellow officers spread their blankets out on the floor of Marye’s parlor. After a hearty breakfast, they rode “to the rear of Marye’s house and visited in turn the redoubts of Squires, Miller, and Eshleman, and found everything ready for instant action.” He continues to state that around noon, he rode to the Sunken Road where Cobb had his headquarters, and mounted his horse in the yard of Marye’s house. He states that he then left his horse “with the bugler, behind the brick wall of Marye’s graveyard, upon the hill, just behind our position.”[17]

    In 1863 John William Ford Hatton of Dement’s Maryland Battery remembered that the Marye House was “badly damaged from the impact of musket balls, like hail striking the weatherboarding of an old barn.” He also commented that “everything of value was torn to pieces.”[18] Brompton was again a focal point in the war when the Union Army used the house as a hospital during the Wilderness Campaign of 1864. Men being treated for their wounds were photographed under the now famous Brompton Oak.

    From 1866 to 1868 the bodies of 19 Union soldiers were disinterred from the grounds of Brompton and were moved to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, along with the bodies of two Confederates who were found “inside of Marye’s enclosure back of the house”[19] After repairing his war-torn home and making many of the changes seen on Brompton’s façade today, John Lawrence Marye died and the property was bought by John G. Lane in 1873. In 1887, Maurice B. Rowe purchased the estate.

    In the twentieth century, twelve acres on Marye’s Heights were set aside as a national cemetery for the 15,000 soldiers who died in this area fighting in the Civil War. The Daughters of Wisdom, a Catholic order, purchased eight adjoining acres and in 1948 established a school called the Montfort Academy. The needs of the school outgrew the property, however, and in 1997 the Daughters of Wisdom sold the land first to the Civil War Trust, who passed it then to the National Park Service. This important tract is now part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.[20]

    In 1947, the State of Virginia purchased Brompton for the residence of the President of Mary Washington College. Brompton and 171 acres were purchased for $71,000.[21] The College renovated the home for the President; original interiors were removed and lighting and heating fixtures were installed. Dr. Combs (President of the College at the time) supervised the work and was aided by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.[22] Mary Washington College historian Edward Alvey also notes that Nancy McClelland, “internationally known interior decorator,” helped on the project, as well as Franco Scalamandre who wove damask wall coverings and draperies for Brompton.

    In recent memory, Brompton was the scene for buffets for graduating seniors, receptions for alumnae and incoming students, and other guests of the College. Morgan L. Combs (1929-1955) was instrumental in purchasing and renovating Brompton, and was the first president to be housed there. Mary Washington College Presidents to live at Brompton include Grellet C. Simpson (1956-1974), Prince B. Woodard (1974-1984), William M. Anderson, Jr. (1983 – 2006), and William J. Frawley (2006 – 2007).

    Compiled by Kate Egner, April 2008. Documents containing information on the history of Brompton can be found in the Historic Preservation Archaeology Lab in Combs 012.


    [1], and Patent Book 6:240, 343.

    [2] Days of Gunfire at Brompton, William Wayne Griffith, August 1946


    [4] History of Mary Washington College: 1908-1972, Edward Alvey, pg 295




    [8] Barnette, Report on the Architectural Survey of Brompton, National Park Service

    [9] William Wayne Griffith, “Days of Gunfire at Brompton” 1946



    [12] Scanned courtesy of Google Books:’s+heights&source=web&ots=EozloFK-8w&sig=vdIrQj_kh01_WXcIXqlODUdZmvs#PPA186,M1

    [13] Brompton: Mary Washington College

    [14] “Fredericksburg Civil War Sites: Brompton” Noel Harrison

    [15] “Fredericksburg Civil War Sites: Brompton” Noel Harrison

    [16] Noel Harrison

    [17] Owen, William Miller “In Camp and Battle with the Washington Artillery of New Orleans” 1885

    [18] Hatton, John William Ford “Memoirs.” Microfilm, Library of Congress

    [19] Noel Harrison


    [21] History of Mary Washington College: 1908-1972, Edward Alvey

    [22] Alvey, pg. 295