An American Family History

Richard Clark


All Hallows or South River Parish, Anne Arundel County, Maryland was created in 1672.

In the 17th century jails were used as places to hold people accused of crimes until they were brought to trial, but not as places of punishment. A debtor could be held in jail until he paid his debts and political dissidents were also jailed. Punishments included execution, maiming, public humiliation and monetary fines.
A society's legal system reveals much about it. A broad spectrum of behavior was considered criminal in Colonial Maryland and punishment was harsh.
A society's legal system reveals much about it. A broad spectrum of behavior was considered criminal in Colonial Maryland and punishment was harsh.

The Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay and is about 405 miles long.

Richard Clark was born about 1665. He married Elizabeth Mariarte. His parents were Rachel Beard and Neal Clark.

Neal, Sr.'s will was probated on July 3, 1678. Richard received part of Clarke's Inheritance.

In the early 1700s, Richard Clark terrorized Annapolis. He threatened

to seize the town's supply of gunpowder, burn buildings, and arm the Indians for a revolt against the government.

In 1705, Neal and Jane Clark and Thomas and Rachel Robinson sold Clarke's Inheritance to John Brice. Richard had been living at there.

Benjamin Gaither testified about events that happened in March, 1705.

. . .Richard Clarkes Wife some time in March last Came to his house on a Brown bay horse . . .she Importuned him to go up with her to Neal Clarks to Carry some things to her husband He went up with her & lay at Neals house Neale Came home very late in the Night as he told the Dept from his mother in Law [Mrs. William Jones].

The next Day the Dept Clarks wife went to Richard Clark in the lane in sight of the house the Dept Ask'd him why he lay out & told him Col Hamond Advised he should Come in & submitt himself to his Exncy

The said Clark had very Good Cloths on A Coate he said he had from Edwd Mariartee & a good Suite from Topp to Toe . . . & some neates Tongues and Cheese he had of [his sister] Majr [Charles] Greenberrys wife he was mounted on a Black horse with a Bald Face long Dock and 2 white feet belonging to Edward Meriartee.

His wife brought him two Pistols she not long before bought of James Lewis. After Richard Clarke fitted his Pistolls & Saddle upon Danll Meriartees brown bay horse which he Changed for Edward Meriartees horse

They went in the house upon which Neale seemed to be Angry at him upon which Richard went out and they had many Cross words. While they were in the house Richd Clark ask the Deponent and Neale Clarke to go with him and Assist him over Potomack River which they Refused.

all that Day at night Richard Clarke and his wife lay on some Straw in an out house belonging to Neale and the next Day about Twelve of the Clock Clark urged that he was afraid he should be hanged if he did not make his Escape prevailed upon the Depon[en]t& his Brother Neale to promise and go with and Assist him over Potomack

Accordingly they sett forward and Clark Bad them say if any should ask who he was to say his name was Robert Greenberry

they Came upon Mr Roziers negro Quarter the Depont and Neale Clark Called for a lodging Richard Clark keeping out of Sight in the Woods they went into the house

after a while Richard Clark Came into the house but tooke no Notice of his Brother & Depon[en]t as if he knew them the Negroes gave them their supper all Three Eat together.

Afterwards went away and Lay in the woods the Negroes being afraid to entertain them but promised them the Canoe the next day—then the Negroes endeavoured to secure them. But Fletchill letting them go they went to Neale Clarks that night

after they had been there an hour Richard Clarke Came to the pailes brought his Pistolls & his Sword & told them he had a great Combustion with the Negroes who had shott his horse but he had escaped

The Next Day he saw him again in the Woods under a great Tree and he told him he did not know what to do he feared he should be killed the Depont then Departed with him and has never seen him since but believes he is not quite gone out but Lurking about.

On May 18, 1705 his mother, Rachel was jailed and on May 21, 1705 she was convicted of treason.

In April, 1707 Thomas Ricketts testified that he had seen Richard. Thomas' wife was Richard's first cousin.

On March 29, 1707, Richard Clark sent a small boat to take his wife and children away from South River. They were not successful and those who helped were arrested for aiding the outlaw.

In April, 1707 Aaron Rawlings testified that he ordered his man and boy to go with his team and assist Richard Clark's wife

with her goods downe to the Landing which he says he did in his ignorance being told by her boy the Sloop had entered Annapolis and would clear there againe. His Excellency ask him if he did not know that Richard Clark was Outlawed. He said Yes, but did not intend to assist him, for the woman said she would pay him for the use of his teame. His Excellency tells him he knew better.

Richard returned to South River to be near his family. In 1708, he turned himself in and was immediately hung without a trial.

Planter is an archaic term for a settler. Plantation was a method of colonization where settlers were "planted" abroad. A plantation is also the kind of large farm that was the economical basis of many American Colonies and owners of these farms were also called planters.

Anne Arundel County, Maryland was established in 1650.
European and indiginous American fought fierce battles as the Europeans expanded their territory.

A deponent (dept, dpnt) gives testimony under oat.

The first European settlements in Maryland were made in 1634 when English settlers created a permanent colony.
Maryland was established with religious freedom for Catholics. The colonial economy was based on tobacco cultivated by Africans who had been enslaved.



Richard Clarke was no Ordinary Villian, The Capital, December 26, 1974, p. 30.

A Pirate Scheme to Burn Annapolis
By Hal Burdett

The mere mention of piracy conjures up romantic legends of adventure on the high seas- Robert Louis Stevenson's immortal Treasure Island, the exploits of Captain Kidd, ... Jean Lafitte or Errol Flynn swashbuckling through his dashing roles of the 1930s and 40s. But no one ever mentions Richard Clarke of Annapolis.

Richard Clarke is probably forgotten because he never made it in the big leagues of buccaneering along with the more illustrious Kidd, Lafitte, Edward Teach and Henry Morgan. And because recorded history is somewhat foggy on what finally became of Clarke, it is well within the realm of possibility that he never even got to raise the Skull and Crossbones. But none of this was due to a lack of effort on the part of Richard Clarke: he did, after all, manage to cause quite a furor within the General Assembly of Maryland in the early years of the 18th Century.

He is portrayed as a maniacal villain whose insatiable appetite for treasure was rivaled only by his unquenchable thirst for alcohol. But Richard Clarke was no common criminal. To class him as such would be to ignore the magnitude of his plotting and the enormity of his talent for enlisting support for his questionable cause.

To burn Annapolis
We also know that his alleged scheme to burn Annapolis, then the most important town in the Province of Maryland, and simultaneously plunder the local arsenal, thoroughly and understandably enraged the colony's proprietary government back in 1707.

Clarke is described as "having a flat nose, peaked chinn and underjaw outselling the upper." Thus, it is safe to assume that he did not rely upon a charismatic physical presence to attract his following. Chroniclers of the testimony in the case against Richard Clarke reported that greed motivated his co-conspirators, and that Clarke filled their pockets with counterfeit money that he coined himself.

Addressing the House of Delegates in Annapolis on March 27, 1707, the Royal Governor, John Seymour, charged that august body with the investigation of allegations against Clarke in tones that had all the fine subtlety of an executioner sharpening a new ax. Governor Seymour's request to the legislators, in fact, sounded more like an indictment. He emphasized that the crimes of Richard Clarke were "so notoriously aggravated, they cry aloud for justice."

Four days later, a five- member committee was selected to conduct the probe. And, on April 4, the House of Delegates issued a formal response to the Governor that clearly demonstrated its understanding of the full impact of his message.

Dangerous Designs
The House reply asserted that its membership was well aware of

Great and dangerous designs which have been carrying on by wicked people, enemys to Her Majesty Government, to destroy the records, arms and ammunition of this town, and all that was necessary to render this Government safe and secure...

After profusely thanking the Governor for

the great care and prudence you have showed in the preservation of all those things, and the preventing (of) the effect to soe dangerous a conspiracy...

the House advised him to order the attorney general to prosecute everyone found to be connected with the crimes.

The investigatory committee, headed by Col. John Contee began tracing the intricate web of conspiracy and reporting findings to the House

The committee concluded "that Richard Clarke, Daniel Wells and a certaine person who term'd himself a saylor" had plotted

to take some vessell, and get what assistance they could...to disturb her Majesty's peace and government, here, to make an attempt upon the towne of Annapolis, and burn some houses here, and whilst that consternation continued, to seize the magazine and powder house to furnish themselves with arms and ammunition to goe a privateering...

According to the committee, Clarke and his cohorts got

several housekeepers of desperate fortunes and other disaffected persons...(and) several servants belonging to persons in and near the Towne of Annapolis and elsewhere to joine with them in their cursed and wicked designs and intent...

The report goes on to tell of secret strategy meetings held in Annapolis and plans to steal either "Mr. Tufts, boat" or "Mr. Evans Jones' Gallup" or "any other vessel or their turn, as soon as they had done their mischief here to go to Carolina."

Via South River
With the assistance of Daniel Wells "and the saylor" Clarke left Annapolis via the South River. Wells returned to town to prepare the other conspirators; but having spent some of the counterfeit money and fearing apprehension, he decided to follow Clarke after a meeting with William Simpson "at the House of Smithers in Annapolis."

Wells and "the saylor" made their way down the Chesapeake Bay. But five of the conspirators including Simpton whom the committee felt was a leading figure in the scheme, were caught and sent to prison.

The report of the committee said that Wells and the seaman, following Clarke, came to Long Island in the Bay where Clarke had been the day before. Armed with powder and shot and sailing a small boat, the two conspirators claimed they were under orders of the Sheriff of Anne Arundel County to pursue Clarke. Meanwhile the committee concluded Clarke had settled in News (sic) River in Carolina pretending to be a merchant and attempting to persuade the inhabitats to join him.

The House concurred in the committee's report and both Houses passed a bill for the attainder of Clarke on April 9. But this did not end the investigation ...which, if carried out, could have dealt a damaging blow to the entire province as well as Annapolis.

Captain discharged
Captain Sylvester Welch was called before the Governor's Council to answer a charge of selling "the country's powder;" to Clarke's accomplices. He insisted he sold them only powder that belonged to him contending that what remained of three pounds of the country's power left in his charge could be found at his house but that he had fired the rest away. Governor Seyour said he did not belive Welch and promptly discharged the captain from his command.

Meanwhile, Major Josiah Wilson, high sheriff of Anne Arundel County, arrested John Spry, skipper of the sloop...Thomas Brereton and brought both before the council- They had recently arrived at South River from Virginia.

While neither was willing to confess to any role in a conspiracy, it was subsequently learned by the Council "that Clarke haunts...the Rosey crown, in Norfolk Towne."

Spry and Brereton eventually confessed that Clarke had sent them after his wife, children, and household goods and with a letter to Joseph Hill, who, they said, had given them assistance.

Hill, a member of the House of Delegates, was arrested by the Sheriff of Anne Arundel County and on April 10 was brought before the council where the depositions of Spry and Brereton were read to him.

Hill denied having seen Clarke in the past year and said he did not know of his whereabouts. The delegate also denied receiving a letter from Clarke, but Spry and Brereton were brought in and both identified Hill as the one to whom they had taken the letter.

Delegate Expelled
On the following day, Hill was expelled from the House "till he be cleared of what is lay'd to his charge."

The act of attainder against Clarke, which said he "had obstinately refused to surrender himself to justice," was not his first problem with the law. Similar charges had been placed against him two years earlier.

There is no evidence in the court records of Anne Arundel County as to what punishment came to Clarke and his sympathizers. It has been theorized that Clark was never captured, but it is unclear whether or not he got very far with his and dangerous designs.

The uncharacteristic haste of the legislature to uncover the Clarke conspiracy very probably saved some boats from being stolen and some Annapolis homes from being burned. But Clarke, the would- be buccaneer of old Annapolis, remains an intriguing mystery ...


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©Roberta Tuller 2020
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