Teackle Mansion

by Marilyn Buerkle

Marilyn Buerkle takes a look at what life was like back then for the woman who lived in one of the Eastern Shore's most celebrated homes.

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If the cold, dark days of winter are getting you down-be grateful you weren't living on Delmarva in the nineteenth century. You wouldn't have been able to turn on a light, call a friend, or turn up the thermostat. In 1801, as the United States was coming of age, a young couple moved to the town of Princess Anne in Somerset County. Littleton Dennis Teackle had been appointed the postmaster. He and his wife Elizabeth came from wealthy families on Virginia's Eastern Shore. They were important members of their new community. He became a prominent merchant and, later, a member of the Maryland legislature.

We know a lot about Mr. Teackle and his wife, partly because of the home they built. We call it the Teackle Mansion; they called it Teackletonia. It's a massive, 10,000 square foot, neoclassical, brick home listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's been preserved and restored by the Somerset County Historical Society and Friends of Teackle Mansion.

Sallie Ridgway is a board member of the historical society. She dresses in period costume and plays the role of Elizabeth Teackle when school children tour the house. She's done her homework, reading the family's correspondence, donated to the University of Virginia by Elizabeth's grandson.

It's a rich description of the life Mrs. Teackle led.

Sallie Ridgway:
"At one time, they actually did have, I believe it was, 23 servant slaves … Mrs. Teackle had to rely heavily on those servants and slaves that knew about running a plantation, because when she came here she was just a young girl, and she really had no idea how to run a plantation or even how to care for an infant … Running a household like this was a busy time. I mean, the first thing in the morning she would get up and she would go and converse with the cook probably to solidify what the menu would be, you know, for the day … We think nothing of the ingredients we use in our household. We have flour. We have sugar. We have all of those things right at our fingertips. That had to be something that was really calculated and kept an eye on, because if you ran low on something then you wanted to make sure you allowed yourself plenty of time to get those particular elements."

Much of the responsibility for the property fell to Mrs. Teackle because her husband was rarely there. In addition to his local interests, he built a successful mercantile store across the Bay in Baltimore. As a result, she often relied on her sister and brother-in-law back home in Virginia for advice.

Sallie Ridgway:
"She consulted with her sister's husband numerous times because I'm sure getting a letter to him, even though it was difficult, it was not as impossible as, maybe, getting a letter to Mr. Teackle across the Bay. Because once you have to cross water, the conditions have to be good, and if there was a week of bad weather or something then, probably, she knew it was impossible to get a message to him and then for him to reply back to her. So her sister and her sister's husband were very dear to her."

Even though the business interests and, later, legislative duties of Elizabeth's husband, Littleton, kept him away for long periods of time, there was still an opportunity for the upper class to socialize at Teackletonia.

Sallie Ridgway:
"I think she enjoyed entertaining. She writes about this one party they had, and I think she invited about 80 people, and, of course, she didn't expect, I'm sure, 80 people to come, and, I think most everyone came. So she writes about how, you know, that was a bit of dilemma. However, she said that people sang, and the men told their stories, and I'm sure they danced, maybe even did some dancing, that sort of thing. Everyone seemed to have a wonderful time, so I'm sure she enjoyed entertaining."

She occupied her time alone productively. She had a daughter to care for, she enjoyed sewing, and she especially loved her garden.

Sallie Ridgway:
"She loved gardening. She wrote about things she planted, so we have a number of letters that tell about exactly, I mean, geraniums, tulips … There is this big open space with these trees around the back of the property, and that's where you would promenade in the cool of the day, especially in the warmer months. You would go and walk around under those trees and you would look into that open space, across that open space, to whatever plantings had been done."

Each year, every fourth grader in Somerset County takes a field trip to Teackle Mansion for a local history lesson. They learn, not only about the wealthy land owners, but also about the slaves who kept the plantation running.

Sallie Ridgway:
"And this past summer for the first time, the first week in August, we actually did a camp which included kids going into fifth and sixth grade, and we had a wonderful, wonderful week together … It's their heritage; it's their house … We're happy that we can have a chance to have them come and see their day to day living was very different from ours, and I think it's just good for us to delve into that and find out what life really was like and to appreciate what we have now."

The mansion is open to visitors three afternoons a week from the first weekend in April through the first weekend in December. The Somerset County Historical Society has posted some of Elizabeth Teackle's letters online which you can read here.