What is in the name Caroline County?

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Most of the history books simply say that Caroline County was named in honor of the wife of the last colonial Governor of Maryland. However there is a much more complicated family drama behind the name - worthy of any soap opera

Our story begins with the last Lord Baltimore, Frederick Calvert, who died in 1771, in Naples Italy, at the ripe old age of forty. He had a terrible reputation for being a womanizer and generally living a dissolute life that led to his early demise. He left the bulk of his estate, including the colony of Maryland, to his illegitimate son in Ireland: Henry Harford. Henry's little sister Frances, and their aunts, Frederick's sisters, Louisa Browning and Caroline Eden also all received an annual allowance and the right to inherit should Henry perish before them.

Caroline's husband was Robert Eden the Governor of Maryland. His job was to represent Lord Frederick who was not terribly engaged in the day to day running of his province. Caroline and Robert were relatively well liked by the people in Maryland. He owned racehorses and they had a fine plantation overlooking the Chesapeake Bay where they liked to entertain. He had relaxed the laws about traveling theater troupes which had been considered previously as bad influences.

When Lord Frederick's will became known, sister Louisa's husband fought the will in court saying that his wife was the only legitimate heir in the line of secession. Robert was named one of the executors of Frederick's will along with two other gentlemen, Peter Provost and Robert Morris. The Edens took the side of the illegitimate Irish nephew, who was still under the age of ten.

In order to further solidify his wife's claim Robert Eden decided to create two new counties: one named Caroline for his wife, and the other named Harford for their nephew Henry. This all coincided conveniently with a petition from some inhabitants from Queen Anne's and Dorchester counties to erect a new county for their "ease and convenience". Caroline County was created by an act of the Maryland legislature in 1773. Its county seat was named Eden Town for the Governor. The accent of the people there eventually led to the name being shortened to Denton which is what it is still called today.

For all their legal maneuvering the Eden's did not hold onto the reins of power in Maryland for long. Though young Henry Harford was made Lord Proprietor of the colony in absentia with Robert Eden remaining as Governor; shortly thereafter on July 2, 1773, the Lower House of the legislature repealed several of the Governor's tax measures calling them "arbitrary, unconstitutional, and oppressive." The proverbial writing was on the wall. Caroline and Robert's children wisely returned to England before revolutionary hostilities broke out. Robert Eden followed on June 26, 1776, escaping by the catching a ride on the sailing vessel, the HMS Fowey, which was waiting for him in the Chesapeake Bay.

Meanwhile sister Louisa Browning and her husband continued to appeal their case in London. As luck would have it, by the time it came before the court, America had declared her independence. The judge said he could not rule on the case since he would be unable to enforce the property rights of estates no longer under the control of the British crown. Basically he said that they would have to come back at the conclusion of the war; which they all did.

Eventually the court ruled in favor of Henry Harford and Robert Eden. King George III made Eden the first Baron of Maryland in October of 1776. Presumably this was an act of confidence in their ability to win back the wayward colonies. Eden and his wife were awarded a substantial settlement and a pension for his service as Maryland's Governor. On a strange little side note - the other executors of Frederick's estate (Peter Provost and Robert Morris), they made sure that the rest of the money Lord Calvert left behind did not go to waste. They respectively married Lord Frederick's mistress (Henry's mother) and his little sister (Frederick's other illegitimate child) who was only thirteen at the time.

Henry and Robert returned to Maryland shortly after winning their case but the new government refused to honor their claims to the property they owned before the war. Apparently the lands had been put up as collateral for state bonds. As late as 1899 Henry's descendents were still trying to lay claim to property along the Potomac River. Not all the family descendents were infected with an unrelenting propensity for greed. Though named for his reprobate uncle, Frederick Eden the son of Robert and Caroline Eden, was an acclaimed scholar who wrote ground breaking progressive studies on the fair treatment of the poor.

Here on Delmarva all that remains of this soap opera is the name of Caroline County. And that is a probably a good thing. Caroline County is a really beautiful place to live in or visit and bears no scars from the tangled origins of its name. No wonder people simply like to say it was named for the wife of the last colonial governor of Maryland.


Biography Project, Maryland State Archives

A Chesapeake Family and Their Slaves: A Study in Historical Archaeology
By Anne Elizabeth Yentsch, Julie Hunter
Cambridge University Press (1994)

Denton Maryland - History

History of Maryland 1765-1812
By J.T. Scharf - Nabu Press, United States, 1922-2014

Sir Robert Eden - Wikipedia