Notley Hall was a kingly palace in early colonial Maryland, overlooking the Wicomico River.
Today, the home’s brick foundation is under a farm field, which was recently located and mapped using a magnetometer.
“It has blown [us] archaeologists away,” said Julia King, professor of anthropology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Notley Hall was an important location in colonial Maryland. While the capital was in St. Mary’s City, the Maryland Council sometimes met at other locations. The council met at Notley Hall 15 times, King said. It was also the home of the state’s deputy governor, Thomas Notley. He was a friend of the Calvert family, who founded Maryland.
“This was a palace,” King said. “It was a palace on purpose.”
Notley Hall sat strategically near the confluence of the Wicomico and Potomac rivers with a straight line of sight to the Virginia shore. Notley assisted the government with the collection of shipping dues in the Potomac, and with identifying merchant vessels potentially afoul of the law, wrote King, Alex Flick and Skylar Bauer in the manuscript “Lord Baltimore and the Politics of Landscape in Seventeenth-Century Maryland.”
In addition, “Its location midway between the English capital at St. Mary’s and the Piscataway capital at Piscataway made it an ideal meeting location for nation-to-nation meetings between the two governments,” King said.
Some archaeological work was done in 1981 looking for Notley Hall, off Notley Hall Road in Chaptico. Then in 2011, King and some college students did some more digging at a farm owned by James Hill. In that work, 329 shovel tests were made in a field, which turned up pieces of brick and other domestic items such as ceramics, pipes and glass. One of those shovel tests found a part of the house’s foundation.
Hill bought the 82-acre farm 25 years ago. When the team came around a few years ago to ask about digging in his field, he said, “I was wondering what they thought would be there.” The fields are in active cultivation, growing soybeans, corn and wheat. He was unaware that his crops were growing on top of Notley Hall’s foundation. “I didn’t know anything like that was here,” he said.
Once the foundation was discovered, King wanted to be able to “see” under the ground. Tim Horsley, a professor at Northern Illinois University, had done remote sensing at Zekiah Fort in Charles County. He was brought down to the Notley Hall site to see what could be revealed.
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” King said. “I had used remote sensing specialists before, but with mixed results.” She had heard Horsley did meticulous work. “So, I gave it a shot and I was not disappointed,” she said.
Using a probe after that initial shovel test, King’s team found the foundation was contiguous for 20 feet by 40 feet. “We knew from Notley’s probate inventory there had to be more going on. And the magnetometer showed a huge house with a back wing and — this is astonishing — traces of a brick drain, possibly related to some early indoor plumbing effort,” King said. The drain extended 180 feet toward the Wicomico River.
According to an inventory taken at the time of Notley’s death in 1679, the house had 13 rooms with goods and furnishings “unimaginable to most colonists,” according to King, Flick and Bauer.
A more typical home at this time would have two or three rooms with a loft above, King said.
Notley had five indentured servants and 22 slaves. “Notley was one of the largest slaveholders at the time, probably second only to Charles Calvert,” they wrote. Slavery was commissioned by law in Maryland in September 1664.
At the very beginning of the Maryland and Virginia colonies only the wealthy elite had slaves, King said. It was actually cheaper for a plantation owner to use indentured servants, who would eventually work toward and gain their freedom. Slaves serving for life had to be provided for in perpetuity.
In Maryland, “slavery doesn’t really take hold until the 1680s and later,” King said.
Now that the outline of Notley Hall has been revealed, King said she’s unsure where to go next.
Architectural historians from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation are interested in getting the site opened up to take a closer look. “For now, the site is well protected and maybe at some point we can open a few holes, but it is an actively farmed site,” King said.
Hill said he has no plans to sell the farm.
“Even without additional work at this point, we have learned so much about this place,” King said.
“It’s forcing me to rethink Calvert’s home at Mattapany, which he was building at the same time as Notley was building Notley Hall,” King wrote in an email. “We already know Mattapany was one of the most elite structures in 17th-century Maryland, a brick structure with a fortified yard, but did it have drains and a back wing as did Notley Hall?
“And what is clear is that the Calvert families were using architecture to situate themselves at the mouths of two major and important rivers — the Patuxent and the Wicomico — great perches to oversee commerce, shipping and keep an eye on the occasional anti-Calvert dissidents who also lived in Maryland,” she wrote.