St. Thomas Manor including St. Ignatius Chapel at Chapel Point and B. L. Higdon

St. Thomas Manor (1741) is a historic home and Catholic church complex located near Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland. It is now known as St. Ignatius Church and Cemetery. The manor house complex is recognized as the oldest Jesuit residence in the world to have been continuously occupied by that order. The mission settlement of Chapel Point was started in 1641 by Father Andrew White, S.J., an English Jesuit missionary. He administered to the Potapoco Native Americans, some of whom he converted to Catholicism. Established in 1662, this is the oldest continuously active Roman Catholic parish in the Thirteen Colonies of North America founded by Great Britain.

Additional significance:

In 1794 it was at St. Thomas Manor that John Carroll was invested in his robes as the first Catholic bishop of the United States of America, after the nation gained independence in the Revolutionary War. (He later traveled to London for official consecration as a bishop by the Vicar Apostolic.) This investiture established St. Thomas as the first Roman Catholic see in the United States. The Chapel and Manor walls are original. The wooden interiors have been rebuilt several times due to fires. 

The St. Thomas complex was also the site of the revival of the Jesuit order in the United States in 1805, after it had been suppressed by the Catholic Church in 1773. Three American priests took their vows at St. Ignatius Church. Text from entrySt. Thomas Manor ,in Wikipedia.

The main reason this manor house and chapel are recommended for a genealogy visit are the six stained glass windows that form part of the chapel’s side walls. One of the six stained glass windows is dedicated to the memory of B.L. Higdon. And as you stand on the steps leading to the main entrance to the chapel, you can clearly see the tombstone of B.L. Higdon in the church cemetery. 

The tombstone of B.L. Higdon is original and was placed into its current location after the U.S. Civil War. Many of the tombstones you see at St. Ignatius are not in their original locations. As a local priest on site during the U.S. Civil War, Fr. Joseph Zwinge noted in his account of the damages to St. Thomas Manor and St. Ignatius Chapel during the war, “The worst piece of vandalism they committed was to shoot down all the tombstones in the graveyard at Chapel Point, ... . Most of the damage was done after President Lincoln’s assassination, for the soldiers were incensed especially against the people of Charles County.” Quoted text from book: St. Ignatius Church at Chapel Point, p.39. An inn in nearby Port Tobacco was one place where Lincoln’s assassins early on met to plan for the assassination. Afterwards, John Wilkes Booth fled south to the nearby Port Tobacco area as he tried to escape, with the help of several Charles County friends. 

After the Civil War ended, the parish, in time, re-erected what tombstones could be salvaged. However, there was no map of the main cemetery prior to the destruction of the tombstones. So, as many tombstones as possible were re-erected on bases that looked like they might be the correct location. Please note: The tombstone of B.L. Higdon is original and was placed into its current location about 35 years after the U.S. Civil War.

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