Preserving a cemetery ensures that it will continue to convey its inherent social, cultural, and historic values to future generations of county residents. — Cemetery Preservation Manual, Prince George’s County, Maryland
In a small reburial ceremony that took place last week, Prince George’s County has written the final chapter of a story that is more than 300 years old.
The remains of 40 souls that were buried at the Addison family cemetery located on MGM Resort property at National Harbor were dug up and reinterred on the grounds of St. John’s Episcopal Church (9801 Livingston Rd, Fort Washington, about two miles to the south of National Harbor).
With about a dozen family members and county preservation staff in attendance, the Reverend Sarah Odderstol held a brief service and consecrated the ground for the burials.
Few other places in our region have a history that goes back as far as that of the Addison family. Their story is a saga that deserves a book. Meant as a loving obituary, we distill it down to these words.
On his legendary trek up and down the Potomac River in the summer of 1608, the English explorer Captain John Smith (1580-1631) sees the places where the mighty river reaches into the land with a wide mouth. In our area, two prime examples are Great Hunting Creek just south of Alexandrian, and Broad Creek, about two miles downriver on the Maryland side.
The story of the English colony on the Virginia side has been told much more than the Maryland side. Nevertheless, both are rich in history.
Like all parts of the region, Broad Creek’s marshy lands were long inhabited by Native Americans. The difference is the arrival of the British colonists. In the middle of the 17th century, they established Battersea, a 500 tract of land that was established as a tobacco port. Alexandria was almost a century away from its founding.
John Addison (1634-1706) emigrates from Westmoreland, England and settles at St. Mary’s City, the colonial capital in southern Maryland.
Addison, a planter and colonel in the militia, acquires a parcel of land we know today as Oxon Hill. This was the edge of the frontier for the colonists making their way northward in both Maryland and Virginia. The transfer of the nation's capital is still more than a century away.
Addison, who served as a Colonel, helps select a vestry for the Piscataway Parish. A small wooden church is built, which marks the beginning of the history of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Addison builds an “earthfast" home overlooking the Potomac River and the future site of Alexandria. He named the area “Oxon Hill,” perhaps from Oxford University.
The colony of Maryland passes the "Advancement of Trade Act," establishing five new town and port sites, including Broad Creek. The settlement is sometimes referred to as the Town of Aire. Lots are laid out near tobacco warehouses.
Thomas Addison, son of Colonel John Addison, receives the patent for “Want Water” a 35-acre tract of land along the south bank of Broad Creek.
Thomas Addison builds a manor home steps from the one his father built (Its site is just to the northwest of the cemetery).
The house, two and a half stories, had eight principal rooms and spread out 72 by 40 feet. This home, made of brick, would have stood out like a castle in a world where most houses where one-room cabins. The mansion included glass-paned windows, marble fire-place mantels, and elaborately carved wood.
Four generations of the Addison family resided at the ancestral home. Through the years, 40 Addison family members were laid to rest here just to the south of the manor home.
Six were immortalized with inscribed stones.
John Addison, 1769-1835, brother of Reverend Walter D. Addison
Elizabeth D. Addison, Died 1808, wife of the Reverend Walter D. Addison (Elizabeth Dulany Hesselius)
Reverend Walter Dulany Addison (1769-1848), no marker but it is believed he was buried beside his wife.
William Meade Addison, 1817–1871
Eliza Gerault Addison, 1825–1858, wife of Wm. Meade Addison
Francis Key Addison, 1847–1849, eldest son of Wm. M & E. W. Addison
Willie Addison, Died age two years and ve weeks
John Addison (1713-1764) grandson of the immigrant John, attends a meeting at Mount Vernon to discuss a land dispute (William Clifton’s lands) between Washington, Addison, Thompson Mason and Ignatius Digges. In his diary. Washington wrote that Anthony Addison, the youngest son of John Addison (1713-1764) dined at Mount Vernon and spent the night.
John Hanson, a descendent of John Addison and a patriot who was elected as the “First President” under the provisions of the Articles of Confederation, dies at the Addison home. Some evidence indicates he was laid to rest in a crypt about 100 yards west of the Addison cemetery. This site is covered over by the MGM Resort.
The Addison Manor home, often referred to as the Oxon Hill Manor, burns down. The Baltimore Sun points out:
This mansion has long been one of the landmarks of the neighborhood of Washington, and with Mount Vernon, Belvoir and Carlisle House made up the noted mansions of the neighborhood in Colonial days."
The distinguished diplomat Sumner Welles builds Oxon Hill Manor as a “country cottage,” a neo-georgian brick manor four hundred yards south of the site of the Addison manor. The name is confusing because the Addison manor house had also been known as Oxon Hill Manor.
A developer wants to build a 50-story tower and a development (“Port of America”) at the Addison manor site. The plan for the development flops.
Archaeology begins on the sloping site. Peter Michael, a descendant of John Addison, sees a survey map that shows where the sealed crypt and vault are located.
Two years later, archaeologists discover the vault “robbed and empty.” Not long after, the crypt and vault are gone. Some belief Hanson was not buried there.
The hilly land bumping against I-95/Capital Beltway is used for a handful of events, including parking and Cirque de Soleil (Anyone remember the recycling event there?
MGM Resort is built over the site of where Hanson may have been buried.
MGM and the Peterson Group of National Harbor agree to protect the Addison family cemetery. They erect a fence around it. The cemetery's mesa-like appearance was created during bulldozing for a new ramp that connects the Beltway and Highway 210.
MGM asks Prince George’s County for approval to reinter the Addison family remains to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Broad Creek. The county agrees.
Remains are reinterred at St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was constructed around 1768. Earlier churches there dated to the 1690s. The church is part of the Broad Creek Historic District, which also includes the original land grant of Battersea, the site of the town of Aire, Harmony Hall, (1723), Piscataway House (1750), and the ruins of Want Water (1710).
National Harbor's plans include building where the empty cemetery lies. Interpretive marking will be installed there, as well as at the grounds of St. John’s Episcopal Church. R.C. Goodwin & Associates, the archaeological consultants, will publish a report on the exhumation.
The removal of these remains writes the final chapter of the Addison family’s presence on Oxon Hill. We hope interpretive marking includes the stories of enslaved humans and place into context just how far back these stories of reach.
Additionally, more than 72,000 artifacts were recovered from the archaeology investigations. Perhaps some of these could be displayed in cases inside the MGM for the public to view.
Note: My thanks to Jennifer Stabler, archaeology coordinator for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
Also thank you to the staff at the MGM Hotel, who were very helpful with allowing me to take the photos of the Addison Cemetery.
On a personal note, I enjoy the occasional outing to the MGM Resort, and think it serves a great public benefit. I have to say I am torn about the fate of the cemetery. The new location is more accessible, but do be careful down there with turns in and out and blind spots. Brush could be cleared to improve safety and signage could be better.