The History of Chanceford Hall

Chanceford Hall’s beginning is somewhat akin to local folklore.  Several historical publications, as well as the historical plaque on the home list the established date as 1759.  However, the National Register of Historic Places, and several notable books indicate the home was likely completed from 1792-1793.  As with homes of this stature and historical period, they sometimes take many years, even decades and several owners to complete, which can often account for a discrepancy in the true age of the building.  More likely in this case, is the fact that all pertinent historical records on the origination of the property were lost in a disastrous fire in 1893 that engulfed the downtown area of Snow Hill, destroying all early historic records, housed in the courthouse.  

According to Paul Touart, in “Along the Seaboard Side,” James Rownd Morris—clerk of Worcester County Courts, built Chanceford Hall.  Morris held a politically prominent position, and he was quite wealthy.  Combine Morris’s status with wife Leah nee Winder—of the prominent family from Somerset County–whose father later became a senator and governor of the state, forming what would have been quite the power couple in the late 1700’s.

James Morris died in 1795, presumably only two years after Chanceford was complete.  His wife Leah and executer’s of Morris’s will sold the property, per his wishes, setting of the trend in ownership that would partially define Chanceford’s history.

The property first changed hands to a Colonel Levin Handy. In 1775, at the age of 21, Levin Handy was honored by the Committee of Observation at Snow Hill, with an appointment as ensign, in Capt. William Hopewell's Company of Minute Men. The next year, he received a commission as second lieutenant, & then was appointed by the Maryland General Assembly to captain of the Fifth Maryland Regiment. He became actively engaged in all the movements of the Northern campaign of the Revolutionary war under General Smallwood, including Brandywine (’77), Germantown (’77), Red Bank (’77), & Saratoga (’77). At Paulus Hook, New Jersey, in 1779, Capt. Handy commanded one of three columns selected to storm the enemy’s garrison, leading to a Patriot victory! However, soon after, a misunderstanding concerning the promotion of a junior officer over him (& perhaps other circumstances) induced him to decline duty, & lead him to retire from his duties in the Northern field of the war.

 

Handy then joined Commodore Zedechiah Whaley in 1780, as Captain of Marines, in the service of the Maryland State Navy on the Chesapeake Bay. In November, 1782, six British barges were reportedly harassing the shores & farms of the Chesapeake Bay near Smith Island (MD) & Tangier Island (VA) near the Tangier Sound. Desperate for a victory, but undermanned, Commodore Whaley sailed his four (sail & oar driven) barges into the Onancock Creek, & on to Onancock (VA), to seek assistance from Lt. Colonel James Cropper, the County Lt. of Accomack County (VA). Cropper rounded up 25 local men, & they boarded Whaley’s flagship “Protector”. The next day the American flotilla spotted the British barges east of Tangier Island, heading north at a fast pace. After 24 hours, Whaley’s fleet caught up with them in Kedges Strait & attacked. Capt. Handy was also aboard the Protector, & describes in a letter, that they waited for the enemy barges to come closer, before firing their long “18 pounder” loaded with grape shot. They had only fired their 18 pounder twice, when by accident, one of their ammunition chests blew up, greatly shocking everyone! Upon recovery, but before the 18 pounder could be loaded again, three enemy barges were already alongside. Suddenly a second ammunition chest caught fire & exploded, causing several men to jump overboard, & disabling many others. The ammo that had blown up belonged to several short 18 pounders, rendering them now useless.

As Capt. Handy rallied Protector’s crew to respond to the enemy with musket fire, the other three American barges drifted astern, & soon became separated from Whaley’s flagship, thus impossible to render aid. With the increase of British musket fire, the Commodore was mortally wounded, as were many others. Soon the enemy overpowered the Protector, & boarded it, showing no mercy to the surviving crew. Capt. Handy conducted himself with great bravery, was wounded seven times, & no doubt would have been brutally murdered, if not for the protection of a negro servant, that stepped into the path of a sword intended for him! Capt. Handy was the only officer assigned to the Protector to survive. With Whaley dead & Cropper badly wounded, & overwhelmed by a superior force, they had no choice but to surrender. Of the 65 men who went into action aboard the Protector, 25 were killed or drowned, 29 were wounded, & only 11 escaped. A week later Colonel Cropper, Capt. Handy, & the other Americans were released, & returned to Onancock, where Commodore Whaley was carried through the streets by the militia & buried at the Corbin family cemetery at Scott Hall with military honors. The last navel battle of the Revolutionary war was a loss for America. 

Upon cessation of hostilities, Capt. Handy returned to his home in Worcester County, & married Nancy Wilson in 1785. Nancy Wilson was the daughter of David Wilson, & brother of the Hon. E.K. Wilson, who later became a U.S. Congressman. In 1792 Handy was appointed Register of Wills for Worcester County. In 1795, upon the death of James Rownd Morris (the Clerk of the Worcester County Court), Levin & Nancy purchased Chanceford, from Leah Winder Morris, & took residence, now with five young daughters! Untimely, death would come to Levin Handy in 1799, & he was buried at Makemie Presbyterian Church in Snow Hill. On a large stone slab, covering his grave, is inscribed “Lieut. Colonel Levin Handy”. Referred to as Col. Levin Handy, there is no evidence that he was promoted to colonel during the war, perhaps he was lifted to that rank by the governor, after his return, as Colonel of Marines, immediately after the “Battle of the Barges”.

 

After the Colonel's death, Chanceford passed to Judge William Whittington, who lived in the property, calling it “Ingleside,” until the 1820’s.  During Whittington’s reign at Chanceford, Snow Hill was set to be bombed by the British during the War of 1812.  Since Chanceford was comprised entirely of Flemish Bond bricks, and the rest of the buildings in Snow Hill were made of wood and would surely be destroyed, all important town records were moved to Chanceford for safe keeping.

Whittington’s daughter Sally and her husband, William Tingle became the next owners.  The Tingle’s are likely responsible for adding the stucco finish to the exterior—an additional detail said to reflect wealth and prominence in the mid-1800’s.  The property remained in Tingle hands until Sarah died in 1874.  She transferred the property to her son Eugene, who within a few months of his mother’s passing, sold it to Hugh Sanders Stevenson.

The property remained with the Stevenson family until 1906, when Ella H. Riggin of Los Angeles bought it—making her the first “come here” owner—a designation Snow Hill locals use fondly to describe those who move from other areas, although with the Eastern Shore dialect, it sounds more like “come ere.”  John Warner Staton became the owner who would re-name the property Chanceford.  Subsequent Chanceford turned into a Bed & Breakfast business in 1986, now owned by Shae and Matthew Von Marsh.

209 West Federal Street
Snow Hill, Maryland 21863  |  410-632-2900

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