Nearly 100 descendants of three brothers who left Ireland in 1797 to settle in what would become Howard County learned new details about their ancestors’ earliest beginnings in America at an outdoor reunion of the Clark family at Elioak Farm.
The family members were rewarded twice for making the effort to attend the July 14 get-together: First, it was a rare summer day with low humidity; and second, they received news that remnants of a mill and house built by the Clark brothers at the turn of the 19th century had been located.
They also learned that Charles Carroll of Carrollton — a Marylander who signed the Declaration of Independence — may have written about the Clark brothers in published letters to his father.
“As I see it, this is just the beginning of new research on the Clark family,” said Martha Clark, owner of the 540-acre family farm on Route 108 in Ellicott City and daughter of state Sen. James Clark Jr., who farmed in Howard County from 1946 until his death 60 years later at age 86.
The Clark descendants have been holding reunions every five years since 1989, when they gathered at Centennial Park to mark what would have been the 180th birthday of James Clark of Wheatfield, Martha Clark’s great-great-grandfather. An Ellicott City neighborhood off Montgomery Road is named for his farm.
But the lure of hearing new details about the Clark brothers’ start in Maryland held special appeal for reunion attendees this year, Clark said.
“People are even more curious now [about their ancestry] thanks to websites like ancestry.com and the popularity of programs like ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ ” Clark said, referring to a cable TV series that traces the genealogy of celebrity guests.
It’s not as if the Clarks don’t already know a lot about their lineage, which began with David, John and James Clark signing a 30-year contract — called an indenture — to work for Charles Carroll.
The brothers leased nearly 150 acres at Doughoregan Manor in Ellicott City from Carroll and grew wheat and produced textiles at a fulling mill for him in exchange for their rent. The indenture was later renewed for another 20 years.
But some details of those days remain elusive.
David Clark was 26 and John Clark a year younger when they arrived in what was then northern Anne Arundel County, Clark said, noting that family records don’t indicate what became of James Clark.
The area where the young men settled was designated the Howard District in 1839, and officially became Howard County in 1851.
“The brothers were hard-working and smart, and they bought land in Howard County when they could,” she said.
Along with Wheatfield, farms that belonged to family members eventually included Elk Ridge Farm, where Long Gate Shopping Center is located; Font Hill Farm, now a residential neighborhood off Centennial Lane; and Fairfield Farm, the current site of the Columbia neighborhood of Running Brook.
The new research on the Clark brothers’ early days in Maryland was done at the request of Robert Clark, president and CEO of Historic Annapolis and Martha Clark’s cousin. He retired from the securities business in 2010 and took the nonprofit’s helm in 2012.
“When I got this job, I mentioned how my father, James Thomas Clark, was interested in the randomness of the three Clark brothers’ 30-year indenture with Charles Carroll,” said Robert Clark, an Annapolis resident. “This was something we had talked about our whole lives.”
At his request, an Anne Arundel County archaeologist was able to translate the building terms regulated by the brothers’ contract with Carroll into modern-day measurements, which in turn have led to the location of their mill and other structures at Doughoregan Manor.
“When my dad and I went there, we clearly saw man made stone formations, and his eyes got the size of hubcaps,” Robert Clark recalled of his father, who died shortly afterward in January 2017.
“I told him to wait while I climbed the hill, and he said, ‘Robert, I’ve waited 95 years for this and I’m not waiting in the car.’ ”
After he shared this story at the reunion, Clark family members had a collective “aha moment.”
“This will provide us with a good tree to continue putting branches and leaves on,” he said.
Robert Clark also believes he has found references to Clark family members in published letters exchanged by Charles Carroll and his father.
“These are very interesting leads that we hope to continue to research,” Martha Clark said, while noting that details about their reasons for immigrating to America remain unclear.
“Did Charles Carroll pay for their passage here, or were they escaping revolution?” she asked.
Andy Clark — who retired in October as owner of Clark’s Ace Hardware on U.S. 40 and turned over the 173-year-old family-owned business to one of his four daughters, Margaret — agreed that it was gratifying to learn more about the family’s beginnings.
But he said the reunion also served to drive home the fact that current Clark family members aren’t much different from their forebears. His grandfather had a hardware store, where he also sold feed for cattle and chickens, and his father continued in the feed business and sold fuel before tragedy struck.
“My parents were killed in an auto accident in 1972 and they left the business to my brother, Edward, and me,” he said, noting that Edward Clark is now a plumber in Virginia.
“It came across to us as kids that we were to be honorable people,” he said of growing up in Howard County, adding that the trait is still integral to the Clark family’s way of doing business and giving back to the community today.
Martha Clark pointed out that Andy Clark’s daughter Margaret and her own daughter, Nora Crist, represent the seventh generation of Clarks continuing the work of their Maryland ancestors.
"This shows what Howard County continues to mean to the Clarks, and what the Clarks have meant to Howard County.”