With the advent of modern DNA technology, it’s now possible for anyone in the world to find out their ancestry and where they come from simply by sending in a saliva sample for testing. This new technology reveals secrets families could only have dreamed of once upon a time.
The illustrious Clark family from Maryland always knew they had some very solid roots. It wasn’t until they opted for some DNA testing that some fascinating, age-old secrets would come to light which would inspire a generation.
In 1850, the Clark family began purchasing land in the western portion of Howard County, Maryland. Having purchased Wheatfield Farm, the family went on to purchase Fairfield Farm, which is where James Clark Sr. was born; James Clark Sr. married on that farm and his son was called James Clark Jr. — we’ll talk about James a lot more later. Meanwhile, the family was building up quite the estate, while they reared cattle and began making money.
James Clark Jr. was always a special kind of child and his loving parents had high hopes for him from a young age. When he returned from fighting in World War II, his parents were over the moon. Before long, James would gain some serious clout by becoming president of the Maryland State Senate. His farm is still in business today, as his descendants have continued running the farm selling fresh vegetables and also operating a cute petting zoo for kids.
Fast forward a few years and nearly 100 Clark descendants showed up for an exciting family reunion. The family had originally left Ireland back in 1797 to settle in Howard County, and they were about to learn a bunch of interesting information about their roots thanks to DNA testing. They also learned that Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a Marylander who signed the Declaration of Independence, seemingly corresponded with the Clark brothers in his day.
Just the Beginning
Martha Clark, who runs the produce farm and petting zoo — a 540-acre farm located on Route 108 — and is the daughter of state Sen. James Clark Jr., told reporters at a family event, “As I see it, this is just the beginning of new research on the Clark family.” But with the advent of DNA testing, Martha said the Clark family is more excited than ever to learn more about their roots and ancestors.
Martha spoke about how excited the Clark family was about learning more about their roots, despite the fact they already know more than most families. “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. The family lineage of interest started with David, John and James Clark signing a 30-year indenture to work for the famous Charles Carroll.
The Clarks are ambitious types, and that is clear from their numerous agricultural business ventures. Having leased 150 acres from Carroll at Doughoregan Manor in Ellicott City, the brothers grew wheat and produced textiles at a fulling mill. That indenture was later renewed for an additional 20-year period.
While David Clark was 26 years old when they arrived at what was then known as northern Anne Arundel County, the family records didn’t indicate what had become of the other brother, James. The area where the men lived and worked was designated the Howard District in 1839, and officially became Howard County in 1851. Buying land in Howard County would prove to be an excellent move for the Clark family.
“The brothers were hard-working and smart, and they bought land in Howard County when they could,” Martha said. As well as Wheatfields, the brothers also created Elk Ridge Farm, which is where Long Gate Shopping Center is now located. They also ran Font Hill Farm and Fairfield Farm, and before long, proudly boasted a massive estate which they had worked hard to build.
Martha’s cousin, Robert Clark, is the president and CEO of Historic Annapolis and is the one who requested the new research on the Clark brother’s early days in Maryland. “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,” he said, adding, “This was something we had talked about our whole lives.”
At the behest of Robert Clark, an archaeologist from Anne Arundel County was tasked with trying to translate the old building terms mentioned in the Clark brothers’ contract. He was able to translate the old measurements into modern-day alternatives which were very revealing. Robert Clark spoke about his visit there with his father, who sadly died shortly afterward in January of 2017.
“When my dad and I went there, we clearly saw man-made stone formations, and his eyes got the size of hubcaps,” Robert Clark said. “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.’” That interaction led to what Robert Clark called a collective “aha moment.” Robert added, “This will provide us with a good tree to continue putting branches and leaves on.”
Letters from Carroll
In a number of published letters exchanged between Charles Carroll and Robert’s father, there are many references to the Clark family. “These are very interesting leads that we hope to continue to research,” Martha said, although she also noted that the reasons for the Clarks immigrating to the U.S. remained unclear. “Did Charles Carroll pay for their passage here, or were they escaping revolution?” she wondered.
Good to Know
Another Clark family member — Andy Clark — retired recently from his position as owner of Clark’s Ace Hardware. He left the successful 173-year-old business to his daughter Marget who intends to carry on the illustrious family tradition. Margaret said she was thrilled to learn more about her family’s roots and found the revealing information very gratifying.
Still the Same
Andy Clark also spoke to reporters about the family reunion and the fact that, in his opinion, the Clark family is still very much the same as their forefathers. “My parents were killed in an auto accident in 1972 and they left the business to my brother, Edward, and me,” he said, adding that his brother Edward decided to become a plumber in Virginia.
Growing up in Howard County gave Andy Clark a tremendous sense of family, as well as some sterling values, “It came across to us as kids that we were to be honorable people,” he said, noting that he had continued doing business in the way his family had all those years ago, giving something back to the community. As it stands, Margaret is the seventh generation of Clarks running the family business.
A Solid Connection
Having moved from Ireland to the States, the Clark family offer a great example of how to make things work in America under the right circumstances. “This shows what Howard County continues to mean to the Clarks, and what the Clarks have meant to Howard County,” Margaret said. The fact is that the Clarks are Howard County and Howard County is them, and they even had a hand in naming the place.
For his part, Robert Clark feels that he is a very lucky man. As president and CEO of Historic Annapolis, Clark claims he has a “dream job,” but when he needs a break from work he walks down to his favorite restaurant, Chick and Ruth’s, where he can often be seen enjoying his favorite crab cakes and strawberry-rhubarb pie. When he’s at home, Robert enjoys spending time with his daughters and grandchildren.
For the Clark family, their connection to their forefathers is a meaningful one and something they don’t want to be forgotten with the passage of time. While Historic Annapolis aims to, “preserve and protect the historic places, objects and stories of Maryland’s capital city,” Clark takes his position very seriously. “We’re the advocates and stewards of our city’s preservation,” he said.
For the time being, Clark is excited about the three-year restoration project currently underway at Brice House, under his auspices. Clark noted that the project is to be completed with the guidance of Colonial Williamsburg and will be something special when it opens to the public. The project is to develop a permanent exhibit tracing the history of Annapolis through its objects and artifacts.
“It will be an ‘aha’ moment when this house opens to the public,” Clark said, adding, “It’s going to be very cool!” The amazing story of the Clark family is one that has inspired many people from different walks of life. Their journey proves that with enough hard work and dedication, anything is possible.