Gisborough on the Potomac












Watercolor on paper 

7” x 91/2” sight

c. 1825


This painting is a delightful portrait of a very early house on the Maryland side of the Potomac River across from Alexandria VA.  The portrait, circa 1825, depicts a prosperous and well-kept plantation house with a center block that dates to the mid-18th century with later symmetrical brick additions connected by hyphens.  The house faces the river, where there are an early steamboat and a sailing skiff passing by, underlining the importance of water transport in the period.  There were commercial steamboats operating on the Potomac as early as 1813, transporting goods and people to the ports of Georgetown and Alexandria.




Lower Gisborough as it was sometimes called to differentiate it from another, later dwelling on Gishborough Point about a mile north on the Potomac River, was among the earliest and largest estates on the Maryland Potomac.  Named after a small town in Yorkshire, the original 850 acre tract was granted by Cecilius Calvert, second Lord Baltimore, to Thomas Dent in 1663.  Dent and his wife Rebecca lived near Saint Mary’s City and at Thomas’ death in 1676, the tract known as Gisborough was divided between their sons Peter and George.  By 1686, Peter, who had inherited the upper portion on the acerage, sold it to his stepfather John Addison.  The lower portion passed at George’s death to his brother William who lived at Nanjemoy in Charles County and ran the property as a tobacco plantation.  This property was sold c. 1715 to Thomas Addison (son of John) thereby reuniting the Gisborough estate in the Addison family.

It is likely that John Addison (d. 1706) built the first dwelling of consequence at Gisborough Point by 1689 and would have been the first man of high rank to take up residence in what is now the District of Columbia.  He was prominent in Mayland affairs both politically and militarily.  The property remained in the Addison family and was expanded in 1764 by patent to Major Thomas Addison (d.1770) to include some 1613 acres.  The next owner of Gishborough Manor was Thomas Addison (d. 1774) who socialized with his neighbor across the Potomac, George Washington.  The land was leased for a decade to George Lee, uncle of Thomas Sim Lee, and in 1808 was sold by Addison heirs to Dr. John Thomas Shaaff (d.1819). 

In 1833, Shaaff’s heirs sold some 624, the remaining Gisborough Manor, to George Washington Young who apparently titled the lower tract to his brother Ignatius Fenwick Young.   At the time of this sale, Gisborough included “two brick mansions” although it is unclear exactly when these houses known as Upper and Lower Gisborough had been constructed or by whom. It may be that Lower Gisborough was built c. 1738 and Upper Gisborough “a more ornate example of brick architecture with semi-detached wings” might have been started by Dr. Shaaff after 1898 and enlarged by G. W. Young. 

Upper Gisborough remained the home of G. W. Young until 1863 when he leased the land to the Federal Government for use as its principal cavalry depot with the large brick home serving as the headquarters.  After the war it was used variously as a park and river resort.  It was destroyed by fire in September 1888.

Lower Gisborough  was located about one mile south of Upper Gisborough (on the point) and almost due west of Fort Lellie J/ McNair (on Civil War military maps id’s as  the home of I. F. Young)  where he resided  until his death in 1834 and was then  home of his son until  his death in 1892.  At this time the family probably discontinued residence.  The mansion at Lower Gisborough was destroyed by fire July 13, 1931 (deliberately by the Army Air Force to extend the runway at Bolling AFB) and the bricks repurposed for the construction of the Pohick Vestry House. [i]


Condition: The watercolor is in excellent condition and is a modern frame.

Price: sold


[i] Guy Castle, Gisborough as a Land Grant, Manor, and Residence of the Dents,Addisons, Shaaffs and Youngs, Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Vol. 53-56, 1959. Pp282-292.


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