“Alert, tall, thin of visage, black hair and eyes, with courteous, dignified, serious, impressive, convincing manners, all tending to suggest strength, confidence and inspiration,” so has one of his kinsman described Thomas Culbreth, the sometime Congressman from Caroline.
The time of arrival in America of the original Culbreth is contemporary with the running of the Mason and Dixon line, one of them having assisted in the survey. Later three brothers, John, James, and William Culbreth, settled near that line where it separates Maryland from Delaware, and from this John Culbreth, Thomas was a lineal decendant, a great grandson.
Culbreth was born April 13, 1786, at River Bridges (Henderson), near the Delaware border. There he spent his early youth living with his uncle on the Brick House farm, now owned by Robert Jarrell, where his educational opportunities were limited to the local schools.
Although he was heir prospective to landed estates his inclination was toward a business career, in which he felt he could become most influential, and with this in view he went to Denton where he secured a mercantile clerkship with Potter and Ross, and later entered a partnership with one, Solomon Brown.
In 1810 he married Ann Hardcastle, daughter of John Hardcastle, and by this alliance his local influence may have increased, the Hardcastles being a family of good standing socially and politically.
When the war for Commerical Independence broke out in 1812, he entered the military field, but must have enrolled in the ranks, as his name does not appear in the appointments, and there his service although inconspicuous was no less credible.
The political trend of the Culbreths had been toward the Federal principles but when in 1807 Thomas Culbreth attained his majority he became a staunch Democrat and had gained some influence in his party.
In politics as elsewhere “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at its flood leads on to fortune” and that tide came to Culbreth, following the ebb of the fortunes of the 14th Congress, after the passing of the “Compensation Bill” or “Salary Grab Bill” as it was called.
The Anti-salary men were quick to seize opportunity, and Culbreth, then 30 years old, as an anti-salary man by his “Political fervor and principles, mental acumen and force, as well as personal characteristics” was recommended, June 13, 1816, to the people as a suitable nominee for the House of Representatives, and at the election following became the chosen representative of the people. That he as a legislator met with public favor is shown by the following quoted from an appeal issued by his Caroline County constituents.
“He is a gentleman who stands high in the estimation of the people of this county. They are generally acquainted with him and they have entire confidence in him.” It is further shown by the fact that after a long term of service the people, in 1822, once more urged his candidacy but ill health caused his refusal.
During his active service in Congress his position on important questions of the day was as follows:
1. He advocated:
1. Freedom of the press.
2. Abolition of the slave trade.
3. Reduction of departmental expenses.
2. He favored:
1. Appropriations for West Point.
2. Sympathy for Spain’s rebellious colonies.
3. The position of the North in the Fugitive Slave Law.
1. Reduction of standing army.
2. Admission of Missouri as a slave state.
3. Free trade.
His failing health and inability to endure the strain of Congressional activity did not retire him from public service, for records show that he was Judge of Caroline County Courts in 1822 and following that became Clerk of the Executive Council of Maryland, a position much like that of the present Secretary of State. This he remained under five Governors (1825-1835) ending his 30 years of public service, 1835, when he retired to the Orrell farm, near Boonsboro, where he spent his latter days, his death occurring in 1843.
The rank and file of today’s citizens know nothing of this unique character nor of the political prominence he attained. The name of Thomas Culbreth was a century ago a factor on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but is now known only by the local historians and revered only by his kinmen, who have learned of his strong character together with his pictured personality, “Dignified, impressive, with the black hair and eyes of the Moorish Celt.”
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