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Not a hundred acre wood!

She appears only a few times in the records of southern Maryland, in the middle of the 18th century.

100An estate file lists Isabella Wilson Buchanan as administrator of the estate of James and Mary Gaines, filing the inventory of their estate on 5 September 5 1751 in Prince Georges County.1

A year later she was the administrator of the estate of her husband James, filing the final accounting of his estate on 16 August 1752.2

And in 1758, she appeared on a tax list of the Lower Hundred of William & Mary Parish, Charles County, Maryland.3

The lower what?

A Hundred?

What’s that?

The term itself is an old English term — of Saxon origin, actually. Black’s Law Dictionary explains:

Under the Saxon organization of England, each county or shire comprised an indefinite number of hundreds, each hundred containing ten tithings, or groups of ten families of freeholders or frankpledges. The hundred was governed by a high constable, and had its own court; but its most remarkable feature was the corporate responsibility of the whole for the crimes or defaults of the individual members.4

The term was imported into Maryland in early days:

“In Maryland the people settled in plantations scattered along the banks of the streams emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. They had no towns for this reason, but they had an area of local government smaller than the county [and district] during provincial times. This division was known as the Hundred, because in old English times that division was supposed to furnish that number of warriors to the army. John Fiske in his Civil Government in the United States says: ‘In Maryland the hundred flourished and became the political unit like the township in New England. The hundred was the militia district and the district for the assessment of taxes. . . . The officers of the Maryland hundred were the high constable, the commander of the militia, the tobacco viewers, the overseer of roads, and the assessor of taxes. The last mentioned officer was elected by the people, the others were all appointed by the Governor.’ The hundred was not prized by the people of Maryland, and was abolished in 1824. It was swallowed up in the county, and no small area of government has been established in the State since that time, except the municipalities.”

“Of the courts below the provincial court there were, at one time and another, the manorial courts, the hundred court, and the court of the single justice of the peace for the recovery of small debts.

Previous to 1650 it does not appear that there was any erection of counties in an express and formal way; yet, in reality, the western shore was treated as one county, called St. Mary’s and the eastern shore was treated as another called Kent. The more important settlements on the western shore were erected into hundreds as constituent parts of St. Mary’s County, while those on the eastern shore were erected into hundreds as constituent parts of Kent County. Whenever a hundred was erected, its head officer was constituted a justice of the peace. Under him was a constable. He was appointed either by the justice or by the governor, and was intrusted with the duties of constable and coroner. As justice of the peace, the head officer of the hundred was given such powers as belonged to one or even to two justices of the peace in England.5

Maryland wasn’t the only place where the Hundred was used: it was also the political unit in colonial Delaware and it’s still in use there as “a geographic division, smaller than counties and roughly equivalent to the division ‘townships’ in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”6

The things you learn when traveling around — and if you’re in one of those Maryland Hundreds, come join me tomorrow (Saturday August 9) for “A Day of Genealogy” sponsored by the St. Mary’s County Genealogical Society. You might learn about hundreds… or taxes… or DNA… or…


  1. Probate file, Estates of James and Mary Gaines, Prince Georges County, Md., 1751; Maryland Prerogative Court, Accounts Liber 31, folio 76.
  2. Probate file, Estate of James Buchanan, Charles County, Md., 1752; Maryland Prerogative Court, Accounts Liber 33, folio 141.
  3. John B. Lomax, “1758 Charles County Tax Lists By District in Record order,” transcribed from “A List of Taxables Taken by John Smoot in the Lower Hundred of WM. & Mary Parish June 20th 1758”; from microfilms SR 4543-8, -9, -10, -11, -12 and -13, Maryland State Archives; Charles County, Md., USGenWeb ( : accessed 7 Aug 2014).
  4. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 583, “hundred.”
  5. Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh, Maryland Records, Colonial, Revolutionary, County and Church, From Original Sources (Baltimore, Md. : Williams & Wilkins, 1915), 1: 94; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 7 Aug 2014).
  6. University of Delaware Library, Research Guides, “Delaware History: Hundreds in Delaware” ( : accessed 7 Aug 2014).
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