Valentine Larsh was born in the Palatinate near the town of Laubersheim, in southwest Germany. Larsh was one of thousands of German Palatines who immigrated to colonial America during the early-to-mid eighteenth century. Throughout the Nine Years War (1688 – 1697), the War of Spanish Succession (1701 – 1714) and recurrent invasions by the French army devastated southwest Germany and created economic hardships for the inhabitants of the region (Otterness 2006). Their hardships were exasperated by a series of harsh winters worsening opportunities for farm ownership, religious persecution and forced military conscription. During the same period in England, the monarchy was intent on expanding settlement in their American colonies, but to do so they needed willing immigrants. The English crown saw an opportunity in the German Palatine and began to offer incentives of transport, land and religious freedoms to those Germans willing to make the perilous journey to America, provided they would swear allegiance to the English Crown.
Thousands took the English offer and from 1709 to 1760s, a steady flow of migrants from the Palatine flowed into the English colonies with Pennsylvania and New York the favored destination. Valentine Larsh arrived in Philadelphia on September 5, 1743 (Rupp 1896). Once in Pennsylvania, many Palatine Germans decided to stay in the colony, settling around Philadelphia or in the counties of Bucks, Berks, Lancaster, York, and Cumberland. Others chose to leave Pennsylvania, continuing their migration west and south into Maryland and Virginia. For a time, Valentine Larsh remained in Pennsylvania. Shortly after his arrival in Philadelphia, Larsh took the Oath of Allegiance to the English crown:
On October 17th, 1748, Larsh married Anna Margaretha Mayer in the German Reformed Church in Philadelphia (Busch 1896). The German Reformed Church was founded in 1727 in Philadelphia and was a branch of Calvinist Protestantism. In 1741, the churches congregation purchased a lot on the southeast corner of Fourth and Sassafras (present-day Race) Streets, and by December of 1747 their first church building, a hexagonal structure, was completed (HSP 2015). Valentine Larsh and Anna Mayer were among the first couples married in the newly constructed church. Their presence in the congregation also suggests Larsh was a resident of Philadelphia in the five years since his arrival in the colony.
By 1750, Valentine Larsh and his wife, Anna, relocated to Baltimore, Maryland and established an inn and home on the southwest corner of Gay and Baltimore Streets (Lot 70) (Figure 11). They first leased the property from Thomas Harrison on July 1, 1750 but the account of that lease was not recorded in the Baltimore County Land Records until four years later, when the lease was renewed (MSA 1754). According to the terms of the new lease, Harrison agreed to let the property to Larsh for a period of 99 years with an annual rent of £3.00. For the first three years of their residence in Baltimore Town, the Larsh family resided on the premises of the inn. On December 15, 1753, the couple were able to purchase their own lot (Lot 34) a few block away on the corner of Charles and Baltimore Streets. According to the deed, Larsh paid a Baltimore butcher, Andrew Stiger 22 pounds and 10 shilling for half of Lot 34 (MSA 1753). Details regarding their house appeared in a deed recorded in 1760 when Larsh purchased the other half of Lot 34, which adjoined their property (MSA 1760b). According to that document, the Larsh home was a one-story brick dwelling. The deed also records that Larsh dug a well and constructed a pump on the opposite side of the street to provide water to himself and his neighbors. Larsh’s intentions for buying the adjoining property were also made clear in the document. Larsh intended to leave the other half of Lot 34 vacant in order to construct a second floor onto the existing house as well as to provide alley access to his back yard.
Valentine Larsh remained the proprietor of the inn for nearly ten years. Records associated with his operation of the establishment appeared in the Minute Books of the Baltimore County Court. Starting in 1735, all ordinaries, taverns and public houses were required to obtain a license to operate. Ordinary licenses were issued to qualifying applicants in August of every year and cost the licensees £3.10.0 annually (Marks 1983). All licenses expired in a year and tavern owners needed to reapply each August. Records of the application and licenses were recorded in the minute books of each county during their August session. As such, these records provide invaluable insight into the tenure of Larsh’s Inn in Baltimore during the mid-eighteenth century.
In the first five years, Valentine Larsh operated the establishment as a public house (MSA 1763). In 1758, his license was for a tavern and from 1759 until 1761 Larsh received a permit to operate as an ordinary. The differences between public houses, taverns and ordinaries were minor but distinct. Both taverns and public houses always offered alcoholic drinks and occasionally accommodations. Food was also offered occasionally at both establishments but their main focus was as drinking establishments. Public houses also served as a community gathering place and were often specific to the neighborhoods they served. Taverns were establishments that catered to the general public and occasionally offered other services such as post offices. Ordinaries were similar to both taverns and public houses but the main focus was on food with some also offering alcoholic drinks. Like the other establishments, not all ordinaries offered accommodations. By comparison to modern establishments both public houses and taverns would be similar to bars today while ordinaries were similar to restaurants. As it turns out, the distinction between the three classifications was too miniscule even for the courts and in 1760 all such establishments were listed as ordinaries (Marks 1983).
In addition to paying a yearly fee, license holders were also required to furnish two guarantor or securities (Marks 1983). Securities were a form of insurance held in the event where tavern owners violated the law and fines were levied. If the owner could not pay the fine, the debt would be paid by the securities. Each of the two securities paid £40 and their names were also entered into the Court minute books along with the names of the licensees (Marks 1983). There was no requirement for who could be a securities holder granted they could produce the required £40. However, often the holders were other prominent members of the community: constables, justices, overseers of roads, or other tavern keepers. In the case of Valentine Larsh’s inn, a total of seven different individuals held securities on his establishment over the years. Most only served as a security once; however two individuals filled that role for several years. From 1759 to 1761 a fellow tavern keeper, Amos Fogg, held a security on Larsh’s Inn. Another local tavern owner, Daniel Barnett, also held a security for numerous years (1756 to 1760). Like Larsh, Barnett also made a substantial portion of his income from real estate in Baltimore Town during the mid-eighteenth century. They also had another thing in common; both owned the same parcel of Broad’s Improvement within 15 years of each other.
While Larsh served as proprietor for 10 years, he was likely not responsible for the daily operation, giving that responsibility to a hired tavern keeper. By 1760, Larsh began subletting the lot his tavern occupied. On March 15, 1760 Larsh leased the establishment to Benjamin Swoope of York County, Pennsylvania. The lease apparently did not last long, and in August of that year, Larsh applied and was granted another ordinary license. After 1761, Larsh no longer applied or received a license from the county, suggesting he moved to another endeavor at that time. In 1763, Larsh successfully sublet half of Lot 70 to another tenant, Henry Clyne. Over the following six years, Larsh sublet portions of the property several additional times with the last tenant, John Stoler, taking residence on October 10, 1769.
In the years following his acquisition of Lot 34 and the establishment of his inn on Lot 70, Valentine Larsh purchased and leased several other lots within Baltimore Town as well as a few tracts in the surrounding county (Table 2; Figure 12). Larsh purchased the majority of his holdings during a 10 year period from 1753 – 1763, with several other acquisitions occurring between 1771 and 1775. Larsh leased several of his various town lots to tenants while others he sold. Two lots (Lots 151 and 152) were sold by Larsh to the elders of the High Dutch Reformed Calvinist Congregation in Baltimore for the establishment of a church (MSA 1763) (Table 3). Others were subdivided and sold in parts to other Baltimore County residents.
By 1763, Valentine Larsh was prominent resident and quite the successful landlord and merchant. By that time, land records involving Larsh refer to him as Baltimore merchant rather than his previous occupation of inn keeper (MSA 1763). Six years earlier, in 1757, the Baltimore County court appointed him as overseer of roads “from the foot of Baltimore Town bridge to Carroll’s Mill and from Fell’s Mill on the Jones Falls until it intersects the aforesaid road from Baltimore Town to the Ferry Point and from Baltimore Forge to Baltimore Town” (Marye 1921). At the same time, Charles Carroll was appointed overseer of roads to the adjacent territory. That same year, Larsh was also a member of the committee to build the First German Reformed Congregation Church which was founded in 1750. In fact, it appears that Larsh’s other business ventures were so successful that by 1762 closed his inn on Baltimore Street.
One venture that likely served as the impetus to his success, involved his acquisition of the 170-acre Broad’s Improvement by George Nicholas Miers in 1760. At the same time, Valentine Larsh’s ownership of the Herring Run property was a time of substantive change at the 170-acre parcel; the effects of which are still visible in the park to this day. Prior to Larsh’s tenure, previous owners utilized the tract solely as an agricultural property. By all accounts, it is apparent that Larsh quickly saw more lucrative opportunities with the tract, and more specifically the Herring Run that divides it. By 1761, Larsh began implementing his plans to construct a grist mill on the banks of the tributary, thus opening one of the first flour mills in this portion of Baltimore County. It is possible that some of the previous owners also considered constructing a mill on the property, but simply did not have the financial means to complete such an expensive endeavor.
Even with his own financial resources, Valentine Larsh could not alone afford the substantial upfront costs involved in constructing a mill and sundry other improvements on his Herring Run property. In order to defray the expense, Larsh entered into a partnership with fellow Baltimore tavern owner and former owner of Broad’s Improvement, Daniel Barnett. The specifics of the agreement are not completely known, but some details can be inferred through a deed between the two partners dated December 29, 1775 and recorded in the land records of Baltimore County (MSA 1775). Barnett provided some or all of the financial backing to Larsh for the construction of his mill. In return, Larsh shared interest in the mill until that time when Larsh could buy out Barnett’s stake in the enterprise. According to the deed, together Daniel Barnett and Valentine Larsh:
The “sundry other improvements” mentioned in the deed likely referred to other structures on the property including a mill race, miller’s house, possibly a stables, barn, and other outbuildings associated with the operation of the mill. It is not clear when Barnett and Larsh entered into their partnership or when construction began, but it is likely the two started work on the project shortly after Valentine Larsh acquired the property from George Nicholas Miers in 1760. A year after his purchase of the 170-acre tract, Larsh made a smaller acquisition of another portion of Broad’s Improvement to the south of his holdings. On September 18, 1761, Valentine Larsh paid £20 to Thomas Broad in return for 12 acres of Broad’s Improvement located along the Herring Run. The acquisition was likely associated with the planned construction of the mill and the land the 12 acres Larsh received may have been needed for the construction of the mill race. On the other hand, Broad may have been looking to sell the small parcel and given its proximity to the rest of his holdings, Larsh may have thought it a prudent purchase.
It is unclear how long construction took but likely lasted several years. However, by 1767 it appears the mill was completed and operational. On August 20th of that year, a deed recorded by Larsh for the sale of another one of his properties references him as a miller of Baltimore County (MSA 1767). In addition to providing a relative date for the mill’s completion, the 1767 deed also provides additional circumstantial information regarding the mill’s owner. Valentine Larsh was listed as a miller suggesting he both relocated to the property and personally operated the mill, rather than leasing it out to tenants. Larsh is referred to as both planter and gentleman in Baltimore County land records after 1771, suggesting by that time he had leased the operation of the mill to someone else, either a hired miller or a tenant.
It seems Larsh remained in residence at the Herring Run property for several years. He likely relocated to the property from Baltimore Town shortly after 1760 and remained there into 1771 while he operated the mill. After he handed off operation of the mill, it appears Larsh and his wife returned to take up residence at their original home on Baltimore Street.
On December 29, 1775, Valentine Larsh paid Daniel Barnett £500 in Pennsylvania currency for his interest in the mill the partners constructed on Larsh’s property (MSA 1775). For the next four years, Larsh enjoyed sole ownership of the mill and property on Herring Run. By the mid-1770s, Valentine Larsh was in the last years of his life. Records from the period indicate Larsh continued to be involved in several minor land deal involving the sale of some small properties he still owned in Baltimore Town, but for the most part it appears the former innkeeper/miller/planter had retired from public life.
By 1779, Valentine Larsh decided to sell Broad’s Improvement along with the mill and other improvement he constructed on the property during his 19-year tenure. On June 7, 1779, Larsh submitted an advertisement for the sale to the Maryland Journal (Figure 13).
The sale’s notice is incredibly detailed and thus provides a portrait of what the Herring Run property looked like at the third quarter of the eighteenth century. According to the advertisement, the property included a stone mill with two mill stones, one for merchant and the other for country work. In the eighteenth century two types of mills existed, merchant mills and custom or country mills. Each type ground grain differently for the consumers they served. A country mill, or custom mill would grind wheat and corn in small batches for individual farmers. These mills operated seasonally with the harvest and the miller was often paid by collecting a toll, or a portion of the grain brought to the mill. A merchant mill is a commercial milling operation for the purpose of producing flour for profit and export by grain dealers, such as William Smith. Merchant mills would often operate year round and since the flour was sold for profit, the grains were purchased by the miller or his proprietor whole sale from local and regional farmers. The mention of both country and merchant stones in the sale notice suggests Larsh’s Mill could operate in both capacities.
Larsh also indicates there is a second location on the property ideal for a mill seat, but is currently unimproved. In addition to the mill, Larsh indicates the plantation consists of approximately 180 acres which includes the 170-acre tract acquired by Miers in 1760 as well as the 12-acre tract purchased from Broad the following year. The property also contains a large dwelling house which Larsh likely built and resided within until returned to Baltimore Town after 1771. Other improvements mentioned in the advertisement include a stone spring house, a store house, and sundry outhouses such as a privy, shed, and possibly a stable. Given the size of the plantation, it would not be surprising if Larsh utilized slave labor on the property. If Larsh did own slaves, then it would be entirely plausible for the farm to also contain a slave quarter. However, since there are no record of their presence or absence within existing historical documentation then any supposition of enslaved workers and their housing is purely conjecture for this period of the property’s history. In addition to structures, Larsh also mentions two large young and bearing orchards are present on the property. It is unclear what types of orchards Larsh planted, but documents associated with later owners indicates at least one peach orchard on the property. It is unclear from the advertisement whether the orchard was the only crop in production. Previous owners grew both tobacco and wheat on the farm before Larsh, and it is possible some of the land was still dedicated to its cultivation, but it appears Larsh’s began to diversify the agricultural production.
Four months after placing the advertisement in the Maryland Journal, Valentine Larsh had a buyer. On October 8, 1779, two Baltimore Town merchants, William Smith and William Neill, purchased Larsh’s Herring Run plantation and mill (MSA 1779). Smith and Neill were both established merchants in Baltimore and together they paid Larsh exorbitant sum of £25,000 for the tract and improvements it contained. Smith and Neill remained partners for nearly two years with each possessing equal interest in the estate and the mill. Neill eventually sold his interest in the property for £12,000 on June 2, 1781 making William Smith the sole owner of Broad’s Improvement as well as proprietor of Larsh’s Mill (now Smith’s Mill).
Valentine Larsh died on January 14, 1781, a little over a year after divesting himself of Broad’s Improvement. In his will, dated January 1, 1781, Larsh made provisions for the care of his wife, Anna. He gave his son, Abraham, this home on Baltimore Street and two of his daughters, Elizabeth and Susannah two houses on the north side of Baltimore Street, opposite his own home. In addition he also made additional provisions to his grandchildren as well as a third daughter, Catherine (Larsh) Dagon. The event of Larsh’s death appeared to be noteworthy as it appeared in the Maryland Journal: “Valentine Larsh died Sunday last, a gentleman of very respectable character.” (Barnes 1975). Obituaries were not common in newspapers for the time and its presences speaks well of his prominence in Baltimore during his lifetime.
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