Todd's Inheritance is a 4-acre historic farmstead overlooking the Chesapeake Bay on the North Point Peninsula of Eastern Baltimore County. It offers a window on American history as seen through the eyes of one family.
For over 300 years (1664 - 1970's), the Todd family lived and worked the land, passing the property from father to son for 10 generations. The land was their inheritance, and in 1765 the family farms were combined into a single holding named "Todd's Inheritance."
Originally from Virginia, the Todd's were prosperous landowners and among the first in the region to purchase land in Baltimore County, eventually holding more than 1,000 acres. As slave-owners, they cultivated tobacco and later switched to more dependable grains, vegetables, and fruit. The family was also involved in shipbuilding and the maritime trades.
Todd's Inheritance played a key roll in the Battle of North Point and helped prevent the British from capturing Baltimore during the War of 1812. From Todd's Inheritance, with its strategic view of the Chesapeake, American mounted sentries kept watch for invading British forces. Among the militia stationed here were two Todd family members. Following the battle, the retiring British burned the original Todd home.
The property also speaks to early religious practices. The area's first regular Presbyterian services were held in Thomas Todd's home in 1714. The Todd cemetery, where Thomas' wife Elizabeth was buried in 1717, is located on the site. The family cemetery is still being used today.
But long before the Todd family came to these shores, Native Americans were living on these lands, and archaeologists have uncovered evidence of their occupation. Their story is among the many to be told at this rich historic site.
The “Todd Telescope” is one that has been passed down for generations in my family. Believe it or not, it simply sat on a shelf in our living room for years - we played with it when we were children! Fortunately, my mother, Mary Elizabeth Ober Todd, gave it to the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum in 1980. Had she not done so, the telescope would have been lost to history, along with many other Todd family antiques, when our home was destroyed in a fire in 1984.
The telescope still resides today at the Flag House on “permanent loan.” It will be displayed at Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site when it is open to the public. A model of the telescope will be used for school children and other tourists to look out towards the Bay, as our ancestors did. In May of 2006, the Flag House will feature the Todd Telescope in their new exhibit about the battles that have taken place on the Chesapeake Bay.
I have always been curious about the history of the Todd Telescope. I recently began researching it on the internet, and have been conversing with antique telescope experts via e-mail. The following is a compilation of the information I have gathered thus far, including general details about the telescope:
The Todd Telescope is wooden, with a brass draw. “Beilby Proctor & Co.” is written in fancy script on the brass part near the eye piece, with “Day or Night,” inscribed beneath it.
A “large spyglass” is listed in a 1799 inventory of Todd property. However, this instrument is definitely a “telescope” - not a “spyglass.” Spyglasses are smaller and retractable.
“Day or Night” refers to the lens being large enough to use in dim light. This is a generic term, not exclusive to Proctor & Beilby. The "day" mode is fully assembled with 3 sets of lenses – an objective set, erecting set and eyepiece set. These lenses give an upright image for normal viewing in good daylight. In "night" mode, the middle set of erecting lenses is removed to allow the maximum amount of light through the telescope. However, this mode has the disadvantage of the image being inverted. When viewing the moon or stars, this is not a problem, but can cause disorientation when viewing something on land or sea.
The Todd Telescope is 21 inches in length, but was originally longer, as the end lens is missing. Due to its size, it has been deemed to be a marine telescope. This makes sense, as the Todd’s were heavily involved in maritime trade and transportation. Their home, Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site, is on the Chesapeake Bay, at the mouth of the Patapsco River. This river leads to the city of Baltimore.
Charles Proctor and Thomas Beilby were telescope makers in Birmingham, England. They were originally on Price St. and then moved to Newhall St. This information fits with Todd family history, as the Todd’s were originally from Denton, 40 miles southeast of Birmingham.
Proctor & Beilby were in business from approximately 1787 – 1817. Their shop may have opened earlier and remained open longer, but these are the documented dates. William Proctor, Charles’ son, was in the business in 1817.
Proctor & Beelby was another company, working from 1781-1798. They were opticians, spectacle and telescope makers. They were located on Milk St., Sheffield, from 1781-1787, and then moved in 1797 to 11 Market St. in Sheffield. Charles & Luke Proctor were the names of the businessmen. Any relationship between Proctor & Beilby of Birmingham, and Proctor & Beelby of Sheffield, is unknown. However, Sheffield is only 40 miles northeast of Birmingham and 60 miles northwest of Denton, so perhaps they are related to the Todd Telescope in some fashion.
In conclusion, the Todd Telescope could very well have been used to watch for British vessels sailing up the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812. There is no written documentation of this, but it certainly makes sense!