Wilson Miles Cary

By Stephanie Durham, Neelie Kibler, and Natalie Noble


Wilson Miles Cary Jr. was born December 12, 1838 in “Haystacks” Baltimore County, Maryland 2. His parents were Wilson Miles Cary and Jane Margaret Carr whom also had seven other children 2. Wilson Miles Cary Sr. attended both the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia and became a powerful man through his roles as lawyer, editor, planter, and senator of Maryland from 1846 to 1852 2. Jane Margaret Carr taught the ideals of Thomas Jefferson at a home school in Baltimore, Maryland 1. The grandparents, from his mother’s side, were Wilson Jefferson Cary and Virginia Randolph. He was a distant relative Thomas Jefferson through his grandmother, whose sister-in-law was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson 2. He was also a distant relative of Pocahontas 2. The name Wilson Miles Cary, has been passed down through many generations and many of his ancestors filled positions of power and were lawyers.

They Cary Family Tree

The Cary Family Tree

*Dotted lines represent distant relations.

*Some Cary family members are not included due to lack of information/space.

Wilson Miles Cary Jr. was first home schooled in his city of birth (“Haystacks”) and then transitioned to the public high school of Baltimore from 1848 to 1853 2. He then enrolled as a student at the University of Maryland from 1855 to 1856 2. Immediately following, Wilson Miles Cary Jr. attended the University of Virginia from 1856 to 1857 and graduated with a degree in French. While at UMD, he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and then became a member of Kappa Alpha at UVA 2. His father was also a student of the university for a year (1825). His was expelled from the institution as he was involved in a violent riot on the Lawn on October 1, 1825, in which masked students wrecked havoc and attacked two professors that attempted to appease the students 7. Wilson Miles Cary Jr. was not involved in any misbehavior while at the university, unlike his father.

After graduating from the University of Virginia, at the age of twenty, Wilson Miles Cary Jr. dipped his toes into numerous jobs and position. First, he became a private tutor for the Baylor family in Essex County in Virginia (1858-1859) and then became a teacher at a private school in Baltimore 2. He proceeded to then follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer for the office of Brown & Brune from 1860 to 1861 2,4. Furthermore, he served in the Confederate Army for four years 2. He gained the title “the Captain” of Baltimore 1. He was a member of the Society of the Colonial Wars and was the Chairman of the Genealogical Committee 2.  After serving in the army, he returned to his home town (Baltimore) and established a classical, all boys school, which he ran from 1865 to about 1871 2. Next, he returned to his previous profession as a lawyer as a member of the Bar of Baltimore in 1872 and 1874 respectively 2. However, his career was cut short in 1877 due to ill health and in order to recuperate he traveled to Europe to recover 2. He returned to America and held the position Chief Clerk of the Criminal Court of Baltimore for a total of fourteen years until his health once again failed him, ending his career 2. Due to his repeated ill health he found other, less straining professions to dedicate his time to; he became a genealogist and litterateur and a member of the Maryland Historical Society 2. For example, he wrote a novel about George Washington’s secret love affairs 5. Overall, Wilson Miles Cary was a Jeffersonian Democrat that had high hopes for free trade and was opposed to expansion 2.

He married (to whom we do not know) and had one son, Wilson Miles Cary, in 1880 3. His son died in 1943 3. He died on August 28, 1914 (at age 76) and was buried at  Saint Thomas Episcopal Cemetery in Owing Mills, Baltimore County, Maryland 3.


Wilson Miles Cary Jr.’s grave

The Richneck plantation held generations of Carys and became the family cemetery 6. In 1865, when a fire burnt down the house and all Cary family relics, Wilson Miles Cary Jr. set out to find any and all information on his lineage 6. Also, in 1868, he visited the tombs of his colonial ancestors 1.

Richneck Plantation Plaque

Richneck Plantation Plaque

Transcribed Letters #1 and #2:

Feb 14, 1857

Letters of the Cary Family – 1857

Saturday night 11 and 1/2 o’clock

Feb 14, 1857

Dear Johnnie

I think I will (I would say – I have determined to) write every week regularly. I have written home two letters and this will make the third, without receiving an answer to any of them; and if someone does not write soon, I will be forced to come to the determination mentioned in my last letter (unknown word – possibly vig?)to call the acquaintance of a family (gens) [sic] called Cary – if indeed there is such a one in existence now – for my my heart I cannot lite [sic] – as I have not “heard  late of them” for ages – By Thunders! This is Saturday night (as a half dozen drunken, lowly, yelling students coming home from Society just remind me) and I have not reviewing my French notes for the examination which comes off next Tuesday the 17th. – Which day on I think “miserable doctor”!! I – today – the 14th of Feb – (unclear) times a day-had-One and but One – mistake in my French exercise – which has only accrued twice since I have been writing them. I am now ready in Jennie [sic] Later – Cicero’s Oratiens [sic] & Horace – & in Senior [sic]Livy – at a most rapid rate. I wish the French examination was over- I am doubtful about it – though I can write the exercise very well with a dictionary – I do not know what I will do without it as I know very few French words. I never have had while writing aid of the dictionary more than six mistakes in any one exercise.

Every now and then we have a little fuss with the College bell – The other night after Latin Examination two students one of whom I know, stole a crow-bar took upon the tour (under the steps of the rotunda) I opening[sic] on the stairs which lead to the roof of the rotunda; and when on top – one of them took the clapper out of the hole – while the other climbed to the weather cock on top of the sky-light, and attached to it a pirates black flag. However they (“one”) the (unclear) = the old (unclear) had a new clapperby 2 ockl & had the fly When down. Aunt Jane Randolph has been staying here for the last 2 days. Uncle R is attending the meeting of the board of Visitors who have not to appoint a professor to the chair of History – they ( (unclear)) also settled  a few matters about the board’s houses. They sent around to all of which & from each brought two students to report on the fare with which they were provided. Unpleasantly for Aunt Sidney, two of the fussiest & most “unpleasurable”  fellows on the Hill were selected by chance and they replaced[sic] the fare as only tolerable –when all the students who visit their friends on the Hill say that they never get such good fare in the boarding houses & to compensate [sic] her – we always show the greatest one: of visitors – for my heart I never care about having better eatables then we have. L(unclear name)’s mother (unclear) those fellows, who do not appear as if they, have accustomed to the best living – are always the loudest in conflict – I don’t see what students have to do with such high living anyway – they ought to think of filling their heads and not their ______. I wish you would send me my reports – I want to behold what is said in the “Algebra  question”. My teeth are getting out of order, one or two plugs have come out & one tooth wants plugging for first time. My books have split to pieces – good for nothing leather that comes of getting shoes already made. I do not know what to do about those books, as they are quite necessary, I can’t walk in the evening (unclear unclear) of shoes on account of the “Albermarle Mud” which covers up one’s shoes (unclear) at every step. I have a pair of good boots made has [sic] costs for 7 to 10 dollars. Every man, woman, & child has plucks the feathers out of the students in handfuls – considering the harmful object of pludy [sic]. What’s become of Mac Howard? Has he gone to Princeton? What do you think of the Bendile [sic] Murder? I I saw in the members of the Southern Church men the other day an account (in one of them) of the Cary family & in in the other [sic] one of the Fairfaxes[sic]. I wonder  Bishop Meade is not apart of exciting family pride  what (pride) a member ought always to strive to lessen. Connie says you do not answer her letters – naughty little boy! How can you treat your cousin so. Do you & Jennie Fairfax[sic] ever correspond now– in unity now I have he came perfectly reckless both in hand & thoughts. I reserve the last page of my letter for “Aleck[sic]” questions present my respects (unclear) young gent & state how much I miss his entertaining, social & intellectual powers & let me by you to state and matter in the most high flown (unclear)or send you (unclear) (unclear) (unclear) you. (unclear) part one act [ sic] & I am (unclear) & thought “as the (unclear) (unclear)” – in my brain continually – Thoughts & thoughts – a countless (sic) theory

Rush, chasing countless (sic) thoughts along Yet I cant get a single (sic) one (unclear) to stop its headlong course & to (unclear) to be put down in blast & whole. Do I write (sic) friend (sic) (unclear). Give my love to the “Babby” (sic) at (unclear) Pa & Ma, Sisters & brothers, friends (Sic) Romero (Sic) & (unclear)

Your Affectionate (Sic),

Wilson M Cary

If you can read this (unclear) in (unclear) not (unclear) much different

Je suis fatigue

Have you received a Valentine from any of your Soirée friends.

  • Above is a transcribed letter from Wilson Miles Cary Jr. to his brother, John Brune Cary. The letter was written February 14, 1857.

May 23, 1857

Saturday- May 23rd, 1857

University of Va

Dear Pa & Ma,

Graduated on French!!!!!

Yesterday, as I was sitting under one of the trees, studying Latin for life & death, I heard a great shout at the opposite end of the yard & soon understood that the French report had come out- I was almost afraid to go & see whether my name was upon it- but soon some fellow cried out, “Well, Cary, I am sorry to see you are pitched.” I told him I was very sorry, but it couldn’t be helped- Only 29 got through- here is the list- The whole state (sic) graduated on French except 2 who pitched (sic) up. Lewis Carter R. had been sick for 2 weeks before the examination out at his home (uncleaned (sic) throat & cold). He came back too late for the examination, But Schele gave him one yesterday & graduated him. Today the Spanish, German, Italian. & Anglo-Saxon reports came out. The Hill did well as usual. Meade Smith- Archy Smith. “Old Cocke”- Alex Matthews got through. Willoughly Smith pitched up on both French and Spanish, tho he has later them for 2 years. Schele asked little Lewis Randolph what Shad (sic) thought of the examination & told him that I had done very well of his own accord.

I walked out to Courn (sic) for Carr’s on Wednesday evening & rode from there to Dunlolra & saw Mrs Dabney & thanked her for bringing the bundle, (wh: she had just a little before sent to the university)- Shem (sic) rode back to (unclear) far & walked home & found the bundle on my bed. The cakes were very nice, for they are now (unclear) the things that were. The next day I took part of them down stairs & spread the rest on a proper (unclear) my bed & in the course of the day they received Sunday (sic) visitors & soon not a crumb was left to tell the sad tale. Major- Lewis (big & little) Hutch, Cocke & C worried (sic) down a little.  I am going to Edgar Hele (sic) this evening with Hutch. Big Lewis has to stand Chemistry on Monday. Well, I must dry up- so good bye.

                                    Mr affec: son

                                                Wilson M. Cary

  • Above is a transcribed letter from Wilson Miles Cary Jr. to his parent, announcing his graduation. The letter was written May 23, 1857.

Letter #1 Letter #2

                     Letter#1                                                  Letter #2    

Close Up

Wilson Miles Cary Jr. frequently wrote in French (he ended up graduating with a degree in French from UVA) in his letters home.


Drawings by Wilson Mile Cary Jr.’s brother, John Brune Cary, found in a letter.

About Letter #1 and #2:

Wilson Miles Cary’s father, whom shares his name, only attended the university for one year (1825) as he was expelled (one of three) since he was one of the masked students that rioted on the lawn in 1825. Jefferson was shocked, as Wilson Miles Cary Sr. was the great -grandson of his sister (Martha) and her husband. Wilson Miles Cary Jr. attended the University of Virginia from 1856-57. He received a degree in French and studied a variety of other subjects such as Latin, algebra, geometry, and history. He was unlike his father when it comes to how he acted at the university and was very focused on his studies, writing home regularly and avoiding trouble at the University. His father’s famous line about Wilson Jr. was that, “it does worry me when I go to bed at night & think how hard he is working & how home-sick he gets.” (Wilson Miles Cary Memorial Collection Box 2, January 22, 1857) . He seemed to be a diligent and successful student (i.e. “one and but one mistake in his French exercise[s]” and he “never.. had more than six mistake in any one exercise”); however, he doubted his capabilities. His actions differed from most students. For example, in his letter home on February 14, 1857, he wrote home explaining that it was a regular occurrence for students to return to their home (the university) in drunken groups yelling. He on the other hand, spent his time reviewing.

Additionally, he describes how there were frequently “fuss[es]” wit the College bell, which was a bell in the Rotunda that rang to wake the students and sent them to classes. This bell had been a source of chaos as many students were insulted that they were treated in a manner similar to slaves. Wilson Miles Cary Jr. describes in his letter how the night after his Latin exam, two student (one of which he was acquainted with) “stole a crow-bar took upon the tour”, “took the clapper out of the hole”, and attached a black pirate flag to the cock on top of the Rotunda. This type of behavior was normal at the University of Virginia for many years after it’s creation and as we very well know, threatened to be the downfall of the University.

He mentions his Uncle and Aunt Randolph, who were at the university to attend the meeting of the Boards of Visitors. The Board was meeting in order to appoint a professor to the chair of History, along with settling numerous other matters, one of which being the price for living at the University. Wilson said that the two students chosen to speak about this issue were extremely “fuss[y],” “unpleasurable,” and simply “intolerable”, whereas the general student population that visit their friends on the “Hill” claimed the fare was better than that in the boarding house. Wilson complains that is is those with the best living that are the loudest in voicing their complaints at the university, which baffles him since he doesn’t understand the need for such high-living at the university and believes his fellow students “ought to think of filling their heads and not their ______”.

He also mentions how his teeth and books are not in good conditions. He often speaks of illnesses in his letters. For example, in one letter he discusses the measles outbreak. The University was a large breeding ground for illness due to a lack of knowledge of how disease spread and the necessity of sanitation.  He talks about how his books are falling apart as they were created of  leather salvaged from old shoes. In a different letter, his brother, John Brune Cary, writes back to him with  the prices of the novel he had requested (Adler’s Unabridged – $4.50 and Rother’s Ser [sic] Reader – $1.50). He also describes the price of a good pair of boots ($7-$10) that he had made for him.


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1 Wilson Miles Cary. “Sally Cary: a long hidden romance of Washington’s life.” Google Books. The De Vinne Press, New York, 1916. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

2 Barringer, Paul; Garnett, James; Page, Rosewell. “University of Virginia:Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics .” Google Books. Lewis Publishing Company, 1904. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

“U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current – Ancestry.com.” U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current – Ancestry.com. Ancestry, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

“Students of the University of Virginia.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

5  The William and Mary Quarterly. Sally Cary — A Long Hidden Romance of Washington’s Life by Wilson Miles Cary. JSTOR, Jan, 1917. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

6 Pecquet du Bellet, Louise. “Some Prominent Virginia Families.” Google Books. Clearfield, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

7 Hitchcock, Susan. “The University of Virginia a Pictorial History.” Google Books. University of Virginia Press and University of Virginia Bookstore, 1999. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

Wilson Miles Cary Memorial Collection [manuscript] 1820-1914. University of Virginia Special Collections Library. Box #1 and Box #2.












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