Historic African American home open for tour
CHARLES TOWN — Tours of the historic Webb-Blessing House in Charles Town give visitors a glimpse into the history of the town. Tours have been offered one Saturday a month all summer at the house, with the final tour held on Aug. 25.
During Saturday’s tour, Linda Downing Ballard shared facts about the house, which at one time was two separate dwellings, one owned by the Webb family and one by the Blessings.
The property, originally labeled as Lot 81, was part of the 80 square acres surveyed by Charles Washington in 1786. The owner of the lot was originally Samuel and Dorothea Washington. Samuel was the son of Charles Washington.
Washington sold the lot in 1797 to Ezekiel. According to research, Ballard said the deed passed in 1828 to a person of color, and between 1829 and 1831, the stone structure now known as the Webb house was built by James H. Webb. In 1831, Patty Webb lived in the stone structure with her three sons and one daughter. Webb was listed as head of household, Ballard said. No record of her husband could be located, so there is no definitive proof she was married or otherwise related to Frank Webb, even though one of her sons was named Charles Franklin Webb.
Patty Webb remained in the home at least until 1850, living with her son, Fielding, and daughter-in-law, Lucinda. Records show the property was sold in 1852, although descendants of the family can be traced to 1927, Ballard said.
The Blessing house, also on Lot 81, was purchased by John Blessing in in 1866. Prior to the purchase, John Blessing is recorded as having been a baker/confectioner in Charles Town. He is on record as having prepared meals for John Brown when Brown was incarcerated in the Jefferson County jail prior to his execution in 1859. A photograph in the home is of a Bible inscribed by Brown to Blessing on Nov. 28, 1859, just prior to Brown’s hanging.
According to Ballard, Blessing surprisingly enlisted in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the war was over and Blessing had received a pardon, he purchased the property now known as the Blessing house. He died of consumption in 1868; however, he was survived by nine children.
Ollie Blessing was the last of his descendants to reside in the home, remaining there until 1974. Ollie Blessing taught kindergarten and served as principal at Ranson School.
The property stood vacant until 2003, when it was purchased by the Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society. JCBHPS’s goal is to preserve the home, which was one of the earliest stone structures built and owned by free blacks in Charles Town.
Restoration of the property has been in progress over the past several years, as well as some archaeological work to unearth artifacts from the time period. Most of the artifacts were found in the stone structure that was believed to have had a dirt floor, which is believed to have been the Blessing family kitchen.
Ballard said the home can be seen by appointment, by contacting JCBHPS.
A charitable foundation, the Friends of the Webb Blessing House, has been established for those who wish to contribute toward the preservation of the site. Information can be accessed at the society’s website at “http://www.jcblackhistory.org”>www.jcblackhistory.org.