After the Civil War, plantation life at St. Mary’s Manor changed dramatically for Dr. Brome, his family, and his laborers. In addition to Emancipation, the agricultural world in Maryland was shifting: by 1880, Maryland’s position as a leader in wheat and tobacco production had stagnated. Instead, manufacturing and industry were becoming the primary economic drivers, and agriculture had shifted to supplying the nearby cities with perishable goods such as meat, dairy, and produce. Dr. Brome began to set his sights on new ways to make his region profitable.
The 1870s: Adjustment and Investments
Immediately following the war, Dr. Brome continued to invest in agriculture and labor. The 1870 census indicates that he retained many of his formerly enslaved laborers by spending $3,400 in labor and providing them with households in the former slave quarters, and farmed more land then ever before, with 800 improved acres. The 1870 census, which lists a number of Dr. Brome’s former slaves and many single male laborers living in the homes immediately following Dr. Brome’s listing, indicate that he had a large labor force still working for him. It is also likely that he paid at least the single laborers with a regular wage, but may have engaged the family units as tenant farmers. In 1870, Dr. Brome had a diverse agricultural output with wheat as a primary crop; no tobacco is listed.
Dr. Brome’s major investment during the 1870s is in the railroad. Dr. Brome recognized the declining value of agricultural cash crops such as tobacco and wheat, and began to invest heavily in establishing a railroad connection to Southern Maryland. A railroad would have connected urban markets in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore to farms and fishing operations in St. Mary’s County. Dr. Brome recognized this, and began to invest accordingly. In 1869, he was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Southern Maryland Railroad, and purchased $3,000 worth of stock. Throughout the 1870s, the railroad was gradually built, although production halted in 1873 because of the failing economy. By 1881, it extended as far as Mechanicsville, and Dr. Brome remained on the board.
The 1880s: Decline and Sale
The agricultural investments made by Dr. Brome declined by 1880. The changing face of agriculture in Maryland, as well as Dr. Brome’s other investments in the railroad, likely contributed to a decreasing interest in agriculture. Only 260 acres were labeled as improved, and he produced only 3,500 bushels of wheat. He did dedicated 14 acres to tobacco, producing 40,000 pounds. His labor costs also decreased to $1,500, indicating that he was employing less laborers. Census records do not provide the spatial layout of laborers in 1880 that they did in 1870, making it unclear as to how many families or wage laborers may have been living on the plantation at the time. The decrease in money spent on labor could have reflected either a decrease in total laborers, or a transition to a labor force largely comprised of tenant farmers.
The railroad continued to be Dr. Brome’s primary investment. In 1876, engineers began to plan for a railroad route that would pass through St. Mary’s City, and in 1887 this land was graded, cutting through Dr. Brome’s property. In 1885, however, the Southern Maryland Railroad was subject to a foreclosure, and purchased by the Washingon and Potomac Railroad. It is unclear how much of a loss this was for Dr. Brome, but it was substantial. In 1886, Dr. Brome arranged to have all his land except for 100 acres surrounding his home and another farm on Three Knotch Road to William H. Wile of Philadelphia in four installments. Dr. Brome died in 1887 before the final payment was due, and his son, J. Thomas Brome, was forced to renegotiate the sale to cover his father’s outstanding debts. No railroad ever extended to St. Mary’s City.
After Dr. Brome
The Manor home, outbuildings, barns, and the duplex quarter were all that remained on the 100 acres of land of St. Mary’s Manor. J. Thomas Brome continued to live there with his wife. Upon his death, the land passed to his descendants, and it was used as a vacation home for the Howard Family. Agriculture continued to be carried out on the site until the 1960s. The duplex was home to African American tenant families throughout the the 20th century. The surrounding land, purchased by William H. Wile, was eventually sold to an immigration company, and parcels of land were sold to Slavic immigrants.