Pennsylvania to Westminster 1830-1870
copright © 2003 by Jeffrey L. Thomas
The Groft family has long been associated with the city of Westminster in Carroll County, Maryland, however the family's whereabouts prior to their arrival in Westminster remained unclear until just recently. Specifically, although the family begins appearing in records for Westminster in the late 1860s, I had been unable to identify the family in the 1850 and 1860 census. Having now located the family in those returns allows me to finally make some definitive statements about the family and their movements prior to their arrival in Westminster.
Although people named Groff begin showing up in northern Maryland in the mid-19th century, census returns make it clear that most of these individuals were originally from Pennsylvania. Although there were plenty of people in Pennsylvania named Groff, prior to the first modern census in 1850, there are relatively few in Maryland. The 1830 Maryland census indicates only three families named "Groff" (none Groft), and in 1840 there are only five (again, no Grofts). These early returns also confirm that the name was originally spelled "Groff." In fact, the name of our direct ancestors is spelled Groff in all census returns prior to 1900. When and how the name changed to "Groft" in unclear.
The story begins with our ancestor Charles R. Groft who was born in Pennsylvania circa 1833. At this point his parentage is uncertain. He married Elizabeth Spencer who was born in Maryland, and their first child, Oliver, was supposedly born in the late 1840s. Having been unable to locate the family of Charles and Elizabeth Groff in census returns for 1850 and 1860 for Carroll County, I decided to look elsewhere. I finally found the family in the 1st District of Baltimore County, close to the Carroll County border and the Westminster turnpike. Ten years later the community had been assigned to the newly-created 4th district and had been given a name - Reisterstown.
The 1850 census lists Charles Groff, (age 21), as a "Laborer" working and living in the household of John Stock, a wheelwright from Germany. Charles' wife Elizabeth Spencer is shown living in the district several miles away. Charles and Elizabeth were not living together, and there is no sign of their son Oliver who was supposedly born in 1847/48. This information casts doubt on the dates of birth for both Charles and Oliver, as well as Charles' marriage date. Specifically, the returns indicate that Charles and Elizabeth were not married in 1850 (they were not living together and Elizabeth was still going by her maiden name), hence their first son Oliver could not have been born in the late 1840s. In addition, if Charles was 21 in 1850 (as the returns indicate), that argues for a date of birth closer to 1829 rather than 1833. Such a date is more in line with Elizabeth's date of birth of 1824. Therefore, we must now consider, 1) a date of birth of 1829 for Charles Groff, 2) a date of marriage to Elizabeth of 1850, and 3) a date of birth for their first child Oliver of 1850 or later.
In 1850 there were several other members of the Groff family living in the Reisterstown district, including John, Francis, Abraham (A.E. Groff), and Benjamin Groff, possibly Charles' brothers. By 1860 Jacob B. Groff had joined the Groffs in Reisterstown; in 1850 he and his family were living in the city of Philadelphia, North Mulberry ward.
In the 1860 census we finally see the family of Charles and Elizabeth Groff together for the first time (almost). The 1860 returns list Elizabeth Groff (age 35) as the head of the household, which includes her children Samuel, (age 7), Hester (Hesta age 4), Julia, (Juliann age 2), and Charles L, our next ancestor, (age 7 months). Charles Groff, (age 27), is next door, living and working with the family of blacksmith William Allen. His occupation is listed as "Fence Maker". Charles and Elizabeth's oldest son Oliver, (age 12), is living nearby with the family of Louis and Catherine Turfle. As such, the 1860 census accounts for Charles and Elizabeth Groff and all of their children for the first time. It is also significant because it all but proves that our next ancestor Charles Lawrence Groft was born in Reisterstown, Baltimore County, not Westminster in Carroll County.
1860Census, 4th District, Baltimore County, MD
Name Age Occupation Place of Birth Charles Groff 27 Fence Maker Pennsylvania Elizabeth Groff 35 Maryland Samuel 7 Maryland Hesta (Hester) 4 Maryland Julian (Julia) 2 Maryland Charles L. 7/12 Maryland
The 1860 census also shows that living nearby are John, Francis, Jacob, Abraham, and Benjamin Groff. The ages for what I will now call the "Groff brothers" in the 1860 returns are as follows:
Francis B. Groff age 40 born Pennsylvania John Groff age 36 born in Pennsylvania Abraham Groft age 35 born in Pennsylvania Jacob Groff age 33 born in Pennsylvania Charles Groff age 27 born in Pennsylvania Benjamin Groff age 25 born in Pennsylvania (living w/Abraham)
Subsequent research has revealed that Francis, Abraham, Jacob, and Benjamin were definitely brothers, and I am hoping that further research will establish that John and Charles Groff were part of this family as well. Their parents were Abraham and Maria Barr Groff who resided in Strasburg township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Lineage information for this family submitted to the LDS library in Salt Lake City, traces the line of Abraham Groff back to Germany in the late 16th century.
I made an equally interesting discovery while searching the 1877 atlas of Baltimore County. There in the 4th District I was able to find Benjamin Groff, the family of John Groff, as well as the location for wheelwright shop of John Stock (where Charles Groff lived for the 1850 census) and the blacksmith shop of William Allen (where Charles was living for the 1860 census). This has enabled me to pinpoint, not only the community where Charles and his brothers lived, but the actual location of their houses and farms. The shops of John Stock and William Allen are within a mile or so of each other on the north side of the Baltimore-Westminster turnpike, today Reisterstown Road, between the towns of Reisterstown and Owings Mills. The atlas lists Benjamin Groff as "B.F. Groff," and he is shown owing a gristmill on 12 acres of land in Owings Mills. His nativity is given as Pennsylvania, occupation "Miller". His arrival in the community is given as 1850. John Groff's widow Elizabeth and her son Charles C. (C.C. Groff) are shown living on a 65-acre farm northwest of Reisterstown. His date of arrival in the community is given as 1852.
Follow this link to view the 1877 atlas showing the homes of the Groff brothers.
Benjamin F. Groff became one of the area's well-known merchants, and his gristmill operation was a fixture in the community of Owings Mills for many years. Consequently the mill and the Groff family are mentioned in several local histories. One such mention is found in a book titled "Speaking Of Our Past, A Narrative History of Owings Mills, Maryland," by: Marie Forbes, who states:"The earliest settlers arrived in Owings Mills around 1700. Samuel Owings, whose family had taken up land holdings in Green Spring Valley, built three mills along the Gwynns Falls. A single millrace connected all three mills; the Upper Mill ground flour, the Middle Mill produced grist and the Lower Mill g round limestone into plaster. Hence, Owings Mills."Another book titled "Baltimore County Panorama," by Neal A. Brooks and Richard Parsons, goes even further by stating that the Groff family arrived in the area in 1848 from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The census returns confirm this date because the Groff brothers and most of their wives were born in Pennsylvania, as were some of their first-born children, while all of the second-born children were born in Maryland. What this tells us is that Charles and his brothers did indeed arrived in the area sometime between 1847 and 1850. Census returns show that Abraham Groff was the original owner of the mill, and that it was taken over by brother Benjamin sometime before 1870. The 1850 census lists Abraham as the owner of the mill valued at $8,000. By 1870 Benjamin owned the mill which was now valued at 15,000.
"Groffs Mill Drive was named after the Groff family who still operates the former Upper Mill. It presently stands on Reisterstown Road and Bonita Ave. When Will Painter bought the Lower Mill from Samuel Owings, the name changed to Painters Mill."
By the time of the 1870 census Charles and apparently Jacob Groff had departed Baltimore County, leaving behind John, Francis Abraham and Benjamin. Charles Groff would reappear in the 1870 census for Westminster in neighboring Carroll County, while Jacob and family went to Washington D.C. and eventually Philadelphia. By 1880 only Abraham (A.E. Groff) and Benjamin Groff remained in Baltimore County. The 1880 census shows that Abraham was a farmer and Benjamin was still operating his gristmill in Owings Mills.
These remarkable discoveries fill in a crucial 15-20 year gap in the history of the Groft family - from the time when Charles and his brothers leave Pennsylvania to when they finally show up in Westminster in the late 1860s. Mystery solved.
Jeffrey L. Thomas
Continue with the next generation: Charles R. Groft (1833-1911)
Groft Family Genealogy Report: Acrobat PDF file or Hypertext file
Return to the main page at the Groft family web site
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