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The Lanhams of Maryland and the District of Columbia

Compiled by Dr. Howard G. Lanham

This site is a list of mentions of individuals named Lanham appearing in various sources. Because a comprehensive genealogy of all Lanhams in Maryland is not possible at this time and many of these records are open to different interpretations, I have chosen to list records individually with a minimum of interpretation on my part. This should be considered a surname site since many of these individuals may not be related. I have added some editorial comments and elaborations. For example, one might wonder if a name on a tombstone that of a women whose married name was Lanham or that of a never married female born Lanham. Rather than allow the researcher to draw an incorrect conclusion, I have tried to provide statements as to the identity of the individual if I am aware of it.

These records are drawn from multiple sources. Copy errors are possible and a wise genealogist will check my entries against the originals. It quickly becomes clear that it is not easy to distinguish between multiples individuals having similar names, the same person with a name spelled differently or persons mentioned using a nickname, abbreviation, etc. Anyone who believes that genealogy is not that difficult has never tried to research Lanhams. Yet, we are blessed with some very old baptismal records here in Maryland and the situation is much worse with many other surnames and localities. For a list of references concerning the Lanham family in general click on this link.

Most researchers believe that the surname Lanham is English in origin. A few families claim that it is Scottish or Irish. In the 1860 Census of Prince George's County we do have Lanhams who list their place of birth as Ireland, but these individuals are not known to be related to the more established Lanhams. The name may stem from Langham, meaning long village or long hamlet. There is a place in England named Langham. Langham also is a surname in its own right and interestingly enough there were individuals named Langham in early Maryland records, but they seem distinct from Lanhams in Maryland records. The surname Lanham appears in English records and many Lanham genealogists trace their forebears to Wortham in Suffolk County, England. This is based on research done by an English Records Agent for Richard C. Fremon of Hachettstown, New Jersey. The names and birth dates discovered there match the names and approximate birth dates of various Lanham immigrants in Maryland. It is quite possible these are the same people, but as far as I know there are no records on the English end that establishes these particular persons came to Maryland. Multiple contemporaries would have had a common name like John Lanham.

Cecil Calvert
Cecil Calvert

The colony of Maryland was granted to Cecil Calvert, the Second Lord Baltimore by King James I of England in 1632. The original group of settlers landed in 1634. The dominate geographical feature of the state is the Chesapeake Bay, which divides it into an eastern and western shore. The bay was the colony's lifeline and the many tidal estuaries allowed the shipment of tobacco, the colony's cash crop, to English markets. The majority of early Lanhams were tobacco farmers and pounds of tobacco rather than cash was used as a medium of exchange in old documents. I will provide additional information about the areas in which Lanhams lived in this discussion. For information and a map of Prince George's County, Maryland please see this link.

The District of Columbia was created in 1790 from parts of the Maryland counties of Prince George's and Montgomery. Both of these counties had residents named Lanham who lived in or near the Federal district. In 1800 development had progressed enough to allow the seat of Federal government to be moved to Washington, D.C. from its temporary home in Philadelphia. Records of the District of Columbia contain many mentions of Lanhams, who lived in it or in neighboring Maryland causing me to include the District in this web site. I should also mention that some Lanham records can be found across the Potomac River in Alexandria, but I am drawing a line at the Potomac. For more information and a map of the District of Columbia please see this link.

The first Lanham to arrive in Maryland was Josias Lanham, who landed in 1668 as an indentured servant and settled in Kent County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Despite some widespread claims otherwise, there is little good primary source documentation regarding an unbroken line of living Lanhams who descend from him. For more about Josias Lanham and the claim that Edward Lanham was his son please see my special discussion on the topic.

Another Lanham who certainly did leave many living descendants was John Lanham, who settled in Maryland in 1678. John Lanham may have originally lived in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. He acquired land in what was then Charles County. With the establishment of Prince George's County in 1695 John Lanham's land fell within the new county. It is likely that the various Lanham families that can trace their ancestors to Prince George's County, Maryland descend from this man.

There were other Lanham immigrants. All of the American colonies were dumping grounds for petty criminals who were sentenced to "transportation" by English courts. Following the American Revolution Australia would serve a similar function. Once in the colonies these individuals were treated similar to indentured servants. Since tobacco cultivation was a labor intensive industry these people were put to work and after serving their sentence became freemen. Many proud old families no doubt trace their ancestry to these convicts. Records indicate that several of these convicts were Lanhams. However, to date I have not come in contact with anyone named Lanham who claims descent from one of them. It is possible that they did not survive their term of service.

There also appear to have been other Lanham immigrants settling in other colonies such as Virginia. Since Maryland born Lanhams are known to have moved to these same states, this can be a source of confusion for researchers.

It has been said that as a rule each generation enjoyed a standard of living twice as good as the proceeding one. Certainly, this appears to be true with the Lanhams. The earliest generations scratched out a living in an economic system that favored rich English tobacco merchants and many were illiterate. By the time of the late 18th Century some of the Lanhams appear to have owned a fair degree of wealth in land and slaves. With the improvement in standard of living and growth of literacy come more written records that are sources of information for genealogist. Still, there are many individuals for whom we can find only one or two mentions and cannot establish their parentage.

One distinct group of Lanhams is those with an African American heritage. Originally, the colony of Maryland depended on the labor of indentured servants and convicts. These individuals in time received their freedom and became competitors of their former master. For every problem there is a solution and with every solution there is a problem. The solution to the continual problem of labor in tobacco cultivation was African slaves. They had a long history of employment in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Caribbean and South America and had proved to be a hardy people with the ability to survive in climates hostile to Europeans. The problem with the solution was that is created a system based on perpetual exploitation. In time this would lead to that great American tragedy, the Civil War. Slavery was outlawed in the District of Columbia in 1862 and Maryland in 1864, but there had been a steady decline in slave numbers and an increase in the numbers of free blacks for decades prior to this. Some African Americans adopted the Lanham surname and were likely the descendants of slaves, who were part of Lanham households. For a more detailed discussion of slavery and African American Lanham see the separate discussion on this topic.


Lanham, Maryland's Location off of the Capitol Beltway Route 495

The Lanham name and Prince George's County enjoyed a long association. The town of Lanham, Maryland (now a Washington, D.C. suburb) preserves that association long after most of the Lanham descendants moved away.

Lanham 1878

The Location of Lanham's Station on the 1878 Hopkins' Map of Prince George's Co., Maryland

The name Lanham originated as "Lanham's Station." Mary Ellen Lanham (1802-1878), the widow of Trueman Lanham, deeded land in 1873 to the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad for a station. This line has since merged into the Penn Central. The stop along the rail line soon gave its name to the surrounding community and the name evolved from Lanham's Station to Lanham's and then simply Lanham.

Lanham Mansion

Gone with the Wind
The Home of the Trueman Lanham family near Lanham, Maryland (since demolished)

It would be incorrect to say that all Lanhams families possessed great wealth and prestige. The majority were very much in the middle rank of the planters or trades people in their community. Certain of the Lanham families did in time increase their status to the point they would have been considered wealthy by the standards of the day. At least one Lanham, Zadock Lanham, served in the Maryland House of Delegates for Montgomery County in 1816. Several others held local offices, such as sheriff or constable.

In more modern times Ira Clifford Lanham (1876-1963) was Superintendent of Parks in Washington, D.C. and is responsible for much of the beauty visitors see in our National's Capitol. Perhaps the most prominent among Maryland Lanhams was Major General Charles T. (Buck) Lanham (1902-1978). He was a 1922 West Point Graduate and career soldier. During World War Two he commanded the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the Fourth Division in Europe and befriended Ernest Hemmingway, who was acting as a war correspondent. Hemmingway and Lanham spent much time in each other's company and it is said that Hemmingway based a character, Colonel Richard Cantwell, in his 1950 book Across and River and into the Trees on Lanham. Hemmingway is quoted as saying of Buck Lanham, "the finest and bravest and most intelligent military commander I have known."

Benjamin L. Lanham

Benjamin Lewis Lanham (1844-1863)
(Courtesy of Paul T. Lanham)

Lanham families were involved in events in American history. They lived in an area rich in American history. One Lanham recalled seeing Washington ride by in his carriage. Others served in the Revolutionary War and were on the field at the Battle of Long Island with the Maryland line. Benjamin Lewis Lanham was killed in action at Gettysburg while serving with the First Maryland Battalion, CSA (later designated Second Maryland Infantry Regiment). Others served their county in the Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, First World War and Second World War. For additional information regarding military service of Maryland Lanhams please see the special discussion of this topic.

The absolute numbers of Lanham living in Maryland has declined over time. Particularly during the period 1790-1830 there was a major migration out of Maryland. Multiple Maryland born Lanham moved into such states as Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. This mostly had to do with the availability of good agricultural land. In more modern times our entire society has become more mobile. There are a few instances in which Lanhams have returned to the state their ancestor left generations before. I have tried to summarize what I know of Lanham migration to other states in the following table.

I sincerely hope that this site will be valuable to you and invite any comment or queries.

Dr. Howard G. Lanham (Westminster, MD)

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More on Origin of Lanham Surname
Note on Spelling
Index to Names