• The Ballad of Chevy Chase

    Dr. Ruth Perry, "The Ballad of Chevy Chase"

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology literature professor Dr. Ruth Perry spoke on “The Ballad of Chevy Chase,“ the ancient sung story about a bloody battle on the England-Scotland border that gave peaceful Chevy Chase its name, at the Chevy Chase Historical Society’s 2010 Fall Lecture on Sunday, November 21, at 4 p.m. The programwas held at the Chevy Chase Village Hall, 5906 Connecticut Avenue.

    “The Ballad of Chevy Chase” is one of several re-tellings of a battle fought in the “chace,” or hunting grounds, in the Cheviot Hills on the borderland between England and Scotland in 1388. The battle became part of English and Scottish folklore, first in the form of the Scottish ballad, “Battle of Otterbourne,” then in the English version, “The Hunting of the Cheviot” or “Chevy Chase.”

    Three centuries later in 1725, Lord Baltimore gave a 560-acre tract of land in the New World to Joseph E. Belt, a colonel in the King’s Maryland militia. Colonel Belt named his land grant “Cheivy Chace.”  When 200 acres of that tract were purchased in the 1890s as the centerpiece of a planned streetcar suburb outside Washington, DC, the developers borrowed the land grant’s romantic name. The Chevy Chase Land Company and its streetcar suburb, Chevy Chase, were born. Local historians Elizabeth Jo Lampl and Kimberly Prothro Williams speculate that the name “Cheivy Chace” probably appealed to developer Francis Newlands’ own Scottish ancestry.

    Another entrepreneur later riffed on the Chevy Chase name by calling his development on Connecticut Avenue “Otterbourne at Chevy Chase.” Otterbourne’s streets wore battle-related names of Melrose, Dalkeith, Douglas and Percy, some of which survive today.

    Dr. Ruth Perry has lectured all over the world on 18th-century English literature and culture, women’s writing and feminist theory. The author of eight books and numerous scholarly articles, she has begun work on a biography of Anna Gordon Brown, an 18th-century singer of traditional ballads.

    A folksinger herself, Dr. Perry sang an abridged version of the 65-verse “Ballad of Chevy Chase” during her talk.