Talbot County, A Brief History
photo by Don Biresch
Talbot County, with more than 600 miles of tidal shoreline, has been water oriented since earliest times. Ringed by such rivers as the Choptank, Tuckahoe, and Wye, it looks out on the west to the Chesapeake Bay, and is transected by the broad Miles, the beautiful Tred Avon, and countless smaller creeks and coves.
The quality of Talbot life has long reflected this maritime flavor. Its first settlers, arriving in the 1650's traveled by sloop, barge, priogue and Indian Log canoe. Its first town, Oxford, developed as a port-of-call for English merchants whose ships traded finished goods for tobacco directly at the plantation wharves. Its shipbuilding center, St. Michaels, created the swift, sharphulled sailing vessels which became famous as the "Baltimore Clippers" of the War of 1812.
Founded in 1661 and named for Lady Grace Talbot, sister of the second Lord Baltimore, the county has ever since been the geographical and spiritual heartland of the Eastern Shore. Its county town, first called Talbot Court House and later Easton, was known as the "East Capital" of Maryland because the Eastern Shore's courts and governmental offices functioned there. Easton has the Shore's first bank, it first newspaper, it first federal offices, its first hotel.
Talbot's early settlers were noted for independence and love of personal freedom, which remain hallmarks of the county's population today. Many were Quakers, seeking a haven from persecution; their Third Haven Meeting House, completed in 1684, still is in active service as a house of worship. Others were Puritans driven from Cavalier Virginia, or Irish and Scottish rebels transported to the colony as Indentured servants. The county's blacks coming as slaves, produced Frederick Douglass, the nation's greatest 19th century exponent of freedom and justice for Negroes.
In colonial times Talbot politics and society were dominated by aristocratic families, the Lloyds, Tilghmans, Goldsboroughs, Hollydays and their marital allies, who had their principal seats of residence here. Their charming Georgian plantation houses, built on the waterfront, remain as graceful echoes of a vanished way of life.
Talbot citizens played key roles in the events leading to Maryland and American independence, and a citizen army headed by Gen. Perry Benson repelled a British attack on the town of St. Michaels in the War of 1812. In the Civil War the county was deeply divided. Post Civil War times found the county gaining national note as a site of summer homes for wealthy Northerners and a vacation resort for less affluent "summer boarders" from the nearby cities.
Along with products of the Bay, agriculture has always provided Talbot's chief source of income. First tobacco, then wheat, later tomatoes, fruit and truck crops, and in recent years corn, soybeans and poultry have sustained its basic population of sturdy family farmers.
Today retail trade and small industry are increasingly important, but much of the rural and maritime atmosphere of an earlier era still lingers on. Easton is the Mid-Shore region's principal shopping center, but retains its mid-Victorian charm. Its splendid hospital, fine library and the county's excellent schools, public and private, make Easton one of Maryland's most attractive places to live. Oxford and St. Michaels are favorite ports of call for the world's yachtsmen, Tilghman Island is home base for one of the last oyster-dredging skipjack fleets on the Bay. The Trappe district is an area of lovely homes tucked away on secluded coves.
Rooted deeply in the past but looking progressivly toward the future, Talbot County is proud of a way of life which seeks the best of both yesterday's and tomorrow's worlds
More Information about Talbot County History can be found at the Historical Society of Talbot County web site.
Dorchester County – Why Not Explore It?
Dorchester County, rich in history and natural beauty, lies midway down the Delmarva Peninsula in the very heart of Chesapeake Country.
Three centuries ago many of its meandering byways were Indian trails, but most Native Americans disappeared by the middle of the eighteenth century, leaving behind scattered shell middens, stone and clay artifacts, and names such as Nanticoke, Choptank and Chicamacomico.
Dorchester, or Dorset as it was originally called in honor of the 4th Earl of Dorset, was a political entity by 1669. Cambridge, the county seat, is a good place to begin your exploration.
Visiting hours for the Dorchester County Historical Society’s museums on LaGrange Avenue are Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Meredith House (circa 1760) is furnished with antiques and features a collection of dolls and toys along with memorabilia from the seven Maryland governors who resided in the county. Also situated on the Society’s grounds are The Neild Museum, housing artifacts of Dorchester’s agricultural and maritime industries and a collection of Native American artifacts; the newly opened Robbins Heritage Center, home of the new Ron Rue Workshop; a colonial-style herb garden; an old stronghouse; and the Goldsborough Stable (circa 1790).
A walk along brick-paved High Street carries visitors past the county courthouse, ten 18th-century homes, and another 16 residences dating to the 19th century. View the current gallery exhibit and browse a well-stocked gift shop at the Dorchester Center for the Arts at 321 High Street. Stroll the quiet grounds of Christ Episcopal Church, among the graves of early settlers, war heroes and four Maryland governors.
Visit the James B. Richardson Foundation, Inc.'s three entities: Richardson Maritime Museum on the corner of High and Locust Sts., a repository of Chesapeake Bay wooden boat memorabilia and history. The Museum is open Wednesday and Sunday 1-4 pm, Saturday 10-4 pm or by appointment. Ruark Boatworks at Maryland Avenue & Hayward Street continues the Foundation's mission of 'Putting History on the Water'. Work is in progress Monday, Wednesday & Friday from 9-2 pm. The Brannock Maritime Museum's collection and archives were acquired in 2007 and became the Brannock Education & Research Center. The opening and hours of operation to be announced. For more information please visit www.richardsonmuseum.org.
Sharpshooter and entertainer Annie Oakley lived several blocks west of High Street at 28 Bellevue Avenue, a private residence. “Once she moved away,” quips the county tourism office, “we became a major wildlife refuge.”
Opened in 2002, the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina is located at 100 Heron Blvd. and Rt. 50. It is situated on 400 acres on the banks of the Choptank River and has just undergone a $7 million renovation.
Dorchester’s bays and rivers provide endless opportunity for fishermen and crabbers. Those without a boat will find more than ample space to cast a line or drop a crab pot from the Choptank River Fishing Pier, parallel to the Frederick C. Malkus Bridge.
For hunters, Dorchester is a veritable Mecca. Small game and waterfowl abound, and the county is home to the state’s largest herd of whitetail deer and the only free roaming population of sika deer in the nation.
Numerous marine facilities stand ready to serve the visiting boater, or, in case you left your yacht at home, cruises and charters are available on Nathan of Dorchester, the county’s ambassador skipjack, and the Dorothy Megan, a reproduction turn-of-the-century paddlewheeler.
Bikers find the flat, winding, rural roads throughout the county much to their liking. In 1995 Bicycling Magazine chose Dorchester as one of their top ten rides.
African American heritage tours are available through the Harriet Tubman Organization and can be arranged by visiting the Underground Railroad Gift Shop, 424 Race Street in Cambridge. Harriet Tubman was born near Bucktown on Green Briar Road. Historic Bazzel Church stands nearby on Bestpitch Ferry Road.
A few miles west of Cambridge, on Horn Point Road, the University of Maryland operates the Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies on the former duPont estate. Visitors may tour an aquaculture hatchery, an environmental education center, or walk one of several nature trails.
Beyond Horn Point, six miles west of Cambridge on MD Route 343, is Spocott, once a self-contained village and today the site of the only post windmill used for grinding grain in Maryland. An eighteenth century tenant house, a Victorian school and a country market create a museum setting to showcase local history.
Six miles southwest of Cambridge, Church Creek straddles Rt. 16. Here, Old Trinity, the oldest Episcopal church in the United States, was constructed around 1675 and has been meticulously restored. In the church yard, among the shaded graves of generations of Dorchester residents, the curious will discover heroes from all of America’s wars, a Maryland governor and his daughter, Anna Ella Carroll – advisor to Abraham Lincoln, and the enigmatic “miller’s grave.”
A few miles beyond Church Creek, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge sprawls across more than 27,000 acres of tidal marsh and mixed forest. At the peak of the fall migration, visitors can view thousands of geese and ducks. Shorebirds and warblers assume top billing in spring. The refuge is also home to the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel and is the best location in the East to observe bald eagles. A visitors’ center with exhibits, films and gift shop is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 9 to 5 on weekends. A wildlife drive and walking trails can be entered from sunrise to sunset.
Roads south of Cambridge lead the adventurer to Taylors Island, perhaps the county’s earliest settlement, or to the quaint watermen’s villages on Hoopers Island. Take a different turn and encounter the scattered hamlets of Andrews, Crapo, Wingate, Toddville, Bishops Head and Crocheron.
Two other historic Dorchester towns are best experienced by walking tours: East New Market was first settled in the second half of the 17th century. The town’s historic district contains many of the early founders homes: Friendship Hall, House of the Hinges, Smith Cottage, Edmondson House, New Market House and Little Manning House to name a few. Buckland, a New England salt box design, is unique to the area.
Vienna was founded in 1706 but existed prior to 1669. It was known by other names in early years: Emporers Landing, or simply Town on the Nanticoke. The Calvert family apparently intended that it be called Baltimore. The original customs house stands at the south end of Water Street, next to Nanticoke Manor House. “Something the damn Yanks can’t burn,” boasted Captain James Lewis when he built his home of brick in 1861. Other historic structures include the former home of Governor Holiday Hicks, the Tavern House, Captain C. E. Wright House, Thomas Higgins House and the Ferry House. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is one of the oldest houses of worship in Dorchester County. The Vienna Heritage Museum is home to the last mother of pearl button machine equipment in use in the U.S.
North of Vienna, Indian Town Road bisects what was once the largest Indian reservation in Maryland. Chicacone was abandoned by the last of the Nanticokes in the eighteenth century.
If you’d like to witness a primitive salt marsh at its best, drive south from Vienna on Elliott Island Road. At the end lies a sleepy hamlet isolated by miles of marsh and open bay waters. Once home to nearly 600 inhabitants, Elliott today has less than a hundred.
In the community of Reliance in the northeast corner of the county, at the point where Dorchester meets Caroline County and the state of Delaware, stands Patty Cannon’s House. The old tavern, now a private dwelling, is the only physical reminder of an early nineteenth century gang of kidnappers, robbers and murderers that conducted one of the most brutal and wide-spread criminal operations in the history of our nation.
For additional information about Dorchester County, stop at the Visitors’ Center next to the Choptank River bridge in Cambridge. Also, three kiosks containing material of interest to tourists are located in front of the courthouse on High Street, at the park and ride in Church Creek, and in front of Old Salty’s on Hoopers Island. Dorchester County Tourism has also produced a book called Birding in the Heart of Chesapeake Country. The guide contains five trails, maps and is in full color.
photo by Bill Thompson
“Great Choptank Island” was granted to Seth Foster in 1659. Thereafter it was known as Foster’s Island, and so on through a succession of owners until Matthew Tilghman of Claiborne inherited it in 1741. He and his heirs owned the island for over a century and it has been Tilghman’s Island ever since, though the northern village and the island’s postal designation are simply “Tilghman.”
For its first 175 years, the island was a family farm, supplying grains, vegetables, fruit, cattle, pigs and timber. Although the owners rarely were in residence, many slaves were; an 1817 inventory listed 104. The last Tilghman owner, General Tench Tilghman (not Washington’s aide-de-camp) removed the slaves in the 1830s and began selling off lots. In 1849, he sold his remaining interests to James Seth, who continued the development.
The island’s central location in the middle Bay, giving access to many creeks and the Eastern Shore’s largest river, is ideally suited for watermen harvesting the Bay in all seasons. Farmers too were attracted, for the soil is fertile and without a stone. The years before the Civil War saw the influx of the first families we know today. A second wave arrived after the War, attracted by the advent of oyster dredging in the 1870s.
Hundreds of dredgers and tongers operated out of Tilghman’s Island, their catches sent to the cities by schooners. Boat building, too, was an important industry. The boom continued into the 1890s, spurred by the arrival of steamboat service which opened vast new markets for Bay seafood. Islanders quickly capitalized on the opportunity as several seafood buyers set up shucking and canning operations on pilings at the edge of the shoal of Dogwood Cove. The discarded oyster shells eventually became an island with seafood packing houses, hundreds of workers, a store, and even a post office. It is now a marina and yacht club.
The steamboats also brought visitors who came to hunt, fish, relax and escape the summer heat of the cities. Some families stayed all summer in one of the guest houses that sprang up in the villages of Tilghman, Avalon, Fairbank and Bar Neck. Although known for their independence, Tilghman’s Islanders enjoy showing visitors how to pick a crab, shuck an oyster or find a good fishing spot.
In the 20th century, Islanders pursued these vocations in farming, on the water, and in the thriving seafood processing industry. The “Tilghman Brand” was known throughout the eastern United States, but as the Bay’s bounty diminished, so did the number of water-related jobs. Still, three of the few remaining Bay ‘skipjacks’ (sailing dredgeboats) can be seen here, as well as two working harbors with scores of power workboats.
Queen Anne's County Invites You
Old workboats putter out of fog-shrouded marinas at dawn; bird-watchers keep eyes peeled for migrating wildfowl; friendly shopkeepers peddle ripe produce or showcase fine antiques. This is Queen Anne’s County, a world of scenic shoreline and fertile farmland.
Start your journey at the Chesapeake Exploration Center on beautiful Kent Narrows, home to “Our Chesapeake Legacy”, a hands-on interactive exhibit providing an overview of the Chesapeake Bay region’s heritage, resources and culture. The exhibit explores man’s relationship with the Bay, covers the early history including the settlement, importance of tobacco as a monetary staple, and explores the importance of the key industries of agriculture, commercial fishing, and current efforts to preserve the Bay.
While at the Chesapeake Exploration Center, pick up a free copy of our award-winning Heritage Guide Map. Visitors and residents can explore the entire span of Maryland’s history, and spend the day, or just a few hours, touring the historic treasures, from watching the heavy stones turned by a waterwheel at the Old Wye Mill, to helping uncover history in an archaeological dig. Those historic doors are tossed open during the Historic Sites Consortium’s Open House Weekends on the first Saturday of every month May through October, (second Saturday in July), when docents conduct tours of 14 of the county’s historic gems from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Also at the Exploration Center is the free map, Explore Our Great Outdoors, which directs you to our nature preserves and parks and helps you to identify native species of birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles.
Chesapeake Exploration Center is also a great starting point for the highly acclaimed Cross Island Trail that spans Kent Island from the Kent Narrows to the Chesapeake Bay. Bike, blade, walk, or jog through canopied trees, marshland abundant with wildlife, and fields that reap sweet corn.
Hungry? Our fabulous waterfront restaurants line the Kent Narrows, where the catch of the day moves from workboat to skillet. Enjoy a restful night in a charming B&B or comfortable hotel, and treat yourself to some casual outlet shopping or antiquing in our slow-paced, small towns. Queen Anne’s County invites you!
Kent County and Chestertown At a Glance
Kent County is a treasury of early American history. Its principal towns and back roads abound with beautiful old homes and historic landmarks. The area was first explored by Captain John Smith in 1608. Kent County was founded in 1642 and named for the shire in England that was the home of many of Kent’s earliest colonists. When the first legislature assembled in 1649, Kent County was one of two counties in the colony, thus making it the oldest on the Eastern Shore. It extended from Kent Island to the present boundary. The first settlement, New Yarmouth, thrived for a time and, until the founding of Chestertown, was the area’s economic, social and religious center.
Chestertown, the county seat of Kent, was founded in 1706 and served as a port of entry during colonial times. A town rich in history, its attractions include a blend of past and present. Its brick sidewalks and attractive antiques stores, restaurants and inns beckon visitors and residents alike to wander through the historic district and enjoy homes and places with architecture ranging from the Georgian mansions of wealthy colonial merchants to the elaborate style of the Victorian era.
Second largest district of restored 18th-century homes in Maryland, Chestertown is also home to Washington College, the nation’s tenth oldest liberal arts college, founded in 1782. Washington College was also the only college that was given permission by George Washington for the use of his name, as well as given a personal donation of money.
The beauty of the Eastern Shore and its waterways, the opportunity for boating and recreation, the tranquility of a rural setting and the ambiance of living history offer both visitors and residents a variety of pleasing experiences. A wealth of events and local entertainment make a visit to Chestertown special at any time of the year. comfortable hotel, and treat yourself to some casual outlet shopping or antiquing in our slow-paced, small towns. Queen Anne’s County invites you!
Caroline County - A Perspective
Caroline County is the very definition of a rural community. For more than 300 years, the county’s economy has been based on “market” agriculture. Caroline County was created in 1773 from Dorchester and Queen Anne’s counties. The county was named for Lady Caroline Eden, the wife of Maryland’s last colonial governor, Robert Eden (1741 - 1784).
Denton, the county seat, was situated on a point between two ferry boat landings. Much of the business district in Denton was wiped out by the fire of 1863. A company of Union soldiers stationed as guards in Denton celebrated the 4th of July with skyrockets and other explosives and set fire to a shop building. The ensuing fire burned nearly all of the business section of town, which consisted of several stores, a hotel and a rum shop. Following the Civil War, Denton’s location about fifty miles up the Choptank River from the Chesapeake Bay enabled it to become an important shipping point for agricultural products. Denton became a regular port-of-call for Baltimore-based steamer lines in the latter half of the 19th century. During the early 20th century the lumber and food canning industries gained importance, and the town grew and prospered. The appearance of the downtown business district has changed little since that time.
Preston was the site of three Underground Railroad stations during the 1840s and 1850s. One of those stations was operated by Harriet Tubman’s parents, Benjamin and Harriet Ross. When Tubman’s parents were exposed by a traitor she smuggled them to safety in Wilmington, Delaware. During the heyday of the canneries almost half the male population of Preston was involved in the tomato canning business, and practically everyone associated with this business had an income large enough to pay the new federal income tax. Preston, at that time, had a population of less than three hundred. Per capita, it led the nation in the number who paid taxes, was the first town of its size to completely pave its sidewalks with concrete, installed electric street lights before 1910, and had a sewer system that was installed by about 1914, making it truly “The Biggest Little Town in the USA.”
Linchester Mill, just east of Preston, can be traced back to 1681, and possibly as early as 1670. The mill is the last of 26 water-powered mills to operate in Caroline County and is currently being restored. The long-term goals include rebuilding the millpond, rehabilitating the mill equipment, restoring the miller’s dwelling, and opening the historic mill on a scheduled basis.
Federalsburg is located on Marshyhope Creek in the southern-most part of Caroline County. Agriculture is still a major portion of the industry in the area; however, Federalsburg is rapidly being discovered and there is a noticeable influx of people, expansion and development. New industry growth is fast becoming a reality. Amidst this growth, however, old-fashioned traditions and hospitality prevail.
Ridgely has found a niche as the “Strawberry Capital of the World.” The present streetscape, lined with stately Victorian homes, reflects the transient prosperity during the countywide canning boom (1895-1919). Hanover Foods, formerly an enterprise of Saulsbury Bros., Inc. for more than 100 years, is the last of more than 250 food processors that once operated in the Caroline County region.
Today, Caroline County continues to benefit from its centrality in a rich agriculture area and its location on good land and water transportation arteries. Points of interest in Caroline County include the Museum of Rural Life in Denton, Adkins Arboretum near Ridgely, and the Mason-Dixon Crown Stone in Marydel. To contact the Caroline County Office of Tourism, call 410-479-0655 or visit their website at www.tourcaroline.com.top of page