Tag Archives: Maryland

The Plantation at Whaley’s Crossroads, 1743-1792

Having lived at Whaley’s Crossroads for most of my life, I’ve always been interested in the history of the land that I call home. Who lived here in the past? Who was the first? If there were old, forgotten houses, where were they? Were today’s fields yesterday’s woods, and vice versa? What routes did the early roads follow? What did the land look like during the colonial era?

With the help of early maps, land records, wills and other genealogical records, and software, I’ve been able to answer some of these questions, but there is much that remains unknown. The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, which features local roads, waterways, houses and their owners’ names, and other structures, is incredibly useful — but 1868 isn’t all that early when one considers that there was English settlement activity in the neighborhood in the early 1700s. My goal is to use the atlas as a starting point and work backwards towards the original Maryland surveys, and connect as many dots as possible in this mostly forgotten period of 150+ years.

For this article, I’ve used Plat Plotter, Inkscape, and Google imagery to create a series of maps to demonstrate how I visualize overlapping surveys  and resurveys from the same neighborhood. In theory — my theory, at least — the overlapping area(s) between different early surveys of the same tract of land can be viewed as a Venn Diagram, of sorts. The unchanging core of a plantation over the course of decades probably includes the site of the primary dwelling house and/or the most desirable land. As successive owners buy and sell parcels of surrounding land, they create new property lines which can be compared to the older property lines, and — again, in theory — we should be able to make some educated guesses about where the core of a plantation may have been during a particular period.

All of this sounds very confusing, even to me as I’m writing about it. This is better shown than described.

Let’s start with a plat of the tract Friendship, surveyed for John N. Saunders in 1760:

This is a resurvey which begins with the original, diamond-shaped 50-acre tract (D), takes away several acres which are part of an overlapping “elder survey” (C), and adds vacant land (B), resulting in a new tract. The rest of the certificate (not shown) explains that the original tract had been surveyed for James Bowger in 1743, and was named Bowger’s Choyce (or Choice), but “the Afsd. Bowger had omitted paying Caution for the Land” and the original certificate became “null & void.” James Bowger or Bouger remains a somewhat mysterious figure in the early history of the neighborhood; he appears on the tax list for 1723, and, interestingly enough, the 1760 survey of Friendship refers to Bowger’s Mill, which was probably located at Terrapin Pond. He also received a patent for a 55-acre tract called John’s Folly in 1720.

A word of explanation is in order before we look at the next image, which shows the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce. Although I’ll be presenting the next few maps in chronological order, I had to locate and plot each of them in reverse chronological order. Their locations are based on the boundaries of other parcels of land. To the north, a large tract sold in 1811 bordered land owned by Jonathan Betts, and it just so happened that two pieces of land, which Betts purchased from Thomas Paramore in 1791 and 1792, fit the neighboring tract like a glove. The boundaries of these two parcels, which we’ll look at in a bit, begin with the original bounder of both Friendship and Bowger’s Choyce, and although slight errors in the surveys make it impossible to pinpoint its exact location, we can get very, very close.

Here is the approximate location of Bowger’s Choyce, mostly in the area between Route 24, Whaleys Road, and Samuel Hill Road:

Bowger’s Choyce, 1743

The boundaries begin at the southernmost point, which, in 1743, was a marked red oak sapling. As I said, there’s a margin of error here, and the tree is long gone, so we can’t be sure of the exact spot, but it’s close.

Apparently, Bowger’s Choyce overlapped with another tract — “C” from the plat of 1760 — which I’ve yet to identify. The next image is based on a crude tracing of the plat, since I don’t have any other information about the mystery tract’s boundaries.

“C”

Though “C” was called an elder survey in 1760, it’s unclear whether it predates the survey of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743. It certainly predates the resurvey of Friendship in 1760.

Beginning at the same red oak at the southernmost point of Bowger’s Choyce, it’s fairly easy to plot the boundaries of Friendship:

Friendship, 1760

A small section of the tract extends beyond the map. The shape of Friendship doesn’t match the modern landscape in an overtly recognizable way, but there are boundary markers that seem to align with modern features (i.e., roads and tree lines), and may have been used in drawing later property lines.

Friendship was resurveyed yet again in 1776, resulting in a much larger tract called Delay. I don’t have the boundaries of Delay to plot it, although it appears on the incredibly detailed and useful maps created by Mike Hitch and the late John Lyon. However, additional records allow us to piece together the history of Friendship/Delay over the next few decades. Worcester County land record indices indicate that Matthew Parramore purchased a piece of land from John N. Saunders in the late 1760s; though the deed itself isn’t available online and I haven’t sought it out, it seems clear that this purchase included Friendship. Matthew Parramore willed the resurveyed version of Friendship to his son, Ezekiel, who, in turn, conveyed it to Thomas Parremore in 1791. (Note that the name Paramore was spelled differently in various records at that time.) Almost immediately, Thomas sold a 100-acre parcel of the land to Jonathan Betts, Sr., in 1791.

Here is the approximate location of that parcel:

Parremore to Betts, 1791

Notice how a couple of the boundary lines on the northeast side align with modern tree lines. The point near the middle of the tract, at what is almost a right angle, was described as the northwest corner of Parremore’s plantation in 1791, and the line extending to the east and into the woods followed a fence at that time. But just a year later, he sold an additional parcel to Betts, shown below:

Parremore to Betts, 1792

The 1791 and 1792 surveys don’t fit together perfectly, so I’ve erred on the side of matching the 1792 parcel to the tree line along its northeastern corner, which seems to match it perfectly. Its westernmost boundary is questionable, however, and actually overlaps the 1791 parcel somewhat. Both parcels begin at the red oak used as the first bounder of Bowger’s Choyce in 1743 and Friendship in 1760.

I haven’t quite pieced together the history of the land after Betts acquired it in the 1790s; I suspect it passed to Hezekiah Matthews at some point, because I know his son, Henry Clay Matthews, owned it at the time of his death in 1917. Since then, the old plantation has been divided into increasingly smaller parcels owned by a number of landowners including members of the Mitchell, Whaley, Morris, and Slavens families, among others.

The Pomeroy & Beers Atlas offers a glimpse of the neighborhood in 1868 —

Beers Atlas of 1868 + modern imagery

— but it still doesn’t tell us much about the way things were 100+ years earlier. To get a better idea, I’ve stacked the images we’ve already looked at. Where the changing property lines overlap, they reveal what may have been the core of the plantation owned by Jonathan Betts, and the Parremores before him, and John Saunders before them, and — possibly — James Bowger before him, although it’s not clear whether Bowger actually did anything with his land between 1743 and 1760.

The yellowest area  is our “hot spot” (for lack of a better term), not only because it is included in both the 1743 and 1760 surveys, but also because it isn’t included in the first parcel that Thomas Parremore sold in 1791. It seems unlikely to me that he would have sold the most important part of his plantation first. The deeds aren’t helpful, since both vaguely mention housing, fencing, and orchards, which was pretty standard for the deeds of the time, and part of the price of the 1791 parcel is illegible.

So I’ve created two images, the first, showing what I consider to be the primary hot spot; the second, showing adjoining land that may have also been considered part of the core of the plantation between 1743 and 1791, yet, for some reason, was sold a year earlier than the land to the east.

Probable hot spot, 1792

 

Probable hot spot prior to 1791

It’s only my opinion, but I’d like to suggest that the area within the solid yellow lines may have included the earliest and/or primary dwelling house, outbuildings, gardens, and orchards, while the area within the dotted yellow lines may have included early features of less importance; perhaps the earliest fields. I would also suggest that the land outside the yellow lines may have included wooded land and later fields, as the owners expanded and improved their holdings, all while buying and selling surrounding parcels.

The location of H. Matthews’ house on the Beers Atlas seems to support this theory, allowing for minor errors in both the atlas and the surveys layered underneath:

So we have the earliest known house site depicted in 1868, located on the part of Bowger’s Choyce (1743) that was included in resurveys of Friendship (1760 and 1776) and sold in two transactions in 1791 and 1792. This probably isn’t a coincidence.

The overlapping tracts/parcels might also explain why an earlier version of Samuel Hill Road looks like it leads directly to the H. Matthews house before heading east towards Lowe’s Crossroads and Millsboro. It’s possible that this section of the road was built specifically to connect Bowger’s Choyce and Bowger’s Mill, to the south, during the period between 1743 and 1760, if not earlier.

Further research might tell us more about the neighborhood, not only as it appeared in the 1790s, when the vacant land was disappearing and the land records are a bit easier to decipher, but perhaps even as it appeared in the 1740s, when only a handful of settlers were establishing plantations in this part of Wimbesocom Neck. We still know little of this early period.

– Chris Slavens

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Map of Vinson’s Pond, 1792

Yesterday I gave a presentation about the early history of the Trap Pond neighborhood at the Baldcypress Nature Center in Trap Pond State Park, covering some of the interesting people and places in the area between the early 1700s and 1840, when the mills there were named the Trap Mills. My presentation included an incomplete map of the area as it may have looked between 1772 and 1792 — during the days of Newbold Vinson’s plantation on the west side of the pond — featuring waterways, roads, mills, and a few houses. See below; the text should be clear when viewed at full size, or when printed on a sheet of paper.

It’s difficult to make a map like this, because the earliest map to depict many of these details is the Pomeroy & Beers Atlas of 1868, and land records and plats don’t always mention or depict nearby roads and other features. I’ve had to make educated guesses about the roads, in particular, and in some cases, those guesses might not be correct. Many of today’s roads are based on 18th-century roads, with minor changes made here and there, but in some cases, roads that we use today were created surprisingly late. For example, since the mills at the north end of Trap Pond probably date back to the 1770s, and the mills at Pepper Pond date back to at least 1760, it would seem reasonable to assume that the section of Trap Pond Road which connects these two early landmarks was built around the same time. Yet it wasn’t. The legislation authorizing the creation of this road wasn’t passed until 1867. Previously, the Goose Nest Lane was the main road leading to and from the Trap Mills, at least on that side of the pond.

Another missing road that throws people off when they look at the map is Route 24, or at least the section between Little Hill Road and Samuel Hill Road, running right through Whaley’s Crossroads. This section wasn’t built until the 20th century. Previously, the main road veered southeast with today’s Little Hill Road. From Terrapin Hill, one could continue southeast towards Little Hill, or follow an early, curvier version of Whaleys Road towards the Line Meeting House.

One of the earliest roads seems to be Wootten Road, and it doesn’t seem to have changed much. When the tract Forest Chance was surveyed in 1730, its first bounder, a poplar tree near the southern end of Trap Pond, in today’s terms, was said to stand near the road from Matthew Hosea’s to Indian River. Hosea lived near Trussum Pond. The route that this road followed from Terrapin Hill to Indian River is less clear; it’s possible that it followed the southern side of Saunders Branch towards Lowe’s Crossroads, but it’s also possible that it veered north, roughly following Whaleys Road to Samuel Hill Road, then followed one of several routes to the northeast. I’ve allowed for this possibility on my map, not only because it seems logical, but because the land along this route was settled fairly early, and I think there could have been a dwelling house near this section of Samuel Hill Road as early as the 1760s, if not earlier.

Looking at many of the other roads in the area, it’s entirely possible that they date back to the 18th century, since they seem to connect mills that existed at that time. However, I’m less certain about those I’ve omitted from the map, at least for now. I hope to continue to add details, especially houses.

– Chris Slavens

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An Afternoon in Rhodesdale

Recently my father and I hiked deep into the woods near Rhodesdale, Maryland, in search of the site of my grandmother’s childhood home. Her family rented it in the 1930s, then moved to nearby Hurlock. She recalls visiting the deteriorating house several times during the following decades; at the time of her last visit, probably in the late 1960s, the house had collapsed. During the last couple of years, she had expressed interest in trying to find the site, so I used topographic maps to identify the most likely location, which happens to be on heavily wooded state land. A neighboring landowner was kind enough to share her extensive knowledge of the history of the neighborhood, and led us to what’s left of an old public road; the same road that my grandmother’s older siblings once walked down every day to meet the school bus.

We found the site exactly where I expected to, and although it seems that the house itself was removed long ago, clusters of daffodils and fragments of cinder blocks in partial clearings mark its location.

 

The old public road.

 

Dad investigates clusters of daffodils.

 

A peculiar tree in the largest clearing.

 

An unusual depression.

 

Daffodils in the background of a second clearing.

 

Pieces of cinder blocks in the second clearing; possibly from the house or a shed.

 

– Chris Slavens

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Filed under Dorchester County, Maryland, Maryland history

A Work in Progress

About a year and a half ago I became interested in an unusual local burial custom mentioned in a handful of books: The construction of a wooden, shingled roof over a grave. The roofs were already old and in poor condition when they were first photographed in the 1930s, and today, none are known to have survived. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours looking for roofed graves in Sussex, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties — in records and in the field — and although I’ve yet to find a surviving roof, I’ve been rewarded with additional photos and information about the peculiar structures.

Initially I planned to summarize my research in a paper and submit it to an academic journal, but recently I decided to convert the work in progress into a short book, instead. This approach has allowed me to write with a bit more style, and include opinions and hunches which wouldn’t belong in a research paper. I plan to complete The Roofed Graves of Delmarva in the next couple of months, and self-publish a run of about one hundred copies.

The following illustration is a rough draft of a map showing the locations of six cemeteries known to have featured roofed graves. The book will also feature more detailed maps of each site.

– Chris Slavens

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The McCready-Hurley Ledger: “A Pleasant Romance,” story fragment

The following short story fragment appears in the McCready-Hurley Ledger amidst pages of penmanship practice and hymn lyrics. It’s unclear whether the writer was copying an existing story, or writing an original draft. I’ve searched Google for several specific phrases to see if the material was published, with no luck. Some of the periods might represent commas.

A Pleasant Romance

On the evening of the 27 of January 1869. We all assembled at our new home Chery Hill Va. We. I say we for there was 9 of us the old servants not indentured. Oh what a mery time we had we left our old home in Md on the 22nd and was on the Boat near a week and when we did get on land again we were Delighted. But what pleased us most was when we arrived at the Hill, there stood the Great Old House in all its Granduer the Lofty Elms spreading forth [thear?] Magnificen Branches in silen

Sadly, the story ends mid-word, but even so, these few sentences are fascinating. Today there is a Cherry Hill Road in Northumberland County, Virginia, fairly close to places mentioned in Meshack McCready’s journal entries such as Burgess Store and Heathsville. This fact, plus the reference to “Md” (Maryland), plus the trip on the boat, plus the fact that both Meshack McCready and the Hurley family were from Dorchester County, Maryland, strongly suggests that this fragment was intended to be a firsthand account of somebody’s trip across the Chesapeake Bay to Cherry Hill, or perhaps a fictional story based on it. The reference to “old servants not indentured” is especially interesting.

An article in the Rappahannock Record dated October 21, 1948, mentions a historic home called Cherry Hill which was believed to have been built nearly three centuries earlier by Roger Jones.

Despite some spelling errors, the writer obviously had talent; his or her image of the grand old house and its lofty elms is striking. Hopefully, further study of the ledger and the family who owned it will shed more light on this tantalizing piece of writing and its relationship to their story.

– Chris Slavens

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The McCready-Hurley Ledger: Meshack McCready’s Journal

Several months ago I mentioned an old ledger I had bought at an auction. It had been incorrectly advertised as containing the names of Civil War soldiers from Dorchester County, Maryland; in fact, it seems that the ledger’s original purpose was to record the names, ranks, and status of Confederate soldiers from various Georgia regiments. Students of the war will be interested to know that a pig pen cipher key is written in pencil at the top of one of the first few pages. I still hope to transcribe and publish all of the information pertaining to the Confederacy, which will take some time, but in the meantime, the book contains numerous other records, journal entries, notes about the weather, hymn lyrics, and many pages of penmanship practice.

The following journal entries were written by Meshack McCready, who was from Dorchester County, but was living across the bay in Virginia in the 1860s and 1870s. A number of specific places are mentioned, including Burgess Store, Heathsville, Wainrights Chapel, and Corinth. I’ve edited the text slightly to make it more readable; many words are capitalized unnecessarily, some that should be capitalized (like “I” and “God”) are not, and he seems to have capitalized the first word of nearly every line, whether he was beginning a new sentence or not.

November 29th, 1867

To day is my fortieth birth day and I have been happy all day long I have experienced the blessings of God to my poor heart I feel as though God has been with me this whole day for I have felt his presence with me and could and did prais him for all of his goodness to me a poor sinner and to night I feel that I am on my road to Heaven.

November 30th, 1867

To day has been one of hope for I can claim the promise for I can prais God that I have been happy with the presence of the Holy Spirit to day

December 1th, 1867

Prais the lord, oh my soul and all within me rejoice for all his goodness to me for I feel him near me to day

December 2th

I can say with a truth that the Lord has been good to me to day and I can say before to his holy name pray for me and I will pray for you that is the way the Christians do I love the Lord for he first loved me

December 3th

To day I have felt that the Lord has been with me for I can pray his holy name I have been blest to day glory to his holy name I do believe with out a dout that if I hold out I shall be saved in heaven at last

December 4th

To day I have experienced divine blessings from on hy and I can pray God for it I do thank him for all of his goodness to me so [despondent?] for I feel my unwerthaness but I have the witness in my brest that I am a child of Gods

At this point the entries are interrupted by what appears to be a parallel journal of brief notes about the weather from January 1st, 1867, through April. (One wonders whether it was really 1867, or he made the same mistake that we’ve all made one time or another, and wrote the old year after 1868 had begun.) Then the spiritual entries resume for another page and a quarter.

December 5th

To day I have temptations and trials but I look to God and he helps me to over come I can prais him to night for all of his goodness to me I can do and will trust him for his grace

6th

To day I feel as though my Lord and my God is with me for I have lifted my poor heart to high in prayer all day and he has blessed me for it I can I do and I will put my whole trust in him I will throw my hole heart upon his promises I have had some temtations to day but I find if I go to him his grace will help me in time of need

7th

To day I have had crosses and trials but [illegible] God his grace has been poured out upon me and I have praised him for his goodness to me I feel to night that he is ever ready to answer prayer if we ask in the right spirit

8th

To day I went to the dedication of Wainrights Chapel and the surmont was preached from the XI chapter of Hebrew 5th verse, by faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death now by [mr weston?] and I was greatly blessed and have been full of the love of God all day

9th

To day I have felt divine presents with me and can say with the poet prais the Lord oh my soul and all within me rejoice for all his goodness to me

10th

I have to day experienced the goodness of God I thank him for the many blessings I enjoy I can say to night to prais the Lord oh my soul and that is within me bless his holy name for all of his goodness to me

11th

It has rained now two days the first for three months to wet vegatables to the roots 3rd Saturday and Sunday of September

Although I am deprived of going to hear the gospel preached to a dying people I can sit at home and read the word of God and be happy in his love for I love the Lord and I know he loves me as unworthy as I am for I have his promice that he will never leave or forsake them that puts their trust him him

M. J. McCready

After many pages of other material (mostly penmanship practice, and a few notes written in a different hand), there is another series of entries written by McCready.

January 1th 1872 Sunday

I went to church to preaching today and heard Dr James Smith preach from Hebrews the twelfth chapter first and second verses it was an able discorse and I hope I was profited

Wensday 10th

We have had fresh herrings for supper to night that was caught to day it is worm

Heathville January 13th 1872

I went to quarterly meting to day and brother Daves text was the 40th chapter of Isaiah and the 31st verse

January 14th Went to preaching and brother Daveses text Act the 14th chapter and 17th verse

January 21th Snowed to day and I did not git to go to church to day and I stayed at home and read the Bible and was very much edified as I prize it above all other books

January 28th Went to church to day but it was such bad weather there was no preaching as there was no pastor and no congregation there was but three of us Willie [illegible] Lewis [Littrell?] and my self although I was disapointed in hearing preaching I have read the Bible and prayed and was blessed very much

February 4th I could not go to preaching to day on the account of bad weather but I read a sermont delivered by the Rev. J. M.Mcentyre of the Louisiana Conference     M. J. McCready

February 11th I went to church to day there was no preaching although we expected to hear our circuit preacher but was disappointed he has not preached since the second Sabbath in October for us at Corinth. M. J. McCready

February 18th Yesterday was a stormy and snowey day and to day I did not get to go to church but have stayed at home and read my Bible and the home journal and have read five sermons on holiness by Rev Rufus Underwood and have been greatly blessed in so doing and in prayer I am still striving for the kingdom

February 25 Clear and worm went to church and heared a very surmon by Stark Jet from the text Luke 21th 36th verse

March 3th Snowed yesterday a storm and I did not get to go to church to day and therefore I did not get to hear preaching for the creek frozen over so that I could not git across and the snow was so deep I could not get across but I did not go to sleep am blest

March 10th The snow is not gone yet and it has rained to day and I did not get to go to church to day but I have read five sermons on perfect love and three chapters in the gospel by St. Mark and have been much edified by so doing

March 17th Sunday did not git to go to church to day

March 24th We were disapointed in hearing of preaching today on the account of our quarterly meeting at Smyrna and we have no other meeting but preaching and I am getting very tired of such coldness in both preachers and members of the M.E. church South we have four preachers on our circuit and we don’t have preaching one half of the time at Corinth

March 31st We had no preaching to day as it was not preaching day old father Evins is very sick at this time and brother Covington has been unable to preach any this year and brother Crocker has quit preaching as he cannot make money enough in that way and it leaves us with only two preachers the one to preach on the first and the other on the fourth Sabbath in each month

April 7th I went to church to day and there was no body at church but myself and as it rained I went in and neeled down and prayed and was much blessed in so doing and have had comfort all day

April 14th No preaching to go to to day had to stay at home and read and prais and have been much edified in so doing grace will help in time of need if we seek a in faith

April 21st Had no preaching at Corinth to day

April 28th Had preaching by Stark Jet to day

May 5th Had preaching to day by James Smith and we organized our Sabbath School

May 12th [no entry]

Although this is the last section, chronologically, that was clearly written by McCready (there are many other pages of notes, some signed by members of the Hurley family, others not signed at all), the following entry near the end of the book is signed by McCready and dated two years earlier. It seems to be a draft of a letter to the Methodist Home Journal alluded to above. I haven’t been able to find out whether the letter was published.

Dear Journal as you do not hear from this part of old virginia I take this opportunity of wrighting to inform you of what we are doing there in Northumberland County of three weeks with great success for the glory of God it has not been my privelidge to attend such meetings for many years there has been about sixty five (65) sinners that has professed to have thier sins forgiven and believers built up in their faith we are Methadist but poor we bilt a church in eighteen hundred and fifty six (1856) and have not got it paid for yet but hope by the grace of God to pay for it some time but we have to strugle hard to pay our preachers and the one that we have this year has laboured faithfully for us this year he is a man the people both in the church and out of it like much for he just tells us how we have got to live so as to enter into the straight gate there has been as many as (20) penitents at the alter at one time for prayers we have not had scarce any class meetings for many years past but we begin to revive them again this half we have not had any rain now for near three months that is to wet the corn to the roots and therefore shall not get much of a crop but thank God we shall get enough to eat

If you see proper to to publish this you are at liberty to do so but to God be all the glory through the name of Jesus Amen

Burgess Store Northumberland, September 5th 1870

M. J. McCready

I hope to publish more information from the ledger in the near future, probably beginning with McCready’s weather journal.

– Chris Slavens

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A Brief History of Broad Creek Town

This article was first published in the Laurel Historical Society‘s newsletter.

The Nanticoke Indians who moved to Broad Creek in or around 1705 were, in many ways, a defeated people. In the nearly one hundred years since their ancestors had welcomed Captain John Smith’s barge with a barrage of arrows, their numbers, power, and wealth had diminished due to a series of wars and treaties. Even their reservation at the junction of the Nanticoke River and Chicacoan Creek was threatened by aggressive, trespassing English newcomers. This story would require many pages to tell. For the sake of brevity, suffice it to say that they were desperate and discouraged—but perhaps hopeful that they would be able to preserve their culture in their new home, farther inland with only a handful of English neighbors.

The refugees settled near a site known as the Wading Place, which was one of the easier points at which to cross Broad Creek. It is possible that there was already a village or camp there, although the records seem to imply that the location was a new one for the tribe.  Whether there was an existing Nanticoke settlement at the site or not, the land on both sides of the creek had been granted to Englishmen in the 1680s. The Nanticokes might not have been aware of this—or they might not have cared. Evidently the English did care, and told the Nanticokes that they might have to relocate yet again, for in October of 1711, the Maryland legislature was informed that “the Nanticoke Indians are much dissatisfied they may not be permitted to continue at Broad Creek where they are set down…” Perhaps indicating that the dwindling tribe was still a force to be reckoned with, the provincial government decided it would be unwise to evict them, and instead empowered commissioners to purchase and reserve three thousand acres on Broad Creek for their use.

In a matter of weeks, surveyor William Whittington, Jr., laid out two tracts, one on each side of the creek. The northern tract consisted of the entire 2,500-acre tract known as Greenland, originally granted to William Green. The southern tract consisted of 500 acres on the east side of Little Creek, and included 133 acres of a tract known as Batchelor’s Delight, originally surveyed for Col. William Stevens, but subsequently transferred to James Wythe and Marmaduke Master.

A jury of twelve local freeholders determined that Greenland was worth 50,000 pounds of tobacco; the portion of Batchelor’s Delight, 2,666 pounds of tobacco; and the remainder of the southern tract, 7,334 pounds of tobacco. Additionally, they awarded Henry Freaks 3,000 pounds of tobacco “for his Damages in building Clearing and fencing on the said Land…” and William Denton, Jr., 500 pounds of tobacco “for his damages for work and repareing to build and setle on the Land…”

Note: The exact location of each tract, particularly that of the northern tract, is not entirely clear. The placement of the northern tract on the map below is largely based on shaky assertions about its western boundary made in deeds dated 1816. Personally, I am bothered by the fact that records from 1711 state that the southwestern bounder of the northern tract was on the east side of a small creek which does not seem to appear on modern maps or satellite imagery. I am also bothered by the fact that, according to this placement, the eastern boundary of the northern tract follows today’s Route 13, rather than the much older Alternate 13. It is possible that the entire northern tract should be shifted to the west or to the east. However, its approximate location is known, and the placement of the southern tract is much more precise, although I’ve deliberately matched its western boundary with today’s Little Creek, rather than its slightly different location three centuries ago.

Since the English had a habit of unimaginatively (and often misleadingly) naming any band of Indians after the waterway on which they lived, the Nanticokes on Broad Creek became known as the Broad Creek Indians, and their settlement was called Broad Creek Town. If they gave it a name of their own, it was never recorded.

The approximate boundaries of Broad Creek Town based on the original 1711 surveys.

Little is known of Broad Creek Town, other than its location. Was there a central village, or were the residents spread out? Did they live in traditional wigwams, or European-style cabins? We can’t be sure, but the best guess is probably “all of the above.” The historian J. Thomas Scharf later reported that they “cultivated the land to some extent” and built a “harbor.” Additionally, they probably interacted with the residents of Askecksy, a nearby Indian River Indian reservation established at about the same time.

A little more is known of the leadership of the Broad Creek Indians, but not much. The records of the time mention a number of Nanticoke leaders—notably Panquash, whose leadership stretched from the 1690s into the 1740s—but rarely specify whether they were from Chicacoan or Broad Creek. One such leader was Rassekettham, who accompanied Panquash and Tom Coursey in 1713 to inform the English that the tribe no longer recognized its former emperor, Asquash, who had moved to Pennsylvania. They also inquired as to whether the English had conspired with Asquash to kill Panquash and Rassekettham, and were assured that they had not and would not. Though Rassekettham was not explicitly identified as a Broad Creek Indian, the tributary known as Rossakatum Creek or Rossakatum Branch is assumed to have been named after him. It is likely that he was the chief of the Broad Creek band in 1713.

Another probable leader was King Toby, who, with fellow Broad Creek Indians Lolloway and Whist, traveled to the county court held at Dividing Creek in 1725 to complain that some of the Caldwells had mistreated them in some way. Lolloway might have been the same Indian named Lolloway who had been assaulted so badly in Somerset Parish the previous year that he nearly died. Other incidents reported in and around the various Indian reservations indicate that tensions continued to escalate during this time.

In the spring of 1742, the Nanticokes, Choptanks, Indian River Indians, Pocomokes, and some visiting Shawnees met in Wimbesoccom Neck to discuss a plot to massacre the local settlers and reclaim the Eastern Shore, supposedly with the help of the Iroquois Confederacy and the French. The tale of “the plot in the swamp” has been told elsewhere, but a few details are worth noting. Wimbesoccom Neck consisted of the land east of Wimbesoccom Creek (today’s Gray’s Branch) and north of the main branch of Broad Creek, which flows through today’s Trap Pond. The neck stretched into the outskirts of what would later be called Gumborough Hundred, and was probably heavily wooded and sparsely settled—an ideal location for a secret powwow. Interestingly, some of the Broad Creek Indians spoke of a “logged house” stocked with weapons, located a few miles into the swamp. Their leaders at this time were known as Simon Alsechqueck and Captain John.

But the plot was discovered and foiled, and numerous Indians arrested, and the tribal leaders were forced to sign an extremely restrictive treaty. Henceforth, the Nanticokes could no longer elect an emperor, and every member of the tribe was forbidden to own a gun without obtaining a license from the governor. It was the last straw. Just two years later, Simon Alsechqueck requested and received permission for the tribe to migrate north and live among the Iroquois, and by the 1750s, Broad Creek Town was said to be deserted.

In 1768, the provincial government authorized commissioners to sell what had become known as the Indian Lands, and according to later deeds, Joseph Forman purchased 518 acres at the western end of the northern tract, and John Mitchell purchased 2,236 acres. Barkley Townsend acquired part of the southern tract prior to 1776. Following Mitchell’s death in 1787, his portion was sold to a number of buyers including George Mitchell, George Corbin, and John Creighton. Decades later, Forman’s heirs divided his parcel into two lots and sold one to Dr. James Derickson, and the other to Benjamin Fooks and Kendall M. Lewis.

Today, the town of Laurel occupies much of the site of Broad Creek Town, and continues to grow, making archaeological investigation difficult. Even so, the stone artifacts that frequently turn up in nearby fields, and local names like Rossakatum and Sockum, survive to remind us of the first people to call Broad Creek home.

– Chris Slavens

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