Joppa Town: The First City of Northern Maryland

Present-day Joppatowne, Maryland was created by real estate developer Leon Panitz in the 1960s. Nearly three hundred years earlier, however, it was the site of colonial Joppa Town – and the seat of Baltimore County from 1712 to 1768.

Leonard Calvert, first Governor of colonial Maryland. Maryland State Archives, accession MSA SC 1545-3294

Joppa Town was established before Harford County was created from the eastern portion of Baltimore County in 1773. It is assumed that a proclamation of the Governor of Maryland, or an order in the Council, created Baltimore County sometime before 1659.[1] However, this date cannot be definitely established, for no such order has been located up to this time. We do know that this new county included the area from the Susquehanna River to a position south of the Patapsco River, east to the Bay and west to the end of the province. Records called for the sheriff to arrange for the election of burgesses to represent Baltimore County in the General Assembly established a date of January 12, 1659 or 1660.[2]

Augustine Herrman, Map of Virginia and Maryland. Maryland State Archives. MSA SC 5339-1-172.

The home of Thomas Howell was used by the county court in July of 1661.[3] A map by Augustine Herrman, drawn in the early part of 1670, locates the first building designated as a courthouse in Baltimore County.[4] This courthouse was located on the land of William Osborne on the Bush River. In 1674, the General Assembly ordered each county to provide a courthouse and jail. Captain Thomas Todd reported to the Assembly that Baltimore County was delaying in following this order because the proper place on the north side of the head of the Gunpowder River had not been ascertained.[5]

Maryland Historical Society marker for the home of Thomas Todd, located in Sparows Point.

For nine years the General Assembly satisfied itself with Captain Todd’s promise. By 1683, the General Assembly was ready to take new steps about the establishment of a formal headquarters in northern Maryland. In the Act for Advancement of Trade, the General Assembly directed that a town be laid out “on the Bush River on the Town Land near the Court House.”[6]

While Miles Gibson, the sheriff, went to the Bush River to locate the town land upon which the town was directed to be built, he found that there was no such land. In fact, the land upon which the house where court had been held for the last twenty-two years was not even public land. When these facts came to light, Mr. Osborne was ordered by the court to transfer the ownership of his land to the public in 1683.[7]

The June Court was so inspired by the directive of the General Assembly and impressed by its new place in the public eye, that it saw fit to order the sheriff “to Imploy Carpentors for repairing the Courthouse (which belonged to William Osborne) & likewise to take care of the Setting up [of] the pillory and stocks.”[8] If there had been any objections to the use of public funds for the improvement of private property they were soon dispelled. The transfer of the land title was complete by September of that year.[9] This act established the first town of Baltimore County as “Baltimore on the Bush.”

Dried Maryland tobacco leaves. 2008 photo by Steve Snodgrass.

Government payments were slow in the town of Baltimore on the Bush. It was the November Court that set a levy of 1,500 pounds of tobacco “for the carpentor for pulling down the dormant windows of the Court house and coursing the same well with good boards and sap drowne out and for nailes.”[10] Less than a year had passed since the courthouse had been repaired when a petition was presented to the Council requesting a change in the location of the court. The petition suggested that a point on the south side of Winter’s Run “neer the path that goes from the Potomic to the Susquehanna Rivers” would be a better location for the court. Due to the fact that the sheriff and several other leading citizens of the county were in St. Mary’s, the Council deemed it wise to defer action upon this request.[11]

The 1683 petition for a change in the court’s location was to be followed by stronger pleas in the years to come. However, it should be noted that the court in Baltimore on the Bush did not lose its stature due to a lack of interesting cases. One of the cases recorded in its last years was that concerning the innkeeper, Thomas Long, to cover his indebtedness for entertaining the justices in 1687 and 1689.[12] Such interesting cases of indebted sheriffs and years of unpaid entertainments have been around centers of goverment for some time, but asre not enough to hold a court location.

The Gunpowder Hundred had its own courthouse in 1691.[13] There is reason to believe the court meeting in the Gunpowder Hundred was stimulated by no lesser person than Judge Ritchie. This same man had been instrumental in establishing the court at Baltimore on the Bush, just eight years before. Judge Ritchie contracted Michael Judd to build a courthouse “on the eastern third of ‘Sim’s Choice’ close to and northward from the ‘Wee Bit’ and up the Hill,” the work to be completed in time for the March Court.[14] Mathis Jewell was “to fall, mall, and saw the tymber for the said court house.”[15]

It is not stated in the records that the court house at Baltimore on the Bush was abandoned in the 1690s, however it is shown that house and office rent was paid to Michael Judd. Judd’s place at Sim’s Choice was to be the temporary site of the seat of justice, and the county government met in session there. For five years Michael Judd recieved rent for house and office space from the Court of Baltimore County.[16] At the same time he was under contract to build the courthouse. While the court was renting space from Judd “up the hill from Wee Bit,” Thomas Long, presumed to be the son of Thomas Long the late sheriff of Baltimore on the Bush, was indicted for theatening to burn the courthouse from which leavy had been placed upon his father’s estate.[17] Long’s plans were foiled, which later proved to be quite lucrative to the county coffers. This was a good thing for, though the courthouse was far from completed, the March 1693 Court ordered a clerk’s office ten feet square for “securing of the records” and also a cage of the same dimensions near the “appointed place for the courthouse.” Judd was awarded the contract for the office for 2,500 pounds of tobacco. He subcontracted the work of the cage to Thomas Litten who completed it shortly for a fee of 800 pounds of tobacco.[18] The rest of the work on the courthouse Judd subcontracted to Edward Jones in 1694 with Judd supplying only the rafters.[19] In September 1694 enough of the courthouse was completed that the court in session at Judd’s home “adjourned unto the Court House up the Hill.” This helped as “the poor county [groaned] under the burden it lies under” paying rent to Michael Judd.[20]

Appetites whetted by their first visit to the new courthouse site, the November 12, 1694 court ordered Judd to post bond of 24,000 pounds of tobacco to be forfeited if the courthouse was not completed by August 31, 1695.[21]

At the November 1695 court, Michael Judd pleaded his own case and the date for the completion of the courthouse was extended to March 31, 1696. The court doubled the bond as it granted the extension.[22] Action that had been taken in the June session may have played a part in the leniency shown to Judd by the justices. The late courthouse and land adjoining at Bush River had been sold to John Ferry for 4,000 pounds of tobacco.[23]

The date the building was completed at the plot “on the eastern third of ‘Sim’s Choice’ close to and northward from ‘Wee Bit’ and up the Hill” is not known. However, that the Governor received the February 4, 1697/98 report from the justices in session at the courthouse in Baltimore on the Gunpowder is known.[24] Court records of March 10, 1697/98 report,

The Comer of Baltimore County have built a small Room att a little distance from the Court house where the Records are kept in the Court house is a wooden Chimney but no ordinary within four hundred yards of it.[25]

Patapsco River. 2006 photo by Rayford Smith.

By 1706 it became apparent to the General Assembly that if the colony were to advance economically, more ports, towns, and loading places had to be developed. In the Supplementary Act for Towns, forty-two sites were instituted.[26] One was to be founded at Whetstone Neck on the Patapasco, a second was called for on land called Chilberry on Bush, while a third was to be located on Foster’s Neck on the Gunpowder.[27] This legally established a town about two miles northeast of the site upon which the courthouse had been built. Baltimore on the Gunpowder had a courthouse, but Foster’s Neck had been designated as the location of a General Assembly-established town, port, and loading place. The supporters of the courthouse location on the eastern third of Sim’s Choice, close to and northerward from Wee Bit, did not give up hope even though they realized the power of the General Assembly had swung against them.

The proponents of the Foster’s Neck location went to work and had the courthouse at their location completed by the time Queen Anne’s word reached the colony.[28] Although the General Assembly had planned a town at Foster’s Neck, Queen Anne, in England, with no knowledge of the Foster’s Neck location, refused to approve the ordinance. This false start deserted Foster’s Neck,

and in lieu thereof, 50 Acres to be erected into a Town on the Track of Land on the same River, Belonging to Anne Felks, and called Taylor’s Choice, and the Court-house to be built there.[29]

The founders knew that this location had a fine harbor and was on the banks of a stream of great force. In their dreams they saw the future commerce of the colony utilizing the resources of the Gunpowder, with all activities focused at the new town.[30]

In November 1709, the Annapolis Assembly read and debated a petition from Baltimore County for removal of the Gunpowder Courthouse. This petition was rejected as

Carryed by Majority of Votes that the Court House for the County continue where it is settled by Law.[31]

Ten days later, a bill was introduced to build a courthouse. This request was also rejected because the Supplementary Act for Towns had already covered this need. Although this situation in the assembly seemed to be the product of confusion and misunderstanding about the wording of the Supplementary Act for Towns, such was not the case. The lines of conflict were clear and well-reasoned in the area of the Gunpowder.

Forces led by Richard Colgate wished to continue Sim’s Choice as the seat of judgement. On the other side, James Maxwell, a Justice of the Quorum, member of the Legislative delegation, owner of land on which it was proposed to build the new courthouse, and aspirant to be the “undertaker” of the building, was the leader of the movement.[32] In bringing his point home, Richard Colgate said Gunpowder Town - the vulgar name for the Town of Joppa – was “wholly distended to *#*#*.”[33] In spite of his remarks, a levy of forty thousand pounds of tobacco was made toward the building of the Joppa Town courthouse. Not wishing to incur the wrath of Richard Colgate, the clerk carefully recorded that it was a majority vote of the March Courth 1709 which awarded the contract for building the Joppa Town courthouse to Colonel Maxwell.[34]

By this majority vote, Joppa Town was made a taxing port and a port for ocean vessels.[35] To further enhance its chances of success, the General Assembly passed a unique law. Any person having a debt in the colony of Maryland could have the total amount of that debt paid if nine-tenths of the debt was paid in tobacco. This provision was to stimulate the use of tobacco as the legal tender as well as promote the interests of tobacco farmers. This within itself was a unique stimulus; however, the crowning point was that such a transaction had to take place within the geographic limits of Joppa Town.[36]

Such preferential treatment of laws weighed heavily upon the desires of Richard Colgate. The Sim’s Choice courthouse had been started some eighteen years before James Maxwell had promoted the site at Joppa Town. Colgate took the battle back to Annapolis. On October 30, 1710, the Lower House of the General Assembly decided that a vote should determine the location of the courthouse. The voters were to be the freeholders of Baltimore County. This plan never reached the Upper House, however, so Mr. Colgate was foiled again.[37]

Queen Anne of England. Maryland State Archives, accession MSA SC 1545-1073.

Not one to take a beating lying down, Richard Colegate met the Grand Jury of Baltimore Conty in the November session. So powerful was the case presented that day that the court pointed out that the moving of the courthouse would “reduce us to the Lowest Ebb of Poverty,” and pleaded with Queen Anne “to prevent it as being a palpable Notorious Greevance to the County.”[38] As staggering a blow as this might seem to be, it would appear that Colonel Maxwell was not to be outdone. This same November Court, after supporting Colegate’s plea to the Queen, ordered a tax of fourty-five thousand pounds of tobacco to be levied for the new courthouse and six hundred pounds for the lot. Two negative votes were recorded; those of Justice Richard Colegate and William Talbot.[39]

On October 29, 1711, Richard Colegate introducted into the business of the Lower House a resolution that would establish the courthouse of Baltimore County as Richardson’s Forest, at the head of Middle River. The House supported Colegates plan and called for a referendum, but nothing was carried out.[40]

Meanwhile, at the November court, the justices ordered two roads to be built for the convenyance of the persons using the courthouse at Joppa Town.[41]

Colgate’s petition of Queen Anne of four months earlier was moved again in the March Court of 1712. However, the June Court adjourned for an hour to inspect the progress of the courthouse at Joppa Town. While on the site, agreement was made with Colonel Maxwell, the builder of the courthouse, for certain minor changes suggested by Colonel Maxwell.[42]

The courthouse at Joppa Town was first legally mentioned as the Tories took power in 1712.[43] As the surveyor started to lay out the city he was reminded to “respect the dwelling of Mrs. Eleanor Rumsey.”[44] This was the first mention of what was to become the Rumsey Mansion. Respectful as he was of Mrs. Rumsey’s house, the surveyor could not help concluding that the land upon which Colonel James Maxwell had so carefully built the courthouse belonged to the Colonel’s son – a minor. Because the title could not be conveyed, a seige which lasted twelve years was started.[45] A court without a city. Preferential legislation, but no place to take advantage of it.

The General Assembly hurried to the aid of its chosen child. In a vain attempt to circumvent the stalemate, they reduced the size of their city, Joppa Town, to twenty-one acres.[46] The county seat was established officially in Joppa Town only after six long years of agitation, but Justice Colgate tried again.[47] At the October 1712 session of the General Assembly, Justice Richard Colgate and three other delegates petitioned the House to forbid the establishment of the county seat at Joppa Town. However, an Act was passed that set the county seat at Joppa Town and forbade anyone from “promoting or prosecuting any Heats, Debates, Reflections, or Disturbances” in the county about the location of this county seat.[48] Thus spoke the Lord and Proctor of Joppa Town.

To prove it was the need of the city and not the personal power of Colonel Maxwell that had permiated their every descision, the October 1712 session of the General Assembly was so bold as to require the good Colonel Maxwell to come before the Assembly prepared to defend his contract for the courthouse. Meanwhile, tobacco levies to pay him were stopped.[49]

The Ordinance of Pain, as the act of establishing Joppa Town as the county seat was called, was “distinctly and openly read” at the November Court of Baltimore County.[50] Thus, Sim’s Choice lost out to Taylor’s Choice, Maxwell outmanoeuvered Colegate, and the county seat moved one mile from the south bank to the north bank of the Gunpowder River.[51]

June 1713 was the first regular session of the court to be held in the completed Joppa Town courthouse.[52] This fact played no small part as Colonel James Maxwell reported to the Upper House on October 31, 1713, and successfully defended the contract to build the courthouse.[53]

It may well ahve been this very meeting of the General Assembly that granted James Maxwell the younger, owner of the plot of land upon which the courthouse had been guilt, permisson to establish and maintain a ferry across the one mile of water separating Stoney Barr in Joppa Town from the Widow Adam’s landing at Sim’s Choice.[54] In addition to a thriving ferry business, Joppa Town received postal service in 1713, as did all the area along the post road from Annapolis to Philadelphia.[55] In spite of all these advantages, Joppa Town was no utopia in 1713. Mr. Bartlett reported that “a person lunatic hath taken upon him preaching” in the twenty foot by forty foot church in the area. Thinking it handicap enough that the parishoners had to take their own foot stoves to the church every Sunday, the Governor called Mr. Bartlett to visit with him and to bring the vestry also.[56] It is reported that Mr. Bartlett did not reach Annapolis to see the Governor, nor was he ever seen again.[57] To add to these problems a distasteful act was taken on June 4, 1713: rum was assessed 12 shillings in ready money per gallon, or six pounds of tobacco per gill, and so pro rated.[58]

One year following the death of Queen Anne, the Maryland colony produced thirty thousand hogsheads of tobacco, employing a hundred ships and one thousand, six hundred seamen. Most of this product was shipped through Joppa Town and Elk Ridge.[59] Noting such export activity, it is also interesting to check import lists. An example of the kind of cargo coming in to the port of Joppa Town is:

    2 ells of canvas

    1 flock bed, bolster and rugge

    11,000 nayles

    6 fleming axes

    1 kilderkin

    2 payer of cotton hose

    1 hatt

    2 men servants

    10 cases and one half of strong waters[60]

Colonel James Maxwell deemed it wise to re-survey the Taylor’s Choice area in 1719.[61] While this bit of information may seem unimportant, it should be noted for later reference.

It is also interesting to note that while the city of Joppa was created in 1706 as an outlet to world trade for northern Maryland’s vast tobacco crop, there was no residential district in 1720 when Eastern Shore planters began to switch from cultivating tobacco to growing wheat.[62]

The October 1724 General Assembly authored a courthouse (somewhat after the fact, but this is the rule in the history of Joppa Town) and a jail in Joppa Town. Thomas Talley, Captain John Taylor (of Taylor’s Choice fame), Daniel Scott, Lancelot Todd, and John Stokes were named town commissioners.[63] The twenty-one acres of the city that Colonel Maxwell had outlined in 1712 was laid out by Thomas Talley and Daniel Scott some twelve years later.[64]

At this time, a comprehensive town-building program got underway. Twenty acres were divided into half-acre lots, but the owner was not realistic about the selling value of his land.[65] It happened that hte owner of the twenty-one acre town site, surveyed out of fifty acres originally set for the town by Colonel James Maxwell, was Colonel James Maxwell. This coincidence seems even more pointed when it is recalled that the 1707 designation of the land was that belonging to Anne Felks and called Taylor’s Choice. The aforementioned survey of 1719 now steps into place. Colonel Maxwell at first declined the offer of three pounds per acre. However, he later agreed to the price as a warrant for condemnation was called for by the court.[66] With this straightened out, the lots were sold to residents and Joppa Town began to flourish.[67]

Four streets were laid out – High and Low Streets ran north to south, and Church and Court Streets ran east to west. The established house of worship, St. John’s, 1735, was built on Church Street.[68] On Court Street a courthouse and two jails were erected. “The jails indicate that the Joppaites must have been pretty free in their movements.”[69] For a time, everything went well. The town grew and prospered. Due to the enactment arranging for the payments of debts in tobacco, thousands of pounds of the weed poured into the town. Its commerce became extensive, including the West Indies and Europe.[70]

Surrounding districts rolled hogsheads of tobacco into town by means of pins fastened to the ends. These routes for rolling hogsheads became known as “rolling roads.”[71] This was the time when all roads in Baltimore County led to Joppa Town.[72]

Hogshead barrels. 2010 photo by Josh Rubin.

As fine as things seemed to be going for the city, there had to be the recall of an old problem. As Talley and Scott laid out the lots, it was learned that Colonel Maxwell had neglected to convey the land upon which he built the courthouse and the jail to public ownership. James Maxwell the younger, owner of the ferry line and a minor, was the owner of that land. An act of the General Assembly in 1724 made this area public land, and Joppatown was on its way – free and clear.[73]

As if the Assembly wished to punish the town for its own rashness and negligence, the lots were ordered to be half the usual size, or half an acre each.[74]

Sale started on July 8 after Colonel Maxwell had made his choice.[75] Each half acre lot was sold for one pound, seven shillings, payable to Colonel James Maxwell, who owned the land. The early buyers were:

  Colonel John Maxwell and his son Asael Maxwell

  Colonel John Dorsey, for his son Greenbury Dorsey

   John Stokes, a town commissioner

   Thomas White, the town clerk

   Captain Tom Sheredine

   Acquila Paca, the county sheriff

   Joseph Ward, an inn keeper

   Thomas Talley, a town commissioner

    Samual Ward, a carpenter

    John Higginson, an inn keeper

    Benjamin Rumsey[76]

More than half the lots were sold. Buyers had to agree to build a dwelling of not less than four hundred square feet within a year, or forfeit their land to the town.[77] Several of the residents were of such financial means that they could import bricks from England to use in the structures.[78] To be sure that each lot was well set the town commissioners saw fit to call for another survey of the town. This time Colonel John Dorsey was paid five hundred pounds of tobacco for the task.[79]

Flax in bloom. 2006 photo by Bev Currie.

With urbanization came the need for income. Ground rents were set at one ounce of flax and two ounces of hemp seed payable on October 10 to the magistrate.[80] A tax of fifteen pence was set for the throne of England.[81] Changes for warehouse space were taxed by the town and harbor fees on both exports and imports were charged by the town.[82] To enhance the efforts of Joppa Town as the tobacco port of Northern Maryland, the General Assembly passed a law in 1729 that stated that a debtor had to pay only nine-tenths of his debt if he paid in tobacco and if the transaction took place in Joppa Town.[83]

Hemp seeds. 2011 photo by Evelyn Parham.

Also in 1729, a cloud appeared on the southern horizon that was to prove to be the doom of Joppa Town. On December 1, 1729, Charles and Daniel Carroll sold land on the Patapsco River for a new Baltimore Town.[84] Jonathan Hanson’s mill at Jones Falls was to mark the eastern boundary of the new town.[85] This area had natural characteristics as a center for planters, traders, and travelers. The three branches of the Patapsco provided safe harbor open to the Chesapeake. The Great Eastern Road, linking Georgeown and Philadelphia, ran by Baltimore Town. Jonathan Hanson’s mill at Jones Falls provided the mill for grinding grain.[86]

With competition forming to the south, new situations were developing in the western parts of the proinve, also. In 1731, sixteen families moved from York, Pennsylvania to northern Virginia across middle Maryland. These people made a road as they came.[87] Frederick Carroll, the fifth Lord Baltimore, offered land in middle Maryland free of rent for three years.[88] Germans seeking religious freedom moved by the hundreds from southern Pennsylvania to middle Maryland.[89]

Monocacy River. 2008 photo by Lauren Mitchell.

In 1734, a settlement of Germans from Pennsylvania was established on the Monocacy River.[90] Within a few years, the town of Frederick was founded.[91]

While Baltimore Town was grounding out a future at Jonathan Hanson’s mill, and Frederick was building on its German background, Joppa Town was moving ahead. William Bradforth, an ancestor of Govenor Bradford, was clerk of the St. John’s parish in 1736. He was a nephew of the Lord Bishop of Bristol, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, who was preacher at the Court of Queen Anne. It is supposed that it was through William Bradford that the communion service was presented to the church in Joppa Town by Queen Anne.[92] With the completion of the church building in the same year, it seems to have been similar in appearance to the well-known Old Wye Church on the Eastern Shore – box pews, heavy wooden plaques with the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer inscribed on them, brick floors, and clear glass windows.[93] A brick Vestry House in Joppa Town was constructed in 1737.[94]

Most of the fields would not give more than fifteen years of good tobacco crops. They were typically grown year after year without fertilization or replenishment of the soil. This was Joppa Town’s fifteenth year, 1738. A number of large planters left Maryland and moved to Kentucky, where the rich lands had never been planted by white men.[95]

As tobacco planters moved south to rid themselves of over-worked soil, Baltimore took one more step toward northern leadership. Old St. Paul’s was built in Baltimore in 1739. The church was designed after the structure of the St. John’s parish in Joppa Town.[96] Realizing the need for new industry, northern Maryland started to gain prominence in the iron industry. Centered around the Gunpowder and Patapsco Rivers during colonial times, its importance can be seen in the fact that of all the goods exported to England from the colonies from 1739 to 1749, Maryland furnished nearly three quarters of them. One of the first furnaces to be established in America was the Principio furnace on Principio Creek, within a few miles of Joppa Town.[97]

The present-day building of St. Paul's Church, located at 233 North Charles Street in Baltimore. 2008 photo by Chauncy Primm.

Industry grew and developed in Joppa Town in 1739, thirty-three years since its inception. However, the religious life of the new city was not overlooked. On December 3, George Whitefield, a follower of John Wesley, visited Joppa Town. On this occasion, Whitefield reported, “We slept the night near Susquehanna Ferry, we baited at Joppa and spoke to about forty people in the church.”[98]

Another visit to Joppa Town comes from the 1744 interarium of Dr. Alexander Hamilton. It is learned that he had a solitary journey till he came within three miles of the Gunpowder Ferry, where he met Matthew Baker, a horse jockey. Crossing the ferry, Dr. Hamilton came to Joppa Town, a village pleasantly situated, and lying close to the river.

There I called at one Brown’s who keeps a good tavern in a large brick house. The landlord was ill with intermittent fevers, and understanding from someone there who knew me that I professed physick, he asked my advice, which I gave him.[99]

While Joppa Town was proving its fine hospitality to Dr. Hamilton and others, Baltimore Town annexed Jones Town in 1745.[100] Thus Jonathan Hanson’s mill and others along the Jones Falls became a part of industrial Baltimore. In this same year, the city of Frederick was laid out. The Germans in middle Maryland were not tobacco farmers; they raised corn, flax and wheat. Weaving was an early industry in the new city of Frederick. The abundant crops of wheat as well as the need to market their woven products forced these German Pennsylvanians of middle Maryland to see an outlet to the world. Moving eastward from Frederick, they soon found themselves in the Patapsco River Valley, which led to Baltimore Town.[101] Now Joppa Town had a real competitor with the geographic advantages on its side.[102]

Maryland wheat. 2007 photo by Neal B. Johnson.

Tobacco was losing out as a lucrative crop. Wheat and woven goods were gaining importance. Lumbering along the banks of the Gunpowder had started erosion and the silting of the harbor at Joppa Town. With the withering away of the power of tobacco, the importance of the preferetial legislation in 1729 also fell into disuse, and Joppa Town had little hope that foreign ships would sail past the fine port of Baltimore with its varied commercial treasures to come to a dangerously silting port still holding to the dying tobacco industry.

As an act of the Assembly ordered enlargement and general repairs of the Joppa Town courthouse in 1749, another committee of the legislature reported that the records of the court in Baltimore County from 1665 until 1708 were not the original papers.[103] No further investigation was made of this situation which still casts a shadow over the confidence we can place in these records.

The General Assembly had reason for its renewal of faith in Joppa Town as it enlarged the old courthouse. In 1750, Joppa Town consisted of fifty family dwellings. This was ten more than the original town plot plan had called for and gave evidence that the city was doing well. St. John’s Church, the courthouse, “Amen Corner,” the pillory, the whipping post, the gallows tree by the town gate, the three large stone warehouses, the hotels and stores, the public wharf, and the shipyard where a war vessel was being built for the Revolutionary War gave little evidence of the slipping away of the city’s foundations.[104] The Ohio Company added its faith to Joppa Town’s future as it shipped much of its goods through the town in 1750.[105]

While Baltimore Town could boast of only twenty-five homes in 1752, Joppa Town had more life than it could handle.[106] To start the year off on the right foot, Martha Bassett and Mary Bowell, two white maidservants, were hanged on January 10.[107] These girls had been convicted of the murder of a Mrs. Clark near what is now Ellicott City. The Maryland Gazette of March 5, 1752 reported that more people voted at the Joppa Town elections than perhaps in any other election in the province.[108] Further inquiry into this election leads one to wonder if the Gazette meant that more people had voted, or that more votes were cast. Due to irregularities during their election to the House of Delegates, representatives William Govane, Thomas Franklin, Lloyd Buchanan and Charles Ridgely were ordered to stand before the voters of Baltimore County again on March 2, 1752. The opposing slate consisted of John Paca, Walter Tally, William Smith, and John Matthews. The elections started badly. Fighting took place in front of the courthouse as it was charged that voters arrived at the polls in a drunken state. The sheriff was charged with shutting the courthouse doors for three hours during the polling, allegedly allowing the boxes to be stuffed. It was also charged that the clerks in charge of the polls had not been sworn. This event is generally credited with being the first election riot in Maryland. It lasted throughout the three days of voting as 992 persons voted (or votes were cast – there may be some question as to which actually occurred). Two men were killed and several were wounded.[109]

After the smoke had cleared and the representatives had taken their places in the House of Delegates, the following charge was filed:

William Govane, one of the gentlemen who stood as a candidate at the said elections in order to procure himself and other gentlemen who promoted his interests in said election gave of caused to be given a great quantity of rum punch and other strong liquors to the people in several parts of the county, in order to secure the votes of said people for himself and his friends. And when the said people were warned and intoxicated with strong liquors, Govane did engage their promises, procured great quantities of rum punch and other strong liquors to be lodged in the way of the people, and at the courthouse before the election, and at the taking of the poll, procured so much strong liquor to be given to the people that many of them were made drunk and not capable of giving their votes with prudence and discretion or agreeably to what they have done had they been sober.

Govane and his men won the election.[110]

Although funerals were generally the occasion for much pious eating and drinking, and probably were among the few observances of more or less public character, everyone could not enjoy them.[111] In 1753, John Barrett proved to be one such person. The Maryland Gazette reports that in that year Barrett was executed at Joppa Town for killing his wife. Mr. and Mrs. Barrett had made their home in Baltimore Town. Due to the fact that the Baltimore Town had no court, the trial was held at Joppa Town. However, so that his neightbors might be sure of his fate, Barrett’s body was “hung in chains on a gibbet as high as Maman’s Gallows near Baltimore Town.”[112]

Three distinct blows struck Joppa Town in 1754. First, navigation in the port was made quite difficult due to the extensive cutting of timber along the Gunpowder River, causing a filling of silt along the port area.[113] Secondly, an epidemic of smallpox (quite deadly at the time) hit Joppa Town.[114] Third, John and Henry Stevebson, men with new ideas about trade, arrived in Baltimore Town.[115]

There was a brighter side for the citizens of Joppa Town, however. “Joppa, where one of the finest tracks was located, was the center of the sport in this section.”[116] Undoubtedly, the Governor and a number of gentlemen visited the city on October 11, 1759. It was on this day that a purse of twenty pistoles was to be run – any horse, mare, or gelding entered with Isaac Risteau with a payment of one shilling entrance was eligible. The finish would be decided by Colonel William Young and James Christie.[117] The twelfth race was to hold a purse of ten pounds, and the thirteenth race six pounds.[118]

All was not gambling and election riots in the First City of northern Maryland. However, as can be understood by the realization that George Whitefield, a fellow-laborer of John Wesley, visited and led the people in worship for a second time in the year 1759.[119]

Crypt of George Whitefield, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. 2008 photo by Dash House.

A staggering blow struck Joppa Town in its rivalry with Baltimore Town in the year 1760: the Frederick Road was finished. Baltimore, the Chesapeake port, was tied to the First City of central Maryland – Frederick. No longer was this province to be solely a tide water colony; a road ran right into the heartland.[120] “No matter what port might be chosen, it was sure to grow, for to it would come all the trade from the rich farming country of western Maryland.”[121]

All was not peaceful for the people of western Maryland, however. The bachelors of Joppa Town were taxed in 1760 to help pay for the war with the Native Americans.[122] While Joppa Town bachelors were taxed, the settlers to the west were bearing the brunt of the French and Indian War. By the end of this struggle, another strange thing had happened. Baltimore Town was an important tobacco port in 1763.[123] This was another blow to Joppa Town up the bay.

Like the French and Indian War, another sign of the times crept into the forefront of Joppa Town life. On May 10, 1767, three white indentured servants ran away from their master. Henry Gassaway set a reward of nine pounds in Maryland or Pennsylvania currency for each servant returned to him. John Baret and Timothy Linch escaped with John Chappel by stealing a pettiauger with sails. The strange thing was that John Chappel, an indentured servant, had at one time been the captain of a British ship.[124]

A petition was presented by an overwhelming number of taxpayers of Baltimore County in 1768, calling for the seat of government to be re-located to Baltimore Town on the Patapsco.[125] It was charged tht the courthouse and prison were in bad disrepair, that Joppa Town offered poor hospitality to court visitors, that the city was located on a narrow isthmus approached by a marshy road, and that the port had become too shallow for large ships.[126] The legislature ordered that a courthouse and prison be built at Baltimore Town while the ones at Joppa Town should be sold.[127] Joppa Town saw its last court day on June 7, 1768[128]. Court opened in Baltimore Town on August 2, 1768.[129] Public sale in December awarded the courthouse to Benedict Edward Hall, while the prison went to John Boyd.[130]

As Mr. Alexander Lawson moved the court records from Joppa Town in August 1769, some violence and outrage was shown by the inhabitants for the action.[131] Due to the fact that the courthouse in Baltimore Town was not built at public expense, the cost of the building having been raised by private subscription, some of the people of Joppa Town questioned if the legislature had some reservations about moving the county seat.[132] In spite of an outbreak of malaria in the city at this time, hope flashed anew for the area.[133] Zaccheus Onion operated a furnace and forge, built by his grandfather, about one mile from Joppa Town on the Gunpowder River.[134] The rich earth along the Delaware, the Schuglkill, and Susquehanna Rivers was becoming the breadbasket of the colonies.[135]

Susquehanna River. 2005 photo by Mitch Groff.

The Justice at the Baltimore Town Court conveyed the deed of the Joppa Town prison to John Beale Howard in 1771.[136] A year later Baltimore became more strongly entrenched as the leading city of northern Maryland. The Ellicott brothers moved down from Pennsylvania to establish a large flour mill on the Patapsco River between Baltimore, the port, and Frederick, the grain source.[137] Wheat had replaced tobacco as the major crop of the province.

It was 1773, when Benjamin Rumsey received the deed to the Joppa Town courthouse property from the Justices.[138] At the same time the citizens of Baltimore County were ordered to pay 154,666 pounds of tobacco to help in the building of a courthouse at Harford Town on the Bush River.[139] Quite appropriate to the situation, Francis Asbury spent several days in Joppa Town during 1773.[140] He preached to the people of the dying city.

It was reported in the Maryland Gazette of April 10, 1776 that:

We learn from Joppa that a special messenger came to that town on Sunday last with the agreeable news of the repeal of the Stamp Act. The same being immediately communicated to the inhabitants, the greatest joy appeared imprinted in every countenance; the day could not be celebrated in such a cheerful manner as the occasion required, but the evening was ushered in wiwht the ringing of bells and every other signal of joy and every house in the town was illuminated and the houses of Mr. Dorsey and Mr. Tolley on the other side of the river. The evening concluded with the greatest decency and decorum.[141]

August 28, 1777 the British took up their line to march on Joppa Town and split Washington’s forces gathered at Baltimore Town and at Harford Town. However, as they approached the city, they learned that the eighth battalion of Harford County militia had taken up the defense there. The British then abandoned the attempt.[142]

All in Joppa Town were not loyal to Washington’s cause, however, for John Paul and Heathcott Pickett, owners of a great flour mill about two miles from Joppa Town on the Gunpowder River, plotted with the British. These men piloted British lighters from the main fleet up to their mill and sold flour to them. As Lafayette moved through Joppa Town on his way to Yorktown, these two Tories were seized and condemned to be hanged. The night before they were to be executed, John Paul asked the guard to let him smoke. Once his hands were free, John Paul escaped up the Gunpowder River to a cave where he lived for a few years before his death. Pickett alone paid the price of their enterprise at the gallows tree at the gate of Joppa Town.[143]

With the fall of Joppa Town, development up the Gunpowder River did not cease. Several powder mills were built, from which the river got its name, and they turned out powder for the Continental Army and later for Napoleon in his struggles. Among the largest of these mills was that built at Rockdale. Besides large buildings for making gunpowder, larger flour and grist mills rose and later mills for the manufacture of cotton duck.[144]

Sources Cited

Albrecht, C.G., et al. Joppa – A Lost Town of Maryland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1934.

Katchum, Richard M. and Bruce Lancaster. The American Heritage Book of the Revolution. New York: American Heritage Publishing Company, 1958.

Manakee, Beta Ennis Kaesmann, et al. My Maryland: Her Story for Boys and Girls. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1955.

Preston, Walter Wilkes. History of Harford County, Maryland: From 1608 (the Year of Smith’s Expedition) to the Close of the War of 1812. Baltimore: Press of the Sun, 1901. (free online version)

Radoff, Morris Leon. The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland. Annapolis: 1960-3.

Reynolds, Edward. Joppa Town, Now Joppa Farm. Upper Falls, Maryland: 1924.

Scharf, John Thomas. History of Maryland: From the Earliest Period to the Present Day. Baltimore: J.B. Piet, 1879.


1. Radoff, 17.
2. Ibid.,17.
3. Scharf, 413.
4. Radoff, 18.
5. Ibid., 17.
6. Ibid., 17.
7. Ibid., 18.
8. Ibid., 18.
9. Ibid., 18.
10. Ibid., 18.
11. Ibid., 18.
12. Ibid., 18.
13. Ibid., 18.
14. Ibid., 18.
15. Ibid., 18.
16. Ibid., 19.
17. Ibid., 18.
18. Ibid., 19.
19. Ibid., 19.
20. Ibid., 19.
21. Ibid., 19.
22. Ibid., 19.
23. Ibid., 18.
24. Ibid., 19.
25. Ibid., 19.
26. Ibid., 21.
27. Scharf, 413.
28. Ibid., 414.
29. Radoff, 21.
30. The Evening Sun, December 11, 1908.
31. Radoff, 21.
32. Ibid., 21.
33. Ibid., 21.
34. Ibid., 21.
35. Manakee, 131.
36. Ibid., 132.
37. Radoff, 22.
38. Ibid., 22.
39. Ibid., 22.
40. Ibid., 22.
41. Ibid., 22.
42. Ibid., 22.
43. Scharf, 414.
44. Reynolds, 3.
45. Scharf, 414.
46. Ibid., 414.
47. Radoff, 19.
48. Ibid., 22.
49. Ibid., 23.
50. Ibid., 23.
51. Ibid., 23.
52. Ibid., 23.
53. Ibid., 23.
54. The Sunday Sun, February 21, 1932; and Reynolds, 2.
55. The Evening Sun, February 28, 1965.
56. The Sunday Sun, February 21, 1932.
57. Reynolds, 3.
58. The Sunday Sun, February 21, 1932.
59. Albrect, 9.
60. Ibid., 16.
61. The Evening Sun, February 28, 1965.
62. Manakee, 141.
63. Scharf, 414.
64. Ibid., 414.
65. The Evening Sun, December 11, 1908.
66. Albrecht, 4.
67. The Evening Sun, December 11, 1908.
68. Historical plaque at Old St. John’s Church in Kingsville, Maryland; consulted 1964. Current plaque: Baltimore County Historical Society, St. John’s Parish.
69. The Evening Sun, December 11, 1908.
70. Ibid.
71. Ibid.
72. The Evening Sun, February 28, 1965.
73. Radoff, 23.
74. Preston, 45.
75. The Evening Sun, February 28, 1965.
76. Scharf, 414.
77. Ibid., 414.
78. Ibid., 415.
79. The Evening Sun, February 28, 1965.
80. Albrecht, 2.
81. Ibid., 2.
82. Ibid., 7.
83. Manakee, 133.
84. Ibid., 133.
85. Ibid., 134.
86. Ibid., 134.
87. Ibid., 138.
88. Ibid., 139.
89. Ibid., 139.
90. Ibid., 139.
91. Ibid., 140.
92. The Evening Sun, October 1, 1925.
93. Historical plaque at Old St. John’s Church in Kingsville, Maryland; consulted 1964. Current plaque: Baltimore County Historical Society, St. John’s Parish.
94. Ibid.
95. Katchum, 53.
96. The Evening Sun, October 1, 1925.
97. Albrecht, 12.
98. Ibid., 19.
99. Ibid., 17.
100. Manakee, 132.
101. Ibid., 139.
102. Radoff, 23.
103. Manakee, 132.
104. Radoff, 23.
105. Reynolds, 6.
106. The Sunday Sun, Februrary 21, 1932.
107. Manakee, 137.
108. Reynolds, 4.
109. The Sunday Sun, April 5, 1951.
110. Ibid.
111. “The Sunday Sun, February 21, 1932.
112. Ibid.
113. Ibid.
114. Ibid.
115. Katchum, 151.
116. Albrecht, 17.
117. Eastern Enterprise, June 10, 1954.
118. Albrecht, 17.
119. Ibid., 19.
120. Ketchum, 142.
121. Ibid.
122. The Sunday Sun, February 21, 1932.
123. Ketchum, 149.
124. Albrecht, 14.
125. Radoff, 25.
126. Ibid., 25.
127. Ibid., 25.
128. Ibid., 25.
129. Ibid., 25.
130. Ibid., 25.
131. Ibid., 25; and Preston, 46.
132. Preston, 46.
133. Reynolds, 2.
134. Albrecht, 13.
135. Ketchum, 82.
136. Radoff, 25.
137. Ketchum, 152.
138. Radoff, 85.
139. Ibid., 85.
140. Albrecht, 19.
141. Ibid., 20.
142. Ibid., 20.
143. Ibid., 21.
144. The Evening Sun, October 1, 1925.

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