Worcester County MDGenWeb


Worcester County has enjoyed a long and prosperous history. Much of Worcester's history has been peaceful. Although her sons and daughters have served their country in times of conflict, no major battles have been fought on her soil. Worcester residents have shown a remarkable talent for adapting to change. Two hundred years ago, three-masted schooners called at the port of Snow Hill. These ships transported tobacco down-river and brought supplies to the growing plantations. As the economy changed and steamboats replaced sail power, the main exports changed from tobacco to iron and lumber. A furnace was set up to refine the local deposits of bog iron. As the iron and lumber began to run out, and railroads replaced steamboats, Worcester switched gears once again. Worcester farmers took advantage of the railroads to send their produce to the large cities of the East coast. The railroads also brought in the first of Worcester's most lucrative imports - tourists. Enterprising businessman quickly turned the sleepy town of Ocean City into a thriving resort center. Today in the era of super highways, tourism and agriculture remain the two mainstays of the county.

That's not to say that Worcester history is all about money. There have been moments of great joy as well as great sorrow. The list that follows details some of the historical highlights of the county. If you would like to contribute an article or add something to the timeline, please .

Historic Timeline of Worcester County

c1200 - Although Native Americans had visited the Delmarva Peninsula for thousands of years, it appears the it is not until about 1200 that the first permanent settlements of native peoples begin. This coincides with the "Woodland" period Native America history. The tribes, which are part of the larger Algonquian-speaking Powhatan group, successfully cultivate crops that supplemented their hunting and fishing.

1524 - According to legend, while sailing under the French flag, Giovanni da Verrazano becomes the first European to visit the area, when he lands in the approximate area of Chincoteague Bay. He explores eight miles inland to the Pocomoke River. He names the region Arcadia for its beauty and abundant flora.

1608 - Captain John Smith explores the Chesapeake, including the Pocomoke River.

June 20, 1632 - Lord Baltimore receives a charter for Maryland from King Charles I.

March 25, 1634 - The Ark and the Dove land at St. Clement's Island on the Western Shore with the first European settlers.

1642 - Snow Hill is first settled.

1646 - The Treaty of Middle Plantation decentralizes Accohannock tribes, making them politically subservient to the English settlers. Some Native Americans leave their homeland, while others merge into the white and black population. Through family traditions, some of the Native customs and cultures are preserved through today.

1670 - A settlement begins to develop at current day Pocomoke. It was originally called Stevens Landing after Colonel William Stevens. In time the settlement would become known as Newtown then Pocomoke. In its early years, Pocomoke is an important shipbuilding center. The town is also an important port into the twentieth century. Its deep waters allow large vessels to load and unload their wares at the town's many wharves.

1677 - A land grant is given for Burley Plantation. In time, this area will grow into present day Berlin.

1678 - The scattered tribes of the Assateague (along with the Wicomicos and the Pocomokes) gather together in a single settlement, called Askiminokonson, near Snow Hill

1683 - Francis Makemie establishes the first American Presbyterian church in Snow Hill.

1692 - The Vestry Act sets up four parishes in Old Somerset County. Most of present day Worcester is located in Snow Hill Parish (later All Hallows Parish). The parish had six elected vestrymen to help administer the area.

1694 - Snow Hill is made a royal port by William and Mary. The chief exports are cypress lumber and tobacco. The cypress lumber is especially important as masts and lumber for ships since the cypress wood is impervious to rot. The main imports are finished goods from England.

1722 - A peace treaty is signed between the English colonists and the Assateague tribes.

August 8, 1732 - Salisbury is chartered. (Although Salisbury is now in Wicomico County, it predates both Wicomico and Worcester. From 1742 to 1867, the boundary between Worcester and Somerset ran down the center of Salisbury's Division Street.)

1742 - After some Native American chiefs are revealed to be plotting against the English settlers, the Maryland government withdraws its recognition of the Assateague empire, putting severe restrictions on their freedoms. It appears that the attacks were planned by the Nanticoke tribe which lived some miles away along the river of the same name. The Maryland authorities, however, make no distinction between the tribes. Most of the Assateagues emigrate north to join with the Susquehanna tribe. A few remain in the area, living to this day near Indian River, Delaware. (Note - Because of their dwindling numbers, Native Americans of many different Eastern Shore tribes were living in the same settlements by this point. Therefore, determining a precise history of the different tribes is difficult).

December 10, 1742 - Worcester County is formed from part of Somerset County. Snow Hill becomes the county seat. James Martin is elected as the first sheriff.

1760 - The Transpeninsular Line, which forms the southern border between Maryland and Delaware is finally settled. This is the last in a long string of surveys carried out over the past century, but residents will dispute the findings into the 1800s. The famous surveyors Mason & Dixon go on to afix the line up the side of Delaware as well as the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland.

1775-1783 - During the American Revolution, Worcester and the Eastern Shore are nicknamed the Breadbasket of the Revolution for the amount of food produced for the Continental Army. Like most of the Shore, however, Worcester has deep divisions between Patriots (in favor of independence) and Tories (in favor remaining loyal to Britain). In July 1775, the town of Snow Hill passes resolutions to aid Boston, Massachusetts. That same year, Joseph Dashiell is named lieutenant for Worcester County, coordinating the shipping of supplies to Washington's army. In 1776, Captain John Watkins begins training a company of Worcester soldiers. They join the Continental Army and serve in the Battle of Long Island, where they are recognized for bravery. Later they serve in such battles as Trenton, Yorktown, and Cowpens. In 1777, a group of 150 Tories are dispersed near Salisbury. In 1781, Worcester and Somerset provide General Washington with 1200 head of cattle as he heads south to Yorktown and his showdown with Cornwallis. During the war the Baltimore Salt Company also opens a salt works, established on Sinepuxent Bay. Water from the ocean is evaporated, leaving only salt.

1790 - In the first United States Census, Worcester has 7,676 whites, 3,836 slaves, and 178 free blacks. That same year a wreck-master is appointed by the state General Assembly to combat the wide spread looting that occurs whenever ships are wrecked on the many shoals along the coast.

1790s - The village of Berlin develops on the crossroads of the Philadelphia Post Road and the Sinepuxent Road. (The Philadelphia Post Road was the main north-south artery on the Shore, and the Sinepuxent Road was the main east-west artery).

1800s - Numerous plantations bring economic prosperity to the county. Unfortunately, the plantation culture carries with it the evils of slavery.

1812 - After distinguishing himself in the war with Tripoli, Stephen Decatur becomes America's most famous naval hero during the War of 1812. In October of 1812, he defeats the British frigate Macedonian. Greatly outnumbered, however, Decatur is eventually captured by the British fleet. After the war, Decatur becomes famous for the maxim, "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but our country right or wrong!" Decatur is killed in a duel in 1820 on the Western Shore.

1821 - What was described as a tidal wave and accompanying storm obliterate the coastal villages of the county.

1832 - The Nassawango Iron Furnace is built to refine the bog iron found in the nearby swamps.

1850 - The Nassawango Iron Furnace closes, and the town which grew up around it begins to dwindle.

1855 - New Bethel Methodist Church is founded, becoming one of the oldest African-American congregations in the country. In the same year, the Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley is born. Tindley, a songwriter and man of faith, composed the Civil Rights anthem "We Shall Overcome".

1860 - By the time of the 1860 census, Worcester has 12,402 whites, 3,571 slaves, and 3,648 free blacks. The free blacks, although persecuted, are able to create a strong and distinct culture which influences the county's development.

May 1, 1860 - The Delaware Railroad is expanded from Delmar down to Salisbury.

1861 - The Civil War begins. Both pro-Northern and pro-Southern sentiment is strong in the county. Culturally and economically, Worcester has much in common with the South. The anti-slavery movement, however, has much support as well. County residents serve in uniform on both sides. George W. Purnell, then a student at Princeton, leaves his class to join the Confederate Army. Purnell becomes Adjutant under General Lee. On the Union side, Isaiah "Uncle Zear" Fassett, a former slave, joins the Union army participating in many battles including the Wilderness and Richmond campaigns. When Fassett died in 1946, he was the next-to-last surviving Civil War soldier in Maryland. On October 5, 1861, Union soldiers encamp on Upton Hill (at the site of the current Daily Times building) in Salisbury. From there, they disarm and arrest Confederate sympathizers. They also confiscate contraband headed South. Despite their efforts, goods continue to be smuggled South. The traffic heads in both directions, however. The Pocomoke River and surrounding swamps is an important link in the Underground Railroad, allowing slaves to escape North.

November 1, 1864 - Slavery is abolished in Maryland.

1867 - Part of western Worcester County is merged with part of northern Somerset County to form Wicomico County. Salisbury becomes the county seat of Wicomico.

1868 - The Wicomico and Pocomoke Railroad links Salisbury and Berlin. That same year regularly scheduled steamboat service begins betwen Newtown (Pocomoke) and Baltimore. Every Saturday farmers pour into Newtown to sell their produce. Travelling salesman also flood the town on weekends to sell their wares. Newtown acquires a rowdy reputation because of the carnival-like atmosphere and saloons that cater to the visiting farmers and salesmen.

1869 - According to legend, Issac Coffin rents out the first beach-front cottage in Ocean City.

1872 - The Worcester Railroad opens between Berlin and Snow Hill.

July 4, 1875 - The Atlantic Hotel opens in Ocean City. It is the town's first large-scale hotel. It is during that same year that Ocean City is incorporated as a town.

1876 - The Wicomico and Pocomoke Railroad builds a trestle across Sinepuxent Bay, linking Ocean City by rail to Berlin and the rest of the nation. During the same year the Worcester Railroad was extended south all the way to Franklin City, Va., across the bay from Chincoteague, and north to Selbyville, DE, where it met with another railroad. With the expanded railroad access the pound fishermen bring in larger and larger catches. Pound fishermen erect stationary nets on the ocean floor miles off the coast and haul in a bounty of seafood. The job is quite dangerous as the heavy nets can easily capsize the fishermen's small boats. The catches sometime require as many as twenty express train cars a day to cary the seafood to the metropolitan areas.

1878 - After expressing outrage over the town's ungodliness, Reverend I.O. Ayers urges Newtown rename itself Pocomoke City to symbolize a break from its uproarious past.

December 25, 1878 - The U.S. Life Saving Service (later part of the Coast Guard) opens a station in Ocean City. The surfmen bravely venture out in all weather to save the crews of doomed ships.

Late 1800s - Numerous canneries develop along the railroads and Pocomoke River. These canneries allow the produce of Worcester farmers to be sent to faraway markets. By this point, regular steamboat operations between Snow Hill and Baltimore have replaced the old three-masted schooners which used to ply the river. Lumber also remains an extremely important industry. The Richardson, Smith, & Moore Lumber Company is the largest employer in the county.

1884 - The New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad is extended across the Pocomoke River into Pocomoke City and south all the way to Cape Charles, Virginia.

1886 - Trains start running between Ocean City and Claiborne. From Claiborne there is a steamboat connection to Baltimore. Thousands of visitors begin pouring into the resort annually.

August 7, 1893 - A fire destroys downtown Snow Hill and the early town and county records.

1898-1899 - On December 28, the "Blizzard of '99" blows in, lasting into the New Year. Drifts of over ten feet paralyze the entire area.

1916 - A state highway is built between Salisbury and Ocean City, through Berlin, making automobile travel easier in the county.

1917 - The Worcester County Headquarters Company of the Maryland National Guard is called into federal service for World War I as part of the 115th. They serve in the trenches in France, including the Battle of Verdun. About 730 Worcester Countians would serve in the war, with about 20 killed or missing in action.

1922 - A fire roars through Pocomoke City.

August 23, 1933 - A hurricane cuts an inlet between current day Ocean City and Assateague Island. Before this point, the two were joined to form a single barrier island.

1941 - World War II begins, and the Worcester County branch of the National Guard is called back into action. Unlike World War I, soldiers from the same geographic area were split up into several companies. Therefore, it is difficult to trace the movements of Worcester's soldiers. Several spotting stations open along the coast in 1942 to be on the lookout for German planes and submarines. There were 4,000 Civil Defense volunteers in Worcester alone. All of Worcester County was under dim-out regulations. While most of the county complied wholeheartedly with the sacrifices for the war effort, a raid on Cypress Swamp revealed a stockpile of rationed items such as shoes and cheese destined for the black-market. During the war, poultry farming also increased dramatically (today it remains extremely important to the local economy).

1952 - The Chesapeake Bay Bridge opens, making the Ocean City resort more accessible to the residents of Baltimore and Washington.

March 6-8, 1962 - An unexpected storm causes much destruction along the coast of the county.

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Thursday, 24-Apr-2008 20:00:00 EDT