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 businesspeopled 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 e-mail me.

Historic Timeline of Worcester County

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

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

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

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

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

1642 - Snow Hill was first settled.

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

1670 - A settlement began 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 was an important shipbuilding center. The town was also an important port into the twentieth century. Its deep waters allowed large vessels to load and unload their wares at the town's many wharves.

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

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

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

1692 - The Vestry Act set 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 was made a royal port by William and Mary. The chief exports were cypress lumber and tobacco. The cypress lumber was especially important as masts and lumber for ships since the cypress wood is impervious to rot. The main imports were finished goods from England.

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

August 8, 1732 - Salisbury was 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 were revealed to be plotting against the English settlers, the Maryland government withdrew 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, made no distinction between the tribes. Most of the Assateagues emigrated north to join with the Susquehanna tribe. A few remained 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 was formed from part of Somerset County. Snow Hill became the county seat. James Martin was elected as the first sheriff.

1760 - The Transpeninsular Line, which forms the southern border between Maryland and Delaware was finally settled. This was the last in a long string of surveys carried out over the past century, but residents would dispute the findings into the 1800s. The famous surveyors Mason and Dixon went 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 were nicknamed the Breadbasket of the Revolution for the amount of food produced for the Continental Army. Like most of the Shore, however, Worcester had deep divisions between Patriots (in favor of independence) and Tories (in favor remaining loyal to Britain). In July 1775, the town of Snow Hill passed resolutions to aid Boston, Massachusetts. That same year, Joseph Dashiell was named lieutenant for Worcester County, coordinating the shipping of supplies to Washington's army. In 1776, Captain John Watkins began training a company of Worcester soldiers. They joined the Continental Army and served in the Battle of Long Island, where they were recognized for bravery. Later they served in such battles as Trenton, Yorktown, and Cowpens. In 1777, a group of 150 Tories were dispersed near Salisbury. In 1781, Worcester and Somerset provided General Washington with 1200 head of cattle as he headed south to Yorktown and his showdown with Cornwallis. During the war the Baltimore Salt Company also opened a salt works, established on Sinepuxent Bay. Water from the ocean was evaporated, leaving only salt.

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

1790s - The village of Berlin developed 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 brought economic prosperity to the county. Unfortunately, the plantation culture carried with it the evils of slavery.

1812 - After distinguishing himself in the war with Tripoli, Stephen Decatur became America's most famous naval hero during the War of 1812. In October of 1812, he defeated the British frigate Macedonian. Greatly outnumbered, however, Decatur was eventually captured by the British fleet. After the war, Decatur became 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 was killed in a duel in 1820 on the Western Shore.

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

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

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

1855 - New Bethel Methodist Church was founded, becoming one of the oldest African-American congregations in the country. In the same year, the Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley was 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 had 12,402 whites, 3,571 slaves, and 3,648 free blacks. The free blacks, although persecuted, were able to create a strong and distinct culture which influenced the county's development.

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

1861 - The Civil War began. Both pro-Northern and pro-Southern sentiment was strong in the county. Culturally and economically, Worcester had much in common with the South. The anti-slavery movement, however, had much support as well. County residents served in uniform on both sides. George W. Purnell, then a student at Princeton, left his class to join the Confederate Army. Purnell became Adjutant under General Lee. On the Union side, Isaiah "Uncle Zear" Fassett, a former slave, joined 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 encamped on Upton Hill (at the site of the current Daily Times building) in Salisbury. From there, they disarmed and arrested Confederate sympathizers. They also confiscated contraband headed South. Despite their efforts, goods continued to be smuggled South. The traffic headed in both directions, however. The Pocomoke River and surrounding swamps were an important link in the Underground Railroad, allowing slaves to escape North.

November 1, 1864 - Slavery was abolished in Maryland.

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

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

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

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

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

1876 - The Wicomico and Pocomoke Railroad built 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 bought in larger and larger catches. Pound fishermen erected stationary nets on the ocean floor miles off the coast and hauled in a bounty of seafood. The job was quite dangerous as the heavy nets could easily capsize the fishermen's small boats. The catches sometimes required as many as twenty express train cars a day to carry the seafood to the metropolitan areas.

1878 - After expressing outrage over the town's ungodliness, Reverend I.O. Ayers urged 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) opened a station in Ocean City. The surfmen bravely ventured out in all weather to save the crews of doomed ships.

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

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

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

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

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

1916 - A state highway was 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 was called into federal service for World War I as part of the 115th. They served 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 roared through Pocomoke City.

August 23, 1933 - A hurricane cut 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 began, and the Worcester County branch of the National Guard was 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 opened 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 opened, making the Ocean City resort more accessible to the residents of Baltimore and Washington.

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

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Saturday, 26-Aug-2023 19:46:04 EDT