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Full text of "The early history of highway transportation in Maryland."

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^■^K 6reeh,nnn} Hm 2^/927 
One can scarcely realize or imagine that three hundred 
years ago "this advanced and prosperous state of Maryland, dotted 
as it is from corner to corner Y7ith cities, towns, and villages 
bound together with a network of roads, both great and small, was 
practically a continuous forest inhabited by Indians, That it was 
ij!?>os6ible to get from one edge of the state to the other except 
by foot» horse, and canoe travel accompanied by extreme danger* and 
in no less than several weeks time, seems incredible also, but it 
was exactly the situation tliat presented itself when the first of 
our early pioneers set foot on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay* 
Brave hearts, indeed, were in the bodies of those two 
hundred people seeking, in this new and unknoim land, a religious 
freedom which it was inposeible for thena to enjoy in their native 
country. With this in mind. Lord Baltimore had dispatched the 
little band, under the leaderahip of hie brother, Leonard Calvert, 
to settle the oolony. After a weary trip across the Atlantic they 
finally landed in a sheltered cove on the Potomac, just above its 
mouth, on March 27, I654, There they established the first perma- 
nent settlement and named it St. Mary's, It was not particularly 

the beauty of the spot that the St. Mary's site was chosen for, but 


rather its superior commercial position which they recognized. This 

was afforded by the proximity of the settlement to thePatuxent 
and Potomac rivers and the Ohesap-eake Bay with their never ending 
tributariea covering a large inland territory. There being little 


poesibility for land travel, th^ knevi that uee had to be made of 
the water as a me ana of transportation. It has been aaid hy 
a prominent chronicler of the period with reference to the Chesa- 
peake Say — "They traded and travelled on it, fought and frolicked 
on it, and its inlets and estuaries were so numerous and accomodat- 
ing that nearly every planter had navigable salt water within a 
rifle's shot of hia front door." Prior to this time there were no 
roads nor anything that might be called that, in the territory. 
Therefore, the word "road" as we know it today must have had a very 
significant meaning in that early colonial vocabulary. 

iith the ensuing years more eettlera came and with those 
already there they began to spread out, forming new settlements but 
altvays along the water's edge, becauee of the fear and awe they had 
for the inland forests. The difficulty and danger of any travel on 
land, added to the location of the aettlements on navigable waters 
in the vicinity of St, Mary's and a growing desire of colonists to 
got close relationship, led them to build small boats for use in 
going from landing to landing and shore to shore. 

Families built their own boats for use on this "highway of 

water" and bo the design and construction was quite varied, How- 

ever there were several general types. One was the big log cano« 

which they adopted from the Indian. It was mad© from a 15 or 20 
foot section of the trunk of a large tree. The outside was fashioned 
by a sharp tool but the inside was hollowed by fire. This was pro- 
pelled by means of paddles. This and flat log rafts, which were 


ehoved along by aeans of long poles, were used principally in the 
quiet and ehalloH waters- For travel on the Bay they used heavy 
borad beamed veseole, known as sloops, which were single njaeted with 
fore and aft rig. These were built in the woods and hauled to the 
water's edge by oxen. There was also a smaller and lighter 
schooner -rigged vessel with oars in use, called a pinnace. So it 
was that practically all travel was mad© during the early years of 
the white invasion. 

It is interesting to note some of the colonists strategy 
in Combatting the Indian and making shore-line travel safe. Shield* 
were erected on the sides of the boats as a protection against 
arrowi and hate were fastened on poles just high enough to be seen 
above the top of the shields, in order to make the Indians believe 
there was a larger number of people travelling. So the progress 
in early days did not depend solely on the creation and extension 
of thoroughfares and the introduction of new and better types of 
vehicles because the Indian was a strong and decisive influence. 
They had had undisputed possession of the land and sm unerring 
appreciation of the irjportance of good lines of conmuni cation and 
beat and easiest travel routes. It was these Indian routes or 
"traces", as they were call-;d, that proved to be the cornerstone 
of land travel in America. The Indians were economic strategists 
and had already seen the advantages of the Potomac and Chesapeake 
Bay regions. Of course they would not give it up easily. 

Added to this influence there was also the lack of the 
adventurer spirit due to the plantation system and its gentlouen 

constituente . So the Westward laoveiaent and hence growth of land 
travel in Maryland was considerably retarded as coup are d to that 
tendency so ujanifest in the North. Practically all travel in the 
colony was North and South. A few adventurouB spirits had plunged 
into the wilderness and sometimee caiae back with tales of distances 
beyond canprehensionjof never ending woods, of unknown mountains and 
rivars, but that was not travel. It was adventure. So for nearly 
150 years from the establishment of the first pemtenent settlements, 
there were practically no inprovements made in methods of travelling 
over the surface of the land. 

The earliest "roads'" were paths from plantations to river 
landings or from the settlements scattered along the rivers adjacent 
to the little capital at St, Mary's. Generally no aninp-la or 
vehicles were used on theca, the supplies being carried by hand. 

One of the earliest mentions of a road in Maryland bears 
the date of March, 164 5, wh^i Father Philip Fisher, a Jesuit missionary 
wrote to his Superior as follows: "A road by land thru the forest has 
just been opened from Maryland to Virginia. Ihia will make but a 
two day's journey and both countries can be united in one mission." 
This cannot be identified today, but it shows the early intercourse 
between the sister colonies. However, the first public road in 
St. Mary's county of which there is any definite record was the one 
leading froa St. Mary's to the Patuxent River landing. It was 
referred to as early as 16^9* 

Finally, with the increase of population and a decrease in 


fear of the forests, the colonists began to move inland and as 
water would not carry them where they wanted to go, more routes 
of inter course became necessary. They made use iamed lately of the 
system' of Indians traces or trails. No one dared travel alone, so 

caravans of colonist a on horse and foot travelled together. 

The first road law of Maryland was passed by the Afieembly 

in 1666 J it was entitled "An act for making highwayee & making the 
heads of Rivers, Creekes, Branches, and Swanps passable for Horse 
& Foote" , It provided that the County Oommissioners appoint overseers 
of roads and levy tobacco or labor to be asseoaed equally upoa the 
taxables of each county, Pines were imposed for the non-performance 
of these duties either by the overseers or by the laborers whom they 
Bummoned. This continued in force until 1696, but did not improve 
tne situation greatly. Any roads built under this Act were little 
more than tracks thru the foreet. 

Transportation by wagon was yet entirely unknown so all the 
road overseer had to do was cut away underbrush, fell obstructing 
trees and drain the worst of marshes bo that horses or mules travel- 
ling that way laden with panniers of tobacco would not stick fast in 
low and swanpy ground. One of the most important of these early roads 

can bo identified with the present road from Leonardtown thru Alien's 

Fresh and CSiaptico to Port Tobacco on the Potomac. 

The slowness of the changes brought about in methods of 

transportation may be illustrated by the fate of a petition made by 

people of St. Mary's County to the general AsBembly of the Province 

on the occasion of the removal of the capital from St. Mary's to 

Annapolis. The petitioners euepeoted "that the chief dislite of 

the location of the capital at St. Mary's to be on account of the 

inconvenience of its eituationj uecauea the gentlemen^ the raeabera 

of the house, have oean forced to travel on foot frcsa Patuxent to 

St. Mary's and so baclc again.* The oolonistB promised to procure 

"a caravan to go in all times of public cieatings of Assemblies and 

Courts svery daj' betwixt St. Mar/'s and the Patuxent river and at 

all other tiioeft once a week." However, this was refused because 

th»y had not held to previoue promiees of the sort and the Cfi«)ltal 

was moved. 

Even prior to the first highway legislation in 1666, 
regulationB concerning ferrise were enacted. It was in 1658 that 
a general law was passed requiring each county to maintain at least 
one ferry. These were crude affairs juet large enough to carry 
several horses and men across the river or stream. Thay wore 
flat, timber rafts moved by aeana- of oars or poles. 

Nlth the increased use of Indian traces and the extension 
of white man's tracks, known as "tote-patha", "pack roads", and 
' horse ways" intercourse became greater but the travelling was 
no less dangerous and tedious. The best of these roads existed 
on the Eastern Shore peninsula and probably because of the greater 
deiwity of population along the upper portion of Eastern Shore, the 
route became a favorite line of travel from Philadelphia southward. 


In 1695, following the removal of the cs^iital to Armapolii, the 

assembly eBtabliehed the first public post road in the colony and 

the eastom shore route was selected. It started at Newtons Point 

and went thru Allen's millr Benedict j Jkme^olis^ Newcastle and 

thenoe to Philadelphia, A salary of $50 was allowed Mr. John Perry 

"the poet", for carrying "all public massages andpaquettes eight 

times a year betwixt Potomack and Phila," He rode the rout© only 

three years when he died and the system was abandoned. However, it 

was revived more extensively later and contracte were let out for 

"too carrying of the nail. 

Prior to this, mail was passed from house to house. That 
Is, it was left at the nearest house or tavern to bo sent by the 
first conveyance the landlord found available. By an Act of the 
Assembly, all letters touching public ai'faire were without delay to 
be sent from house to house by the direct way until safely delivered. 
Each householder was required to start it to the next house within 
one-half hour after receiving it under a penalty' of 100 pounds of 
tobacco, It was a penal oifence to open a letter without authority. 
This system was finally abolished in 1715* 

It is recorded that some cf the set tier's went into the 
pack horse travel busineGs. They contracted for carrying people and 
goods over the Indian trails and tote paths. It was they who bitterly 
opposed the building or rather widening of the tote-paths to twenty 
foot so that they could be ueed by carts, because it would ruin their 
business. This Act was paesed in 1696 and the principal roads were 

better cleared and grubbed and leveled witJa natural soil. The 
first cartB to appear had small flat bodies with no aides or cover- 
ing and were supported by two solid wheels cut frocj the trunk of a 

tree. They were drawn by horses or oxen and were iniaediately used 

in the more thickly settled parts for freight transportation although 

travelers etiil journeyed alnjoet exclusively iq>on horse back. 

As a part of a scheme to develop Annapolis into a thriving 
port the Asseiably ordered the constiruction of four "rolling roads" 
for the transportation pf tobacco in casks into the town. They got 
their name from the fact that thi; tobacco was packed into hogsheads 
and rolled over and over along these roads by two men to each cask* 
Later, however, these casks were fitted with shafts emd hauled by 

With the introduction of carta and the in|)etus toward 
better highways, Maryland experienced, in c; a meat, the "western move- 
ment" in 1750 &"d by 17^5, Frederick had been laid out sund connected 
by eor^iaratively good roads with BaltiiBOr© and Annapolis, This 
caused the greater development of Northern Maryland and was accom- 
panied by a gradual change from pack-horse to wagons. This change 
was acconpliahed against strenuous opposition on the part of pack 
horse owners; just as a century later the wagoners themselves used 
In vain every effort to resist the extension of the railroad. The 
first wagons appearing about 17^0, were made entirely of wood and 
the wheels were sawed from "trunks of the gum or buttonwood tree", 
lap roved vehicles came later vdth the production of iron. About 


1750 the Oonestoga wagon appeared in Northern Maryland from its 
source in Lancaster County, Penneylvania. It wae a huge affair, 
heavily built with the bed higher at each end than in middle, and 
concave in order that the contents would not spill in going up or 
down hill. It had a dull white cloth covering supported by curved 
ribs. The under body was alwa;^ painted blue and upper part red. 
This wae ae characteristic as though it was a law. The wagon was 
termed a "frigate of the land" and was drawn by two or four horses. 
The driver rode one of the horses. It was this type that survived 
and was used in pioneering the West, 

So we see that from 1654 to 1775, when the first line of 

Btage-v easels and wagons was established between Philadelphia and 

Baltimore, the development of highways and subsequent methods of 

transportation in Maryland were quite remarlcable, but still very far 

from the system we have today. The story of the i^ -building of 

present methode of travel and transportation does not seem to have 

been a record of the development of a system for carrying commodities. 

It is a history of devices originated primarily for personal use 

in moving from place to place. The pioneer, no matter of what date 

or locality was a traveller before he was a producer or shipper, and 

the expa-ioice gained was the basis for future permanent routes and 

methods of travel. 



Sheet 1 Brantly, - Maryland, p. I5 

Thonaaa - Chronicles of Colonial Maryland, p. 252 

Sheet 2 Dunbar - History of travel in Aaerloa 

Sheet 5 Dunbar - History of travel in America 

Sheet 4 Sionssat - Maryland Geological Survey, p. 110 

Thomas - Ghronicles of Colonial Md., p. 267 

Sheet 5 Sionaaat - Marylnnd Geological Survey, p. 112 

Sioneeat - Itoryland Geological Survey, p . 11? 

Sheet 6 Sionsaatt- Maryland Geological Survey, p. Il4, p. 119. 

Sheet 7 Thoaas. - Chronicles of Colonial Maryland, p, 268 
Dunbar - History of Travel in America 

Sheet 8 Sionesat - Maryland Geological Survey, p. 121 
S ions-eat - Maryland Geological Survey, p , 125 

Sheet 9 Dunbar - Hietory of Travel in Araerica 

Sionaaat - lfe.ryland Geological Survey, p . 157