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Talbot County History

  
Talbot County (pronounced "Tall-butt"), Maryland is one of the oldest centers of European settlement in the New World. Talbot County's long history has always been linked to the water that surrounds it. With over 600 miles of tidal shoreline, the most of any county in the United States, it retains a maritime flavor to an unusual degree.

Like the Native Americans who moved through this area many centuries ago, European settlers were drawn to Talbot County's wealth of natural resources and profusion of waterways for ease in travel. Its first English settlers, arriving by boat in the 1630s, established tobacco plantations along the shores of the Choptank, Wye, Tred Avon, and St. Michaels, (now Miles) rivers, on the long stretch of Chesapeake Bay coast known as Bayside, and on its countless creeks and coves.

Established in 1661 and named for Lady Grace Talbot, sister of the second Lord Baltimore, the county soon became the geographical and spiritual heartland of the Eastern Shore. (For more information on the Talbot family, click here.) In Talbot County the great families, which dominated the EasternTalbot County Court House Shore social, political, and economic history-the Tilghmans, Lloyds, Goldsboroughs, Hollydays and their kinfolk-had their principal seats of residence, many of which are still standing today. The county town, first known as Talbot Courthouse and later as Easton, was known as the "East Capital" of Maryland because the Eastern Shore's courts and governmental offices were located there. Easton had the Shore's finest bank, its first newspaper, its first Federal offices, its first brick hotel. Boundary adjustments were made in 1706 with the establishment of Queen Anne's County to the north and again in 1773 with the creation of Caroline County to the east, resulting in the Talbot County of today.

For a century Talbot life centered around tidewater and tobacco, which served as money and was traded for English manufactured goods with ships which anchored directly off the plantation wharves. Its first town, Oxford, laid out in 1683, served as a port of call for vessels from all over the world. Its early shipbuilding center, St. Michaels, created the swift, sharp-hulled sailing craft later known as the "Baltimore Clipper" famous in the War of 1812.

Third Haven Meeting HouseMany of Talbot's early settlers were Quakers, seeking a haven from persecution; their Third Haven Meeting House, completed in 1684, is still in active service as a house of worship. Others were Puritans driven from Cavalier Virginia in the Cromwell era, or Irish and Scottish rebels transported to the colony as indentured servants.

In the Revolution, Talbot Countians played key roles. Mathew Tilghman was Tench TilghmanMaryland's acknowledged leader in the events leading to independence,and his son-in-law, Tench Tilghman, was General Washington'saide, famous for his ride to carry the news of Cornwallis' surrender to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

War of 1812 was fought on the Chesapeake Bay. The town of St. Michaels was attacked by British ships in August of 1813. Young Perry Benson, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, acted as Brigadier General to head a citizen army which repulsed the British attack. Local newspaper accounts of the time hearald the bravery of the citizens whose cannon fire had force the British ships to retreat. Later legends developed that lanterns hung in trees had caused the British cannons to overshoot the town.

Frederick Douglass

Talbot County had one of the highest percentages of "free blacks" in the country in the years of slavery. This population of African-Americans produced in Frederick Douglass the nation's greatest 19th century advocate of black freedom and justice. For more information about Douglass's life in Talbot County, go to ourFrederick Douglass webpage.

The Underground Railroad probably assisted slaves from Talbot County, but this is hard to document. Rescuing slaves was, after all, illegal. For information on the Underground Railroad, go to the Maryland State Archive site Maryland Slavery.

The Civil War found the county deeply divided, with scores of fighting men on both sides. Unionville, a Talbot County town, was settled by Union soldiers who were freed slaves returning to their home county..

In post Civil War times, the county gained national note as a site of summer homes for wealthy Northerners and a vacation resort for summer boarders from nearby cities. Steam boats crossed the Chesapeake Bay daily and connected with the railroads to provide easy access.

Completion of the Bay Bridge in 1951 brought increasing population pressure and bridge under constructionended the county's isolation. Also with the bridge, U.S.Route 50 and other major signs of "progress" have come the benefits of travel and tourism but also concerns over preservation of the past. The history of Talbot County is still being written and the landscape is ever-changing.

Images of Talbot from the past can be seen in our historic postcard collection. A few of our images are available at Talbot County Postcards. Information about some select historic sites can be found at Talbot County Community

Talbot County's Economy

From its very beginning as an English colony, agriculture and products of the Bay have always provided Talbot County's chief sources of income. Talbot County originally had an economy based on tobacco agriculture, but "King Tobacco" died with the Revolution, replaced by wheat to feed Washington's Continental Army. farm scene In more recent years tomatoes, fruit, and dairy products, and today corn, soybeans and poultry, have sustained the county's basic population of sturdy family farmers.

Equally as important have been the maritime industries of shipbuilding, seafood harvesting and processing, and today, water-related tourism such as sailing and sport fishing. Several vibrant small towns have supported both the farming and maritime industries by providing centers for trade, craftsmen, and moderate manufacturing concerns.

Today Talbot's largest industry is still agriculture, although health care is close behind. Retirees from other areas have created a new economy in the area. Tourists still come from nearby cities to enjoy a relaxing weekend in lovely Talbot County.

Some Facts About Talbot County

Official Birthday April 25th, 1662
County Seat Easton, which was originally named Talbot Courthouse (became the seat in 1710)
Oldest Building Third Haven Friends Meeting House (South Washington Street), erected 1682-1684
Square Miles 269 (the county has been "resized" twice, losing land to both Kent and Queen Anne's counties)
Population

 -  approximately 1200 (in 1662)
 -  almost 3000 (in 1672)
 -  33,812 (in 2000)

Major Industries  -  Agriculture (80% of Talbot County's land is farmland) 
 -  Education and Health Services (Easton Memorial Hospital is the county's largest employer) 
 -  Tourism (thousands of people visit the county each year)  
Major Crops Through the years, Talbot County has produced tobacco, tomatoes, peaches, wheat, corn, soybeans, chickens, oysters, crabs, rockfish, and other assorted crops.
Famous Talbot Countians  -  Frederick Douglass (see story above or click here)
 -  Colonel Tench Tilghman (see story above)
 -  Harold Baines

 Did you know... all of this history and more can be found 
by visiting the Historical Society of Talbot County?
  


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Historical Society of Talbot County
25 South Washington Street
Easton, MD 21601
Telephone Number: 410-822-0773 

All rights reserved 2002.