Category Archives: Settlements

The town that sprawls across 3 counties, 2 states, and 3 centuries

It’s a bit of a stretch to call Reliance a town.  Officially, it’s an unincorporated community. It’s a place that straddles two states and three counties – Caroline and Dorchester counties in Maryland, and Sussex county in Delaware.

But in its heyday, Reliance was a place to be reckoned with — a hub of local commerce that served local farms and towns by storing and shipping goods between city and farm. Known as Johnson’s Crossroads, it was the starting point for the boundary that carved the new county of Caroline out of Dorchester County in 1774. And it was still making headlines a hundred years later.

Why was Johnson’s Crossroads (Reliance) so important in 1774? A contemporary map of Maryland (1794) offers clues:

Johnson’s Crossroads (red) was marked but unnamed in Griffith’s 1794 map of Maryland

Johnson’s Crossroads was an important junction on a road that linked the ferry crossings over all major branches of the Nanticoke and Choptank Rivers (shown above, north to south):

  • Hunting Creek at Linchester (future Preston)
  • Marshyhope Creek at Federalsburg
  • Nanticoke River at Cannon’s Ferry (now Woodland Ferry)
  • Broad Creek at Bethel DE and Pottsville DE

This road was noteworthy enough for the Maryland colonial legislature to name it as the boundary to divide Dorchester County in order to create the new county of Caroline.

Why did Johnson’s Crossroads appear on the 1796 map at all?

A cluster of stores and houses sprang up at Johnson’s Crossroads where a spur ran from the main road to Harper’s Mill on Gladston’s Branch and a ferry farther downstream on the Marshyhope Creek.

Marshyhope Creek leads to the deeper Nanticoke River. Flatboats and other river craft probably used this water highway to carry European goods from ocean-going vessels anchored on the Nanticoke to merchants at Johnson’s Crossroads who served the surrounding farms and towns. Flatboats in turn carried tobacco and – after the mid-1700s – grain, cattle, and produce from surrounding farms to waiting ships.

What changed? Why didn’t Johnson’s Crossroads grow like Seaford on the Nanticoke, Federalsburg on the Marshyhope, or Denton on the Choptank?

River geography.

The Marshyhope and its branches were not deep enough to sustain trade that grew both in size and complexity in the 1800s. Trade in the new century required financial and distribution infrastructure — banks, warehouses, stores, and towns, that concentrated where the rivers were large enough for large sailing ships and later for steamboats. While Johnson’s Crossroads and even Federalsburg languished, Denton on the Choptank thrived, and nearby Seaford grew for another 100 years, because the Nanticoke was deep enough to carry barges in the industrial age.

By 1875, Johnson’s Crossroads still held one store and a church, with a few residences, a wheelwright’s shop, and Wright’s School just up the road leading to Federalsburg.

1875 map of Caroline Caroline County by Isler

Did Johnson’s Crossroads have one last chance in the 1880s?

By 1882, the Dorchester & Delaware Railroad ran from Cambridge to Seaford (from the deep Choptank to the deep Nanticoke).

1882 map of Maryland by Rand McNally and Company

The new railroad line passed within two miles of the town. Did shopkeepers at Johnson’s Crossroads change its name to Reliance, hoping to catch the attention of railroad merchants?

Reliance grew to a half dozen shops by 1897. But never more.

1897 map of Caroline County by Saulsbury
Reliance on the map in 1915 – USGS
Reliance on the map in 1941 – USGS
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Historic Boon Farmstead – Vanished from the face of the Earth

A century before Ridgely, there was Boonsboro.

During 1800-1850, Boonsboro was a thriving crossroads village with a church, school, wheelwright shop, and homes.  Its leading citizens were the descendants of John Boon, who acquired large landholdings nearby in the late 1700s.

 

Boonsboro disappeared before 1900. The historic Boon farmhouse vanished suddenly before 2016.  Only the family burial plot remains.

Maps, aerial photos, and a CRH site visit in 2009 tell the story.

Continue reading Historic Boon Farmstead – Vanished from the face of the Earth

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Wartime, when Caroline welcomed immigrants

“Wilhelmina” colonists in the 1890s (Kings Co., Calif.)

Dutch immigrants poured into Caroline County in two waves in the 1890s and settled in “Wilhelmina Colonies” east of Dover Bridge.  They came to America when farmland became scarce in their native Holland.  They worked hard, built homes and churches, and called Caroline home.  When war broke out in Europe and America sent troops, Caroline residents took a long look at their “foreign” neighbors.

Continue reading Wartime, when Caroline welcomed immigrants

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Downtown Federalsburg, 1875

Zoom in.  Then use the transparency slider and background map changer at upper right.

From the John B. Isler 1875 map of Caroline County.

See the larger map of downtown Federalsburg here.

 [Search:   xxdowntown ]

 

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Downtown Preston, 1875

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From the John B. Isler 1875 map of Caroline County.

See the larger map of downtown Preston here.

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Downtown Hillsboro, 1875

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From the John B. Isler 1875 map of Caroline County.

See the larger map of downtown Hillsboro here.

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Downtown Greensboro, 1875

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From the John B. Isler 1875 map of Caroline County.

See the larger map of downtown Greensboro here.

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Downtown Denton, 1875

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From the John B. Isler 1875 map of Caroline County.

See the larger map of downtown Denton here.

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Between Easton and Hillsboro, there is no Tuckahoe.

The Search for Frederick Douglass’s Birthplace
Markers in the Landcape

 

Frederick Douglass told a Baltimore audience  in 1877:

“I am an Eastern Shoreman, with all that name implies. Eastern Shore corn and Eastern Shore pork gave me my muscle. I love Maryland and the Eastern Shore!”

Douglass also wrote:

I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland.  (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, ch. 1)

Continue reading Between Easton and Hillsboro, there is no Tuckahoe.

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