The Origins of Annapolis

“Annapolis is Defined by its History, People and Waterfront” – a City Alderman

The following is an abridged chronological narrative of the notable historical, economic as well as societal events and trends that have taken place in Annapolis Maryland beginning with its settlement in 1649 up to when it received its charter as a City in 1708.

* Photographs featured in this narrative provide for a visual geographic reference point in Annapolis Maryland that is related to a corresponding section of content.
** This piece is a work in progress – last updated November 27th 2015

A 17th Century Capital City on the Chesapeake Bay

A Winter View Across Annapolis Harbor To The Severn River and Greenbury Point

Greenbury Point Seen From Across Annapolis Harbor & The Severn River


This chronological narrative on the City of Annapolis it should be noted in 1649 its first settlers came ashore, built shelters and cultivated land that today is located in Anne Arundel County Maryland and not within the present day boundaries of Annapolis itself. Soon after the establishment of the settlement the need for additional land led to an expansion across the Severn River into what is today Annapolis proper. Later in the 17th century the collection of fees for shipped goods – first by the proprietary and later royal governments of the period, led to the establishment of a Port of Entry south of the Severn River again in present day Annapolis. In 1695 the colonial capital of Maryland was relocated from St. Mary’s City the Port of Anne Arundel that was renamed Annapolis for Princess Anne who as Queen in 1708 would grant it a city charter.

First Settlement

The origins of Annapolis Maryland date back to the Winter of 1649 when a group of exiles, emigrants and indentured servants arrived by boat to settle on a peninsula of land bordered to the south by the Severn River, northeast at the Magothy River and eastward along the Chesapeake Bay, know today as Greenbury Point. These settlers were comprised of Virginia Colony Puritan exiles, specifically from an area south of the James River near present day Hampton Roads, as well as individuals from the Eastern Shore near present day Kent Island and also emigrants from England. The main reasons for them doing so centered on an offer of sizable land grants and the freedom to practice their religion proffered by representatives of the Proprietary Governor Cecil Calvert, the 2nd Lord Baltimore.

Prior to the afore noted Puritan settlers arrival the land along Maryland’s central Chesapeake Bay was for the most part untouched by man in terms of any type of permanent villages. The region’s Indian confederations, both to the north and south, came to the area on a seasonal basis to avail themselves of the abundant harvests they could take from the Bay as well as nearby rivers and creeks that included a variety of fish – including back then sturgeon, oysters and crabs. According to historians John Smith never explored the Severn River area during his 1608 Chesapeake Bay expeditions.

So it was along this untouched shoreline that the predominately Puritan settlers landed with their families, indentured help, seeds for planting, domesticated livestock, and the tools necessary to begin a new life while being free to exercise their religious beliefs. In short order individual dwelling were built and lands came under cultivation for not only the feeding of their respective families but also exporting. The original land grants were believe to have averaged 50 acres in size in the beginning and would later increase to 100 acres. It should be noted that neither a formal village or town structure developed in Providence, although a religious meeting house may have existed. This was due in part to the afore mentioned sizable plots of land lived on and cultivated by the settlers negating the need for a central town or village infrastructure.

Sailboats Moored In Spa Creek Facing East On An Overcast Day In Annapolis Maryland

Spa Creek, Originally Todd’s Creek, Looking Northeast From Shipwright Street

Expansion Across the Severn River

In time tobacco would be introduced into the settler’s seasonal plantings in Providence due to its settler’s familiarity with its cultivation, itself learned from the Virginia Indian tribes who were well adept at its production. Individual farm or plantation sizes began increasing to hundreds of acres for which the Greenbury Point peninsula could not sustain the demands for additional acreage, especially with adequate waterfront shipping points to support the export of the increasing crop yields. By the early 1650’s the Providence settlement had begun expanding across and south of the Severn River. These new areas provided deep natural waterways – today’s Back, Spa, College, and Weems Creeks, that afforded protection from harsh Chesapeake Bay weather and damaging tidal conditions. Having access to waterfronts that accommodated European merchant ships, along with the necessary supporting wharves and landings, was essential to the growth of the 17th century central Bay’s agricultural based economy.

It was during this same period of early settlement expansion that a clash of regional economic interests, political turmoil in England and religious convictions by the Puritan settlers of Providence, the latter leading to a military conflict, took place yet surprisingly enough it appears that additional land was brought into production and more settlers arrived in the colony.

Spa Creek Waterfront And The Charles Carroll House In Front Of St Mary's Church In Annapolis Maryland January 25th 2012

Spa Creek Shoreline Between Compromise & Shipwright Streets

Settling Annapolis Proper

In the early 1650’s three gentlemen with the names of Richard Acton, Thomas Todd and Thomas Hall came into possession of plots of land located along the shoreline of what is today Spa Creek. The general area was said to be encompassed by present day Franklin, Market and perhaps Compromise Streets although there are researchers that believe the northern most part of these claims may have extended over to present day King George Street. It is believed that Mr. Todd’s trade was that of a boat builder that in any event led to the settlement on land that is part of the present day City of Annapolis Maryland. Those first plots of land today include St. Mary’s Parish, Charles Carroll House past the present day end of Shipwright Street continuing south along the shoreline past the end of Market Street and ending at Colonel Philip Hammond’s 1740’s Georgian style residence – Acton Place, that today remains a personal residence. Also Mr. Todd’s and later his son’s claims included land from Todd’s Creek (Spa) west and north up to present day College Creek over to the Severn River. It can be said that a large part of the present day Annapolis Historic District are included in those first permanent settlements of the City proper.

As an aside Spa Creek was referred to on early survey maps as Todd’s Creek that in the 18th century would be renamed Carroll’s Creek. For a present day point of reference the picture above depicts the Spa Creek shoreline from this side of Compromise Street on the right to near the end of present day Shipwright Street on the left. This perspective is one of looking up the rising landscape towards the 18th century Georgian style Charles Carroll House on the left and the 19th century Gothic Revival style rectory of St. Mary’s Parish that dominates the scene.

Its People

As to those first settlers they subscribed to the Puritan faith, a religious minority during a period of English Anglican Church dominance as well as proprietary rule by the Roman Catholic Calvert family.

Over 100 years later Marylander’s with the names of Carroll, Paca, Chase, and Stone participated in a political discourse that sought the repeal of English taxation authority along with an expansion in local legislative powers. In the years that would follow the quest for suffrage by members of the working and artisan classes of Annapolis citizens would eventually succeed in bringing down the then established revolving door like political structure dominated by a dozen or so well entrenched individuals. Complete universal suffrage itself would remain an elusive goal for women and minorities for years to come.

Prior to the Civil War free African Americans became part of both the political and social community in Annapolis holding public offices, operating businesses and owning homes. At the start of the 20th century Filipinos arrived in the City holding mostly service jobs at the US Naval Academy to which they were recruited for in the Philippines. While some of them would return home others remained in the US eventually relocating to areas outside of Annapolis. Today Hispanics are the most recent arrivals to the City working and raising their families while at the same time adding yet another cultural dimension to Annapolis at large in the 21st century.

Maritime Tradition

Having arrived in Annapolis, Providence as the first settlement was named, by boat those first settlers set about growing food and raising livestock on plots of land bordering on or in close proximity to the water. Both the agricultural commerce and supporting trades that had developed during the mid to late 17th century were dependent on maritime based transportation.

Boat building, sail making, piers and waterfront warehouses were important aspects of the City’s early economic environment. In the latter part of the 19th century the growing Chesapeake Bay seafood industry, followed in the early to mid 20th century, commercial boatyards and maritime services businesses flourished along Annapolis waterfronts.

Beginning in the late 20th century and more so today the recreational and competitive boating concerns, along with expansive marinas and related services, have come to dominate the shorelines of Back and Spa Creeks.

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