Harford County's Early
History Is Fascinating!
Discovery and Exploration of the County
Harford County, Maryland was first discovered in 1608 by Captain
John Smith of the Virginia Colony (the same John Smith of the Pocahontas
legend). He made a fairly accurate map of the upper country and
its islands and shores. On this map, he designated many places whose
names as still in use today.
The island now called
Poole's, he named "Powell's Isles" after Nathaniel Powell
in his crew. He named Willowbye's River (today's Bush River) after
the town in which he was born and in honor of his friend, Lord
Smith proceeded northward from the Bush River, passing what is
known today as Spesutia Island and Havre de Grace, and into the
Susquehanna River. He traveled up the Susquehanna to a stream
flowing from the northeast, which is believed to be Deer Creek.
The first settlement
in the region was made by a young Englishman, Edward Palmer in
approximately 1622. Having heard about the Smith exploration,
Palmer decided to establish a fur trading post in a spot where
he could trade with the Indian trappers to the north. This location,
at the mouth of the Susquehanna, was also accessible by water
to other trading posts on the Bay and rivers to the south. The
name was changed to Garrett Island, in honor of the president
of the B & O Railroad John W. Garrett, in 1885.
One of the first permanent
settlements in the county was on Poole's Island, which was granted
to Captain Robert Norris in 1659. About 1649, Col. Utie came from
Virginia to explore the upper bay region and find a place to settle.
In 1658, Bearson's Island, located a few hundred yards south of
Havre de Grace, was granted to Nathaniel Utie. He changed the
name to Spesutie, using the latin Spes-Utie, meaning Utie's Hope.
The spelling was later changed to Spesutia as it is known today.
Harford County Established
Harford County had its beginnings as a part of Baltimore County,
which was created in 1659 and included the territory of Baltimore,
Harford and Cecil counties.
The first county seat,
the town of Old Baltimore situated on the east bank of Bush River
in what is now Aberdeen Proving Ground, was authorized in 1674.
In 1712, the county seat was moved to "Gunpowder Town",
located at Joppa on the east side of the Little Gunpowder where
Joppatowne now stands. In 1768, after many difficulties in Joppa,
including a smallpox epidemic, the county seat was moved to Baltimore.
Harford was not organized
into a county until 1774. At that time the present territory was
fairly well settled; the population, including blacks, amounted
to thirteen thousand people. Roads had been laid out, bridges
made, churches built and our progenitors lived in a peaceful and
well-governed section as citizens of Baltimore County.2
The Act of the General
Assembly of 1773, called for the division of Baltimore County
and for the erecting of a new one by the name of Harford. The
boundaries of the county were established as follows:
that part of Baltimore county which is included within the bounds
following, to wit: Beginning at the mouth of the little falls
of Gunpowder river, and running with the said falls to the fountain
head, and from thence north to the temporary line of this province,
and thence with the temporary line to Susquehanna river, thence
with Susquehanna to Chesapeake bay, and thence with the said
bay, including Spesutia and Pool's Islands, to the mouth of
the Gunpowder river, and thence up the said river to the beginning
aforesaid, shall be and is hereby erected into a new county,
by the name of Harford county." 1
The first court for the
new county was held on March 22, 1774 at Harford Town, or Bush,
located at what is now the junction of Route 7 and Route 136. In
1775, the citizens of Harford county passed "The Bush Declaration",
becoming the first organized body of men in the country to proclaim
independence from Britain.
After the Revolution,
in 1782, an election was held to move the County Seat to Bel Air,
where it remains to this day.
Active Post Offices
The postal history of Harford County reads much the same as any
eastern Maryland county in the 1800's. Most of the population was
in the southern half of the county near the main highways and railways.
Delivery of mail in locked bags or pouches between offices was done
on horseback or by stage for post offices on the stage route. Delivery
was remarkably fast when one considers the transportation problems
of the day. Contracts were awarded each year by the Post Office
Department for carriers to pick up the mail bag from the larger
post offices via buggy, coach or wagons. On the return they carried
mail to the central office or rail head. Some of the more remote
and inaccessible offices received pickup and delivery services only
once or twice a week.1
1 Our Harford Heritage by C. Million Wright, published
2 History of Harford County Maryland by Walter W. Preston, published