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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 Wollowby.
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. 1

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...all 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 1967
2 History of Harford County Maryland by Walter W. Preston, published 1901

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