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Cecil County Life

The rich and fascinating heritage of Cecil County

Dec 01, 2023 03:29PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Gene Pisasale
Contributing Writer

George Calvert was a British lawyer and assistant to Lord Cecil, and when George’s son was born, he had him christened “Cecilius” in honor of his employer. After his father—the original Baron Baltimore—-passed away, Cecil was made Lord Baltimore and received a charter from King Charles I for a colony named after the King’s wife, Henrietta Maria. In 1632, that colony came to life as Maryland. Charles never dreamed that the colony he named after his wife would be one of 13 which 144 years later would fight a long and bitter war against his country.

The king did know that Cecil’s father George had long sought a colony to serve as a refuge for English Roman Catholics. George had converted to Catholicism seven years before. British kings, beginning in the 1600s, granted land in North America to those seeking to flee religious persecution—people who, by definition, did not agree with England’s “official” religion and policies. Each colony granted was, in effect, sowing the seeds of revolution against the very kings who had bestowed them.

Cecil County—named in honor of Cecil Calvert—was part of a colony which had nebulous boundaries. Maryland was originally laid out to include the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay down to the Potomac River and the entire eastern shore, which today is recognized as the Delmarva Peninsula. Settlers in Virginia got to America years before and protested the overlapping boundaries, so they were redrawn. In June 1632, the final charter for Maryland included land on the eastern shore only as far south as a line drawn directly east from the mouth of the Potomac River.

After all the excitement with getting his colony, Cecil never made it to America. He was busy back in England defending the extent of his property, so he sent his younger brother Leonard who became the first “on-site” Governor of Maryland. Cecil County wasn’t officially organized until 1674—a year before Cecil passed away. The county was previously part of the much larger Baltimore County and included parts of Howard, Anne Arundel, Harford, Carroll and eastern Frederick counties.

Cecil County’s heritage includes more than 50 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One of them—Principio Furnace—was among the earliest iron furnaces in the colonies. Begun around the year 1719 by Joseph Farmer and ironmaster John England, Principio by the 1740s was one of the most successful in the region. Mr. England’s successor, Thomas Russell, Jr. made cannonballs for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Holdings of the Principio Company included the Potomac Ironworks near Fredericksburg, Virginia—on the land of Augustine Washington, George Washington’s father. British forces attempted to destroy the furnace during the War of 1812, but in 1836, the site was purchased and rebuilt by Joseph Whitaker, his brothers and Thomas Garrett, a prominent abolitionist who helped thousands of slaves find freedom on the Underground Railroad. Principio Furnace was listed on the National Register in 1972.

Missionary activities in Cecil County date back to the turn of the 18th century. St. Francis Xavier Church in Warwick, on the estate known as Bohemia Manor has roots beginning in 1704 when a farm was purchased at the location. A school there educated several people who would become distinguished, including future Archbishop John Carroll and his cousin, Founding Father Charles Carroll of Carrollton. The graveyard there holds some well-known persons, including Catherine “Kitty” Knight, who is credited with saving Georgetown from the British during the War of 1812. The Kitty Knight House stands today and welcomes visitors with great food, indoor and outdoor dining and live entertainment. The Church was listed on the National Register in 1975.

The East Nottingham Friends Meetinghouse in Rising Sun dates to 1724 and consists of three different units: a Flemish bond brick section, a stone addition and a one-story gable-roofed building. The Meetinghouse is significant because William Penn granted 18,000 acres of land there to be used for “… a Meeting House and Burial Yard Forever…” The property was named the Nottingham Lots, which lie along the border with Pennsylvania. At one point, this structure was the largest Friends Meetinghouse south of Philadelphia. It was added to the National Register in 1977.

Elk Landing is an historic home in Elkton dating to around 1780. The land was part of an early settlement made by Swedish and Finnish immigrants. Swede John Hansson Steelman used the home as a trading post beginning around 1693, trading with Indian tribes of south-central Pennsylvania and Maryland until 1739. Archeological excavations have uncovered remains of the original log structure. The site was added to the National Register in 1984.

The Elkton Armory in Elkton, Maryland was built in 1915. The two-story brick and stone structure resembles a rustic Medieval castle, with corner towers, parapets and strip buttresses. Elkton Armory was linked to the reorganization and expansion of the National Guard system in the early-mid 20th century. The state seal of Maryland lies above the entry door. It was listed on the National Register in 1985.

Gilpin’s Falls Covered Bridge is a beautifully preserved structure in Bay View, near the town of North East, Maryland. Joseph George Johnson built the bridge across North East Creek in 1860- 1861. It received its name due to proximity to Samuel Gilpin’s mill. The bridge has a span of 100 feet; shelter overhangs give it a width of 13.5 feet. Although the bridge has been reinforced over the years, it has been closed to vehicular traffic, but remains a lovely example of mid-19th century architecture. The bridge was added to the National Register in 2008.

So, if you’re wandering around Cecil County and thinking about some historic places to visit, these sites offer a rich heritage to connect with. Preservation groups around Maryland are actively involved in their maintenance. Hopefully they’ll be part of the landscape for decades to come.

Gene Pisasale is an historian, author and lecturer based in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. His 11 books focus mostly on the history of the Chester County/mid-Atlantic region. Gene’s latest book is “Heritage of the Brandywine Valley”, a beautifully illustrated hardcover book with over 250 images showcasing the fascinating people, places and events of this region over more than 300 years. His books are available on his website at and also on Gene can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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