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The Delmarva Connection

As mentioned in the prior post about my Kelley family line, they originated in Delaware. The fact is that, aside from my maternal grandmother, the rest of my ancestors through her are from the Delmarva Peninsula. This introduces an entirely new region to the family tree, in addition to New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So let me tell more about this area.

There exists a geographic fall line at the northern end of the peninsula that runs from Wilmington, Delaware, through Newark to Elkton, Maryland. It separates the crystalline rocks of the Piedmont from the unconsolidated sediments of the Coastal Plain. The peninsula consists of a land area of 6,000 square miles.

Although the fall line is the geographic boundary, the man-made Chesapeake & Delaware Canal makes the peninsula south of the canal an island. The canal connects the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays crossing the peninsula just south of the fall line.


One of the first Europeans to visit the area was in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano, a Florentine explorer in the service of King Francis I of France. He was followed by Captain John Smith who, beginning in 1608, mapped the area during his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay.


One of the more important locations for our ancestors is Worcester County. It was originally part of Somerset County until it was divided and the eastern portion became Worcester County on 10 December 1742. The county had fertile soil which supported staple crops like corn and wheat. During the colonial period the most valuable crop was tobacco. Cypress wood, harvested from the trees that grew along the Pocomoke River, was also an important part of the economy.


There were multiple border disputes along the peninsula. Some Virginia residents on the lower peninsula wanted Somerset and Worcester Counties to be a part of Virginia, but these efforts were rebuffed by Virginia’s Governor William Berekley. The northern boundary was the subject of a longstanding argument between Charles Calvert and William Penn who both claimed parts of the Eastern Shore had been granted to them. This disagreement was not fully resolved until the Mason Dixon Line was surveyed and accepted by Maryland and Pennsylvania in 1764.


During the Revolutionary War, the Eastern Shore region saw comparatively little bloodshed and was dubbed the “breadbasket of the Revolution” because its farms supplied the Continental Army. Much needed salt for provisions was produced at a plant near Sinepuxent.


A key town in our family's history is the village of Berlin (accent on the first syllable). It began in the 1790's around the original 300 acre 1677 land grant that became Burley Plantation. It is believed that the name Berlin was derived from a contraction of "Burleigh Inn," a tavern at the crossroads of the Philadelphia Post and Sinepuxent Roads. The town's Main Street was originally part of the path connecting the Assateague Indians with the neighboring Pocomoke tribe. In colonial times the path became the Philadelphia Post Road, the main travel route up the shore to the centers of commerce to the north and west.


Another town was Ocean City, a neighbor of Berlin. More than a century ago, it was a barren, wind-swept barrier island that separated the Atlantic Ocean from Sinepuxent Bay. This lonely stretch of sand was known only to a handful of fishermen who came to the island. It was not until soon after the Civil War that the Rhode Island Inn was constructed in 1869 for the fishermen and others who sought the beach as a refuge. The inn grew in popularity and, as a result, developers in 1872 named the island the "Ladies Resort of the Ocean" in an effort to attract families. Access from the mainland was by stagecoach and then by ferry. The Atlantic Hotel opened on 4 July 1875 and is still owned and operated by the original family. Popularity of the resort grew rapidly with the construction of the railroad bridge. The famous boardwalk started as a walkway built in sections by individual hotel owners and taken up at high tide or at night. The first permanent boardwalk was built in 1910.


Chartered in 1686, Snow Hill was a small settlement that grew and prospered as a farming and business community with the Pocomoke River playing a key role. It became the county seat in 1742, when the county was formed. Snow Hill was the home of a thriving shipbuilding industry. After the Civil War, the railroad provided a new boost to continuing the town's importance in the shipping of goods. It has remained a trading, commercial and governmental hub of a rich agricultural area. From 1828 to 1850, the Nassawango Iron Furnace, a few miles from Snow Hill, was in its heyday. Hundreds of people (miners, sawyers and colliers, molders and firemen, carters, draymen and bargemen) were engaged in gathering iron ore from the nearby bogs, smelting it day and night in the furnace, and loading cooled pig iron bars into barges to be floated down Nassawango Creek to the Pocomoke River.


In addition to Worcester County, there is a portion of Sussex County, Delaware known as Baltimore Hundred where other ancestors settled. The term "hundred" refers to an English land division, originating from the 10th century. Prior to the final boundary confirmation between Maryland and Delaware, the area was part of Worcester County. Located in the Southeastern section of the County, Baltimore Hundred is bounded by the Indian River and bay to the north, the Atlantic Ocean on the east, the Great Cypress Swamp to the west, and the Assawoman Bay to the south. The tracts first taken up by settlers were situated on the highest plane in the hundred. Outside of these choice parcels, the land was low and swampy, and enterprises were consequently projected to drain this partially submerged territory. They were so successful that the bottom-lands became the most fertile corn-growing section of the hundred.


In successive posts I will introduce you to the ancestors who lived in these areas. Stay tuned.

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