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The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland -- Part 1: The Courthouses
Volume 545, Page 17   View pdf image (33K)
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Like several other counties whose establishment dates from the same period, the origin
of Baltimore County is unknown. It is likely, however, that since the other counties of the
last half of the seventeenth century were created by executive action, Baltimore County also
owes its origin either to a proclamation of the governor or an order in council now lost. We
are certain that the county was in existence before January 12, 1659/60, because on that day
an order was issued to the sheriff to arrange for the election of burgesses to represent Balti-
more County for the first time at the next session of the General Assembly.1 Baltimore County
as then constituted was enormous, including as it did the present counties of Harford, Carroll,
Baltimore and Baltimore City, and parts of Cecil, Anne Arundel and Howard. It was reduced
to its present size by 1851 when Baltimore City was made into a political entity closely
resembling that of a county.2

Courthouse at Baltimore on Bush River

Unfortunately, the oldest court records have long since disappeared, and it seems impos-
sible from other sources to determine whether there was a fixed place of meeting or even any
real court sittings, except for the purpose of recording instruments, before 1674. In that year
the General Assembly passed an act requiring that each county that had not already done so
provide itself with a courthouse and jail.3 This order was not obeyed immediately in Balti-
more County because

His Lordships Commissioners for Baltimore County being Divided in their Opinions
touching the most Convenient Place for Building a Court house & Prison in the said
County (in pursuance of an Act for a Court house and Prison in every County) and
Captain Thomas Todd Exhibiting his Petition to the Upper house and praying Some
certain Order and Direction of this house touching the Place for Erecting the sd Build-
ings, This house doth Conceive that the most Convenient Place for the same will be
the head of Gunpowder River on the North Side and therefore it is hereby Ordered
that the Commissioners for the said County do take Notice hereof and appoint the
Erecting the said Buildings in the Place here ascertained.4

There is no evidence in contemporary records of the exact location of the courthouse until
some years later.6 In 1683, the General Assembly passed an act for the advancement of trade
in which it was directed that a town be laid out "on Bush River on the Town Land near the
Court House."6 This indicates beyond a reasonable doubt that the order of the Upper House
directing that the courthouse be built on Gunpowder River was disobeyed.7

According to Judge Ritchie, the location on Bush River was within the bounds of old

1 Arch, of Md., I, 381. This account, through the first two
courthouses of Baltimore County, owes much to Albert Ritchie.
"The Early County Seats and Court, Houses of Ball more
County," Md. Hist. Mag. I, 3-15, 99-112.

2 The reader will find details of these subtractions from Balti-
more County in the chapters devoted to the counties named
above or, better, in Edward B. Mathews, The Counties of Mary-
land, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1907.

3 Ch. 16, Acts of 1674.
4 Arch, of Md., II, 430. Feb. 30, 1674/75.

5 At this point Judge Ritchie fell into several errors in using
his sources : he does not put any store in the order of the

Upper House cited above because he found that no action was
taken by the Lower House and no act was passed. He did not
understand that the Council sitting as an Upper House was
just as likely to issue orders in council as if it were sitting as
the Council. He is skeptical of the efficacy of the Act of 1674
cited above because he thought it was repealed by Chapter 2 of
the Acts of 1676. This was not the case : this act is divided
into two parts, acts to be repealed and acts to be made Perma-
ment. Chapter 16 of the Acts of 1674 falls into the latter
6 Ch. 5.
7 But it is possible, if not probable, that some sort of tem-
porary courthouse was used on Gunpowder River,



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The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland -- Part 1: The Courthouses
Volume 545, Page 17   View pdf image (33K)
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