Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives
Vol. 16, No. 9
May 13, 2002
by:  D. Frank Potter  (Archives volunteer)

In the beginning, 1790, the census offered numbers, just numbers, little else. It was even called "enumeration." 

Sixty years, later the Census Bureau began to expand its profile of the American public and to seek more information. With this endeavor came aberrations and inconsistencies. 

In one census a name might be Matthew Travis, and in the next, Mathew Travers or even Mathias Travers. In addition, some people tended to grow younger as they aged, with an age of 50 at one time and then 67 ten years later and 75 ten years after that. Occasionally, the age progressed in the other direction. 

Researchers have learned to accept and accommodate these discrepancies. The censuses were designed to satisfy a set of governmental purposes. The public has converted them into tools for historical and genealogical research. 

In some areas, race for example, inconsistencies are less common, even infrequent or rare. But, they can complicate and confound the efforts of all of us, of any race, to sort out our history. The censuses for Dorchester County offer instances of conflicting information about race designations. 

In Fishing Creek, a small maritime community in the lower part of the county, the census of 1850 listed Vachel Travers, age 60, black, sailor, with his wife Elizabeth (Lewis), and four children. The wife and children were described as white. It is believed 

that Elizabeth Travers was white since there were no known Lewises who were black in Dorchester County at that time. 

In a household next door, and verified by family researchers, lived a son Henry Travers with his wife Sarah (Ruark) and four children, all listed as white. Sarah Travers, like Elizabeth, is associated with a white heritage. 

Another household, contiguous to Henry, was comprised of another son named John Travers with four children. Again all are designated as white. 

As briefly as possible, let us follow some selected individuals from these three households through ensuing censuses, where identities are reasonably certain. Over time the record becomes blurred and confused. 

Apparently Vachel Travers was deceased by 1860. His wife Elizabeth was described in the census of that year as age 85 and mulatto, and residing with Dennis Adams, her boarder in 1850. She did not appear in the 1870 census. A daughter Mary Travers, age 40 and mulatto, lived in the same household in 1860. Dennis Travers, defined as white in the 1850 census, had married Mariah Jane Travers, another family member from the John Travers household, in 1856. The couple and their three children were listed as mulatto in the 1860 census. Subsequently in 1870 and 1880 they were noted as white. 

The Henry and Sarah Travers family, white in 1850, were listed as mulatto in 1860 along with several additional children. In 1870, all family members received a white designation. In 1880, the pattern 

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reverted to mulatto, including the new sons, by then married. The death certificate for Thomas Travers, son of Henry and Sarah, listed his race as white. 

George Travers from the third 1850 household was living in the Dennis Adams household in 1860 and described as mulatto. Within the next ten years , he married and he and his family were listed as mulatto in the 1870 and 1880 censuses. 

The above examples are sufficient to document some of the discrepancies that arise in the Vachel Travers line. The normally black and white census can become gray at times. It is important to recognize and appreciate this fact. How do we deal with it? With sensitivity, understanding, and careful attention to details.

by:  Pat Melville

As with previous counties, information about roads in Talbot County appears as short entries in the court minutes, as recorded in (Judgment Record) in series C1875. The earliest court records date from 1662, and the first entry concerning roads occurs in 1669. The (Judgment Record) contains the administrative and judicial minutes and the recorded criminal and civil proceedings of the county court. Images of the contents of the first book in the series, BB 2, 1662-1674, are available online as part of the Archives of Maryland. 

By 1701, the clerk of the court began to record most lists of roads and appointments of overseers in (Road Record) in series C1908. Both the judgment and road records were sampled for an analysis of types of available road information. 

The first entry involving roads mentioned the appointment of William Coursey and John Edmundson as overseers of the highways on November 16, 1669. In September 1672, the court selected four men as overseers and designated the 

area of the county for which each was responsible: Thomas Hynson from Corsica Creek to the church by the highway between the Chester and Wye Rivers, John Scott from the mill to where Mr. Hynson lives, Richard Gorsuch in the Neck to the market road, and John Kinemont from the town at the mouth of Wye River to the mill. The court clerk sent warrants to the overseers that authorized them to obtain labor and supplies for road clearing and maintenance. 

The court minutes provide tidbits of information about roads in Talbot County through notations about filling vacancies among the overseers and appointing new ones to establish roads or work within a newly defined geographic area. Some entries do not specify the roads or areas, and merely list the names of the appointees and their predecessors. Occasionally, the records are even less informative. In 1696, warrants were issued to unnamed overseers "to clear the roads as directed". For at least two years, 1682-1684, the clerk mistakenly gave the overseers the title of surveyors of highways .

For 1701-1713 and 1721-1722, the clerk maintained separate road records in which he placed the legally mandated annual list of roads and some appointments of overseers. The minutes for those time periods also contained the names of overseers, some of which were duplicates, but most of which were not. None of the minutes included the full list of roads. By 1733, the recording of overseer appointments in the minutes had ceased. There may have been separate road records between 1722 and 1745, but they are not extant. After 1745, the series resumes and runs through the rest of the time the county court handled road matters. 

The first full list of roads in the road record series appeared in January 1702/03. Thereafter complete lists would be recorded periodically. In the interim, additional or altered roads would be described and new appointments of overseers listed. All road lists 

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included the names of the respective overseers. The road lists provide an outline of the expansion of surface transportation in the colonial period. The number of roads was not always readily apparent. For example, in 1703 the judges appointed ten overseers, and some of them seemed to be responsible for more than one road. In March 1720/21, the court designated twenty-one overseers for an equal number of roads. Beginning in March 1747, the roads were assigned numbers, then one through twenty-five. By 1761, the number had grown to thirty-one.

The descriptions of roads can show the general outline of their routes and provide information about places and people in Talbot County. The following examples are taken from the lists of roads in 1703, 1721, and 1747: 

  • From the north end of Moses Harris' bridge to the north side of Wye Mill Branch to Lobbs Crooke Branch to Thomas Emersons to Indian Bridge to the first road; Daniel Baker, overseer, 1703 
  • From Three Bridges to Tuckahoe Bridge to Wooters' Mill to Three Bridges; John Keld, overseer, 1703
  • From Col. Lloyd's Bridge by the head of Leeds Creek along the old road by Richard Barrows to St. Michaels River Ferry; Henry Jones, overseer, 1721 
  • From the place called Rich Bottom to the middle of Kings Creek Bridge; Francis Neale, overseer, 1721 
  • From White Marsh Church to the place called Bonded Hicory to the place called ID where a school house lately stood to the overseer's dwelling plantation; Nicholas Goldsborough, overseer, 1721 
  • No. 1, from Bayside Meeting House to Choptank Narrow; Ralph Dawson, overseer, 1747 
  • No. 3, from Oxford Ferry to St. Michaels Church; Robert Spencer, overseer, 1747 
  • No. 11, from St. Peters Church to the plantation of the late Francis Neal, from the road at the north end of Thomas Bullen's plantation to Parsons Landing, from the parting road near William Troth's old plantation until it intersects the road from Thomas Bullen's to Parsons Landing, from Barkers Landing to the outside gate through the plantation of the late George Robbins to the brow of the northernmost valley of the branch that runs by the old dwelling house of the late William Troth to the first road; Daniel Powell, overseer, 1747 
  • No. 22, from Miles River Ferry Landing by Thomas Bruff's plantation along Miles River and round the neck to Col. Lloyd's plantation; John Carslake, overseer, 1747. 

Petitions and orders concerning roads and ferries appeared intermittently throughout the court minutes. In May 1696, the justices fined Rodger Baddy for failure to answer a summons to work on the roads. At the same court session residents near the wading place to Kent Island requested a road to the ferry that was being established. In August 1706, Thomas Robins wanted a change in the road through White Marsh because it frequently flooded and offered his land for a new route. In July 1720, inhabitants on one side of the St. Michaels River asked the court to stop the clearing of a road because the route was "long and tedious." The judges agreed that they had been misinformed and ordered the construction to cease. 

In November 1706, John Oldson of Kent Island informed the Talbot County Court that Thomas Jackson, the keeper of the wading place ferry, was neglecting his duties. Apparently the justices agreed since they appointed Oldson keeper and ordered him to construct a causeway sufficient for boats to land at any tide. At the same session 

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Jackson did get his ordinary license renewed. In November 1764, the court appointed four ferry keepers, two of them women: Deborah Nicols at Barkers Landing, Elizabeth Skinner at Oxford, Rigby Foster at Chancellors Point, and Anthony Banning over Miles River. 

With the existence of so many annual lists of roads, information about roads, bridges, and ferries in colonial Talbot County is more extensive than for the other Eastern Shore counties already examined. In addition, the road descriptions should assist researchers interested in mills, churches, schools, plantations, and place names.