Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives

The Reference and Research Advisory Committee met at the Archives on December 11, 2002. Much discussion concerned the effects of budget cuts on the level of reference services being provided for researchers. The response time for vital records especially is becoming more extensive. In addition, the vital records fee no longer covers the cost to search for and copy a birth or death record. The Archives is developing plans for  web access  to vital record indexes. 

Pressure from requests for background checks for gun permits will be alleviated by grant funds to employ someone to do this type of research.

The number of volunteers involved in reference has grown, especially in the search room where their services are extremely useful and much appreciated by both patrons and staff. Other reference volunteers develop and donate finding aids and record abstracts. These collection donations are being acknowledged and made publicly available now in a more timely manner than in the past. Rocky Rockefeller noted that additional volunteers are always welcome. 

The Archives would like to avoid raising fees, but may find this necessary, which the Committee understood and recommended. 

Staff and Members, Reference and Research Committee Meeting
by Pat Melville 

As in other counties, information about roads in Charles County appears as short entries in the court minutes, as recorded in (Court Record) in series C658. The books contain the administrative and judicial minutes and the recorded criminal and civil proceedings of the county court. Normally the clerks placed the minutes at the beginning of the record for each court term, followed by proceedings of the cases being heard. The first six volumes have been transcribed and appear as Volumes 53 and 60 in the Archives of Maryland series. The court records were sampled for the availability of information about roads. 

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"The waters of the Potomac were naturally the first roadway known to Charles Countians. It was a roadway that needed no building, it never called for repairs, it came to every man's landing." [Jack D. Brown et al, Charles County, Maryland: A History, p. 13] 

The earliest entry involving roads appeared fairly early in November 1666 when the county justices ordered the constables to appoint overseers to maintain the roads in their respective hundreds. Later courts followed the more normal procedure of naming the overseers directly. Usually an individual was assigned a specific area. Examples from the 1710 list of appointments include Joseph Piles for the part of Newport Hundred east of Piles Fresh and Henry Milles for the north part, Thomas Green for the west side of Portobacco Creek and John Dodson for the east side, James Moncaster for the upper part of Durham Parish and Jesse Doyne for the lower part, and Barton Smoot for the Zachiah Bridges. 

By 1744, the court was complying with the law to list the public roads in the county. At the same time, overseers were appointed and given responsibility over groups of specific roads. Road descriptions included: 

  • from the head of Portobacco Creek to Stones Mill and through Cedar Point  Neck to Pissimon Point
  • from Piscataway Road by David        Southerland's to Richard Wheeler's mill
  • from Elgins Run the usual road to the river     side by Simon Smith
  • old path that strikes out of Burdicks Creek
  • from Mrs. Verlinda Harrison's along the        bank head to the long wharf 
  • from Cool Spring Road by Joseph Johnson's to Benedict Town 
  • from the road by John Anderson's to Indian Creek Bridge 

The number of road groups expanded from 16 in 1744 to 24 in 1756. Among the new routes were: 

  • from the head of Portobacco Creek to the post of directions below Joseph Jameson's plantation near Mr. Countee's quarter to Chapels Point 
  • from the post of directions by Marshall's hill to the cross roads to Fendalls Ferry Landing 
  • from the post of directions to Wicomico Road at the bottom of the hill below Fendall's old house and down the Wicomico Road till it intersects Benjamin Guinn's north line and Mr. Yates' church road 

Overseers could be cited for neglecting the repair of roads and bridges, as happened to James Galwith in August 1721. Or, overseers might complain about the refusal of citizens to provided labor for road work. In March 1673/74 four men were presented for refusing to help repair roads. Clement Thompson appeared, but was drunk and fined for that offense and ordered to come to the next court to answer the road presentment. John Longe claimed no one ever asked him to work, and his charge was dismissed. William Cotton was deceased, and the sheriff could not find Robert Lofton.

Until the provincial capitol was moved to Annapolis the availability of a road to 
St. Mary's City was important for residents of 

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Charles County. Even the General Assembly became involved by passing a law in 1674 that directed the justices of Charles and St. Mary's counties to find and construct a new route over the Wicomico River within two miles of a mill that was making the existing road through Zachiah Swamp impassable.

Normally the alteration of routes or the construction of new roads was based on petitions from county residents. In March 1720/21 several citizens wanted to clear a road from the new bridge at Zachia to Stephen Cawood's for rolling tobacco to the Potomac River. The justices granted the request on condition that the petitioners clear the road themselves and not be exempt from doing their duty on other public roads. At the same court session the justices considered the petition of Ubgatt for a road from his land because he claimed that William Hunter, the adjoining land owner, had blocked access with a fence. The court rejected the request as frivolous and groundless. 

In August 1731, the justices directed that the path around Portobacco Hill toward the old courthouse be cleared and kept as a public road for a cart way, besides the road then in use, and that the old Panginah Road from Charles Town to Mamazink to the old courthouse be cleared and kept as a main road. In November 1732 Col. George Mason, with a post office at his house, filed a petition to alter the road from his residence to the Wicomico River because the existing pathway was overgrown with bushs. The court granted the petition and appointed Mason overseer. 

In August 1744, Robert Yates cited his plan to move from his current dwelling plantation to one higher up the Wicomico River, located between the plantation of the late Col. Fendall and of Charles Yates , and wanted the existing road repaired and or a new one laid out to connect with the main road from Pickawaxon. He blamed poor maintenance on the fact 

that few people except plantation overseers lived in the area. Obviously trying to further his cause, Yates mentioned his recent appointment as a justice of the peace. The court granted the petition and ordered Yates to direct the road overseer in clearing a new road. 

With roads going through private property, the possibility of complaints and conflicts always existed. Rebecca Howard, Joseph Guininard, and William Howard in June 1745 petitioned for reconsideration of the proposed road to the ferry at Cedar Point because it interfered too much with their farming operations. A committee was appointed to review the matter and report to the court. The committee accepted the premise of the petitioners and the court in August adopted a new route to begin at the main road between Portobacco and Pickawaxon Church near Coady's gate, then through a lane between Coady and Joseph Guinn, then around Capt. Benjamin Douglass' plantation, in possession of his son John Douglass, and then by Philip Jenkin's to Cedar Point. 

In June 1734, another landowner, Alexander Contee, complained about residents using the landing on his plantation where tenant Thomas Crimpton lived. Several people protested saying the landing was deemed public by the neighbors who had used it for years. The court agreed with the residents and rejected Contee's petition

Although more expensive to build and maintain, bridges were important components of the road system. In March 1757 the court ordered two justices to find someone to repair the bridge over Grasilla Creek Fresh. At the same session, based on the petition of several citizens, the court contracted with Edmund Berry Godfrey Pain to build a bridge over Benedicts Creek similar to the one over Allens Fresh. 

To go back to the quote at the beginning of the article, water remained a constant factor for transportation in Charles County, whether as the roadway for ships and boats or an obstacle to be drained or bridged.