Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives
by Pat Melville

As usual for the colonial period, most information about roads in Frederick County appears as short entries in the court minutes, as recorded in (Judgment Record) in series C810 and in (Minutes) in C831. The judgment 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 minute books contain abbreviated versions of the administrative and judicial matters. Abstracts from series C810 appear in Millard Milburn Rice, This Was the Life: Excerpts from the Judgment Records of Frederick County, Maryland, 1748-1765 (Redwood City, CA: Monocacy Book Co., 1979). 

Frederick County was established in 1748 from Prince George's County and initially encompassed all of western Maryland, including what is now Montgomery County and part of what is now Carroll County. 

The first reference to roads occurred in March 1748/49 when Alexander Magruder filed a petition for a road from his house to the main road to the Rock Creek Warehouse. The court rejected his request. The rejection rate for such petitions seemed higher in Frederick County than in other counties. In August 1753, new settlers in the upper part of Potomac Hundred asked for a road from the head of Back Branch to Capt. Henry Crabb's road, a distance of about three miles. Again, the justices responded negatively. 

The more informative rejections included the rationales for the decisions. In March 1764, John Semple, who was establishing an iron works at the head of Shenandoah Falls on the Potomac River, wanted a road opened along the river from Ore Hill to Harpers Ferry to serve as portage past the falls. The court
designated three men to view the site and report back. At the next court session in June, they filed an unfavorable report, deeming the road impractical because of the prevalence of large rocks and the lack of sufficient taxables to support it with labor. 

The justices actually granted most petitions to establish new roads or alter existing ones. In March 1748/49, they appointed three men to lay out a road from Capt. Joseph Ogle's ford to John Biggs' ford on the Monocacy River. At the same session, Joseph Wood complained about the road from Monocacy Ford to Lancaster, PA, describing it as crooked and blocked by fallen trees. He suggested a shorter route from the ford across the manor lands and Little Pipe Creek to Great Pipe Creek and then to the "temporary line" of the province. The court accepted his plan. 

Several individuals in August 1761 petitioned for a road from Conococheague Creek to cross over the mountains so they could transport wheat to Baltimore. They suggested a wagon road from Stoner's Mill across the mountains at Smiths Gap and then to the road from George Trucks' to Baltimore. The justices designated to review the matter proposed a route from Stoner's Mill across Mount Misery and by Gasber Smith's to near Capt. Ogle's late dwelling place, then to Ogle's ford on the 

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Monocacy, and then to the new road from George Trucks' to the Baltimore County line. The court accepted this proposal. 

Sometimes, the opening of a new road caused more problems than it solved. At the November 1753 session, Richard Cooke, who was renting a plantation formerly possessed by Stephen Julian, cited a new road cleared through the upper part of his land that destroyed one entire field. He wanted the old road restored because it went over level ground, whereas the new one was "one entire hill and full of grubbs". The petition was granted. A year later, John Smith sought permission to change the route of the road on the west side of Antietam Ford where it had deep ruts and was subject to flooding by runoff from the surrounding hills. The court authorized him to make the alterations. 

Annually at the November court term, the justices appointed road overseers to maintain roads for specified areas of the county. The number of road areas grew from 47 in 1750 to 65 in 1763. From the lists recorded by the court clerk come the following examples of road descriptions: 

  • River Road and Richard Touchstone's Road
  • From Nicholls Neck to Fifteen Mile Creek 
  • From Fifteen Mile Creek to Great Tonoloways 
  • From the temporary state line to William Ambrose's mill 
  • From Capt. Johns Bridge to Lawrence Owens, then down to Rock Creek Bridge beyond Caleb Litton's, then to Rock Creek Bridge near James Smith's, then from Lawrence Owens' to a bridge 

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The county court often provided for the maintenance of bridges by awarding contracts to individuals, many times as part of the package for the construction of the structure. In November 1751, Richard Beall agreed to repair the bridge over Rock Creek by Caleb Litton's and to maintain it for two years. Clementius Davis accepted a contract to fix the bridge over Senecar, increase its length to ninety feet, and maintain it for ten years. 

Three years later, several residents petitioned for a bridge over Sideling Hill Creek where people had drowned while trying to get across. The court appointed three justices to contract with someone to build the bridge and maintain it for ten years. A year later, the inhabitants returned with a modified petition for a bridge over Sideling Hill Creek or Town Creek. The court changed its course of action and agreed to contract for the latter. In March 1761, another request was made for a bridge over Town Creek, citing the transportation of supplies to the armies north and west of the area as one of the benefits. The court rejected the petition.

The French and Indian War also affected bridges in Frederick Town where by November 1761 many needed repair, and timber in the area was scarce because so much had been appropriated by the army. Town residents proposed replacing the wooden bridges with ones built of stone. The court accepted the idea. 

This article concludes the series on road related records for the colonial period through 1765. The next series will cover the years 1765 through 1795. 

Ryan Polk to Attend MESDA Summer Graduate Program

Congratulations to Ryan Polk, editorial associate on the Archives of Maryland, who has been accepted into, and awarded a partial scholarship for, a summer graduate program 


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