Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives
by Pat Melville 

Efficient transportation of people and goods in colonial Maryland depended upon, in part, the existence of ferries, both public and private, across its many rivers. The public ferries were regulated by the county courts. The justices determined the locations of the facilities and contracted annually with someone to run each ferry. The contract specified the annual compensation, the number of boats to be used (usually one), and the hours of operation. County taxpayers rode the ferries for free, and nonresidents paid tolls. 

The first general law concerning ferries appeared in 1658 and it required each county, except Kent, to maintain at least one ferry out of the tax levy. The law remained in effect until 1676 when it was not renewed. The county courts, nevertheless, continued to function as if the law still existed. 

Occasionally, the General Assembly became involved with specific situations and passed legislation to establish or abolish individual ferries. In the fall of 1710, the Lower House received a petition from several Prince George's County inhabitants to close the ferry at Mount Calvert  that went across the Patuxent River to Pig Point. The rationale is unknown since the contents of the petition were not recorded. The Lower House did order the ferry keeper, James Stoddart, to cease
operation. The Prince George's County grand jury deemed the ferry essential and wanted the court to maintain it as a public facility. With only two justices in agreement, the recommendation was rejected. A ferry did continue to run from Mount Calvert but as a private operation. In 1740 a petition to the 

county court resulted in the ferry being converted to a tax supported facility. 

In 1718 and again in 1733, Lord Baltimore tried to interject a claim that the proprietor of Maryland possessed the right to control public ferries and appoint ferry keepers. The justices of the Anne Arundel Court received a letter in November 1718 from the proprietor, asserting his right to grant patents to operate ferries and
requesting the submission of recommendations for keepers. The court responded by describing its long standing right to contract with individual keepers. While acknowledging the right of the proprietor to grant exclusive patents for ferries, the justices questioned the value of such a policy without some way to ensure the faithful execution of the duties. The provincial and local records show no further action in this matter. 

The attempt in 1733 to establish control over ferries was more widespread since the court minutes for several counties alluded to the effort. On June 18, 1733 the governor issued instructions to Daniel Dulaney: 

     Whereas the Justices of the Several County
    Courts have taken upon them to Agree for 
    Certain rates with persons for keeping ferries
    over Several of the Rivers within my
    Province for the Inhabitants of their Several
    Countys and to assess the rates upon the 
    Inhabitants without any Law to Warrant 
    Such assessment which practice is not only
    an Invasion of our right but an Injury to the 
    People who are assess Contrary to Law. You
    are therefore hereby Directed to take 
    proper Measures to put a Stop to Such illegal
    practices and to take all necessary care that 
    neither our right or property be Invaded or 
    the people Imposed on in that Particular.

(continued on Page 2)


Page 2
The Archivists' Bulldog
PUBLIC FERRIES (continued from Page 1)

Dulaney forwarded the instructions to the county justices in November, along with directions on implementation: 

     The … Lord Proprietor having the Sole and 
    undoubted right of granting Licences to keep 
    Ferrys within this Province, and Judging it 
    unreasonable and unequal that they should be 
    supported by a Tax upon the People (many of
    whom never receiving any Advantadge from
    the Ferrys) without an Express Law to warrant
    Such taxation, has been pleased to give it in 
    Charge to his Agent to Insist on his Lordships
    rights; I herewith send your Worships a Copy
    of his Lordship's Instructions which contains 
    his resolution and the reasons for it in Terms
    so Strong and Explicit, that I am persuaded 
    you will be Convinced of the Justice of his 
    Lordship's proceedings…. And therefore 
    Doubt not but your Worships will for the
    future forbear giving Licences for Ferrys or 
    Levying anything upon the people for 
    Supporting them, but let such as are Inclinable
    to keep ferries apply to me who have Express 
    Authority as his Lordship's Agent to Grant 
    such Licences…. Should any body keep Ferry
    by Colour of any Authority…, my duty will 
    Oblidge me to prosecute such person as an 
    Invader of his Lordship's rights….

Some courts, such as Dorchester County, complied with the new policy and ordered that ferries no longer be kept as county charges. More common was the adverse reaction of the Baltimore County justices "that they have an Undoubted right Warrantable by Law and Custom to Support and Grant Licence for such
ferries in this County as shall be Deemed Necessary and Convenient for the Inhabitants thereof in the usual manner…." The county court decided to continue existing practice and so informed the governor in November 1733: 

     And for as much as we Conceive that practice
     is Consonant to the Customs of this Province,
    and Such assessments Supported by Law, we 

The Archivists' Bulldog 
Page 3
PUBLIC FERRIES (continued from Page 2)

Most ferry keepers retained their positions for several years, and they usually maintained nearby inns in order to accommodate and profit from travelers. Public ferries on major transportation routes seemed to be financially lucrative operations. One such facility was the South River ferry at Londontowne, where individuals actually competed for appointment as keeper. In November 1712 Edward Rumney asked to take over the ferry because Richard Dixon, the current keeper, was sometimes absent. The Anne Arundel Court rejected the request, but did threaten removal if additional complaints were made. In August 1713 Dixon said he no longer wanted the ferry, and Rumney again petitioned for the appointment. Instead the justices chose Thomas Gassaway. A year later Rumney tried again, identifying himself as a ship carpenter and citing his twenty-eight years of residence in Londontowne and service to the county as a juror, constable, and road overseer. As before, his petition was rejected. 

Finally in 1715, Edward Rumney succeeded in his effort to be appointed keeper of the South River ferry, followed shortly by a contention from Stephen West that he was authorized by patent from the governor to keep the public ferry over South River exclusive of anyone else. The court initially rejected this petition, but upon reconsideration appointed West as keeper and voided Rumney's contract. A year later, the ferry was awarded to John Holland after West refused to continue his contract. A few days later West changed his mind and unsuccessfully tried to oust Holland. 

By March 1720, Elinor Rumney, wife of Edward Rumney, was managing the ferry but not according to the terms of the contract. Stephen West came forth and agreed to take over the operation. He retained the position of ferry keeper until November 1748 by which 

time he was being allowed to run two boats during busy seasons. Periodically, citizens filed complaints concerning the level of service, which the court handled by reminding West about the terms of his contract. 

Thomas Lusby served as sole keeper of the South River ferry from 1748 to 1757. In the latter year, the court designated both Lusby and William Brown as keepers, each to operate one boat. When Thomas Lusby died in 1758, his son Jacob Lusby took over the position. Throughout the rest of the colonial period, Brown and Lusby served as dual keepers or Brown operated alone. In 1759, the court, unaware of Lusby's application, appointed only Brown, and upon learning of the oversight offered a second contract to Lusby which he refused. The next year found both of the men accepting the appointments. 

The need for more than one boat at the South River ferry landing was another indication of the importance of that crossing. In 1762 the justices permitted William Brown, acting as sole keeper, to run three boats when the state and county courts were in session and during elections. In November 1767 the court once again divided the position between Brown and Jacob Lusby, with the former allowed one or two boats and the latter one boat. Also specified were hours of operation: 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. from April 1 to September 29, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. from September 29 to March 1, and 
6 a.m. to 7 p.m. from March 1 to April 1. 

The county courts established, maintained, and regulated ferries despite sporadic attempts by the proprietary to assert control. During the colonial period, and for many years afterwards, ferries could become profitable ventures, even as public facilities, as exemplified by the South River ferry. 


Gilland, Steve. Early Families of Frederick County,
   Maryland and South Central Pennsylvania 
_____. Early Families of Frederick County, Maryland
   and Adams County, Pennsylvania 
Hall, Bill. Sykesville 
Hilton, George W. Ma and Pa: A History of the 
   Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad 
Hoewing, Raymond L. et al. Poolesville, 250 Years: 
   From Indians to the Internet 
Horton, Tom. Island Out of Time: A Memorial of 
   Smith Island in the Chesapeake 
Hurry, Robert J. Discovery and Archeological 
   Investigation of the the Benjamin Banneker 
   Homestead, Baltimore County, Maryland (18BA282)