Catoctin Mountain Park
Historic Resource Study
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Chapter One:
Settling the Catoctins

For centuries before the arrival of European whites, the Catoctin mountain area sat largely uninhabited with the exception of occasional groups of roaming Native Americans, lured by the rich natural resources of the area. Even as white colonists settled other areas of Maryland, the western part of the state remained sparsely populated. Then, beginning in the 1740s, whites began arriving in greater numbers. Early settlers were mostly Germans, escaping the political and religious turmoil of Europe. They carried with them an intense religious devotion and proficiency in farming. Life for the early pioneers could be hard, even terrifying when war broke out. Yet the availability of large, bountiful tracts of land offered real rewards. As the revolution approached, eastern elites, largely of English origin, also began noting the rich resources of the Catoctin area. Among them were Thomas Johnson, future governor of Maryland, and his partners who planned to build a iron furnace at the foot of the mountain. Chapter 1 then is the story of pioneers, rapid development, and swift change.

Native Americans

Traveling through Maryland in the 1680s, Dutch explorer Jaspar Danckaerts was impressed by the burgeoning colony, but he sensed that something was missing. "There are few Indians," noted the Dutchman, "in comparison with the extent of the country." He blamed the English for having "almost exterminated" the native population. [1] The relative paucity of Indians in Maryland actually was a permanent feature of the region and predated the arrival of the English by centuries. But Danckaerts' general point was correct: Native Americans did not populate Maryland as heavily as they did other areas of North America. And within the Maryland region, no area had a smaller Indian population than western Maryland, which reflected the general trend of sparse inhabitation found in the northern and central Appalachian region. [2]

During the Paleo-Indian era (1300-7500 BC) the first Native Americans entered the continent by crossing the Bering Strait. Nomadic hunters, these early travelers left few traces. Still, archeologists have uncovered enough evidence to establish that such early natives did inhabit the region that became Maryland. [3] Gradually as the climate warmed and forests developed, the early Indian population increased--especially around the waterways of the Chesapeake. By the Woodland period (2000 BC-1600 AD), agricultural villages and organized tribes had emerged in the coastal areas. [4]

The Blue Ridge and Monocacy Valley areas, however, contained significantly fewer occupants than eastern areas. Some scholars have theorized that during the Woodland period and after western Maryland served as a buffer zone between coastal settlements and the western Indians occupying the Ohio Valley.

Yet archeologists have uncovered significant evidence that western Maryland was not completely uninhabited. In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, amateur archeologists such as E.R. Goldsborough began making surveys of the Monocacy Valley and Catoctin area. His surveys pointed to numerous sites containing evidence of Native American inhabitation. Although Native American sites in Eastern Maryland continue to draw the majority of scholarly interest, by the second half of the twentieth century, building on the work of Goldsborough, professional archeological surveys were underway in western Maryland. These studies suggest that native Americans did value and seek to exploit the rich natural resources available in the region.

More than anything else, the Catoctin and Monocacy areas served as fertile hunting grounds for eastern tribes. Around the mountains, exploring parties pursued deer and other game. In order to facilitate hunting in the uninhabited territory, Native Americans set brush fires to clear out game. At times the fires burnt with such fury that they could be smelled forty miles away. [5] Also of value were the rich deposits of rhyolite available in the western mountains. [6] Rhyolite could be fashioned into arrowheads, hoes, and other important tools. Those in search of the compound would dig small pits into the flattops of ridges. [7] The work of local archeologist Spencer O. Geasey in the 1960s and 1970s, focusing on rock shelters and rhyolite pits in Frederick County, stirred interest and suggested the need for more archaeological work. [8]

Between 1978 and 1980, the Maryland Geological Survey conducted an "intensive archeological reconnaissance" of upper Frederick County. As part of the survey, Michael Stewart excavated "aboriginal quarries" along the west slope of Catoctin Mountain near Foxville. Seeming to date from the Woodland period, the site was "characterized by large amounts of primary chipping debris, few diagnostics, and occasionally by small pits against the face of the outcrop." Finding ample evidence of rhyolite manufacturing, Stewart and the survey group concluded that the site might have been part of a larger "rhyolite procurement and processing system." Although, little is known of the mechanics of this system, archeologists hypothesize the existence of "a regional exchange network operating between bands or by movement of groups from the Coastal Plains to the interior processing camps." [9] What one archeologist characterized as "periodically revisited temporary" camps existed in the area to support to the rhyolite extraction. [10]

Other Western Maryland excavations have indicated more permanently inhabited sites. State archeologist Tyler Bastian excavated a Monocacy Valley site called Biggs Ford Village, where he found an ornament and other artifacts from the Late Woodland Period. [11] More recently, in 1992, the Archeological Society of Maryland initiated a major effort to excavate a Late-Woodland site high on a bluff over the Monocacy river, northwest of the present site of the Frederick Airport. While preliminary investigations do not lend themselves to absolute conclusions, the Rosenstock Village site, as it was named, did contain evidence of a possible permanent settlement. [12] Future digs may someday fill out the picture of prehistoric life in the Monocacy Valley region, but preliminary surveys suggest that temporary camps existed in the Catoctin Mountain area, while more permanent, yet still small, dwelling areas lay to the south--especially along the Potomac.

Clearly, the major source of transportation for the Native Americans sojourning in Western Maryland were the Potomac and Monocacy Rivers. But there also appear to have been a series of Indian trails allowing for passage through some of the more difficult terrain. Although nearly impossible to recreate, such trails do seem to have provided the basis for the later Monocacy wagon road, which sliced diagonally through the region from eastern Pennsylvania to central Virginia (see Map 1). [13]

With the arrival of European settlers in Maryland, beginning in the 1630s, a clearer picture emerges of the native population in the region. Early accounts from white settlers suggest a state of tension between coastal Indians and their neighbors to the northwest. Smaller tribes--in particular the Piscataway (also known as the Conoys) and Nanticokes, both from the Algonquian language group--occupied the Chesapeake area. [14] To their north and west were the Susquehannock, a more warlike tribe, which made its home on the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna--related to the Iroquois-- but not part of the confederation--frequently clashed with both their Algonquian neighbors to the south and the confederacy to the north. [15] These series of raids and battles may have discouraged permanent settlement in the western reaches of Maryland, which sat as disputed territory between warring tribes.

Intertribal tensions also shaped early relations with the newly arrived Europeans in the 1630s. The Chesapeake Algonquian tribes strove to establish good relations with the whites, so as to tip the scales against the Susquehanna. They shared their technology with the newcomers and introduced Europeans to maize, beans, pumpkins, and squash. [16] But good relations were not to last. Lord Baltimore, after essentially removing the Susquehanna threat, turned on his Indian allies. [17] By the late seventeenth century, the proprietary government of Maryland had forced the Piscataway out of the Chesapeake region. Most moved to Pennsylvania, but some settled temporarily near Point of Rocks, on Heater's Island, on the Potomac River. [18] By the 1720s, the tribe had left Maryland completely. [19]

The displacement caused by the arrival of white Europeans brought other Native American tribes briefly to the Monocacy Valley region. Leaving their native South Carolina, the Algonkian Shawnee tribe temporarily inhabited the region before moving further north. [20] At other junctures, the Delaware and the Catawbas used the Monocacy River for travel and hunting purposes. The Tuscarora tribe, originally from the Carolinas, moved northward, after the Tuscarora war in 1711-1713. An English map from 1721 clearly shows a Tuscarora village at the mouth of the Monocacy River on the Frederick County side. The tribe, of course, also gave its name to the creek flowing to the south of the present-day park. [21] Like other eastern tribes during the difficult eighteenth century, the Tuscarora only briefly made Maryland their home before moving westward.

By the second decade of the eighteenth century, then, most Indians tribes had passed through western Maryland onto points further west. Although they dramatically reasserted themselves during the French and Indian War, on the eve of the white settlement of western Maryland, Native Americans were simply not a factor in the region.

Early White Exploration and Settlement

The absence of hostile Indians, however, did not lead to the immediate European settlement of Western Maryland. Indeed the first whites to come to the mid-Atlantic region (arriving in 1607) remained primarily in the Chesapeake area for almost a century. The appeal of the Tidewater region rested on the profitability of tobacco. By the late seventeenth century--while western Maryland remained largely uninhabited--thriving plantations, a self-indulgent gentry, and an African slave-based labor system had sprung up in the Chesapeake. Since good tobacco could not be cultivated in the western reaches of the colony, there existed little interest in exploration and development. [22] The absence of a navigable river in central western Maryland, the threat of Indian raids, and an ongoing border dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania also worked to discourage settlement of the region. [23] While eastern Maryland thrived, western Maryland sat virtually vacant of white settlers.

By the early-eighteenth century, however, the market for tobacco had softened and the colonies began to diversify their economies. [24] Like the Native Americans whom they had displaced from the Tidewater region, European settlers began to look west in hope of exploiting the rich natural resources of the region. Trappers, traders, and missionaries were frequent visitors to the area by the early part of the century. In 1712, explorer Baron de Graffenried climbed Sugar Loaf Mountain and recorded: "We discovered from this height three chains of mountains, the last higher then the one before, somewhat distant and a very fine valley between the first ranges." Soon squatters and a few other hearty souls began setting up permanent homes in the region. [25]

The Chesapeake gentry, seeking investment opportunities, also grew interested. In 1727, a Chesapeake planter, Benjamin Tasker acquired a patent for 7,000 acres, west of the Monocacy, roughly twelve miles up the Potomac. The investor called his purchase "Tasker's Chance," as if to underscore the still risky nature of western ventures. Maryland's colonial government--seeking to encourage settlement of the backcountry--issued a proclamation in 1732 waiving the usual 40 shillings Sterling per 100 acre fee to anyone who would settle land in the western holdings of the colony. [26]

Yet settlement was hampered by a bitter debate over the exact boundaries of Maryland. Pennsylvania claimed much of the land west of the Susquehanna (which, of course, would include the present-day park). Indeed, Maryland's interest in populating the area had everything to do with efforts to buttress its claims against Pennsylvania. Quickly the dispute turned violent and a bitter war broke out in the 1730s. English-born pioneer Thomas Cresap--a robust Daniel Boone-type character--was Maryland's chief defender. His wife, known to sport a gun, two pistols, a scalping knife, and a tomahawk, was no less committed to the cause. To Cresap, area farmers loyal to Pennsylvania were "poachers." When captured by Pennsylvania authorities in 1736 and brought to Philadelphia to stand trial, Cresap infuriated his captors by declaring Penn's city, "one of the Prettyst [sic] Towns in Maryland." [27]

The bitter conflict slowed settlement of the Monocacy Valley region even as immigrants began passing through the region and noting its potential. Fleeing religious persecution and dwindling economic opportunity, Germans, especially from the Palatinate region of the Rhine, began migrating in large numbers to Pennsylvania in the 1730s. By 1750, the population of Pennsylvania was one half-German. Seeking inexpensive but fertile land, some Germans moved southwest from Pennsylvania, along the Monocacy Road or "Great Wagon Road." [28] Most likely an outgrowth of the old Indian trail through the region, the Monocacy route began in Pennsylvania on the west side of the Susquehanna at Wrightsville, then proceeded through York and Hanover counties to Taneytown, Maryland. From there, the road moved into the future Frederick County through the future Williamsport, then southwesterly across the Monocacy and Potomac. [29] Germans traveling the road might have been tempted to join the smattering of settlers already in western Maryland, but, despite the promises of Maryland's leaders, they feared paying double taxes or getting caught in the violent cross fire between warring colonies. [30] Most, therefore, pressed onward to the Shenendoah Valley.

By the 1740s, the conflict had settled somewhat, although it would fester for another thirty years. By that time Benjamin Tasker's son-in-law, Daniel Dulany, was ready to take the initiative in settling the area. Acquiring his father-in-law's land in 1744, Dulany hired Thomas Cresap to conduct a survey of western Maryland. Cresap reported that land in the Monocacy Valley equaled if not surpassed "any in America for natural Advantages." Encouraged, Dulany patented other land in the area, and subdivided Tasker's Chance, initially offering plots at bargain prices. [31] Although a member of the Chesapeake gentry, Dulany actively sought to attract Germans to his holdings. With a reputation as solid, industrious farmers, Dulany thought them to be the perfect pioneers to tame his land, and he offered them land sometimes at below cost. [32]

Many Germans took up Dulaney's offer. The 7,000 acres that made up Tasker's original chancy purchase soon became the site of a thriving city named for Lord Baltimore's son, Frederick. Many others, having accumulated enough money to purchase land themselves, took up residence to the north of Tasker's Chance, along the Monocacy River, near the Catoctin Mountains. The area had real appeal to German immigrants. The attractions, according to historian Elizabeth Kessel, included a "large measure of civil and religious freedom and unprecedented opportunity of owning . . . and accumulating large amounts of land . . . for a simple fee and only a minor obligation of a quitrent (annual tax), and land could be passed on to heirs with full force of law." [33]

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2003