The other day a curious thing happened. Donna Dena of Edsworth Road stopped by my office and gave me something. This, in itself, was unremarkable. People often stop by to give me things — usually grief, abuse or an angry piece of their mind.
But Ms. Dena brought a copy of a map.
I love maps. And, like everybody else who read Treasure Island as a child, I am a sucker for the mystery and allure of a treasure map. Ms. Dena’s map, therefore, was something of a godsend. It proclaimed itself to be a chart of the “legislated towns of tidewater Maryland 1668-1751.” On the peninsula of what would become Sparrows Point, the map clearly depicts a town called “Darrington.” I stared in a mixture of shock and disbelief.
Why so disturbing? Because I had never heard of a town on Sparrows Point prior to the town of Sparrows Point. Neither had the near-omniscient (as far as local history is concerned) Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society. The map seemed to indicate that some lost and unremembered community once stood on the shores of Bear Creek.
The whole thing was pretty creepy. How could a whole town disappear so completely that it didn’t even show up in local legends? The map made me think of the story of Roanoke and how Gov. John White returned to the colony in 1590 to discover that all the inhabitants had disappeared, leaving only the word CROATOAN behind carved on a tree.
So I set off on a journey to find our local lost colony. My trip was to take me to the Maryland Historical Society, the Maryland Law Library, the state archives and beyond until my eyes crossed reading documents that all seemed to begin with
“Bee itt enacted ...”
But I got the story – mostly. It all started during an era familiar to Maryland schoolchildren. George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore, a convert to Catholicism, petitioned King Charles for a grant of land in the New World as a haven for those of his faith away from increasingly anti-Catholic England. In 1632, two months after Calvert’s death, the king granted the petition.
Calvert’s son Cecil, the second Lord Baltimore, became the Lord Proprietary of the new colony of Maryland and supervised its colonization, though he himself never went there.
Cecil died in 1675, and the colony, which was essentially private property of the Calvert family, passed to his son Charles. Unlike the prior Lords Baltimore, Charles lived in the colony. He had been its governor for more than 10 years prior to his father’s death.
Charles as governor and Lord Proprietary was, like our current governor, concerned with smart growth. To Charles, however, this meant increasing the population and settled lands under his control as quickly as possible. Through the middle of the 17th century, settlement in Maryland occurred mainly in the south of both shores of the Chesapeake. Charles and the colonial General Assembly looked north and saw a whole lot of wasted space.
Owning your own colony is not a bad gig. But a colony with no settlers or towns means no taxes, customs or ground rents. So, in 1683, the leaders of the colony tried to encourage settlement and growth in what they considered to be unproductive areas with “An act for the Advancement of trade.” The act empowered the colonial government to survey and purchase land for the construction of “Townes Ports,” official trading centers where all trade must be conducted.
I actually found the full text of this act on the Internet. In the middle of a long list of town sites are the words “in Baltemore [sic] County in Patapsco River neere Humphreys Creek.”
I checked the map Ms. Dena so graciously supplied and discovered that the town of Darrington on the map is indeed situated at the end of Sparrows Point on the Patapsco right next to Humphreys Creek. So Darrington was apparently legislated into existence in 1683. In the mid 1680s, a “jury” of land surveyors set off to Sparrows Point and marked off town lots, but the historical record seems to end with the survey. So what happened to the town?
The legislation authorized the purchase of 100 acres for town development, so I checked into the history of the family that owned the property to see if some clue lay there. The Sparrows of Anne Arundel County owned the property from 1652 until 1718. The history of the various ·land transactions of Thomas Sparrow and his son Solomon are well recorded in the files of our own historical society. But these files make no reference to Darrington or indeed of any town on Sparrows Point.
So the mystery deepened. It deepened so much, in fact, that I couldn’t address it all in one column, so tune in next week to find out the ultimate fate of the lost town of Darrington.
(first published 2003)