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The History of
Maryland's Eastern Shore

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is composed of the American state's nine counties that are east of the Chesapeake Bay. They are Caroline County, Cecil County, Dorchester County, Kent County, Queen Anne's County, Somerset County, Talbot County, Wicomico County, Worcester County.

Caroline County has no Bay shoreline. Only Worcester County has seashore, consisting of coastal bays and marshes behind two barrier islands. The number of barrier islands on the Maryland seacoast and the location of inlets has varied over the years.

On the south, the Calvert-Scarborough Line separates the Eastern Shore of Maryland from that of Virginia. A modern Worcester County highway map shows its location. While not exactly where it was laid down in the 1600-1700s, it has moved little once everyone could agree on where Watkins Point, on the western side of the peninsula, is and where the shore of the Bay began (since the bay side peters out into marshes and wetlands).

In 1668, Philip obtained recognition from Virginia of Maryland's claims to what is now Somerset County and actually participated in the survey of the dividing line between the two colonies with the Surveyor General of Virginia, Edmund Scarborough. At about the same time, he negotiated treaties with Lower Eastern Shore Indian tribes who were harassing English settlers. The terms of these treaties established rules of behavior in Indian-English relations that applied to whites as well as Indians, and on the whole, kept peace in the area thereafter.

The northern limit is harder to place.

Some dispute Cecil County as a true Shore county, however, because of the presence of I-95 and related development, proximity to and influence from nearby urban areas such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wilmington, Delaware, and the state of New Jersey, as well as its position straddling the Elk River - leaving half geographically west of the Shore, if the Elk River is taken as its northern edge.

Land and water both figure in the argument about whether Cecil County is part of the Eastern Shore, and so do man-made features.

Like New Castle County Delaware, Cecil County is crossed by the fall line, a geologic division where the rockier highlands of the Piedmont region becomes the coastal plain, a flat, sandy area that forms the coast. The coastal plain includes the Delmarva Peninsula and that includes the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The geology of Delmarva is an inseparable part of the Eastern Shore, which has few rocky outcrops south of Kent County, Md.

The Chesapeake and Delaware Canal crosses from Back Creek on the Elk River to Port Penn, Del. While it was a shallow canal with locks after its construction in 1829, it was deepened in the early 20th century to sea level, and physically separates the Delmarva Peninsula from the rest of the United States. Maryland, south of the canal, is usually considered the Eastern Shore by residents. (There is no capitalized "western shore" region in Maryland).

The north-south section of the Mason-Dixon Line forms the border between Maryland and Delaware. Like the canal, it's a manmade construct, originally marked every mile by a stone, and every five miles by a "crownstone." The line is not quite due north and south, but is as straight as survey methods of the 1760s could make it and is completely artificial.

It was surveyed as a compromise solution to a century-long wrangle between the Penn and Calvert families of England. If the Chesapeake Bay/Delaware Bay watershed was taken as the borderline, Delaware would be about half its current size.

Finally, although this has received less attention than other parts of Eastern Shore culture, commercial east-west ties between Delaware towns and Maryland towns were culturally significant in Colonial and Early American periods despite the border line (which largely cut through woods and swamps). Trade with Philadelphia was conducted by overland routes to Delaware towns like Odessa (then called Cantwell's Bridge) and Smyrna (then called Duck Creek). Agricultural products and milled grain were taken up the Delaware River by "shallop men" in small vessels called shallops. These cultural connections continue to this day.

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