Global Capital of Commerce

Indians in a canoe

The Bay's network of rivers and creeks has provided an accessible means of travel and trade for centuries. Prior to the arrival and settlement of people from Europe, local Native American tribes lived, fished, and traded with one another along the tributaries of the Bay's western shore. Crabs, terrapin, oysters, eels, and fish pulled from the bountiful Bay supplemented their diet of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers, berries, nuts, wild birds, and game.

The first Europeans to settle in this area were dissident Protestants from Virginia, who arrived in 1649. They named the area Providence and initially took up land on the north shore of the Severn River. They soon spread themselves out along nearby creeks to obtain sufficient land for raising tobacco, their primary crop. Within a few years, the first settlers had established plantations on this peninsula.

A small hamlet, known first as Arundelton and then as Ann Arundell Town, had developed on the land along Spa Creek by the end of the seventeenth century.

In 1695, the capital of Maryland's colonial government moved from St. Mary's City to the fledgling town, which was soon renamed Annapolis in honor of the future Queen Anne of England. Over the next fifty years, Annapolis developed into an active seaport. In the decades before the American Revolution, Annapolis was the customs port for the upper Bay Western Shore. Ships clearing in and out paid duties and fees to the local naval officer. With good shipyards (including the Ship Carpenters Lot north of the dock, ropewalks, ship chandlers, and bakers, Annapolis was also an important center for supply, refitting, and provisioning.

Dock scene

When ships visited Annapolis, from ports around the globe, the city was a place of bustling activity, pungent smells, and noisy verbal exchanges. A variety of small watercraft carried goods between shore and larger ships anchored out in the harbor; horse-drawn carts and drays moved cargoes by land to and from the waterfront. The pungent aromas of fish, tobacco, wandering live-stock, and rotting garbage filled the air. The shouts of workmen, street vendors, and drunken seamen echoed across the water.

Wharves, warehouses, shops, and taverns surrounded the dock, a waterway much larger in the eighteenth century than it is today. Genteel Annapolitans like John Ridout, who built elegant Georgian houses in the years just before the American Revolution, located them on higher ground a good distance from the crowded, dirty streets nearest the harbor.