The River as Barrier and Boundary: Cresap's War

A Surveying Error

"Cresap's War" originated as a border dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland. A 1682 surveying error led William Penn to place Philadelphia on what was technically Maryland soil--as delineated by the two colonies' charters--and Maryland's Calvert family demanded that Philadelphia be annexed to Maryland. The Penns adamantly defended their error through the organization of Lancaster County in 1729.

The Maryland Monster

To prevent Pennsylvania's further settlement of Lancaster County, Maryland hired frontier ruffian Thomas Cresap, who became known as "the Maryland Monster" to Pennsylvanians. In March of 1730, Cresap and a band of armed followers moved upriver from Havre de Grace and settled on the Fortieth Parallel on the river's west bank near present-day Long Level, York County.

A Menace to Society

Cresap and his party menaced their Pennsylvania neighbors. They tore down fences and even killed one neighbor's horses when they escaped onto Cresap's property. Hostilities subsided in 1732 when the two colonies reached an agreement on the border dispute, but when an angry Lord Baltimore rescinded in 1734, Cresap's men resumed their activities— raiding farms of Pennsylvania Quakers and giving instructions to his neighbors to pay Maryland taxes.

Drawing Lines

In the "war," the closest event to a battle was fought on November 23, 1736, when Scots-Irish settlers of Donegal led by the Sheriff of Lancaster, attacked Cresap's men at Long Level. This resulted in the defeat of Cresap's Maryland militia, death of one Marylander, and the imprisonment of Cresap in Philadelphia. Cresap remained imprisoned until August 1737 when the King of England ordered his release as part of instruction for the two colonies to settle the disagreement by the courts, not armed conflict. In 1750, an English high court ruled in favor of Pennsylvania, stating that Maryland forfeited its charter rights in negotiating the 1732 compromise. The new border stood at 39 degrees, 43 minutes, 26.3 seconds, north latitude— as surveyed by two Englishmen, Mason and Dixon.


Along the Susquehanna:  How the River Shapes a Region

The Susquehanna River traverses three states, two dozen counties, at least thirteen physiographic provinces, and scores of cities, towns, and hamlets.

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