06 - Chestertown - Royal Port City



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Chestertown sits on the northern bank of the Chester River, a deep and well positioned port for the lucrative shipping of tobacco, slaves and grain from the surrounding productive fields. Chestertown became a center for shipping and commerce second only to Annapolis in colonial Maryland.




The Chester is a long and deep river that runs well into the interior of the fertile northern Maryland Eastern Shore. Founded in 1706, Chestertown was designated one of the six Royal Ports of Entry in Maryland. It was laid out on a grid plan with the deep Chester River on its southeastern edge. The main street, High Street followed a natural gentle ridge away from the river. With a slow start through the 1730's and 1740's, Chestertown gradually grew. Centrally located to the rich farms and plantations being established in Kent County, the city became a hub for commerce starting in the 1750's. Tobacco was shipped to England and slaves were imported for labor on the plantations. Later fortunes werre made shipping grain to the West Indies. A ship building trade began in the 1750's, a tradition that is still carried out in Chestertown today.

The trade was so lucrative that many ship's captains retired after 4 or 5 voyages, several of them retiring at only 30 years old. They built large brick mansions along the river in Chestertown. Today many of those 18th century houses remain. Chestertown has more surviving colonial buildings than any other city in Maryland except Annapolis.

But by 1760 trade was shifting to Baltimore, the fastest growing city in the colonies. With a deeper port, better mills and superior access to the western lands of the expanding colony, Chestertown ceased to grow. But its momentum kept it going for several decades.

By the 1770's, Chestertown was also an important stop in the traffic between Annapolis, the largest city in Maryland and Philadelphia, the largest city in America. It became the largest city on the Eastern Shore, continuing to trade grains with the West Indies, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland. It traded grain with the wine islands of Cape Verde, the Azores and Madeira for salt and wines. But in the years preceding the revolution, trade with the West Indies was cut off. Import duties on goods from England were imposed by the Stamp Act. Resistance to the "Intolerable Acts" brought revolution to the streets of Chestertown. They had their own mini Tea Party when citizens rallied in the square and then marched to the harbor to throw a small cargo of tea in the the Chester River. But no battles were fought in the area around Chestertown during the Revolutionary War, so life there continues much as it had before.

In 1782, Reverend William Smith convinced the Maryland General Assembly to establish the first college in Marland at Chestertown. George Washington College was established in Chestertown, the tenth oldest Liberal Arts college in the United States, nmed after the first president and donor of 50 guineas. Construction was started in 1786 but the ambitious Georgian building was not complete in 1807 and was even decaying from lack of funding by the State. It burned to the ground in 1827 in a two hour blaze that was seen in many parts of the county.

Although trading had stagnated in the close of the 18th century, Chestertown remained a cultural center with the establishment of the theatrically centered college. The Maryland Jockey Club established a yearly race week in Chestertown and the festivities concluded with a grand ball. Race fans and festival participants could ride the Chestertown to Baltimore packet to attend the events.

Chestertown Tercentenary Tea Party Festival

Every year Chestertown celebrates their hostoric role in revolutionary protest against the imposition of duties by England in the Chestertown Tea Party Festival. This year, 2006, marks the three hundred year anniversary of the founding of Chestertown. It seemed a good opportunity to attend.


Chestertown Tea Party

Movie Transcript: "Each year in May, Chestertown celebrates its 1774 protest of English import taxes on tea. During the Tea Party Festival, the sleepy little town of 5000 swells with 20000 visitors. The quiet streets of 18th century Georgian brick homes are filled with visitors from all over Maryland and the surrounding states. They come to see the marching bands, craft booths, wooden ships and, of course, the reenactment of the tea party.

Founded in 1706 as one of six Royal Ports in Maryland, Chestertown became an important shipping center. This tradition is kept alive with Chestertown's collection of wooden ships. On a tour of the schooner Sultana visitors can see the artistry of the shipwrights, smell the wood, paint, pitch and ropes, listen to the creak of wooden pegged planks and feel the tilt of the deck.

Decoy carving, model making, bread baking, colonial music, story telling and rescued animals share booth space with food vendors. Festival participants roam the streets dressed in period costume - from soldiers to gentlemen and commoners. A continuous series of musical acts take place on the main stage each day.

The anticipated event of each day is the re enactment of the Tea Party. From the square where citizens bring news of the British Intolerable Acts and the Boston Tea Party, a force is assembled for the march down High Street to the Chester River. Visitors are encouraged to lend their support. Some minor resistance is encountered, but it is brief and the crowd is soon on the march once more.

Once past the Customs house and onto the wharf, several men load into a small boat and row out to the schooner anchored in the harbor. The tea is soon dumped into the river, along with a few crewmembers.

So come join the celebration in Chestertown and relive a piece of America's history."

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