Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

MEMORANDUM                                      April 16, 2003 

FOR:  Mayor James Hoover, Emmitsburg 

FROM: Stephen Whitman, Associate Professor 

RE:  Early History, Town of Emmitsburg 

     Greetings. Mr. Michael Hillman recently told me about the debate over when the town of Emmitsburg was founded. For what they are worth, here are my thoughts, as a teacher of early American history here at the Mount. We know that Euro-American people began settling in today's northwestern Frederick County in the 1730s. A town was "founded" by William Emmitt in 1785, in the sense that town lots were laid out and sold, contingent on houses being built on them. What's in dispute is whether there was a pre-existing settlement that could be dated to 1757. 

    Mr. Hillman's work with the county land records points to the later date as the moment at which a town began to exist, as argued by him at the emmitsburg.net website. That case looks persuasive to me. There certainly were people living in this part of the county in 1757, but no strong evidence of a town. Scharf's history of Western Maryland, for example, is silent on the subject. Williams' work on Frederick County says that Emmitsburg changed its name from Poplar Fields in 1786, but offers no dates or specifics on the nature of Poplar Fields.  

      If one looks at the 1757 date in historical context, the idea of a town having been founded then is problematic. That year was the third year of substantial hostilities between Indians and settlers in the French and Indian War. After Braddock's defeat in southwestern Pennsylvania in 1755, persistent Indian raids had caused a great many people to retreat from settlements in the Upper Potomac valley and its tributaries, a process that did not end until after 1758. Hardly a propitious time to start a new town, even here in Frederick County. 

     All things considered, the 1785 founding date for the town looks to be the most plausible on the evidence in hand. Naturally, it's the citizens of Emmitsburg who make the call; I hope these thoughts are of some use in the process. Thanks for taking the time to consider these thoughts. 

Additional readings: