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Date: 14 Nov 2011 16:38:36
Title: Why is Maryland the shape it is?

The map below shows the modern borders of the state of Maryland - and a very strange shape it is too. Why is it almost broken in two in the west? Why is that strange right-angled piece missing from its eastern edge -and why does Delaware exist at all? And why is the southern end of the eastern peninsula sliced off, by a line that isn't straight? History will reveal all. 
 
 
Maryland was created by Royal Charter issued in 1632 by King Charles I, to provide a place in the New World for England's Catholics. But this act, while full of good intent, was also full of bad geography whose errors led to a long history of border disputes between Maryland and every one of its neighbours - all of which disputes Maryland proceeded to lose.
 
Maryland's Royal Charter set its northern border at 40N - which turned out to be in the middle of (Puritan) Philadelphia, a conflict eventually resolved in Pennslvania's favour when Maryland's northern border was moved in 1732 to a line 15 miles south of South Street in Philadelphia. The dispute dragged on however until 1763 when two of England's most eminent scientists were commissioned to survey the border westwards thus creating the famous Mason-Dixon line - the cause of the apparently strange shape of western Maryland.
Delaware isn't part of Maryland because at the time of the Royal Charter it was (Protestant) Dutch. When the English finally ousted the Dutch from their American colonies in 1674 Pennsylvania claimed the Delaware area to get access to the sea. However the area clearly fell within Maryland's Royal Charter boundaries - or so Maryland thought. The King's Committee for Trade and Plantations ruled in 1685 that Delaware was a separate jurisdiction because Maryland's Charter was only intended to include land uncultivated by Christians - the actual wording being "in a country hitherto uncultivated, in the parts of America, and partly occupied by Savages, having no knowledge of the Divine being". Delaware, being occupied by incontravertibly Christian Dutch settlers, was outside the Maryland Charter area. The 'Savages' of course, had no say in this.
Maryland lost more land to Delaware when its Colonial Governor, Lord Baltimore, in London arguing to locate Delaware's southern boundary discovered too late that his map had incorrectly placed Cape Henlopen (the intended border on the Atlantic) 25 miles to the south of its true location.The 'other side' had a correct map, but of course kept quiet until the deal was sealed.
And the southern end of the peninsula was 'lost' to Virginia (an older colony). The Royal Charter included this land in Maryland. But it had already been settled by (Protestant) Virginia, which successfully petitioned the King to divide the southern portion of the peninsula with a line from Watkins Point on Chesapeake Bay, due east to the Atlantic, to avoid Protestants being governed by Catholics . Unfortunately by the time this decision was reached Watkins Point had eroded away. The local men chosen to survey the line in 1666 tried to figure out where it had been, but they figured wrong, and proceeded to magnify their error by veering off to the north by some way. Maryland protested, but the Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War all got in the way. Not until 1877 did Congress get round to considering the matter, by which time the whole area was heavily settled by farmers whose boundaries matched the (wrong) State line. So Congress decided to leave things as they were; Maryland lost again.  

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