Sunday, September 14, 2014

Colonial Somerset County, Maryland - 2

Somerset County, Maryland
Most of Somerset County is flat, tidal plain. Its rich soil, sparse population and comparative religious tolerance lured many immigrants, including the ancestors of our William Miller. For an interesting history of this area, look up "Somerset County, Maryland; A Brief History."

In the previous post we learned a little about what life was like in the 1600s and early 1700s in Maryland in relation to tobacco farming. Prompted by a suggestion from one of our wonderful members, Chalmers Williams, I have done more research on this topic which has helped answer a question I have had: Why did our Miller’s leave Somerset County and move northward to Newcastle County, Delaware and eventually right next door into Cecil County, Maryland. The excerpt below may hold the answer [emphasis added].

 “One problem with growing tobacco is that it rapidly depletes soil fertility and as a result, a piece of land could only be used for four or five years. Colonists lacked the means to fertilize the soil, and the few attempts to do so with animal manure reportedly produced a harsh, foul tasting tobacco. Instead, they adopted an approach from the Chesapeake Indians and abandoned the old fields for about 20 years. During that interval, nature restored soil fertility and tobacco could again be grown there. With this approach, new crop land had to be regularly prepared to keep a plantation operating. Historians estimate that about 50 acres were needed to keep one worker continually raising tobacco. As a result, plantations tended to be large, averaging about 250 acres. This created a settlement pattern of farms widely dispersed over the landscape. Because most colonists lived along or near the water and the Chesapeake provided excellent water highways for ships, the planters had little need for markets or towns, since they could buy goods directly from ships… Minimal town development is a highly distinctive feature of the colonial Chesapeake, a feature closely related to the focus on growing tobacco… While medical science has revealed the serious health problems associated with tobacco, there is no doubt that this crop built Maryland, greatly influenced the society that developed here, and is an undeniable part of the state’s rich cultural heritage. It is also a cultural legacy that forms the very roots of Southern Maryland’s extraordinary human traditions.” 

Our Millers are mentioned in several Somerset County, MD, lands records, including the one mentioned in the letter below which Chalmers Williams graciously shared with me. Remember, David and Jane Miller are the parents of Abraham Miller and grandparents of our William Miller:

"On 25 Nov 1693David Miller and his wife Jane (or perhaps Janet) of Somerset Co. sell by receipt of an indenture land to John Steel. This land is 100 acres out of a 600 acres tract called “Spalding” that David Miller acquired from Edmund Howard. Howard acquired Spalding in 1682, and though it is difficult to read, it appears that David Miller entered into an indenture with Howard in May 1688.  David Miller paid him 18,000 pounds of tobacco for Spalding, completing his required payments in 9 Jan 1692. (Somerset Co. Deeds, Liber L 1, p.78, and Liber L 1, p144.).  *Spalding is located “between Bogerternorton and Assateague  Bay...Cypress Ridge." 

It is pretty likely that the Miller's grew their own tobacco and, as was common in that day, used it for bartering as in the above example. Then, as time passed and the soil gave out, some of the Miller's moved northward. This is corroborated by the Wiki article from last month's post which mentions that towards the end of the 1600s, settlers in southern Maryland starting moving north and west to find better soil (some turning to growing wheat, which did not deplete the soil as radically as tobacco).

This could very well be the reason why some of our Miller’s eventually left Somerset County, MD, and moved to northern Maryland.

In the next post, we will move backwards in time and ask the question:  Why did the Miller's come to such a remote location as Somerset County, Maryland in the first place?

*This entry is somewhat puzzling as Assateague Bay is in the far eastern portion of Worcester County, Maryland.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot to thank follower and friend, Chalmers Williams, for his suggestion that the Miller's probably moved north due to soil depletion. Thanks!


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