The Gov. Harry W. Nice while landing on the Matapeake-Annapolis run prior to the opening of the Bay Bridge. Source: Kent County Heritage Society.

This Week’s History Quiz  Question: When was the last run of Annapolis-Rock Hall Ferry?

A. 1820

B. 1876

C. 1903

D. 1952

This Week’s Answer: D. 1952.

A major construction feat occurred, bringing the curtain down on a multi-century tradition–the opening of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on July 30,1952.  It was an engineering miracle–4.3 miles long, 3.5 years in the building, the longest continuous over-water steel structure and billed the third longest bridge in the World.   Millions of happy drivers could now press on non-stop (except for long waits on weekends to cross the Bridge) to the beach, although some admitted missing the change of pace from a car-full of impatient passengers to a quiet cruise across the Bay.  The Bridge displaced two ferries that could carry cars to the Eastern Shore.

It is hard to determine exactly when the Annapolis-Rock Hall Ferry began its long and interesting history.

Annapolis was settled in 1649, but was not made the Colonial Capital of Maryland until 1694. It was named for Princess Anne in 1695, but was not chartered until 1708 after she had become Queen.

Kent County was established in 1642.  It’s first permanent settlement with a courthouse and status as a Port of Entry was New Yarmouth, laid out in 1675 along Gray’s Inn Creek on Eastern Neck,  just south of the area that grew into Rock Hall.

There was definitely travel between Annapolis and  the Eastern Shore, but it is supposed that Rock Hall did not become a settlement until after the demise of New Yarmouth when New Town (later named Chestertown) became the seat of Kent County Government and the Port of Entry.  Until then, Rock Hall remained a beautiful marshland with excellent fishing.  Rock Hall received its charter in 1707, the same year as Chestertown.

Another change for Kent County came with an economic switch from tobacco as the main crop to grain and other agricultural products.  Most of the original land grant tracts awarded to the first settlers had become tobacco plantations that depleted the soil and were too labor intensive.

Passengers, produce and the fruits of Rock Hall’s growing fishing and crabbing industry demanded the development of a reliable packet boat system between Annapolis and Rock Hall.

Packet boats, originally hauling only mail, began to fulfill complete passenger ferry and transport services on regular schedules. Their sail rigging varied.  The famous Annapolis-Rock Hall Packet, often referenced, that carried George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Tench Tilghman among other dignitaries, supposedly moored in Rock Hall at the wharf at the Stone Mansion (now torn down).

There are also indications through diaries  and other citations that suggest that more than one packet line existed for hire and moored at other locations.  George Washington in his eight visits to Rock Hall sometimes traveled with an entourage and finding enough passage for all was no small challenge, particularly at least once when he also had a carriage with him .  What a picture they must have made all loaded up waiting for the right breeze to blow.

As years passed sailing vessels were joined by steamboats, which must have been a huge step forward in comfort.  According to Jack Shaum in his Lost Chester River Steamboats:  “The Chesapeake made her maiden voyage from Baltimore to Annapolis on June 13, 1813, and then made a trip across the Bay to Rock Hall a week later–apparently the very first steamboat to journey to the Eastern Shore.”

Thus, until 1952, there was a constant stream of ferry lines that crisscrossed the Bay, but over the years it is undisputed that the most trafficked miles were between Annapolis and Rock Hall.

As always our appreciation to those researchers that have come before us.

The Kent County History Quiz is a weekly local brainteaser sponsored by The Peoples Bank. Kent County historian and author Joan Horsey and columnist Kate Meehan contribute to the quiz’s development. Our goal is to create an opportunity for local learning and discussion. If you have a quiz idea, send it to steve@kentpilot.org.