The 'Maryland Monster' or 'Big Spoon'

One of the most colorful characters of colonial Maryland history, a fierce partisan in the struggle between Maryland and Pennsylvania over land given away twice by various Kings of England, and bundled into Pennsylvania by William Penn's clever exploitation of anti-Catholic sentiment in England at the time.

Cresap was born around 1694 in Skipton, Yorkshire. He emigrated to Maryland in the 1710s, just around the time that Queen Anne returned the proprietorship of the colony to Lord Baltimore. He married Hannah Johnson in 1727; they would have seven children.

Cresap bought a farm named "Pleasant Garden" (near present-day Havre de Grace) in 1729; this was in the middle of the territory disputed between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Maryland made him a justice of the peace and a captain in the militia. This brought him into conflict with similar officials appointed by Pennsylvania for the region.

One of Cresap's first tasks was to replace a Pennsylvania-run ferry over the Susquehanna River near present day Port Deposit, Maryland. with a Maryland-run one, and this made him a special target of Pennites. In 1730. Cresap moved to an area called 'Conejohela' or the 'Long Level' in what is now northern York County, Pennsylvania, right at the 40th parallel mentioned in the Charter of Maryland as the province's northern border. This was on land that Penn had reserved for the Lenni-Lenape Indians, but of course Cresap would have disregarded any such agreement. Since the Iroquois (having conquered and wiped out the Susquehannocks in 1675) claimed all of the territory west of the Susquehanna, Pennite settlement there was light. Cresap persuaded several families of German immigrants to move with him. Cresap showed his intention by shooting several horses belonging to his Pennite neighbor, Thomas Patterson. Patterson retaliated by having a Pennite judge arrest one of Cresap's men, dragging him across the frozen Susquehanna River.

When word of the hostilities reached England, Charles Calvert, fifth Lord Baltimore, attempted to work out a compromise with Penn's descendants. But the Pennites managed to insert misleading wording into the document, so that Calvert thought his northern border would be the 40th parallel. So, fighting died down until 1734, when Calvert realized he'd been tricked. At once, Cresap began forcing Quaker settlers off their land, giving it to his own supporters. The pacifistic Quaker settlers refused to fight back. But the sherriff of Lancaster County, on the other side of the Susquehanna, led a raid on Cresap's homestead, during which one member of the posse, a certain Knowles Daunt, was wounded in the leg while attempting to chop Cresap's door down. Daunt eventually died of his wound, and Pennsylvania Governor Patrick Gordon demanded that Maryland Governor Samuel Ogle have Cresap arrested for the murder. Instead, Ogle promoted Cresap to colonel.

But by 1736, the sherriff of Lancaster county was able to assemble a force of non-Quakers to deal with the Maryland Monster. He led a raid on Cresap's stockade; Cresap barricaded his family and himself in their cabin and refused to come out. When Smith demanded Cresap's surrender, he let loose such a stream of abuse that the sherriff set the cabin on fire. Cresap and his family ran from the cabin and made for the river, but were caught. In front of the Philadelphia crowds gathered to see him being hauled into jail, he said to one of this guards: "Damn it, Ashton, This must be the prettyest town in the the Provence of Maryland". Or something to that effect. I've seen about six versions, all different.

In 1737, King George II was forced to intercede in this mini-war between Maryland and Pennsylvania. He ordered a cessation of hostilities, including Cresap's release. In 1750, the courts ruled that Calvert had given away his rights to the disputed territory by signing the earlier compromise. This fixed the border that would remain a symbol of strife in the succeeding centuries, and paved the way for its survey by Jeremiah Mason and Joshua Dixon.

When Cresap was released after eight months in jail, he was bankrupt. He eventually moved his family west, starting a new farm in the wilderness in what is now Allegany County. He built his house, which he named 'Skipton' (now called Old Town), along the main North-South trail, putting him in ideal position to trade with the local Indians. From here, Cresap lived a Davy Crockett-like existence with his family, befriending Lenni-Lenape chief Nemacolin. His trade with the Indians earned him the title 'Big Spoon'.

Between 1749 and 1750, Cresap and Nemacolin cut a new road west into the Alleghenies, the kernel of the future National Road. It was Cresap who supplied General Edward Braddock on his 1755 march on Fort Duquense. Braddock and most of the British troops did not return from that expedition. Virginia militia lieutenant George Washington used Cresap's house as a command post while leading the remnants back to Virginia. However, it was Cresap who had to organize the militia to fight off Indian raids which suddenly erupted everywhere.

Cresap lost one son in the ensuing French and Indian War, but this did not calm the old firebrand. When the Revolutionary war broke out in 1775, he helped organize the First Company of Maryland Rifles, one of the original ten detatchments of the Continental Army, intending to make his son Michael the leader. Michael Cresap had seen action in Lord Dunmore's War, but had to be embarrassed into this new post, after the old man threatened to lead it himself. The younger Cresap gathered 130 Maryland riflemen and left Frederick in July, 1775. He became very ill during the march to the front lines at Roxbury, Massachussetts. He handed over command to Moses Rawlings and left for home, but died in New York on October 17, 1775.

Thomas Cresap saw no action in the Revolutionary War, and died in his Western Maryland home on January 31, 1787.

Garrett County History

The Cresap Society

Skipton Web - Gateway Walk (rescued from Google cache)

Lower Windsor Township - Local Information

I'm going to look for Judith St. George's book Mason and Dixon's Line of Fire (G.P. Putnam and Sons, ISBN 0-399-22240-5)

Carolyn M. McDaniel, "Cecil county Maryland, Where Our Mothers And Fathers Lie Buried"

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