The Chesapeake Bay was explored in 1609 by Captain John Smith. By the mid-seventeenth century the area now known as Maryland was organized as a colony. The region’s economy revolved around growing and exporting tobacco. Since tobacco was typically produced on large plantations that were virtually self-sustaining, this economic system did not require towns or infrastructure beyond the unimproved roadways needed to move the product from the plantation to the nearest shoreline for loading onboard waiting ships. The entire region was sparsely populated by affluent individuals who had been granted large tracts of land and received favorable dispensation from the colony’s proprietor, Lord Baltimore. Thus, as the American colonies became more prosperous, certain well placed individuals were poised to develop and exploit Maryland’s untapped resources. Any accounting of the economic development of Maryland, and the sudden and explosive growth of the port of Baltimore, mentions several key factors. Two of these factors center on a change in the economic focus of the region. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the demand for tobacco in Europe began to taper off. At the same time, the demand for wheat and flour began to rise. This demand was initially domestic, brought on by increasing population. Soon, production exceeded the region’s needs and the high quality flour produced from the wheat grown in Maryland, eastern Virginia and southern Pennsylvania, became an important export commodity. Below the soil that proved so suitable for growing wheat lay rich deposits of iron ore. This mineral resource was prevalent throughout the region. There was great demand in England and continental Europe, as well as the colonies, for pig iron. Here again, there was an international as well as a domestic market for this commodity which added to the economic potential of the new town. A locale suitable for establishing a seaport usually supported a shipbuilding industry as well, and this held true for Baltimore. To the southeast of the town, a neck known as Fell’s Point was surrounded by a good depth of water and offered favorable topography for constructing, launching, and outfitting ships. Finally, the factor that tied all of the others together was the large amount of capital which resided with the prominent citizens of the colony. Their willingness to invest in these burgeoning enterprises developed the advantages offered by the local environment, and that of the surrounding hinterland, placing Baltimore in a position to initiate and sustain a thriving local economy based in large part on regional and international trade.
The growth and economic success of Baltimore was wholly the result of the ability to harness the natural resources of the area and develop a regional infrastructure to facilitate economic development and trade. The town itself owed its existence in its present location to the natural resources found in the immediate area. The town of Baltimore was laid out in 1730 on sixty acres of land, valued at six hundred dollars, on the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River. However, this was not the most favored location. A town site was originally proposed for an area of level land with good drainage on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, which held the added advantage of deeper water. This plan was defeated by the vigorous protests made by the owner of the land to the government in Annapolis. The owner of the site argued that iron deposits were present on the land, and was able to block the plan. So because of one geological formation, and a private owners resistance,Baltimore was located in perhaps the least favorable place on the river for a city. The Northwest Branch of the Patapsco River offered only low lying land on shallow water, hemmed in by surrounding hills, the winding course of a tributary known as Jones Falls, and a large marsh. As a result, Baltimore was relegated from its founding to...
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