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Early settler had land grant from king

September 22, 2005|by HEATHER C. SMATHERS

During its heyday as a thriving stop on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Williamsport was known for its "rough-and-ready reputation," according to a history by local historian Pat Miller for the U.S. bicentennial in 1976.

It did not start out that way.

The king of England granted Jeremiah Jack 175 acres of land in 1739. Jack occupied the land himself and in 1740 built a log cabin near Conococheague Creek, according to Miller's account.

One early settler of Williamsport was Col. Thomas Cresap, an American Indian fighter, Miller's history notes.

Cresap lived on a farm on the eastern side of the Conococheague Settlement. The property became known as Springfield Farm because of a spring that runs through it.

Cresap in 1750 sold the farm to Joseph and Prudence Williams, parents of Otho Holland Williams, future founder of Williamsport.

Otho Holland Williams was born in Prince George's County in 1749 but moved to Western Maryland when he was a year old, Maurice Snyder, Williamsport historian, said in 2004.

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Williams went to Boston to join the Continental Army in 1775, the documents show.

He returned to the newly formed Washington County in 1786, shortly after marrying the daughter of a wealthy Baltimore merchant, documents show.

Williams purchased property previously owned by his father.

Williams laid out the town of Williamsport in 1788, Snyder said. At the time of the founding of the town, 35 lots were leased by residents who paid their rent in a donation of wheat every May, Snyder said.

After the Revolutionary War, Congress began to search for a location for the new nation's capital, Miller's records show.

In 1791, President George Washington came to Williamsport to determine if it would make a suitable location for the capital.

"Williamsport was surveyed as a possible location for the national capital," Snyder said. "But the waters of the Potomac River were not navigable and the capital was located downriver."

The town was incorporated in 1823.

Williamsport enjoyed economic prosperity for the 90 years the C&O Canal served the area, Miller's history shows.

The canal reached Williamsport in 1834, Snyder said.

"Many townspeople prospered from the canal. People worked on the construction of the canal, built boats and cared for animals being used in the construction of the canal," Snyder said in 2004.

Devastating floods closed the canal in 1924, he said.

During the Civil War, on Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's retreat from Gettysburg in July 1863, the Potomac's water level in Williamsport was so high that it prevented Lee from crossing into the safety of Virginia for several days.

On July 7, 1863, Confederate Gen. John Daniel Imboden stopped Union Gen. John Buford from occupying Williamsport and destroying Confederate trains, documents say.

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