Colchester Farm


A History of Colchester Farm

Colchester Farm today is 345 acres of land in Kent County, Maryland. It lies between the town of Galena to the south and the village of Georgetown on the Sassafras River to the north. It fronts on Maryland Route 213 on the east, and Dyer creek to the west. Before the arrival of Europeans, and the need for titles and deeds, it was populated mainly by Tockwogh Indians.

14th to 16th Centuries Often in competition with the Massawoaks and the Susquesahanocks, the Tockwogh did not settle and farm in this area. They moved from place to place hunting, only occasionally settling long enough to anticipate a small harvest. Archeology suggests that the area that is now Colchester Farm in the 14th and 16th centuries was a sparsely settled region, used more as a pass-through for Native Americans than for settlement.

The first Europeans arrived by water when Captain John Smith sailed up the Sassafras River from the Chesapeake Bay. He named it the Tockwogh in honor of the inhabitants he found there. Captain Smith's journal describes meeting with the Tockwogh and dining with them peacefully. Perhaps because he was also a transient this early encounter caused no hostilities. The Tockwogh stayed in the area until as late as the 1740s, by which time most had migrated north to western Pennsylvania to get away from growing British settlements on the Eastern Shore.

17th and 18th Centuries As more Europeans explored the area, by 1632 King George I of England was convinced of the worthiness of the land and granted a Charter to George Calvert, 1st Lord of Baltimore, to plan and settle what was to be called the Maryland Colony. By 1642 there were already documents referring to the area called Kent County. And by 1673 the first documents referring to Colchester Farm show that Lord Baltimore granted 1000 acres to one William Palmer at this location. And in 1778 "Charles, Absolute Lord" granted the majority of present day Colchester lands to William Pearce, around 800 acres at the time. Colchester Farm was to remain in the Pearce family for over eighty years.

The small riverside village of Georgetown, next to which Colchester Farm sits, had petitioned the Maryland Colonial Assembly in 1683 to lay out a larger plan for a town on the river, already by that time called the Sassafras River. This would be the first of several plans to expand Georgetown that never came to fruition. In the meantime, Colchester Farm began to be used for tobacco production. Tobacco proved less successful in Maryland than in its sister state, Virginia, and by the early 1700s records show that Pearce had switched mainly to grains, vegetables and fruit production. By 1713 Gideon Pearce was operating a ferry from the northern-most point of Colchester Farm across to the Cecil County side of the Sassafras at Pennington's Point (later to be called Fredericktown).

19th Century: Although the Pearce family was to own Colchester Farm until 1859, the second, and last, family to own Colchester had moved into the small village of Georgetown in the 18th century. Simon Woodall, born in 1797, married a local Georgetown girl just at the beginning of the Second Anglo-American War or the War of 1812. They were to raise six sons.

Before those sons could be raised, however, Georgetown had to be defended. On May 6, 1813 Rear Admiral George Cockburn and 500 British Royal Marines sailed up the Sassafras River, past Colchester Farm and attacked the settlement on both sides of the River.

When the British finished their rampage only one building remained, the home of Kitty Knight, who is credited with holding off the soldiers from the front steps of her porch at the top of the hill. Everything else in Georgetown was burned to the ground, docks, granary, shoemaker's shop, tavern, everything. The town rebuilt at the same location.

According to Kent County Courthouse records, in 1832 James Pearce deeded his land to his sister, who then married Joseph Malsburger. By 1859 Malsburger had died and the farm remained in trust for the Civil War period, administered first by George Vickers of Chestertown, then by Richard Hyson. During the time the farm was in trust, there was a dispute about the boundaries and ownership. In any case, in 1875 Simon Woodall's son, Andrew Woodall, bought Colchester Farm from the trustees for $29,000.

Captain Andrew Woodall went on to become the first millionaire in Kent County, or so his obituary in the Kent County News was to say when he died in 1906. By the time he died he owned thirty-seven farms in the County, Colchester being just one among several. Although his grandchildren affectionately called him Toddy, after his affinity for hot rum toddies, acquiring over thirty farms in as many years suggests a certain ruthlessness in Colchester's owner. His farms were always managed on a sharecrop basis, with tenant farmer and landlord sharing the costs of inputs as well as the rewards of production.

Captain Andrews house used to be where Georgetown Yacht Basin now has its I, J, and K docks for the summer boating patrons; the brick steps leading up to his front porch are still visible from Route 213 just north of the Kitty Knight House Restaurant.

20th Century In 1900 Kent County was still an isolated and sparsely populated area with no paved roads. The Woodall family continued to own Colchester farm; in 1898 it was deeded to James E. Woodall, great, great grandson of Simon, then to his wife, Justine, then to his two daughters in their turn. The present owner is Justine's granddaughter.

By the time Colchester's current owner moved to the farm in 1991, both the farm and farm house had been rented for over a hundred years. By that time Georgetown harbor, from which James Woodall had once run his lumber and barge business, was full of more than three thousand leisure craft and boasted five independent yacht basins. Colchester Farm remained the same, although its resources were depleted by 100 years of absentee landlords. Cousin Kitty Baxter remembers that during the Great Depression the tenant farmer on Colchester had dropped out of school in the fourth grade. He and his family farmed Colchester with the help of "dollar-a-day men", usually African Americans who came to work only on an as-needed basis.

From 1957 to the present the majority of Colchester Farm has been used to grow feed grains, corn, wheat, barley and soybeans. The Chance family, grandfather Earl, father Andy, and grandson Jakey, continue to work the feed grain operations. Like other 'traditional' farmers in Kent County, the Chances need to farm several farms to remain in the farming business.

In the last fifteen years Colchester Farm has been slowly reconditioned and improved by having both a resident owner and a dedicated group of volunteers to guide it into the future.

Written by Charlotte Staelin

Colchester Farm | P.O. Box 191 | Georgetown MD 21930 | (at 31285 Georgetown Cemetery Rd)
Updated February 5, 2011