In the decades before state directories and other similar resources appeared, there were gazetteers or geographical dictionaries. These valuable titles, many over 200 years old, examined an area in some detail, presenting information about a community, its landscape, political economy, business enterprise, and natural resources.
Today Cecil and Harford county genealogists and local historians will find these works to be helpful as they offer detailed insights about the counties, towns and villages. Since hard to find details, such as social statistics, are contained in the works, I often consult the volumes when trying to understand the changes that have taken place in the area over the centuries.
In Maryland and Delaware “A Geographical Description of the States of Maryland” published by Joseph Scott in 1807 is helpful. As 18 pages focus on Cecil and Harford counties, it contains a large amount of productive information. In addition to details on most of the towns and villages of any size, there is lots of copy discussing the state and each county.
To give you an idea of the content, here is some of what Scott said about Bel Air. “Bellair” is a post town and seat of justice, 23 miles from Baltimore. It ‘has an elegant court house and jail, and a Methodist meeting house” and in the vicinity a county poor house. The town contained about 160 inhabitants in 1800 and there were four licensed taverns, three stores, two blacksmith’ shops, two joiners, one chair maker, one shoemaker, one wheelwright, and one taylor. By comparison, Abingdon had abou5 56 dwellings and 240 inhabitants. It also had about eight stores filled “with the produce of the West India islands, and the various manufacturers of Europe,” along with one tanyard, and several tradesmen’s shops.
This title was once hard to access. I purchased one from an antiquarian bookstore in New England decades ago so I could have it instantly available for my research needs. Before that I had to make a trip to a special collections library.
But now thanks to the Digital Public Library of America and other public domain e-content providers, we all have instant access to this and many more titles.
Click here to go to the Digital Public Library of America’s catalog item for this product. DPLA links to the HathiTrust for the full text. HathiTrust is another source for online books in the public domain.