Thomas Cresap

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Thomas Cresap
Bornc. 1702
Skipton, Yorkshire
Diedc. 1790
Allegany County, Maryland
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Thomas Cresap
Bornc. 1702
Skipton, Yorkshire
Diedc. 1790
Allegany County, Maryland

Colonel Thomas Cresap (c. 1702–c.1790) was an English-born pioneering settler in the state of Maryland, and an agent of Lord Baltimore in the 'Maryland-Pennsylvania boundary dispute' that would be known as Cresap's War. He is something of a founding father from the dark side in American Colonial history, both reviled and admired. During the dispute, Cresap became a notorious figure in the Conejohela Flats area—the lower Susquehanna Valley in the area south of Wright's Ferry—where his actions as an agent on behalf of his Patron Lord Baltimore who'd claimed the lands made him a wanted criminal in Pennsylvania. Cresap and his men were involved in several use of force incidents resulting in deaths acting to evict men who'd considered themselves legal settlers under Pennsylvania's Colonial Charter, but were to Lord Baltimore and Cresap's mind, just squatters. Because of the bloodshed during Cresap's War King George II issued an edict forcing a settlement of the Maryland-Pennsylvania boundary dispute against the claims by Lord Baltimore[disambiguation needed]. Cresap was held a villain in Pennsylvania, and something of a hero in Maryland, which has municipalities named after him.

Subsequently, in fear of reprisals by Pennsylvanians, Cresap moved his family west up the Potomac River drainage basin into the throat of the Cumberland Narrows mountain pass into the Monongahela River valley. The Cumberland narrows is one of only five navigable routes over the Appalachian Mountains barrier range, and there he founded what is now Oldtown, Maryland by building a trading post at the foot of the Amerindian trail over Wills Mountain (renamed Haystack now near Cresaptown), in the middle of the era when colonials were petitioning the crown to obtain lands of the so-called Ohio Country across the Allegheny Mountains from the Indians. The colonials wanted the crown to open these possessions for settlement, and give them out under charter in the same old way, the crown's ministers, re. Cresap also sent traders over the pass and explored personally in Amerindian lands along the Monongahela upriver of Redstone Old Forts, some of which ended up as his property in what is now upper West Virginia, though still claimed by the Colony of Maryland.

The crown complied, the Amerindians sold ca. 1744, and the land speculation stock company, the Ohio Company was granted a charter to 2 million acres (8,100 km2) in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia ca. 1748. Cresap was given or would earn a large land grant from the Ohio Country in what is now West Virginia, for he was employed as commander of an expedition in 1748–1750 along with the Delaware Amerindian Chief Nemacolin to begin widening the Nemacolin Trail into freight wagon road from Cumberland, MD to Redstone Old Fort. George Washington and his troops would further improve the same road prior to Braddock's Military Expedition during the French and Indian War. Redstone, on the Monongahela River became Brownsville, Pennsylvania which dwarfed Pittsburgh in growth and vibrant industrial activities until c. 1840-50s, as a center for construction and outfitting various river craft (keel boats, flat boats, steamboats) settlers used to settle not only the entire Mississippi drainage basin, but the far west and Oregon Country beyond the source waters of the Missouri River.


Early years[edit]

Cresap was born in Skipton, Yorkshire, England, and came to Maryland when 15 years old. In 1723 he gave his occupation as that of a carpenter. He settled at the mouth of the Susquehanna River on the Chesapeake, on the lower end of an floodplain called the Conejohela Valley where he engaged in boat-building. In 1725 he married Hannah Johnson, whose father, Thomas Johnson, on 24 March 1725 had surveyed to himself Mount Johnson Island, at Peach Bottom Ferry. Cresap went to Virginia, but he was not there long before a dozen or more persons attempted to drive him away when he was engaged in hewing timber for his dwelling. He defended himself, and cleft one of his assailants with a broad-ax. He then returned to Maryland, and took out a patent for a ferry over the Susquehanna at the head of tide-water, which must have been at or near the terminus of the voyage of Capt. John Smith up the river in 1608. While living there he visited the rich valleys 30 miles (48 km) farther up the right bank of the river, now in Hellam and Lower Windsor Townships. He reported the conditions to Lord Baltimore, who as early as 1721 had contemplated extending the northern boundary of Maryland on the west side of the Susquehanna to the northern limits of the fortieth degree of latitude. (See Maryland–Pennsylvania boundary dispute)

Land disputes[edit]

Gradually a few settlers from Maryland moved to the Conojohela Valley. They were aggressive to the Pennsylvanias who settled near them. It was not Lord Baltimore's practice to purchase lands from the Indians; instead the Marylanders drove them away by force. The settlers treated the Indians on the west side of the river with cruelty; however, they had no one capable of holding the ground they had taken from the Indians or from the Pennsylvanians, who were determined to prevent Baltimore from gaining a foothold on this disputed land. Cresap came to Conojohela Valley in March, 1730, and built a block-house on the banks of the river three and one half miles below today's Wrightsville, near the site of Leber's Mill. That same year, he took out a Maryland patent for several 100 acres (400,000 m2) near the river for "Blue Rock Ferry" at same place. In 1731 Cresap was commissioned a justice of the peace for Baltimore County. After many attempts to capture him, he was finally taken on 25 November 1736, by Sheriff Samuel Smith and 24 armed men. His wife stood by him and fought at his side.

At this time he had at least two and perhaps three of his children with him, the eldest being about nine years of age. During his imprisonment, his wife and children lived with his cousin Daniel Lowe, who drove one of the German settlers from his home in Grist Valley (Kreutz Creek), near Codorus. Cresap's education was limited, but he became a land surveyor, and was of great service to Lord Baltimore in extending the western boundary of Maryland from the source of the south branch of the Potomac due north, which added at least one third more territory to Maryland. In 1735 he took out a Maryland patent for a group of islands at Blue Rock Ferry, called the "Isles of Promise." About 1730 Cresap again moved beyond the frontier and took up about 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of land in Maryland along Antietam Creek, where he established a store and Indian trading post. He accumulated a large quantity of furs and pelts and shipped them to England. The vessel was captured by the French and he lost everything. In 1739, he was granted 400 acres (1.6 km2) which he named Long Meadows. Cresap is said to have erected a stone and log fort over a spring near the Marsh Run.[1] Cresap moved farther west to within two miles (3 km) of present day Cumberland, Maryland, where he again embarked in the Indian trade until the beginning of the French and Indian War, when he raised a company of Rangers.

French and Indian War[edit]

Cresap fought a number of skirmishes with the Indians and stood his ground, assisted by his sons. He was elected a representative from Frederick County, Maryland to the Maryland legislature. When the French and their allies attempted to seize the territory west of the Alleghany Mountains from the English, Cresap and his sons at their own expense raised two companies of volunteer soldiers.

Later years[edit]

Cresap was a large landholder. He became totally blind a few years before his death. He married a second time, to Margaret Milburn, when he was eighty years of age. He died in ca. 1790 at his home in Allegany County, Maryland, aged eighty-eight.

During "Cresap's war," his first wife, Hannah Johnson, frequently mounted a horse and rode with the mounted militia with a sword by her side. When Cresap's stronghold was surrounded by militia from Donegal, Hannah knew how to handle a musket. She superintended the construction of a house and the building of some flatboats, in the absence of her husband, at John Hendricks', now the upper end of Wrightsville, where forcible possession had been taken of Hendricks' plantation by Cresap. While there she saw a flatboat filled with armed men crossing the river. She mounted her horse, sounded a bugle, and rode rapidly to Cresap's fort, three miles (5 km) and a half down the river. She returned at the head of the militia.


Thomas and Hannah (Johnson) Cresap had five children: three sons and two daughters.

The oldest son, Daniel Cresap, remained in Washington County, Maryland, and became a large landholder and a celebrated hunter as well as a farmer. He was about fourteen when the family left York County. As an adult, he was colonel of militia[citation needed]. By his first wife he had a son, Michael. By a second wife he had seven sons and three daughters: Daniel, Joseph, Van, Robert, James, Thomas, Elizabeth, Mary and Sarah.[citation needed] Daniel marched in his uncle Michael's company to Boston in 1775.[citation needed] James was for a number of years in the Maryland legislature.[citation needed]

Thomas, the second son[citation needed] of Col. Cresap, was killed by an Indian – whom he killed at the same instant.[citation needed] He left a widow and one child.[citation needed]

Michael, was born in Frederick County, Maryland, 29 June 1742. He was the successor to his father in the Indian trade, and owned a large trading store at "Old Town," a few miles east of Cumberland. He was an Indian fighter from his youth. In 1774 he employed several men and descended the Ohio River and was engaged in the business of erecting houses and clearing lands for the settlers. While thus engaged he received a letter from Dr. Connolly, the commandant at Fort Pitt, that there was danger of an Indian war. The settlers were alarmed. Michael and his party, anticipating an attack by the Indians, struck them first. Some of his men killed several Indians near Wheeling. Another group of frontiersmen, led by Daniel Greathouse, shortly afterwards killed the family of the celebrated Indian Logan and several others. Cresap was mistakenly accused of leading this action as well. Logan reacted swiftly, striking settlers on the frontier. This was followed by "Dunmore's War" and the Battle of Point Pleasant along the Ohio River, which brought about a treaty of peace.

Michael Cresap was held in esteem by his neighbors. He was the first person in Maryland to raise a company of volunteer riflemen. He marched at their head to Boston in 1775, where he fought with great bravery. He took sick (tuberculosis is suspected) and was compelled to return to New York, where he died. Michael Cresap left five children, two sons and three daughters.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Maryland Historical Trust". Long Meadows. Maryland Historical Trust. 2009-01-03. 

External links[edit]