FREEDOM OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT AND WORSHIP
Quakers, Catholics and Protestants Arrive Together and Feel Free to Worship God in Their Own Way - Interesting Churches Grow Up in Old Kent - The Name "Protestant Episcopal" First Given to the Church in Chestertown.
The little colony which came over from England included Quakers, Catholics and Protestants, all to have equal rights here. They cut down a tree - and made a large cross of it, then, kneeling around that cross, they all joined in worship and thanksgiving. This was the beginning of the Christian Church in Kent. Father White was the first priest of the Catholics who began services in a wigwam donated by Indians. Every one of these "villagers" living in 30 or 40 log huts and wigwams in the woods enjoyed religious liberty, being the only place in the wide world where such liberty existed.
William Claiborne, a member of the Virginia Company, established a trading post at Kent Island, and brought there, in 1632, the Rev. Richard James, who conducted the first services of the Church of England within the territory known as Maryland.
On the road between Kennedyville and Locust Grove, in the upper part of Kent County, stands Shrewsbury Church. The first house was likely built in 1693. The present house of worship is the third built by the parishioners, and several years after its erection it was remodeled and beautified; about twenty years ago a tower was added. While it is the third church that was built on the present site, it is quite probable that the first building was a very small affair and that it became necessary to add to it very soon after the first year of the eighteenth century.
After the enlarging of the church it does not appear that any changes in the building were made until the old wooden structure gave way for a more pretentious one said to have seated 700 persons, built in 1729, of brick. This brick church was torn down in 1829 and the present church was built in 1832.
There is reason to believe that the very first building erected for public worship within the present bounds of Shrewsbury parish stood on the southern bank of the Sassafras River on "Meeting House Point," on what is now known as Shrewsbury Neck, and was there as early as 1680.
From 1680 to 1694 the population rapidly increased along the south side of the Sassafras, being materially augmented by emigrants from England, who were granted land in this picturesque and fertile section of the Province. Roads were cut through the county and the travel, which had been confined to the canoe and shallop, gave way, in a measure, to travel by horse and the old gig or chaise. Upon the laying out of the parish it became necessary to find a central location for the place of worship, and it was for this reason that the present site of Shrewsbury was selected.
The "Archives of Maryland" show that, "at a court held for Cecil County the 22d day of November in the fourth year of their Majesties' Reign, etc., Anno Dom 1692," the following Commissioners were present: Capt. Charles James, Col. Casperus Herman, Mr. William Ward, Mr. John James, Sr., Mr. Humphrey Tilton, Mr. Henry Rigg and Mr. William Elmes.
There were four more of the Commissioners who did not attend this meeting, at which the important business of dividing the county into parishes was consummated.
TWO PARISHES ARE LAID OUT.
When the "Act of Establishment" was passed by the Assembly those of the Protestants who were "Freeholders," together with the Commissioners of Cecil County, met November 22d, 1692, at the courthouse on the Elk River and laid out and divided Cecil County into two parishes. That is to say, one for Worton and South Sassafras Hundreds, and the other for North Sassafras, Bohemia and Elk Hundreds."
Worton and South Sassafras (afterwards Shrews-bury) parish was bounded on the north and west by the Sassafras River and the Chesapeake Bay and very probably extended as far south as Worton Creek. The southern boundary is yet unknown, but doubtless a line drawn in an easterly direction from Worton Creek to the Chester River, to the vicinity of the present site of Chestertown, divided this parish from that of St. Paul's in Kent.
On March 18, 1697-8, a petition was sent to the Assembly at Annapolis asking for a better division f the two parishes; and on April 3, 1698, an Act of Assembly (Chapter 5) was passed authorizing the running of the division line between St. Paul's and Shrewsbury parishes nearly parallel to the old line, but about three miles farther to the north.
This latter line began at the crossing of a branch of Morgan's Creek east of William Bateman's house and runs to the head of a branch of a creek issuing out of the bay called Churn Creek. By reference to the land record of Kent County, we find that the line began where the main road from Chestertown to Kennedyville now crosses the stream at the foot of Goose Hill. From there it ran northwest to the stream that crosses the road leading from Hanesville to Still Pond, just south of where Christ Church "I. U." now stands.
This line also served as the southern boundary of Cecil County until, by Act of Assembly (Chapter 3) in 1706, the Sassafras River was made the southern boundary of that county. Prior to this time the present county of Kent was divided into parts of two counties, the upper part being in Cecil and the lower a part of the old "County of Kent." The residents were to attend court of the farther side of the Chester and Sassafras Rivers. On June 8, 1692, the following petitions were sent to the Assembly:
"A Petition preferred by the inhabitants of Kent County on the north side of Chester River praying that if the Island of Kent be separated from them into a county of itself a reasonable number of the inhabitants of the south side of the Sassafras River may be added to them ;" also: "A Petition by the inhabitants of the south side of the Sassafras River in Cecil County setting forth that their court being held on the north side of the said river to their great damage, inconvenience and hazard in bad weather, pray, therefore, to be joined to Kent County in the manner as themselves the inhabitants of Kent County on the north side of Chester River have prayed."
Although these petitions were made in 1692, it was the misfortune of these people to have to endure the hardships for more than 14 years, the line between the two counties remaining unchanged until in 1706 Gov. John Seymour induced the Assembly to act.
It is quite possible that when the two parishes of St. Paul's and Shrewsbury were first laid out, the Commissioners having the matter in charge ran the line from Worton Creek to the Chester River, because this may have been the dividing line (prior to 1674) between Baltimore County on the north and the "County of Kent" on the south. The "Archives of Maryland," Browne, Vol. 2, page 318, state that at the session of the Assembly on Tuesday, October 17, 1671, "This House will consent to the Bill of Ferries, provided that a ferry may be kept-over Chester River from Baltimore County," thus indicating that the Chester River was a boundary of Baltimore County, and it is also very probable that this has reference to the ferry that crossed the river at the present site of Chestertown.
Page(s) 72-77, History of Kent County, Maryland, 1630-1916, by Fred G. Usilton, 1916
Transcribed by Nathan Zipfel for the Maryland History and Genealogy Project