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MAP of early turnpikes and roads in Maryland.


In the mid-to-late 1700's, the port of Philadelphia held a great advantage over the port of Baltimore as a terminus for goods shipped from the West. The Great Wagon Road, completed in the 1740s, connected Philadelphia to the Mid-Atlantic and North Carolina via Lancaster and York, PA, Williamsport, MD and Winchester, VA. (Map) The Forbes Road (built in 1755 by Gen. Forbes) connected Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, PA (Fort Pitt), in the west, via Harrisburg - Chambersburg - Loudon - Bedford and Ligonier. (Map)

Maryland's powers-that-were understood a rosey economic future for the State and the port of Baltimore required the flow of goods from the West move on MD roads. Sandwiched between two powerful states, Pennsylvania and Virginia, Maryland's choices were clear- Build new or improve the connecting roads to Western Maryland and the Cumberland Road or cede economic dominance to her neighbors.

Western Turnpike Building In Maryland - Early Efforts

Efforts to build new roads to Western MD began in earnest in 1787, when the Legislature of Maryland provided for the construction of a turnpike from Baltimore county to Frederick, MD:

"An ACT to lay out several turnpike roads in Baltimore county.
   WHEREAS the public roads leading from Baltimore-town to the western parts of this state, by means of the great number of wagons, that use the same, are rendered almost impassable during the winter season, and the ordinary method of repairing the said roads is not only insufficient, but exceedingly burdensome; and the establishment of several turnpike roads in the said county would greatly reduce the price of land-carriage of produce and merchandise, and raise the value of the land in the said county, and considerably increase the commerce of the state;

   II. Be it enacted, by the general assembly of Maryland, That John Ellicott, Edward Norwood and Thomas Hollingsworth, and any two of them, shall be and are hereby appointed commissioners to examine, survey, lay out and mark, a public road from Baltimore-town towards Frederick-town in Frederick county, to the line of Baltimore county, sixty-six feet wide, and on as straight a line from Baltimore-town to Frederick-town as the nature of the country will permit; and the said commissioners are to consider, not only the distance, but the situation and goodness of the ground on which the said road is to pass provided, that the said road shall not be carried through any building, orchard, garden or yard, without the consent of the owner or possessor thereof." (Passed May 21, 1787, Chapter 23, Vol. 204, p. 217)

Map of Maryland, 1796 - From the David Rumsey Collection
Maryland - 1796 by John Reid, See full map

Funding to build the new turnpikes (3) was to come from a new tax on property in Baltimore County and from tolls collect from those using the roads.

The State government's effort to build the turnpikes proves to be unsuccessful. The public's frustration with the failed effort leads the State to take a different approach- Charter private companies to build the turnpikes and give them the authority to collect tolls. [1]

Turnpike Building to Western MD by Private Companies


"WHEREAS it is represented to this general assembly, that by the several laws heretofore passed on this subject, the desirable object contemplated by the legislature has not been obtained, and the public expectation almost entirely frustrated; therefore..."

An Act to incorporate three private turnpike companies is presented in the November 1804 Session of the legislature and is passed January 12, 1805. (Chapter 51, Volume 562, Page 33) Of the three, the Baltimore and Frederick Town Turnpike Road Company addresses the construction of a road to Western MD:

BE IT ENACTED, by the General Assembly of Maryland, That the three following companies shall be incorporated, to wit : One for making a turnpike road from the city of Baltimore, through New-Market, to and through Frederick-town, and from thence to and through Middle-town, and from thence to Boonsborough;

The law is quite specific as to how and where the turnpike is to be built and how it is to be operated.

Specifications state:

  • The roads shall be made in, over and upon, the beds of the present roads.
  • The turnpike companies have the power to erect permanent bridges over all the waters the roads cross.
  • The road must be at least twenty feet wide and "...bedded with wood, stone or gravel, or any other hard substance, well compacted together, a sufficient depth to secure a solid foundation to the same, and the said road shall be faced with gravel or stone pounded, or other small hard substance, in such manner as to secure a firm, and as near as the materials will reasonably admit, an even surface, and so nearly level in its progress as that it shall in no place rise or fall more than will form an angle of four degrees with an horizontal line, except over the Catoctin and South mountains, where it may rise or fall to an angle of six degrees..."
  • The collection of tolls is authorized for anyone* using the turnpike. The amounts are specified. (*Including "...any person riding, leading or driving, any horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, sulkey, chair, chaise, phaeton, coach, coachee, cart, wagon, wain, sleigh, sled, or other carriage of pleasure or burthen,"
  • Should any section of the road fall into disrepair, upon confirmation, tolls for that section will cease until the repairs are made.
  • Those using the road without paying the toll are subject to a fine.
  • Road signs must be erected at every crossroad: "...with a board and index hand pointing to the direction of such roads, on both sides whereof shall be inscribed, in legible characters, the name of the town, village or place, to which such road leads, and the distance thereof in computed miles;" and "the said companies shall cause milestones to be placed at the side of the said road or roads, beginning at the distance of one mile from the bounds of the city of Baltimore, and extending thence to the termination of each or either of the said respective roads, whereon shall be marked, in plain legible characters, the respective number of miles which each stone is distant from the city of Baltimore aforesaid.
  • If work does not begin within two years of the passing of the Act or, if the road is not completed to Frederick within six years, then to Middletown in the two years following and finally to Boonsboro in the two years thereafter, the unfinished road will revert to the counties.

Five days after the passage of the first Act, a Supplemental Act (Chapter 101, Volume 562, Page 93)  is passed on January 19, 1805 extending the road to Williamsport.

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Jonathan Ellicott, of the Baltimore and Fredericktown Turnpike Road, in a 1807 report to Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, on the progress of the turnpike notes:

  • "The distance from Baltimore to Boonsborough is about sixty-two miles. The contract for the first twenty miles of the road was made July 4th, 1805, and the cost was $9,000 a mile on the average."
  • "The gates were up and toll being received by April 24, 1807. Seventeen miles farther are contracted for at about $7,000 per mile, and of these, only ten are completed..."
  • "It may be observed, that from Boonsborough to Cumberland, a distance of seventy-four and a-half miles, as the road now runs, is as yet without any provision by laws for its improvement, further than as common county roads in other parts of the State..."
  • "To bring into full operation the benefits contemplated by the general government by the road leading from Fort Cumberland to the Ohio (Cumberland Road), it becomes necessary that the State of Maryland should either take this matter upon her own account or put it in the power of Congress to promote a design which it is to the interest of the Union to carry into effect."
  •  (Sioussat, p.170)

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The proverbial plot thickens... The State of Maryland, short on cash from war expenditures (1812) and dealing with the public frustration with the lack of suitable roads, devises a new plan... Make the banks pay for the roads.

From History of State Banking in Maryland: (p. 44)

The period of duration of all the charters granted by the State, except that of the Bank of Maryland, was specified; 1815 was the time of expiration of all the charters given before that date. When the question of recharter arose, Maryland was in the heat of the internal improvement discussion. The popular favor of this policy was strong, and roads, bridges and canals were being planned on a broad and systematic scale to bring all sections of the State within easy communication of their port, Baltimore. The war with Great Britain was burdening the State and the city of Baltimore with debt, so that they were unable to assist the new schemes financially. Much private property of citizens had been destroyed, and their resources had been otherwise drained by the calls of the State and city for loans. It was strongly urged to sell the bank stock owned by the State, and to invest the proceeds in the various road companies, but the bank stock had been so profitable to the State treasury that the proposition was rejected.

Byran notes a large number of Marylanders were wary of the State banks due to the power they hold over the economy and the government. Their fears are fueled by news reports of banking problems experienced by other states in periodicals like Niles Weekly Register.

There is general agreement amongst Marylanders the banks are beholding to the State for the privileges they receive. Financing the construction of new roads was a fitting way for them to repay the State for renewing their charters. (p.44)


On Dec. 17, 1812, the Maryland Assembly passes an Act (Chapter 79, Volume 618, Page 89)[2] to incorporate a company to build a turnpike road from "...the west bank of Big Conococheague, thence on to Hancock, and thence on to Cumberland, in Allegany county, pursuing as near as practicable the route as located by Messrs. Moor and Williams [3]."

A year later a Supplemental Act (Chapter 122, Volume 632, Page 113) replaces the 1812 Act with the following conditions:

  • The City Bank of Baltimore, the Hagerstown Bank, the Conococheague Bank and of the Cumberland Bank of Allegany would incorporate to form the Cumberland Road Turnpike Co.
  • The turnpike road would begin on the west side of the Conococheague Bridge, travel through Hancock, and then to Cumberland.
  • Road construction had to conform to the standards of the earlier Act.
  • The company had the same privileges to collect tolls as granted earlier turnpike companies.
  • The charters of the above named banks would be extended to January, 1835
  • The building of the turnpike must begin with two years of the passage of the supplement and be completed within eight years. Failure to do so would result in the State assuming control over the road and the revocation of the bank charters.
  • The State would impose no further tax burdens on the banks until 1835. In addition, the State agreed to issue no new bank charters in Baltimore until 1835.

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Dec. 1815 (Passed Jan. 22, 1816) - A Supplemental Act authorizes the Baltimore and Frederick Turnpike Road Co. to build a turnpike from Boonsborough to a "...point on the west bank of the Big Conococheague which the Cumberland Turnpike Company shall fix on, as the beginning of the said Cumberland Turnpike Road.". The stockholders must agree to the extension within two years of the passage of the Act and the road must be completed within five years. (Chapter 125, Vol. 634, Page 136)

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Apparently, past disappointment has taught the State to avoid putting all of their eggs in one basket. An Act to charter a company to build a turnpike and a bridge from Hagerstown Square to the west side of Conococheague creek is presented in Dec. 1816 and passed Jan. 27, 1817. (Chapter 131, Vol. 635, Page 91)

The language of the act seems to leave the route from Hagerstown to the west bank of the Conococheage to the builder's discretion as long as the road "intersects the Cumberland turnpike road". With no mention of Williamsport in the Acts of 1815 and 1816, it seems the route through that city has been abandoned...

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In Dec. 1818, MD Gov. Goldsborough reports to the MD Assembly on the subject of turnpike roads. The report covers a myriad of subjects including the destructive nature of narrow wheels, the use of parallel side roads to avoid tolls, destructive braking habits and more. (See report). The sections most relevant to the continuance of the road are:

  • As to the condition of the various roads, the report notes that the Frederick Road " was originally intended to be made eleven miles further to Williamsport on the Potomac, but failed, however, in consequence, it is believed, of the expenditure of the sum of $56,000 upon the bridge over the Monocacy, which the Company was not obliged by law to make, but assumed it voluntarily, in the belief that the Legislature would grant them a special toll to meet the special expense. In consequence, however, of the refusal of the Legislature to do so, their capital was exhausted and themselves discouraged from the prosecution of the road."[4]
  • The Bank Road to meet the National Road at Cumberland appears to be peculiarly the object of legislative care. The importance of the retention and development of the connection with the Ohio country to the commercial interests of Baltimore is dilated upon at length. The Frederick Road is complete to Boonsborough, sixty miles from Baltimore.
  • From Conococheague Creek to Cumberland, fifty-eight miles, the road undertaken by the banks, will be completed by December, 1820.
  • It appears, then, that there is a gap in the communication to Cumberland not provided for. This it is proposed to fill up in one of (two) ways: 1st. by turnpiking from Boonsborough to Hagerstown; and 2d, by turnpiking from Boonsborough through Williamsport to intersect the Bank Road somewhere at the seventh or eighth milestone of that road west of the Conococheague. The executive does not undertake to decide which of these is preferable, but leaves that to the Legislature, whose attention he moreover directs to the Bank Road, recommending its purchase by the state, and the reduction of tolls.

The Governor's final comment is directed to the missing link between Boonsboro and Hagerstown and the infighting over the route. The Hagers-Town and Conococheague Turnpike Company is building a road and a bridge from Hagerstown to the west bank of the Conococheague.

Williamsport, it seems, is not ready to throw in the towel. In the Dec. 1817 Session of the MD Assembly, an Act (Chapter 202, Vol. 636, p.203) is passed to incorporate a turnpike company to build a road from Boonsboro, through Williamsport, to intersect with the Cumberland Road. A second Act (Chapter 34, Vol.636, p.16) is presented in Dec. 1818 and passed Jan. 11, 1819 to incorporate a company... "to make a turnpike road, beginning at the west bank of the Conococheague creek, at Williamsport, and running thence in the nearest and most practicable route to intersect the Cumberland turnpike road, at or near Stone Quarry Ridge."


In that same year, a pamphlet is published by Joseph Robinson titled "Remarks on the Intercourse of Baltimore with the Western Country". The pamphlet includes a map showing current turnpike connections and emphasizes the importance of continued development. The MD Assembly is duly impressed with the pamphlet and similar presentations. A Resolution No. 5 is presented in the 1818 Session of the MD Assembly and past Jan. 13, 1819.

No. 5.
Whereas, during the last session of congress, the following resolution was adopted by the house of representatives, viz.
In the House of Representatives of the United States, March 30, 1818.
Resolved, That the secretary of the treasury be requested to prepare and report to this house, at their next session, a plan for the application of such means as are within the power of Congress to the purpose or opening and improving roads, and making canals, together with a statement of the undertakings of that nature, which as objects of public improvement may require and deserve the aid of government; and also a statement of works of the nature above mentioned, which have been commenced, the progress which has been made in them, the means and prospect of their being completed, the public improvements carried on by states or by companies, or incorporations which have been associated for such purposes, to which it may be deemed expedient to subscribe or afford assistance, the terms and conditions of such associations, and the state of their funds, and such information as in the opinion of the secretary shall be material in relation to the objects of this resolution.
Clerk House of Representatives.

Therefore Resolved, That the executive of this state be requested to furnish immediately to the secretary of the treasury of the United States, a statement of such roads and canals within the state of Maryland, which may be considered worthy of the assistance and encouragement of the general government in a national point of view, particularly designating the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers, and the bridges over the same, and the proposed canal from the Chesapeake to the Delaware bay, the roads leading from the District of Columbia and city of Baltimore to the western country, and the road leading from Baltimore to Elkton as peculiarly deserving national aid; and to report their proceedings to the next general assembly, with sued information they may receive as to what aid and encouragement may be expected from the general government in furtherance of these or any other internal improvements in the state of Maryland. (Volume 637, Page 142)

In 1821, the Assembly extends the bank charters to 1845 on the condition they form a company to build a turnpike from Boonsborough to Hagerstown. This turnpike will become known as the Bank Road. (Sioussat, p.174)

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An Act to charter the Boonsborough Turnpike Road Co. is presented in Dec. of 1821 and passed Jan. 30, 1822. (Chapter 131, Vol. 626, Page 84) The governing body of the company is made up of officers from several City banks in Baltimore and the Hagerstown Bank. The charters of those banks will be extended to 1845. Construction on the road must begin within two years and be completed in four. (Construction is said to have begun that same year.) The turnpike is the first road built in the United States using the McAdam technique (aka macadamized).


The ecomonic benefits of the completed road from Baltimore to Cumberland became strikingly apparent. Jared Sparks, the biographer of George Washington, provides a description of Baltimore's prosperity in the 1830s:

" Within the last thirty years, the population of Philadelphia has increased to a number three times as great as it was at the beginning of that period; New York to a number four times as great, and Baltimore to a number five times as great. Among all the cities of America, or of the Old World, there is no record of any one which has sprung up so quickly or to so high a degree of importance as Baltimore. At the commencement of the Revolution it was a village of five thousand inhabitants, and at the close of the war it had increased to more than eight thousand. In magnitude it is now the third city in the Union, and has held that rank for nearly twenty years."

"Now,the line of communication is complete between Baltimore and Wheeling over one of the best roads in the world, on which it is now in contemplation to set up a line of transport-wagons to run day and night."

"Large droves of live stock, especially hogs, are now driven every year from the banks of the Ohio, in Kentucky, to Baltimore, in preference to being packed on the spot and sent down the river by a more speedy conveyance to the New Orleans market." (Sioussat, p.176)

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Ultimately, investment in MD turnpikes turns out to be unprofitable for the banks:

" inflicted loss proportionately on all who were compelled by the law of 1813, chapter 122, and subsequent laws, to subscribe to the various improvement schemes. As far as we have been able to estimate these subscriptions, they amounted to over $1,500,000. The cost of building the roads was always much greater than the computation. They were in no sense a good investment for the banks. The best of these stocks paid no dividends at all for a number of years, and then perhaps they paid 2 or 3 per cent, per annum, seldom more; after a few years they ceased to pay at all. This is the history of nearly all of these improvement companies in Maryland." (Bryan, p.61)


The Baltimore and Frederick Town Turnpike Road Company

  • January, 1805: The Baltimore and Frederick Town Turnpike Road Company is incorporated to build a turnpike from Baltimore, through New Market and Frederick, to Boonsboro. MD. (1804 - Chapter 51, Vol. 562, Page 33[5]
  • Also in Jan. 1805: A Supplement to the Act (Chapter 101) is passed authorizing the extension of the Frederick Turnpike from Boonsboro to Williamsport, MD.
  • January 1812: A Supplement (Chapter 202) is passed confirming the completion of the Baltimore to Frederick Turnpike. (The road was only completed to Boonsboro per the original act.)
  • January 1815: A Supplement (Chapter 125)  authorizes a turnpike from Boonsboro to the west side of the Big Conococheague River to join with the Cumberland Turnpike. The turnpike company is given the option to decide the route.
    " extend the Cumberland said road from Boonsborough to that point on the west bank of the Big Conococheague which the Cumberland turnpike company shall fix on, as the beginning of the said Cumberland turnpike road."

The Boonsborough Turnpike Company

As noted in MD Gov. Goldsborough's report of 1818, the Baltimore - Frederick Turnpike ends in Boonsboro, MD. This is despite several legislative acts to complete it to meet the Cumberland Turnpike.

  • January 30, 1822: An Act to Incorporate the Boonsboro Turnpike Co. (Chapter 131, Vol. 626, Page 84) is passed by the MD Assembly. The act authorizes the construction of a turnpike from Boonsboro to Hagerstown.

The Cumberland Turnpike Road

  • Dec. 17, 1812: The Maryland Assembly passes an Act (Chapter 79, Volume 618, Page 89)[2] to incorporate a company to build a turnpike road from "...the west bank of Big Conococheague, thence on to Hancock, and thence on to Cumberland (MD)"
  • January 17, 1814: A Supplemental Act is passed replacing the orginal. (Chapter 122, Volume 632, Page 113) The act specifies the City Bank of Baltimore, the Hagerstown Bank, the Conococheague Bank and of the Cumberland Bank of Allegany would incorporate to form the Cumberland Road Turnpike Co.
  • February 17, 1819Resolved, That the governor and council be and they hereby are authorised and requested, to appoint three commissioners, residents of Allegany county, to view and inspect the United States' Turnpike Road so far as it runs through Allegany county, and to report what measure^ are in their opinion necessary and proper to be adopted in order to keep the said road in repair, which report, with any other information on the subject, the governor and council are requested to lay before the legislature at their next session.
  • February 19, 1819:  Resolution #34 - Resolved, That the governor and council be and they are hereby authorised and requested, to endeavour to ascertain the best terms upon which the possession of the Cumberland Bank Road can be obtained by the state, with a view that the said road shall be held by the state to promote the general interests of the trade and intercourse of Maryland with the western country: and also to enquire upon what terms the said banks will consent, in the event of the said roads remaining in their hands,) to release from toll all wagons and carriages of heavy burden, the tire of whose wheels shall be of a certain fixed width, and to report the result of their enquiries to the next general assembly, in the first week of the session. (Volume 637, Page 146)

The Hagers-Town and Conococheague Turnpike Company

  • January 1817: Act to Incorporate a Company to make a Turnpike Road from the Market Space in Hager's-Town, to the West Bank of the Conococheague is presented in 1816 and passed in Jan. 1817. (Chapter 131, Vol. 192, Page 1905)

    Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland, That a company shall be incorporated for making a turnpike road and building a bridge over the Conococheague creek, beginning at the market-space in Hager's-Town, and running the nearest and best direction to the west bank of the said creek, so as to intersect the Cumberland turnpike road at the west bank of said creek.

The Williams-Port and Cumberland Turnpike Road Company

  • Passed Jan 11, 1819, (CHAPTER 34. Volume 637, Page 16) An act to Incorporate a Company to make a Turnpike Road from the West Bank of the Conococheague Creek, at William sport, to intersect the Cumberland Turnpike Road at or near Stone Quarry Ridge.


  1. From Highway Legislation In Maryland (page 164):
    This unique plan of turnpiking under county authority was upon the whole unsuccessful. Within fourteen years the act of 1787 was amended no less than ten times. Many of these changes were unimportant; in 1790, however, the influence of the legislation for counties led to a law empowering the Commissioners of Review to appoint one or more supervisors for the roads in question and permitting the substitution of personal labor for the payment of the tax authorized in 1787. This merely increased the division of authority that already existed; and finally, in 1801, provision was made "for better guarding the executive part of the said law" [of 1787]. It was now decided to dispense with the numerous officials of the earlier law, and the management of the turnpike roads was given to a superintendent who should be appointed by the court of Baltimore county... The books and property of the former commissioners and supervisors, and also the convicts at work upon the roads, were to be transferred to the new officials.

    When the failure of the experiment of turnpiking under county authority became apparent, efforts were made to attract private capital to investment in the construction of turnpike roads. For some time these attempts were equally fruitless. The first turnpike company in Maryland, incorporated in 1796, to build a turnpike road between Baltimore and Washington, apparently accomplished nothing, and those immediately following seem to have been no more fortunate.
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  2. Supplements to Chapter 79 - 1812: This act was substituted by 1813, ch. 122. Supplements to this act are acts 1813, ch. 122; 1814, ch. 76; 1815, ch. 115, ch. 167; 1816, ch. 99, ch. 153; 1818, resolution No. 34 ; 1820, ch. 47; 1821, ch. 216; 1835, ch. 186.
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  3. President Jefferson appointed Thomas Moore of Maryland, Eli Williams of Maryland and Joseph Kerr of Ohio as commissioners to lay out a road from Cumberland, MD to Ohio. (More information)
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  4. MD House of Delegates - Votes and Proceedings - November Session, 1807 (Vol. 555).
    • (November 23, 1807): A petition from the president, managers and company, of the Baltimore and Frederick-town turnpike road, stating, that they are willing to erect a bridge over the river Monocacy, at their own expense, and praying that a law may pass authorising said company to receive such tolls for passing said bridge as the legislature may think fit, was preferred, read, and referred to Mr. T. Dorsey, Mr. Shaaff, Mr. Tabbs, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Hawkins, to consider and report thereon.
    • December 18, 1807. Mr. T. Dorsey, from the committee, delivers to the speaker a bill, entitled, An act authorising the Baltimore and Frederick-town turnpike road company to erect a toll bridge over the Monocacy river.
    • January 5, 1808: ORDERED, That the bill authorising the Baltimore and Frederick-town turnpike company to erect a toll-bridge over the Monocacy river, have a second reading on Friday next.
    • January 12, 1808: On the second reading of the bill authorising the Baltimore and Frederick-town turnpike road company to erect a toll-bridge oyer the Monocacy river, the question was put, That the further consideration of the same be referred to the first day of June next? Resolved in the affirmative.
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  5. Chapter 51 - 1804 Session, (Volume 562, Page 33): Supplementary and other acts are, ch. 101; 1805, ch. 15, ch. 67; 1807, ch. 130, ch. 144, ch. 147; 180S, ch. 50, ch. 92; June, 1809, ch. 2; November, 1809, ch. 124; 1S10, ch. 141; 1811, ch. 49, ch. 74, ch. 195, ch. 202; 1812, ch. 59; 1813, ch. 171; 1815, ch. 125, ch. 166 ; 1817, ch. 8 ; 1824, ch. 105; 1828, ch. 46; 1831, ch. 94; 1835, ch. 381.
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Email me at: ~Steve Colby, Cumberland Road Project, Cumberland, MD

  Last Update: Jan. 19, 2010