In the Spring of 1608, English explorer Captain John Smith (1580-1631) departed Virginia’s Jamestown settlement and traveled 170 miles to the waters of the upper Chesapeake and entered the Patapsco River. His logbook, with original entry spelling states:
“The westerne shore by which we sayled we found all along well watered, but very mountainious and barren, the valleys very fertile, but extreme thicke of small wood as well as trees, and much frequented with wolves, beares, deere, and other wild beast. Wee passed many shallow creekes, but the first we found navigable for a ship, we called BPOLUS, for that the clay in many places under the clifts by the high water marke…”
The place Smith saw was a large hill of red clay – Captain John Smith Hill – today’s Federal Hill, named in 1788 when Maryland celebrated the ratification of the federal Constitution. The bountiful estuary landscape of fauna and flora must have impressed these early explorers to the mysterious and dangerous American wilderness where cypress swamps and white cedar trees were a habitat for terrapin and the ever-present “muskeetoes.”
In the 17th century, Locust Point was originally known as Whetstone Point, one of three English land grants known as “Upton Court,” “David’s Fancy,” and “Whetstone Point.” Charles Gorsuch, the first settler, surveyed and patented 50 acres on August 3, 1661. In 1702, James Carroll purchased the land and named it “Whetstone Point” after a London park. Four years later, the Maryland Colonial Assembly established a “Port of Entry” on Whetstone Point.
“On Munday the First Day of Decr. 1729,” the Maryland Legiuslature, “ordered the Survey of Baltemore Towne to Runn out of the Towne afoiresaid….beginning at a Locust Post to Be sett up on a Point of the said Land, and runnig from the said Locust Post to a Point Eat 52 perches North, 21 degrees East and 108 degrees…”
By 1666 early maps embraced the name “Patapscoe” derived from various English spellings from the native tribe who inhabited the coastal plain of Maryland, the Algonquian Indians, whose culture was based upon shellfish and hunting.
During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) the citizenry erected Fort Whetstone which was replaced in 1798 by Fort McHenry, named after Secretary of War James McHenry. During the War of 1812, many of the defenders became sick with the bibulous fever, contracted from the airs of the wetlands.
By the 1830’s springtime blossoms filled the air with the fragrance of a flowering tree known as Locust (genus Robina pseudoacacia). Once bountiful on the peninsula, locust trees were renown for their heavy, hardwood durability – thus the name Locust Point. Throughout its natural history, there was a hearty abundance of wild flowers and blackberry bushes and natural springs. Later orchards, vineyards, and cornfields contributed to the rural aspect of the Point.
Two water sources form the Point. To the west, the river originates from a small pond 52 miles away known as “Parr’s Spring” where Howard, Frederick, and Carroll Counties meet. To the east of Locust Point, the Northwest Branch of the Patapsco receives its waters from the Jones Falls that empties into the inner harbor near Fells Point.
The geographic landscape itself is the terminus of a narrow 20-mile long ridge that extends south from Pennsylvania along the Jones Falls reaching the high promontory of Federal Hill and finally to the point ending at Fort McHenry, the natural point of origin today on the southwest grounds. The name Locust Point is first known to have appeared in 1845 when the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad purchased land to lay its first rail line onto the peninsula. By the 1840’s the first inhabited two-story row houses were built, still present today on Cuba and Towson Streets – and thus the natural landscape, first viewed by English explorer Captain John Smith began to disappear.
– By Scott Sheads, Historian Fort McHenry National Monument