The month of January carries particular historical significance for Annapolis. This year, January 14th marks the anniversary of the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, a document whose provisions included recognition by Great Britain of the independence of the United States. George Washington's resignation almost a month earlier and the ratification comprise two major events during which American history shines its spotlight on the city. They are high points of the nine-month period when our nation's founding fathers gathered in the State House to guide the affairs of the now independent former colonies. But what of Annapolis's own founding fathers?
Answering that question is a bit more complicated than recognizing the role of the men who drafted and voted for a declaration of independence, led their countrymen in battle, and negotiated for support in Europe. One first has to define what we mean by "founding," and, for that matter, by "Annapolis." Unlike the national story, it is not possible to point to a single date as the beginning of a discrete entity known as Annapolis. For practical purposes, I'm defining "Annapolis" as the settlement on Annapolis Neck and "founding" as the arrival of the first English settlers to take up land on the neck.
In 1649, Lord Baltimore, the Roman Catholic proprietor, wishing to consolidate his control over Maryland in the wake of Ingle's Rebellion and to conciliate the Puritans now ruling in England, appointed a Protestant governor (William Stone), increased the land offered as an incentive to new settlers, and directed Stone to recruit 500 new Maryland colonists. By 1651, surviving records document the presence of three landholders on Annapolis Neck: Thomas Todd, Sr., who claimed most of the neck; Richard Acton; and Thomas Hall. All three men and their families took part in a migration of dissenting Virginia Protestants from Lower Norfolk County to newly-formed Anne Arundel County in the early 1650s. But very little is known with certainty about the details of their arrival.
Examination of the surveys and deeds for the land on which the three households settled provides a few clues. When the surveyor described in July 1751 the boundaries of shipwright Thomas Todd's survey of Todd, he recorded two of the boundaries as the lines of property belonging to Thomas Hall and to Richard Acton. Unfortunately, we do not know when the two men first settled their properties. Thomas Hall's time on Annapolis Neck was relatively brief, as he died in 1655. He left little trace of his presence, for he never surveyed or patented his plantation, although he did leave 20 acres to his son, Christopher.
Richard Acton, a carpenter, surveyed his plantation of 100 acres in November 1651 but didn't patent the land until 1658. This tract surrounded Acton Cove (more extensive in the 17th century than it is now) and it was around the cove that town growth eventually occurred. In 1669, the proprietor bought 19 acres of Acton's land fronting on the cove and designated it an official port of entry, identified as Arundelton on Augustine Herrman's 1670 map of Virginia and Maryland. Slowly the town developed, and with the move of the capital in 1695, the change of name to Annapolis, and the passage of much time, it grew into the colonial city that is preserved today. The same passage of time, however, has largely obscured the names of its first founders: Richard Acton, Thomas Hall, and Thomas Todd.
For a more complete and rich story of the early development of Annapolis, see Anthony D. Lindauer, From Paths to Plats: The Development of Annapolis, 1651 to 1718, Studies in Local History, Maryland State Archives and Maryland Historical Trust, 1997.