Finding Bohemia on the Chesapeake

Cartographer: A mapmaker from Prague charted the headwaters of the bay and was rewarded with land from Lord Baltimore.

October 26, 2003|By Jeanine Kelly | Jeanine Kelly,SUN STAFF

THE TRUE MEANING of the word Bohemia is, according to American Heritage College dictionary, a historical region and former kingdom of present-day Czech Republic established between the first and fifth centuries.

Most people today know its colloquial meaning, which is a community of people with artistic or literary tastes with unconventional manners and mores.

To the people of Cecil County, though, the word Bohemia has a more local resonance because it commonly is known as the land that Dutch emigre Augustine Herrman established and named in 1661.

Augustine Herrman, a cartographer originally from Prague, Bohemia, emigrated to the Netherlands for his schooling, wound up as an envoy in the Dutch West India Co. and sailed to America about 1633.

Dutch diplomat

Herrman settled in New Amsterdam, now known as New York, and worked for Peter Stuyvesant, then its mayor. As a diplomat to the Dutch colonies, Herrman often traveled to Maryland and southward. As George Johnston states in the History of Cecil County, Maryland, Herman "seems to become enamored of the rich soil and genial climate of this latitude during his visits to Maryland and Virginia in 1659."

Herrman must have enjoyed the climate, enough to avail his cartography skills to Lord Baltimore of the Calvert family. In the early Colonial days, it was one of the duties of the lord to act as a developer for the new land, to offer prospective colonists in England an accurate map and handsome opportunity for good land and wealth.

In the area surrounding the head of the Chesapeake Bay, Herrman saw opportunity for himself and his descendants. By showing Lord Baltimore a sample of his cartographic skills, he got the job of charting the map of Maryland's latest acquisition.

According to Johnston's book, "This [map] was a work of some magnitude and cost him `no less than the value of about 200 pounds sterling, beside his own labor.'" In payment for Herman's expense and labor, Lord Baltimore granted him land in northern Maryland. An area of about 4,000 acres was patented to Augustine Herrman for agreeing to make the map and another smaller tract upon completion.

Even though Herrman was given the land by Lord Baltimore, he had to buy it legally from the Susquehannock Indians, which he did shortly thereafter on a small island called Spesutia Island in the Chesapeake.

The expanse of land was divided into two, separated only by a small stream. The larger, which Herrman named Bohemia Manor, was intended to be an inheritance for his eldest son, stretched as said in the original agreement, "unto Augustine Herrman all that tract of land called Bohemia Manor, lying on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay, and on the west side of a river in the said bay, called Elk River." The smaller is known as Little Bohemia or, more commonly, Middle Neck.

About 1662, Herrman relocated his wife, Janetje, and their five children from Manhattan Island to the head of the Chesapeake to begin surveying the land for his map.

10 arduous years

The map took nearly 10 arduous years of Herrman's life to complete.

The difficulty of mapmaking is illustrated in Herrman's own journals, in which he wrote that "the boat became almost half full of water, whereupon we were obliged to land and turn the boat upside down; we caulked the seams somewhat with old linen ... , but one was obliged to sit continually and bail out the water. We proceeded with the night ebb on our journey with great labor, as the boat was very leaky, and we had neither rudder nor oar, but merely paddles."

Although the task of cartography was demanding, Herrman set up a prosperous life in the first few years despite his frequent expeditions.

It's recorded that as early as 1662, Herrman had requested that a new county be formed in the area of Bohemia.

He proposed to name the county Cecil, in honor of Lord Baltimore, Cecilius Calvert. Herrman's map, completed in 1670, identifies the land making the arc at the head of the Chesapeake, between the Susquehanna and Chester rivers, as such. It is the earliest mention of Cecil County on record.

The original house that Augustine Herrman built on the land also is referred to as Bohemia Manor.

There is speculation that the manor house, although long gone, was built in the style of most Colonial homes of the time and surrounded by logs as fortification against aggressive Indians.

The house that stands today belongs to the Bayard family, lineal descendants of Herrman, and was built in more recent years. It's improbable that Herrman lived in this house, although his grave might have been at this site when he was buried in 1686.

Instructions in his will

It's said that Herrman left instructions in his will to have a huge stone slab, unlike a headstone, placed over the length of his grave, bearing the words: "Augustine Herrman, the first founder and seater of Bohemia Manor, anno 1661." When the slab broke into three pieces years later, Sen. James Bayard of Delaware, the current owner, replaced it in its original position, adjacent to the manor.

According to the records in the Baltimore County Public Library, Bayard also saved a few more items from the original manor house, such as old bricks, large door keys, door pulls and chisel blades dating to the time Herman lived there.

The map Herrman invested much of his life in making was one that served the colonies for years, allowing colonists to navigate and settle Maryland with ease. While it was being printed in England, the king declared it to be the best map of any country. Herrman's original map, which measures 2 1/2 feet by 3 feet, doesn't differ much from modern maps.

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