Harford History

July 30, 2006

Rise and fall of Joppa

A land certificate dated July 28, 1661, shows 300 acres on the north side of the eastern branch of the Gunpowder River laid out for John Taylor, a planter. This tract, known as "Taylor's Choice," became the thriving town of Joppa. Joppa was destined to become the county seat of old Baltimore County from about 1710 or 1712 to 1768.

According to The Story of Harford County, the original Joppa was a booming seaport, where ships from Europe and the West Indies brought manufactured goods and took away great quantities of tobacco and corn. There were two prisons, a courthouse, St. John's Parish Church, large stone warehouses, wharves, inns, shops, and about 50 houses.

Joppa was a lively town, scene of horse races, hangings, and street fights, which were common. A few years ago it was still possible to see bullet holes in some of the doors of the Rumsey Mansion, the surviving example of the buildings that were there over 200 years ago.

Several factors contributed to the decay and disappearance of Old Joppa. The county seat was moved, the harbor became too shallow for newer, larger ships, and also silted up because of inland deforestation. A smallpox epidemic influenced some inhabitants to move away. No one knows how the substantial houses of the well-to-do, distinguished families of Maryland, merchants, and judges disappeared, but the site became swamp and farmland. In the 1960s the new housing development of Joppatown was built on the site.

[The Story of Harford County, No. 7. The First National Bank of Aberdeen, 1962. Research by Harford County Public Library.]

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