Land of Opportunity: Ancestor Immigrated to Maryland Colony

Woman learns about her extensive family tree and how her ancestors served this land of opportunity.

| Good Old Days

I am a seventh-generation descendant of Thomas Cresap: pioneer, patriot and pathfinder, as he was known in Maryland after coming to this land of opportunity. He was born at Skipton-In-Craven, Yorkshire, England, in 1694. As a lad of 15, he immigrated to the colony of Maryland around 1710. Little is known of his life until his marriage on April 30, 1727, to a spirited lady named Hannah Johnson. They first lived near Havre de Grace, Maryland. They were the parents of seven children, five of whom lived to maturity. Four of them had descendants.

In 1740, Cresap purchased land on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. Here he built a stockade home-fort, later named Oldtown, in a beautifully scenic area. Here he continued his trading enterprises, buying and selling land and surveying. His location became a crossroads, and as parties of Indians passed by, he fed them and provided supplies for their expeditions. They called him "Big Spoon."

Cresap became a colonel in the Maryland Militia, and was one of the founders of the Sons of Liberty, the first patriotic society in America. He served with Braddock and Washington and surveyed their trail over the Allegheny Mountains in 1751. Traders, missionaries and soldiers were also recipients of his generosity. His sons were Daniel Cresap, for whom Dan's Mountain is named; Thomas Jr., killed in a battle with the Indians on Savage Mountain in 1757; and Michael, captain in Lord Dunsmore's War in 1774 and first captain of the Maryland Rifle Co. in 1775, marching to Boston. He died of a fever shortly after that conflict. Three grandsons served as captain and lieutenants in Dunsmore's War and the Revolutionary War.

How did I find this famous ancestor? By a stroke of luck just a few years ago. My mother kept a journal of family names and dates. I knew that one of my father's sisters was named Myrtle Cresap Carlile. I had no idea who she was named for until one day in 1988, when I met a newly admitted patient in the hospital where I worked. Her last name was Cresap. She was my source for a hardback book published in 1987, The History of the Cresaps, by Bernarr Cresap and Joseph Ord Cresap. My great-grandparents, Alexander S. and Ellen Cresap Carlisle, were listed with their six children. I soon discovered a number of Cresap cousins in the area and was privileged to attend the 1991 Diamond Jubilee Reunion of the Cresap Society, held in Cumberland, Maryland. Cousins from all over the country attended for a weekend of fellowship, a planned luncheon and banquet with special speakers and musical programs. There was free time to visit all of the landmarks – the home-site of Thomas Cresap, museums, cemeteries – to take a ride over the Old National Road, and to visit Oldtown. My second reunion, in 1993, was even more interesting. What a thrill to discover a family that was such a part of our American history.

Mary Carlile Ruhs
Hamilton, Illinois

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community. 

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