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Cambridge and Vicinity

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In 1684 the Maryland Assembly voted to establish a town on the south side of the Choptank River to facilitate the tobacco trade in Dorchester County, making Cambridge one of the oldest colonial cities in Maryland. Gradually the emphasis on tobacco shifted to more diversified agricultural economy. However, the use of enslaved labor and the slave trade continued until the Civil War, as did resistance via the Underground Railroad and Dorchester County’s most famous resident, Harriet Tubman. Post-Civil War growth was driven by seafood and produce processing and packaging as well as light industry, with Phillips Packing Company emerging as Cambridge’s biggest employer.

Industrialization was aided by the expansion of steamboat and railroad transportation, particularly the arrival of the Dorchester and Delaware Railroad, incorporated in 1869. By the turn of the twentieth century, Cambridge was second only to Baltimore in volume of oysters shucked and canned, and more than twenty crab-picking plants operated in the city. The loss of jobs following the closure of Phillips Packing Company in the early 1960s contributed to the civil rights protests here between 1962 and 1967. Led by activist Gloria Richardson, Black residents of Cambridge mobilized against decades of racial discrimination and segregation in employment, housing, and education. The Maryland National Guard was deployed to occupy Cambridge during protests in 1963 and 1967, marking a difficult period in the community’s history. Now bisected by U.S. 50, Cambridge retains many excellent historic buildings while trying to encourage cultural tourism related to Tubman and the nearby Blackwater Wildlife Refuge.

Writing Credits

Lisa Pfueller Davidson and Catherine C. Lavoie

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