By Nina Cresap Higgins
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Tradition has long been held by the CRESAP SOCIETY, an organization established in 1916 by and for the descendants of Thomas Cresap, Maryland patriot, pathfinder, pioneer, that Cresaptown was named for Joseph Cresap, grandson of Thomas.
Joseph Cresap was born in 1755 to Daniel Cresap, first son of Thomas, and Daniel’s second wife, Ruth Swearingen, who had settled in a stone house built by Daniel near Rawlings, Maryland. Joseph first married Deborah Whitehead, secondly he married Sarah Whitehead, sister of Deborah. He married Sidney Sanford in 1813, and in 1822 lastly married Margaret Bruce.
By the time Joseph was born, the Cresap family had become prominent in Allegany County concerns, and further became ensconced in land holdings, land expansion, church establishments, and politics.
Joseph is described in a 1788 list of settlers as having located in “lands west of Fort Cumberland.”
In the mid to late 1700s Joseph Cresap was enabled in the purchase of a land deed in the section once known as “Upper Oldtown,” which came to include “Cresaptown.” Joseph built a log home on this land in the year 1793.
One deed reveals that in 1801 Joseph purchased a tract of land named “Canaan.” In another deed dated 1803, Joseph acquired yet another tract of land known as “Addition” to house Methodist church meetings. Joseph Cresap was named “trustee” of at least three Methodist meeting houses in the Cumberland area.
Joseph was instrumental in the formation of the first Methodist church in Allegany County, those first meetings being held in his home at Cresaptown.
Methodist preachers known as “Circuit Riders” began making their rounds in Allegany County in 1783. These preachers were appointed by the first Methodist Bishop in America--Francis Asbury. As early as June 30, 1784, Asbury lodged at Joseph Cresap’s and preached at Cresap’s Mill.
Sometime during this period Bishop Asbury dedicated the first Methodist Church in “Cresaptown,” and appointed Joseph Cresap as “first class Methodist leader.”
According to an article by Francis Zumbrun, published in the August 23, 2004 Cumberland-Times News, the place-name of Cresaptown changed over the course of time. A 1796 land deed refers to the town as “Cresapsburg,” and in an 1806 deed it is spelled “Cresaps Burgh.” Asbury’s first mention of something akin to “Cresaptown” by name was on June 29, 1808, during which time he documented this notation: “I preached in the chapel at Cresaps-town.”
Besides holding the profession of preacher, Joseph Cresap was also a farmer, a soldier, and a political advocate for the state of Maryland.
In 1791 Joseph Cresap attended the first meeting at John Graham’s house in Cumberland, Maryland, to establish Allegany as the county seat. This meeting initiated the first of many civic duties Joseph Cresap was to perform for the state of Maryland. Joseph often represented the County in the Legislature, and became a member of the Maryland State Senate. He served as a member of the House of Delegation in 1800, 1801, and 1802.
When he was just 19 years of age, Joseph fought in Indian wars, and later in Dunmore’s War--the Shawnese Indian conflict of 1774. During the Revolutionary period Lieutenant Joseph Cresap marched in 1775 with his Uncle Michael Cresap’s Rifle Company, en route to join General George Washington in Boston.
The Joseph Cresap house built in 1793 became a prominent Allegany County landmark. Joseph had constructed this dwelling as an eight-room, two-story log structure, which saw numerous additions, and at some later point was covered by native stone. The home stood along Darrow’s Lane in Cresaptown--now the site of the general vicinity of third base at Weber Little League Baseball Field in present-day Cresap Park.
In 1823 Joseph had been deemed by the Maryland legislature as too “wealthy” to receive his military pension. However, by virtue of his own generosity to others, Joseph found himself in dire financial need, and soon the legislature recanted and restored Joseph’s pension--just one year before his death.
Joseph Cresap died on January 20th, 1827 in Cumberland.
In 1849, some 22 years after Joseph’s death, Samuel D. Brady purchased the Joseph Cresap estate at Cresaptown, which embraced 1,500 acres. This plot became known as Brady’s Station, a flag-stop along the B&O Canal. Brady built a large brick house and a mill, and opened a general store on the premises.
When Brady died the property was divided between Mary G. Darrow and J.C. Brady. The Darrow property was later sold to a Frostburg man named Hansel, who then sold it to the Bernard Mattingly family.
The property finally came into the possession of the Celanese Corporation of America.
Sadly, the old landmark burned to the ground on December 5, 1930.
Joseph Cresap was buried on his estate at Cresaptown, but his remains were removed (during a major construction project in the 1960s) to a yet-to-be discovered location.
(Nina Cresap Higgins is Historian for the CRESAP SOCIETY)
“A Biographical Sketch In The Life Of The Late Captain Michael Cresap” by John J. Jacob, published in Cumberland, MD, 1826
“History Of Western Maryland,” Vol. 2, pg 1352
Bishop Francis Asbury’s Journals, West Virginia Archives
“The History Of The Cresaps” co-compiled by Joseph Ord Cresap & Bernarr Cresap, published by the CRESAP SOCIETY, 1938, revised in 1987.
“Cumberland Evening Times,” Friday, December 5th, 1930
Francis “Champ” Zumbrun, August 23, 2004 Cumberland-Times News Article titled “Allegany County, Land Of Cresap.” Zumbrun is manager of Maryland State Forest and Park Service and is a member of the Allegany County Living History Foundation.