Oxford is one of the oldest towns in Maryland and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Although in existence for perhaps 20 years, Oxford marks the year 1683 as its official founding, for in that year, Oxford was first named by the Maryland General Assemble as a seaport and was laid out as a town.
In 1694, Oxford and a new town called Anne Arundel (now Annapolis) were selected as the only ports of entry for the entire Maryland province. Until the American Revolution, Oxford enjoyed prominence as an international shipping center surrounded by wealthy tobacco plantations.
Early citizens included Robert Morris, Sr., agent for a Liverpool shipping firm who greatly influenced the town’s growth; his son Robert Morris, Jr., known as the ‘Financier of the Revolution’; Jeremiah Banning, sea captain, war hero and statesman; the Reverend Thomas Bacon, Anglican clergyman who wrote the first compilation of the laws of Maryland; Matthew Tilghman, know as the ‘Patriarch of Maryland’ and the ‘Father of Statehood’; and Colonel Tench Tilghman, aide-de-camp to George Washington and the man who carried the message of Cornwallis’ surrender to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
The American Revolution marked the end of Oxford’s glory. Gone were the British ships with their variety of imported goods , and tobacco was replaced by wheat as a cash crop. Businesses went bankrupt, cattle grazed in the streets, and the population dwindled.
After the Civil War, Oxford emerged from its ‘long slumber’ to nearly 100 years of a new prosperity signaled by completion of the railroad in 1871 and improved methods of canning and packing which opened national markets for oysters from the Chesapeake’s bountiful beds. Business boomed, houses went up everywhere, and tourists and boaters arrived in droves. But it was not to last…. In the early part of the 20th century, the oyster beds played out, the packing houses closed, businesses again went bankrupt, and the railway and steamships disappeared. Oxford became a sleepy little town, inhabited mainly by watermen who still work the waters of the Tred Avon River.
Today you will find that Oxford is still a waterman’s town, but enjoys a new resurgence based on tourism and leisure activities. Its quiet charm, fresh air, summer breezes, and clean water provide a haven from the hustle and bustle of city life for boaters, weekend visitors, and summer residents.
Famous People from Oxford
- Captain Richard Barnaby – Famous Sea Captain who lived on 212 N. Morris Street in 1770. The house is still standing (private residence).
- Robert Morris, Sr. – credited with instituting tobacco inspection laws that changed the form of exchange from tobacco to currency
- Jeremiah Banning (1733-1798) – Longstanding sea captain, who was appointed by President George Washington to be the Inspector of the Currency and Collector of the Port of Oxford.
- Robert Morris, Jr. – Financier of the American Revolution. Only man to signed the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
- Robert Royston – first Captain of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry in 1683
- Colonel Tench Tilghman – serves as Aide de Camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Colonel Tilghman is buried in the Oxford Cemetery, just a short walk out of town on the left. Across from the cemetery you can see Plimhimmon, the home of Tench Tilghman’s widow, Anna Marie.
- Miss Molly Stewart – Longest serving postmaster in U.S. history (63 years). One of the most entertaining stories about Oxford involves Mary Stewart, who became Postmistress of Oxford in 1877 (at age 20) after her father, the Postmaster, died. She added a small extension onto her cottage, which served as the local Post Office.
At the end of her term, in 1930, the Republican Committee of Talbot County recommended that a Republican man be appointed Postmaster, but two things were in Mary’s favor. One, she got the highest score on the Civil Service exam, while the Republican appointee flunked it. And two, newspapers of the day swept to her side, with headlines like; “Republicans Try to Kick Little Old Lady Out of Her Job.” President Hoover reconfirmed Stewart’s appointment in 1931, and she served as Postmistress until 1940. Her cottage, in private hands, is on the Historic Register.