Planet Suffolk: Bringing together the Suffolks of the world

Suffolk, Somerset County, Maryland, USA

Suffolk is today a house and 172 acre farm, known generally as the “Polk Homestead” located at 38° 06 N 75° 33 W.  It was originally a 1,000 acre plantation.  It is 1.7 miles (2.7 km) southeast of Cokesbury on the northeast side of Courthouse Hill Road which forms its western boundary, and bordering Dividing Creek on the east.  Dividing Creek takes its name by being the boundary between Somerset County and Worcester County in Maryland on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay.  It is a tributary of the Pocomoke River.  Cokesbury is an unincorporated community in Somerset County, Maryland.  Suffolk is 136.2 miles (219.2 km) from the City of Baltimore MD, and is 2.6 miles (4.2 km) to the northeast of Pocomoke City which is the other side of the river in Worcester County.
Population:- The area is sparsely populated, Cokesbury has under 200 people.  In 2019 Somerset County was the county with the second smallest population (25,616) in Maryland.  Pocomoke City has a population of 4,075 (2019).  

How to get there:-

By road: From Baltimore, take State Highway 2 southwards, then turn east onto US Highway 50. Cross Chesapeake Bay Bridge & continue to Salisbury, before taking US Highway 13 southbound to Pocomoke City. From there take State Highway 364/Dividing Creek Road to the junction with Courthouse Hill Road.

From Philadelphia, take Interstate Highway 95 southbound into Delaware, then take State Highway 1 to Dover & continue south on US Highway 113 to Pocomoke City. Turn north onto US Highway 13, then right onto Dividing Creek Road.

From Norfolk, Virginia & the south, take US Highway 13 northbound via Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, & continue north to Pocomoke City. Turn right onto Dividing Creek Road.

By rail: There is no passenger rail service to Pocomoke City. The line from Pocomoke City to Norfolk, Virginia, operated by the  Bay Coast Railroad, is a freight only line.

Norfolk International Airport in Virginia is around 100 miles to the south. Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is approximately 140 miles to the northwest.

Time Zone: Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5 hrs).  Daylight saving time in summer + 1 hr.

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History & Derivation of Name

Somerset County


History & Derivation of Name

All land in Maryland was at first owned by the Calvert family who obtained it from the Crown in 1632 as a refuge for English Catholics, although complete religious toleration was observed.  After 1641, Lord Baltimore (Cecilius Calvert), the proprietor of the colony, was granting 50 acres to each freeman who came to Maryland to “inhabit and plant”, and a further 50 acres for a wife and for each child, servant and settler introduced by the freeman.  However, it was not until 1662 that the land on the southern part of the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay was granted out.  Plantations were named by the first settlers rather than being designated a name by the proprietor.  
“Suffolk” is the name of a 1667 land patent of 1,000 acres located on Dividing Creek.  If we look at the adjacent plantations to “Suffolk”, they were named “Norfolk”, “Beckles”, and “Middlesex”; this would indicate a connection with the eastern part of England.  We know that a William Morris held “Suffolk” and “Middlesex” in June 1678 and it is assumed that he may have been the original owner.  It appears that William Morris came out to Maryland in 1650 with Quakers brought by William Whittington.  They came from Gloucestershire and Somerset in England, so it is assumed that William Morris came from that part of England.  It therefore seems unlikely that the name derives from this source.  

“Norfolk” (500 acres) was owned by William Furniss in 1678.  All that is known of him is that he was born in England in 1635, and came to Maryland in 1662.  By 1678 he held other tracts of land and lived at Manokin, further west in Somerset County.  However, in 1678 Furniss had assigned his plantation to a William Harper who was also the owner of “Beckles” (200 acres).  

The name of Harper is a common one in England, and unfortunately it is not recorded where the family came from.  However, a clue to the family origin may lie in the names given to the plantations that they were associated with, which included “Norfolk”, “Suffolk” and “Beckles”.  Beccles is a village in Suffolk, on the border with Norfolk.  William Harper was married to Elizabeth who may have come from the village of Denston in Suffolk, since this seems to have been her maiden name.  In 1687 William sold part of his lands to his relatives, “William and Elizabeth Denson”.  It is known that William Harper was born in England in about 1627 and his father, Edward Harper, bought land in Northampton County, Virginia, in 1660 and died there in 1669.  William Harper bought and sold land in Somerset County, Maryland, from 1663.  In May 1663 he surveyed 175 acres known as “Middle Plantation” on the north side of the Pocomoke River near to Dividing Creek.  It appears that after his father’s death, William and Elizabeth Harper moved to Maryland since William was “overseer of roads” along the Pocomoke River in 1675, and a formal claim for additional land was made in 1677 as immigrants to Maryland colony.  In 1679 William Harper had both “Beckles” and “Norfolk” surveyed, indicating his ownership of them, although he does not seem to have owned “Suffolk”.  Since he had been involved with land transactions in the area since 1663, it does seem likely that William Harper bestowed these names to the tracts.
The Harper family from villages in the northern part of Suffolk, England, along the boundary with Norfolk, also arises in the founding of Suffolk, Prince Edward Island, Canada. 

(It should be noted that another plantation named “Suffolk” was established in Somerset County in 1677.  This has no connection with this “Suffolk” and was renamed “High Suffolk” – see The Ones That Got Away page).

Since 1680 “Suffolk” has been in the hands of the descendants of the Polk family, and is generally known as the “Polk Homestead”.  The family is distantly related to the 11th U.S. President James K. Polk.  

Robert Pollok and his family came to America from County Donegal, Ireland, some time between 1672 and 1680.  It is probable that the family left Ireland to escape religious persecution since Robert was a Covenanter.  The latter were people who opposed the interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church, and Robert had served in the parliamentary forces under Oliver Cromwell.  When Charles II regained the throne he denounced the Covenanters and in 1662 they were declared unlawful.  A period of persecution began and many of the more extreme protestant nonconformists emigrated to Maryland, where religious toleration was observed, so that they could practice their religion.  Soon after settling in America the family shortened its name to Polk.

There is some evidence to indicate that the Polks were in Maryland by 1672.  However, the earliest record relating to the family is in 1680 in Somerset County, where Robert’s eldest son John registered the ear marks of his cattle.  It is generally accepted that the family received a number of land grants in 1680, one of which was “Suffolk”.  According to the records in Maryland, Robert Polk did not receive these grants of land until March 1687.  However, in those early days there was often a delay of several years between the land being acquired, and the official issue of patents registering ownership of the land.

In 2009, the State of Maryland enrolled Suffolk as its first Rural Legacy easement in Somerset County.  Agricultural conservation easements are designed specifically to protect farmland and areas of historical significance.  Landowners retain the right to use their land for farming and other purposes that do not reduce agricultural viability.  They continue to hold title to their properties and can sell, give or transfer their property.  The land is limited to specific uses and is protected from further development.  

The Suffolk Farm easement covers 172 acres of field, upland forest and floodplain forest along Dividing Creek.  The creek is home to 20 rare wildlife and plant species, including the federally endangered Delmarva fox squirrel.  Bald eagles are also found within the watershed, along with migratory songbirds such as the Baltimore oriole and prothonotary warbler.  The farmhouse is significant as an early 18th century archaeological site.  It stands in a grove of trees, and is a two-storey Flemish bond brick house built in the 1700 to 1750 period with a glazed chequerboard pattern.  There is a 19th century family burial plot located behind the house.

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Somerset County

Somerset County is the southernmost county in the state of Maryland, located on the state’s Eastern Shore. It was named after Lady Somerset, the sister-in-law of Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore.  Somerset County was formed in August 1666 by an Order in Council.  In 1742 Worcester County was created from Somerset County.  In 1867 portions of Somerset and Worcester Counties were taken to establish Wicomico County.

The first record of white settlers was in 1620 and by 1622 there were about 100 settlers growing corn and tobacco.  Maryland authorities encouraged settlers with both a liberal land policy and religious tolerance, attracting persecuted Quakers from Virginia and others to settle in the early 1660s.  Land on the Eastern Shore proved less suited to tobacco growing than other sections of the Chesapeake region, although nearly all settlers there raised tobacco.  For this reason, established planters made no effort to acquire the best land for tobacco cultivation as they did elsewhere in Maryland and Virginia.  Newcomers could, therefore, still find adequate land at a reasonable cost on the Eastern Shore.

The plantations of the 17th and 18th centuries grew a variety of crops, but at first they were concerned with subsistence agriculture, although tobacco was grown as a profitable cash crop for export to Europe.  For this reason it was essential for plantations to be near to a river providing easy access to the open sea.  The work on these farms was initially done by the family with indentured labour from Europe, thereby allowing the workers to gain their freedom at the end of their contract and obtain their own land.  Slavery came later.

The county seat is the small town of Princess Anne with a population just under 2,400 people.  This hamlet at the head of the Manokin River was named after the daughter of King George II.  It was established in 1733 and became the county seat for Somerset County in 1742.  Before 1742 the county seat and courthouse was at Dividing Creek less than half a mile from Suffolk, hence the name Courthouse Hill Road on which it is located.  This was selected in 1694, probably as a central point for residents to reach, since at that time Somerset County also encompassed the later Worcester County.  The act which provided for the division of Somerset County in order to create Worcester County also ordered the removal of the Somerset courthouse from Dividing Creek to Princess Anne.

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