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Although the first settlers of Maryland inhabited the low lands near the Chesapeake Bay, Thomas Brown, known as the Patuxent Ranger, had traveled as far as Clarksville in Howard County by 1699. Around 1700 the Piedmont area and Howard County were being surveyed and settled. In 1707, a large land grant, Doughoregan Manor, was deeded to Charles Carroll, grandfather of the signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll III. Farming was the way of life for the early settlers here, with tobacco the basis of the economy. However, commerce and industry were also significant early on, with the availability of water power along the rivers and the port at Elk Ridge Landing. Local iron ore and tobacco were shipped from the Landing along a navigable channel on the Patapsco River to the Chesapeake Bay.

Originally part of Anne Arundel County, the area was designated the Howard District in 1839, in honor of John Eager Howard, statesman, soldier, and fifth governor of Maryland. Howard County became the 21st of Maryland's 23 counties in 1851, with the county seat at Ellicott Mills.

The County's growth both past and present is closely associated with its location along major travel routes. The Patapsco River, old post roads and turnpikes, the B & O Railroad, major north-south and east-west highways have brought both settlers and commerce to the County.


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