The Fascinating History of Baltimore


Known for its picturesque Inner Harbour and marvellous architecture, the city of Baltimore in Maryland, USA has hundreds of years of rich history attached to it. Every street, building, neighbourhood, and store tells a story. Baltimore is the largest independent city in the United States of America and the most populated city in Maryland.

Through our guide, you will travel through Baltimore over the years and explore its rich heritage and history.
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How did Baltimore get its name?

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Baltimore derives its name from the baron of Baltimore in Ireland which was the seat of the proprietors of the European colony of Maryland- the Calvert family. It is named after Cecil Calvert, second Baltimore.  The word Baltimore means the Irish phrase Baile a Ti Mhoir which means “ town of the big house”. The name of the city itself showcases the rich but complicated history of Baltimore.

Early Baltimore - 10 BC to 17th Century

Native American Civilisation

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The city of Baltimore had been inhabited by Native Americans since 10 BC when Paleo-Indians first settled here. The main occupations were hunting, gathering, fishing, and other similar professions required in the ancient ages.

Beginning of English Colonisation

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Around the 1600s, European colonization slowly began. John Smith, an English explorer, and colonial governor, travelled from Jamestown to the Chesapeake Bay in 1608, paving the way for the first European expedition. A few years later English colonists, who were initially uneasy about Native American war regalia and body paintings, begin settling in Maryland and Baltimore. The Piscataway tribe chief granted the colonists permission to settle, and diplomatic relations between tribes and colonists were established. In 1659, the County of Baltimore was officially erected.

Colonization of Baltimore

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The English colonists began to assert their dominance on the indigenous population of Baltimore slowly. The port of Baltimore was established at the Whetstone Point for the tobacco trade. The streets were named to honour England such as King George, Caroline Street, etc. The plantations in Baltimore began growing tobacco and sugar as it benefited the English in their trade. The public market system was put in place, and the Lexington Market, which became the centre of the slave trade, was founded in 1782.

This period in the history of Baltimore was dark and filled with discrimination, exploitation, and violence against the indigenous and African-American communities. However, in the following decades, the people of Baltimore showed resistance and fought for their rights. Their struggle further impacted and inspired larger struggles in the United States for freedom from colonialism.

Star-Spangled Banner

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In 1814, American defenders fought a sea, and land battle against British invaders called the Battle of Baltimore. The Battle of Baltimore inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer, and poet. It went on to be adopted as the US national anthem in 1931 by Congress.

Establishment of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Transport System

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The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad system was the first chartered railroad system in the United States. It is also the oldest railroad in the USA. It was established so that Baltimore would be open for trade and exchange with western American states. 

The Outcome of the Railroad System

This proved to be very effective in avoiding economic stagnation. It was useful in easy and quicker transportation of goods and people. The establishment of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was a turning point in the developmental history of Baltimore and all of the United States.

The Great Baltimore Fire

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In 1904, a fire raged through Baltimore and destroyed more than 1500 buildings, and damaged over 1000 public spaces. Over 150 million USD of property damage was reported. After the fire destroyed the city, Baltimore was rebuilt in a more modern way.

The Progressive Era in Baltimore

During the mid-1890s a new wave of social and political reforms swept over Baltimore and many traditionally established status-quo and roles were challenged.

Women’s Rights

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The Maryland Suffrage Association was founded in 1894. They demanded that women be given the right to cast votes. They also rallied for causes such as women’s education and health. Activists such as Martha Carey and Mary Gwinn formed a committee in John Hopkins University called the Women’s Fund Committee and raised money to build a medical school. They, along with the Equal Suffrage League of Baltimore, played an integral role in ratifying the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibits the states and federal government from denying the right to vote to the United States of America citizens the basis of sex and/or gender.

Urbanisation of Baltimore

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During the 20th Century, Baltimore’s municipal administration worked towards the urbanization of the city. Urban areas were beautified, and water systems were polished. Many administrative institutions underwent a process of modernization and professionalization.

There were also progressive-era movements for forest conservation and park planning. The Patapsco River area was made into a forest preserve and public park.

Baltimore in the Second World War

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Mass Production for the War

Baltimore was an important production centre for goods needed in WWII. Bethlehem Steel’s Fairfield Yard located on the harbour's southeastern edge built Liberty ships for the war. Glenn Martin supplied aircraft to the Allied Powers. 

Workers during the War

The workforce grew larger in number, and more people found themselves employed. The formation of strong workers unions had led local politicians to employ ethical work practices, and workers enjoyed rights.

Baltimore’s Role in the American Civil Rights Movement

Peaceful Demonstrations

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Between the 1930s-40s public demonstrations by African-Americans grew. These were peaceful protests for civil rights for African-Americans. One of the United States earliest sit-in demonstrations for the Civil Rights Movement took place at Read’s Drug Store located in downtown Baltimore.

Mobilization

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In the late 19050s, many African-American ministers and politicians were inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and mobilized their communities to protest against discrimination and segregation.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or NAACP was an organization that fought for civil rights in the United States. Its headquarters were located in Baltimore, and it played a significant role in the movement to ensure that every American gets basic human rights. Apart from advocating for African-Americans, NAACP also pushed for LGBTQ+ rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Unrest of 1968

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After the news of the assassination of Civil Rights Activist, Martin Luther King Jr. reached the city, unrest and riots ensued. Businesses were burned and looted, and protestors clashed with the police. A curfew was imposed, and 6,000 US Army combat troops were sent to regain control. The unrest resulted in the demise of 6 people, and around 700 were injured.

History of Artistic and Cultural Civilisation of Baltimore

Architecture of Baltimore

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  • Architecture is heavily impacted by history. It also tells us a lot about the culture, events, and communities of a place. Baltimore boasts of architectural marvels from many different periods. Its buildings and monuments show a colonial influence as well.
  • The oldest Catholic cathedral in the United States of America, the Baltimore Basilica, designed by Benjamin Latrobe, is located in Baltimore. The Baltimore World Trade Center is the tallest equilateral pentagonal building globally and displays the city's architectural prowess. Built-in 1845, the Lloyd Street Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues.  
  • Baltimore's streets are filled with British style formstone faced stone houses organized in a grid-like pattern. This became the dominant house type in the early 19th century. Baltimore has been dubbed as “ the city of neighbourhoods.

Culture and Communities of Baltimore

People who reside in a country or a city define and shape the past, present, and future. They make the city what it is.
Due to the rich history of Baltimore, it has a vibrant culture that is a mixture of many different civilizations and communities.
  • The Italian-American community is largely based in Little Italy, a neighbourhood in southeastern Baltimore. Little Italy remains a closely-knit ethnic enclave, and the residents are proud of their Italian heritage and identity. They regularly host film and food festivals to celebrate their culture.
  • There is also a Chinese community settled in Baltimore in Chinatown located at Park Avenue. They have authentic Chinese restaurants, grocery stores, etc.
  • Baltimore is also home to many European immigrants. Almost 2 million Europeans from Greece, France, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, Poland, England, Ireland, and Italy immigrated to Baltimore between 1820 and 1990.
With so many different communities residing in Baltimore, the city has infused wonderful aspects from all their cultures to create a beautiful and unique culture of its own.

Gastronomical History of Baltimore

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History plays a great part in defining the cuisine of a place. It tells us about how the city came to be what it is, it tells us about the people and their lives, and gives us an insight into the culture. 
  • Baltimore is known for its crabs as it is a port city. Blue crabs and crab cakes are admired all over the United States. Meat-based food items such as pit beef and chicken box are also popular.
  • The Old Bay Seasoning is a seasoning mix of celery salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and paprika. It was invented in Baltimore and helped put the city on the world map for food condiments.
  • Little Italy attracts people to Baltimore due to its rich heritage and authentic Italian cuisine.

The Linguistic and Religious history of Baltimore  

  • Baltimore has a Bawlmerse accent and local dialect called Baltimore dialect. Years of local history and foreign influence have impacted the accent and dialect of Baltimore.
  • Baltimore is also home to many religious communities. It has been an important centre of the Roman Catholic Church and the Methodists. The Jewish community grew significantly during the 19th century in Baltimore.  A Jewish cemetery has been in the city since 1786. The city also has a large Muslim community. The masjid Ul-Haqq was built in  1947 on Ensor Street in Baltimore.

Contemporary Baltimore

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In the modern-day, Baltimore is a bustling seaport with a booming economy and culture. It is known for its scenic views and beautiful streets. 
  • The city manufactures automobiles, steel, gadgets, etc. The public rail and transportation system is well developed. 
  • Johns Hopkins University, Towson University, Morgan State University, University of Baltimore, and the Maryland Institute College of Art are just some of Baltimore's prestigious schools. 
  • There are also public libraries, museums, and galleries. The Baltimore Civil War Museum showcases Baltimore’s role in the Underground Railroad.  The Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art display thought-provoking pieces of art.   The National Aquarium is located on the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.
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Baltimore is a city, unlike any other. It has been through decades of history, struggle, art, and culture. Today the city stands strong and vibrant, boasting proudly of its rich heritage.

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