The man who owned Baltimore

The Story of Cole’s Harbor

Thomas Cole (1603-1679) was probably a passenger on the Transport, which sailed from London to Virginia in 1635. His age would have been about 32, which means that his wife Priscilla and their children Sarah, Rebecca, and Mary most likely traveled with him. Cole was the second son and third child of the Rev. Humphrey Cole, the Vicar of Tillingham in Essex. The Reverend’s oldest son, William, had already emigrated to Virginia in 1618, and would later move to Maryland.

Cole and his family settled first in Accomack County, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. By 1649 they had moved to Maryland, probably Baltimore County, and by 1656 they were in Anne Arundel County. By January 1657, Thomas, his brother William, and William’s son “William Coale” were all acknowledged Quakers, and the younger William was on his way to becoming a Quaker leader. The Reverend Humphrey had died in 1624, so we don’t know how he would have reacted to all this free thinking.

The sandy plains bordering the Chesapeake Bay were ideal for growing tobacco, and a tobacco-based economy quickly developed in colonial Maryland. Cole began showing up in the patent records as early as 1649 as he and his family settled in different locations and began claiming land. In 1666, he shows up in the record of the General Assembly when they granted him four thousand pounds of tobacco in reparations for losses caused by several Indian raids, wherein his tobacco was stolen and his stock killed.

Two years later, in 1668, Cole took up 550 acres of property on the site where the town of Baltimore would soon be laid out; he called it “Cole’s Harbor.” He combined it with another parcel called “Todd’s Range” along the waterfront of what is now called the Inner Harbor, then called the “Basin.” (In this map it’s called the “North West Branch of the Patapsco River.”)

17th century Baltimore land patents

This map is a little hard to read, but Cole’s Harbor is right in the middle, with Todd’s Range abutting the Inner Harbor. Here’s a cleaner chart with a lot less detail:

Whetstone Point is the site of the future Fort McHenry, and the current jumping-off point of the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. The patent on Whetstone Point was held by our ancestor Charles Gorsuch.

Cole’s Harbor plantation would today constitute a significant chunk of downtown Baltimore. It appears that the Cole family never lived there, and that Thomas bought the plantation only as an investment. When he died he left it to his only child, Sarah Cole, who was married to Mr. Charles Gorsuch of Whetstone Point. Gorsuch immediately sold Cole’s Harbor to his brother-in-law David Jones, who owned the abutting Jones’ Range.

Jones had Todd’s Range resurveyed and sold the Cole’s Harbor land to Baltimore landowners Daniel and Charles Carroll in 1696; they sold parts of the land in one-acre lots for development. These lots became Baltimore Town, which grew quickly in both size and trade.

How lovely it would be for Cole’s descendants if the parcel had stayed in the family a little longer!

Thomas Cole is an ancestor of Alice Vernon Wilson.


  • Edler & Edler, op.cit.
  • “Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly: April 1666 – June 1676,” Maryland State Archives, Vol. 2 (Archives of Maryland Online, July 2009).
  • “Timeline of Baltimore,”
  • Edler & Edler, op.cit.
  • G. Power, “Parceling Out the Land in Baltimore,” Maryland Historical Magazine (Vol. 87, 1993).

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