Capt. John Smith of the Virginia Colony landed on what would become Harford County in 1608 during his second map-making trip throughout Chesapeake Bay and its many tributaries. Smith’s maps of the upper country and its islands were so accurate that many of the places he designated are still called by the same names today.
The region’s first settlement was made by Edward Palmer, an Englishman, in 1622. Palmer was familiar with Smith’s explorations and chose his location, at the mouth of the Susquehanna, to best establish fur-trading operations with American Indian trappers to the north and other trading posts on the bay and rivers to the south.
Harford had its early beginnings as part of Baltimore County, which was created in 1659 and included the territory of Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties. The first county seat was established in 1674 in Old Baltimore, what is now Aberdeen Proving Ground. In 1712, the county seat was moved to “Gunpowder Town,” where Joppatowne now stands. In 1768, the county seat was moved to Baltimore. Harford was not organized into a county until 1774. The name was chosen to honor Harford, who served as the last proprietary governor of Maryland, but, because of his illegitimacy, did not inherit his father’s title. At the time of the naming, the present territory was fairly well-settled.
The county held its first court March 22, 1774, at Harford Town, or Bush, where the junction of Route 7 and Route 136 is today. In 1775, the citizens of the county passed “The Bush Declaration,” a precursor to the Declaration of Independence, making it the first organized body of men in the country to declare independence from Britain.
Havre de Grace, an incorporated city in Harford County, was once under consideration to be the capital of the United States rather than Washington, D.C. It was favored for its strategic location at the top of the Chesapeake Bay; this location would facilitate trade while being secure in time of war. After the Revolution, Harford elected in 1782 to move the county seat to Bel Air.