In 1677 an Episcopal Parish was established on the banks of the Miles River and named after Saint Michael the Archangel. From its early days as a shipbuilding town through its twentieth century transformation into a tourist and sailing haven, St. Michaels and its citizens have maintained a way of life that is renowned for its beauty, tranquility and craftsmanship.
The town, as surveyed in 1804, was laid out in three squares. St. Mary's Square today is the site of a museum bearing its name which is a must-see for any visitor interested in the history of St. Michaels. Among the beautiful historic homes that border St. Mary's Square is one of the most recognizable structures in the area, a private home known since the War of 1812 as The Cannonball House.
Early on the morning of August 10, 1813, a number of British barges sailed up the Miles River intending to shell the town and its harbor fort. The citizens of St. Michaels, having been warned in advance of the planned attack, had evacuated most of the women, children, livestock and valuable possessions to an area outside of town known as 'Onion Hill'. Brigadier General Perry Benson, commanding officer of the Talbot County militia, ordered lanterns placed in treetops just outside of the town and all other lights in the town extinguished, thereby creating the first military blackout on record. When the British marines aimed their cannon fire to the lights, they overshot the town. Only one dwelling was hit, a brick house near the harbor now known as "The Cannonball House." This successful defense caused St. Michaels to be thereafter known as "The Town That Fooled The British." The British record conceded that two of its members were wounded during their brief invasion, while the Republican-Star published in Easton the next week states that the British suffered twenty-nine casualties. There were no American losses and little damage to the town from the British shelling.
The charm of St. Michaels lies in the careful restoration and preservation of the town by citizens who are proud of their heritage. A visitor today can pick up a widely available informational brochure (published by the St. Michaels Business Association) and experience a sense of history with a self-guided tour that retraces the steps of those long-ago soldiers and townspeople. The renowned Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, numerous inns, restaurants and shops are the outward sign of the change in local industry. Shipbuilding has given way to tourism. Even though it is still a tiny village of less than twelve hundred residents, St. Michaels provides world-class accommodations and services for the estimated 100,000 people who visit each year.
Whether you choose to come to St. Michaels for a weekend or a lifetime, you will find a beautiful piece of history waiting to capture your heart just as it has done to countless others for more than three hundred years.