I originally thought this town was in Pennsylvania, but no, it turns out that for about half an hour I was actually in Maryland. But for that sign, I would never have known!
The town of Accident caught my attention for obvious reasons. It has a current population of about 353 and a total area of 0.5 square miles.
To give some perspective, the population density of Manhattan is about 35,300 people per 0.5 square mile. That means that there are almost exactly 100 times more people in any given space in Manhattan than there are in Accident, Maryland.
Rather than TWO people in the Accident Bakery, imagine two HUNDRED. Rather than FIVE people on the sidewalk: five HUNDRED.
The weather said it was going to rain a little further south that night, so I decided I didn’t need a car wash, but, not wanting to miss out on Accident, I headed straight for the laundromat.
Having never driven across the country before, my planning for this trip would have to be described as experimental. Would it be cold anywhere? Would I need to bring a small saucepan? Would there ever be an appropriate occasion for high heels? How much would I read on a regular basis? (Answers: very, no, not really, not as much as you’d think.)
While I made decisions about books and knick knacks admittedly blindly, I thought for sure my clothing choices wouldn’t be too far off. I’d been to camp, I’d packed for long trips, I figured I had a handle on some things.
Despite some very thoughtful packing, however, by three weeks in I had a nearly untouched duffel bag full of clothes, shoes, belts and bags in the trunk, all of my sandals were mixed together on the floor behind the passenger seat, and everything I wore came out of a plastic bag of about six items: cut offs, skirt, dress, tank top, t shirt, hoodie, the only items I’m willing to carry in and out of motels with me every day. As I dumped my plastic bag into one of the washers I thought about my mispacking and decided I could qualify it as an accident.
Oxford English Dictionary traces the root of the word “accident” to mean “anything that happens.” Broken down more specifically to:
- An occurrence, incident, event
- Anything that happens without foresight or expectation
- An unfortunate event, a disaster, a mishap
I’d classify mispacking as a mishap. Potentially an unfortunate event, but it’s too soon to tell.
What kind of accident led to the naming of Accident, Maryland? Your average occurrence? Or maybe a disaster? Well, it could be either. Some say a man named Brooke Beall “happened upon the land by chance” and named it accordingly. In this scenario, the town is really more of a “happy accident”.
In Flowery Vale: A History of Accident, Maryland, local teacher Mary Miller Strauss describes a different potential history of the naming:
In 1774, Lord Baltimore, Proprietor of the Maryland Colony, opened his lands “westward of Fort Cumberland” for settlement. Among the speculators who hastened to western Maryland with their surveyors to secure choice tracts of land were Brooke Beall and William Deakins, Jr., both of Prince George’s County.
William Deakins and his brother Francis had warrants for several tracts, and on April 14, 1774, they surveyed a fine tract of 682 acres between the branches of Bear Creek, including an old Indian camp ground on the trail to Braddock’s Road.
But when the survey was completed, Brooke Beall and his party appeared on the scene and Beall claimed that he had selected the same tract for his survey, calling attention to his axe marks on the trees to prove his claim. Deakins replied that it appeared that they had selected the same land “by accident”. Since he and Beall were friends and land was abundant, [Deakins] proposed that Beall take over his survey already made. To this Beall agreed.
John Hanson, Jr., Deputy County Surveyor, made out the survey to Beall, and they named the tract Accident.
I think that account tells the story more of a mishap.
A third account traces the name to 1750:
King George II of England paid off a debt to George Deakins by giving him 600 acres of land in western Maryland. Mr. Deakins sent out two parties of engineers – each without knowledge of the other – to find and survey the best land in that section of Maryland. When the engineers returned, they discovered, much to their surprise, that they had each marked the same oak tree as a starting poing and then marked off the same 600 acres. Mr. Deakins considered it safe to choose this land and had it patented as “The Accident Tract.”
Either way, the town really got its start between 1786 and 1800, when, depending on the history you trust, it was either divvied up and given to military officers who fought in the Revolutionary War, or it was settled by James and Pricilla Drane who tried and failed to grow tobacco on it. Maybe both histories are correct. Or maybe one is wrong by accident!
I lost a sock in the laundromat and left my window open in the rain all before reaching city limits, but I can hardly blame that on the spirit of the town. In truth, I probably increased Accident’s accident vulnerability rather than the other way around. Accident worked out pretty well for me, actually. I had an unforeseen chance to do some laundry, I avoided an unfortunate afternoon driving in the rain, and I unexpectedly learned an important lesson about the foggy indefinition of American historical record.