Worcester County is the easternmost county located in the U.S. state of Maryland. The county includes the entire length of the state's Atlantic coast. It is home to the popular vacation resort area of Ocean City, as well as wild habitats on Assateague Island and in the Pocomoke Swamp. The county was named for an Earl of Worcester. Its county seat is Snow Hill. It is included in the Ocean Pines, Maryland, Micropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 51,454 at the 2010 census.
Worcester County was created by the division of Somerset County in 1742. The county seat, previously located near the confluence of Dividing Creek with the Pocomoke River, was transferred to the river port of Snow Hill, at the head of navigation of the Pocomoke, near the center of the new county.
Both Somerset and Worcester Counties were early on divided into hundreds, from south to north: Mattapony, Pocomoke, Boquetenorton, Wicomico, and Baltimore Hundreds. Later subdivisions of the hundreds added Pitts Creek, Acquango, Queponco, and Buckingham & Worcester Hundreds, all of which in turn became election districts following American independence. Competing territorial claims between the Calverts of Maryland and the Penns of Pennsylvania and of what later became the state of Delaware led to the surveying of Worcester County's northern border, the Transpeninsular Line in 1751, though boundary disputes continued through the rest of the colonial period. In 1779, Stephen Decatur, hero of the First Barbary War and the Second Barbary War, was born at Sinepuxent, near what is today the town of Berlin.
Originally settled almost entirely by immigrants of British and Irish stock, Worcester County was divided during the colonial period into several parishes, though Quakers, Presbyterians, and later Methodists also set up meeting houses. Like the border states in general, Worcester County had a high proportion of free people of color for many decades before the Civil War, due in part to the influence of initially Quakerism, and later Methodism.
Worcester County was primarily an agricultural area from its inception, first planting tobacco, but when the quality produced in the area's sandy soil could not compete with that produced elsewhere, growing wheat, corn, and livestock. Early industrial activity included the smelting of bog iron ore in a brick blast furnace to make pig iron at Furnacetown in the first half of the 19th century. The presence of large bald cypress swamps along the Pocomoke River led to logging, the manufacture of roofing shingles, and shipbuilding along the river at Newtown (later Pocomoke City). The arrival of steam-powered water transport and then the railroad opened urban markets to another of Worcester County's principal products: seafood, particularly shellfish. Oysters, clams, and crabs were shipped to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Soon after the Civil War (to each side of which Worcester County sent soldiers), parts of both Worcester and Somerset Counties were combined to create, in 1867, Wicomico County. Also in the later 19th century, the seaside resort of Ocean City was founded.
Truck farming and the canning industry came to the fore during the early 20th century. However, both the seafood industry and truck farming declined after mid-century, due to overfishing on the one hand, and the opening of California's Central Valley to irrigated agriculture on the other, but the advent of the large-scale poultry industry filled this gap. The expansion of Ocean City since the 1960s has turned the northern part of the county from a summer resort to an expanding year-round community.
Two major storms influenced the course of Worcester County history in the 20th century: the hurricane of 1933, which badly damaged Ocean City and Public Landing, but also cut the Ocean City Inlet, and the nor'easter of 1962, which destroyed much of the residential development on Assateague Island and led to the creation of the National Seashore.
The county has a number of properties on the National Register of Historic Places.