Facts About the Maryland Colony

George Calvert, 1580-1632. Lord Baltimore, founder of the Maryland colony
George Calvert, 1580-1632. Lord Baltimore, founder of the Maryland colony.

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The Province of Maryland—also known as the Maryland Colony—was founded in 1632 as a safe haven for English Catholics fleeing anti-Catholic persecution in Europe. The colony was established by Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore (also known as Lord Baltimore), who also governed the Colony of Newfoundland and the Province of Avalon. The Maryland Colony's first settlement was St. Mary's City, which was built along the Chesapeake Bay. It was the first settlement in the New World to guarantee religious freedom for all Trinitarian Christians.

Fast Facts: Maryland Colony

  • The Maryland Colony was founded in 1632 after its charter was approved by King Charles I. It was a proprietary colony of Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore.
  • Like other settlements in the New World, the Maryland Colony was established as a religious refuge. Although it was created as a haven for English Catholics, many of the original settlers were Protestants.
  • In 1649, Maryland passed the Maryland Toleration Act, the first law in the New World designed to encourage religious tolerance.

Who Founded Maryland?

The idea for an English colony along the Chesapeake Bay where Catholics could live and worship in peace came from George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore. In 1632, he received a charter from King Charles I to found a colony east of the Potomac River. That same year, Lord Baltimore died, and the charter was given to his son, Cecil Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore. The first settlers of the Maryland Colony included a mix of about 200 Catholics and Protestants who had been promised land grants; they arrived on the ships the Ark and the Dove.

Why Was Maryland Founded?

Following the Protestant Reformation, Europe experienced a series of religious wars in the 16th and 17th centuries. In England, Catholics faced widespread discrimination; for example, they were not allowed to hold public office, and in 1666 they were blamed for the Great Fire of London. The first Lord Baltimore, a proud Catholic, envisioned the Maryland Colony as a place where English people would have religious freedom. He also wished to found the colony for economic gain.

The new colony was named Maryland in honor of Henrietta Maria, the queen consort of Charles I. George Calvert had previously been involved in a settlement in Newfoundland but, finding the land inhospitable, hoped this new colony would be a financial success. Charles I, for his part, was to be given a share of the income that the new colony created. The first governor of the colony was Cecil Calvert's brother, Leonard.

Interestingly, although the Maryland Colony was ostensibly founded as a refuge for Catholics, only 17 of the original settlers were Catholic. The rest were Protestant indentured servants. The settlers arrived at St. Clement's Island on March 25, 1634, and founded St. Mary's City. They became heavily involved in the cultivation of tobacco, which was their primary cash crop along with wheat and corn.

Over the next 15 years, the number of Protestant settlers steadily increased, and there was fear that religious liberty would be taken away from the Catholic population. The Act of Toleration was passed in 1649 by Governor William Stone to protect those who believed in Jesus Christ. However, this act was repealed in 1654 when outright conflict occurred and the Puritans took control of the colony. Lord Baltimore actually lost his proprietary rights and it was some time before his family was able to regain control of Maryland. Anti-Catholic actions occurred in the colony all the way up until the 18th century. However, with an influx of Catholics into Baltimore, laws were once again created to help protect against religious persecution.

Timeline

  • June 20, 1632: King Charles I grants a charter for the Maryland Colony.
  • March 25, 1634: The first group of settlers, led by Leonard Calvert, reach St. Clement's Island in the Potomac River. They establish St. Mary's City, the first Maryland settlement.
  • 1642: The people of the Maryland Colony go to war against the Susquehannock Indians; fighting will continue until the two groups sign a peace treaty in 1652.
  • 1649: Maryland passes the Maryland Toleration Act, which guarantees religious freedom to all Trinitarian Christians within the colony.
  • 1767: A border dispute between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware results in the drawing of the Mason–Dixon line, which marks Maryland's northern and eastern borders.
  • 1776: Maryland joins the rest of the 13 American colonies in a revolution against England.
  • September 3, 1783: The American Revolution officially comes to a close with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
  • April 28, 1788: Maryland becomes the seventh state to be admitted to the United States.