Skip to main content
Humanities Libertexts

4.5: The Chesapeake Colonies: Maryland

  • Page ID
    7888
  • The bay region of the Potomac River and Maryland was first encountered by Captain John Smith, who, while he resided at Jamestown, had sailed to the region as part of his explorations. In 1632, George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, applied to King Charles I for a royal charter to establish a new colony in the Chesapeake region of North America, where he had already created a colony in Newfoundland. However, when he observed Newfoundland firsthand, he did not like the land, which was not as described to him. A devout convert to Catholicism, he wanted to establish a colony where Catholics could practice their religion freely, something not always possible in England, and he wanted the colony to be created further south where the climate was kinder and the popular cash crop, tobacco, could be grown. Calvert, who died in April, 1632, did not live to see his charter materialize. His eldest son and heir, Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, was granted the charter his father had long worked to gain. The new colony was called Maryland, named for Henrietta Marie, wife of Charles I. The Maryland charter was interesting in that it did not simply grant the Calverts the right to establish a colony; it granted the Calverts actual ownership of all the land of the colony, with the colonists swearing oaths to the Baron. The Baron in turn had the right to sell land to aristocrats as he saw fit, thus creating a landed aristocracy class for the colony. Maryland became the first proprietary English colony in North America.

    Leonard Calvert, the younger brother of Cecilius, was appointed the governor of the new colony and set sail with three hundred colonists on two ships, the Ark and the Dove. They arrived at St. Mary’s, Maryland on March 27, 1634. The first group of colonists was composed of both Catholics, including Jesuit priests, and Protestants. Of the thirteen original colonies, Maryland had one of the most progressive governments in terms of religious freedom and its treatment of Indians. It guaranteed religious freedom to all Christians and treated Indians as persons, including paying for their land. In 1642, the first Africans arrived. Lord Baltimore intended Maryland to be a tobacco growing state, so a labor force was needed, and indentured servants were the norm at that time. The Africans arrived as slaves, but the Marylanders balked at enslaving Christians, so, if Africans were willing to be baptized, they could well be set free, an outcome which would create a financial loss to their owners. Laws were eventually enacted to protect the rights of slave owners, just as there were laws to protect the rights of those who had indentured servants.

    Screenshot (207).png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): St. Mary’s City, Maryland | Reconstruction of an early house at St. Mary’s. Author: Sarah Stierch Source: Flickr license: CC BY 2.0

    The site of St. Mary’s had been a village belonging to the Yaocomico Indians, one of the many Algonquian language tribes found in the Chesapeake region. Calvert purchased the village area to found his capital city and made great efforts to remain on good terms with the Indians of the colony. Like other Algonquian speakers of the region, the Yaocomico wore deerskin robes with shells and feather decorations. They painted and tattooed themselves, perhaps in a style like that depicted in White’s portraits of the Secotan from the Outer Banks further south. The Yaocomico were good friends to the new colony. They stayed nearby as their village was transformed to an English settlement and helped the colonists adjust to agriculture in their new home. Odds are the Yaocomico suffered the same fate as many of the Secotan of Roanoke; although they stayed near the English, they did not develop immunities to the English diseases. They vanished without further mention before 1700.

    Conflicts, of course, occurred; the first was with Virginia, Maryland’s neighbor to the south. The colonies share a border marked, for the most part, by the Potomac River. Virginia, a royal colony by the time of the founding of Maryland, had been interested in having the territory added to its own, or, at the very least, not having it given to another colony and potential competitor in the lucrative tobacco market. A Virginia planter, statesman and Puritan, William Clayborne, had set up a trading post and settlement on Kent Island in 1631. The island was included in the charter granted to the Calverts for Maryland. Clayborne and Virginia protested but lost. The conflict, which sometimes included military action and fatalities, continued into the 1650s. For Virginia and Maryland, the issue was territorial and financial, and Virginia would eventually side with Maryland against Clayborne. For Clayborne, the issue was financial, religious, and personal, so he did not drop the matter willingly. During the same time period, Maryland was at war with the Susquehannock, an Iroquoian tribe who earlier had threatened the Yaocomico.

    4.5.1: Maryland and the Civil War in England, 1642-1660

    Maryland was also affected by the English Civil War. The Catholic Calverts supported King Charles I, while many Protestants in the colony and in Virginia, including Clayborne, supported Parliament. A Captain Richard Ingle joined with Clayborne, seized St. Mary’s in 1644, and began the Plundering Time, in which he rode up and down Maryland, seizing whatever he wished, terrorizing the citizens and capturing Jesuits for shipment back to England. Only the return of Governor Calvert in 1646 from his exile in Virginia ended Ingle’s reign of terror. Calvert died the next summer, in 1647, passing the governorship to Thomas Greene, one of the earliest colonists and a Catholic.

    Tensions were growing between the dominant, minority Catholics and the majority Protestants. In 1648, Lord Baltimore appointed William Stone as the first Protestant governor. Stone had earlier founded the city of Providence on the Severn River as a new home for Puritans leaving Virginia, which had become more firmly Anglican under Governor William Berkeley.

    The conflict between Protestants and Catholics led to the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649 which guaranteed religious freedom to all Christians. This move was a bold one on the part of Maryland and established a very liberal religious policy that was not common in the English colonies at the time. Maryland, therefore, became an attractive location for those Christians who sought freedom from religious persecution. The law was clear, however, that it applied only to Christians; anyone who denied the divine nature of Christ could be put to death. Although the Toleration Act made Maryland an attractive haven for non-Anglican Protestants, it did nothing to assure these groups that the Catholic minority controlling the colony were fair to all parties. The impression of favoritism to Catholics continued in the minds of many Protestant Marylanders and would continue to break out in rebellion until the Calverts’ control of the colony in 1689.

    The Toleration Act became a victim of the English republican period. The Calverts’ dream of a haven for Catholics where Protestants and Catholics could live together in peace was not shared by the Protestant supporters of the Parliament during the war. After the execution of Charles I in 1642, Oliver Cromwell, the head of the English republic, gave William Clayborne, his loyal supporter, control of Maryland. Clayborne was able to get the Maryland Assembly to repeal the Act. Then Clayborne went further and succeeded in passing a ban which made it illegal to publicly practice Catholicism in a colony founded for Catholics.

    Stone, who had been driven from Maryland by Cromwell’s supporters, returned with an army and fought the Battle of the Severn but was defeated and captured. One of Stone’s officers, Josiah Fendall, became the next governor of Maryland appointed by Lord Baltimore. Lord Baltimore had reached an agreement with Cromwell’s government to have his own governor once again in charge of his colony. Fendall managed to restore order and improve conditions in the colony. Still, the Protestants displayed unrest and expressed dissatisfaction with having a Catholic Lord Proprietor. Fendall and the Assembly attempted to break away from the Calverts and create a new government. The timing was not in Fendall’s favor. Cromwell died in 1658, and England reverted to a monarchy with the arrival of King Charles II, who fully supported Lord Baltimore. Baltimore appointed another of his brothers, Philip Calvert, to be the new governor temporarily, and then his son and heir, Charles Calvert, arrived to serve as governor in 1661.

    4.5.2: Slavery in Maryland

    Maryland had been chartered with the intention of being an agriculturally based colony, with tobacco as its primary crop. The conflicts Marylanders experienced had been a distraction from that goal. With the political horizon finally clearing, the colonists turned their attention once again to tobacco and an important issue facing tobacco planters: sources of labor. As in Virginia, the need for labor to plant and harvest tobacco had encouraged the slave trade and, because the demand for tobacco grew exponentially, so too did the need for permanent, inexpensive labor. In 1664, Maryland passed the first law to create a permanent slave class. Those who were slaves would remain slaves for life, as would those born to slaves; the law applied to all slaves, regardless of race. The earliest slaves in Maryland had been able to gain their freedom by becoming Christians, but that path to freedom was closed in 1671 with another law that allowed slaves to be baptized but expressly denied them freedom based on baptism.

    4.5.3: Maryland in the Late Seventeenth Century

    Charles Calvert, who took his position as governor of Maryland in 1661, just one year after the Restoration of monarchy in England, was a Catholic, as were his father and grandfather; not surprisingly, he gravitated toward Catholics in both his private and public life. His first wife was from a Catholic family, and the majority of his advisors were Catholic aristocrats. His colony’s population, however, was largely Protestant. Because Maryland was a proprietary colony, Charles Calvert and the Catholic minority controlled the Protestant majority. The Protestants were neither happy nor comfortable with this situation. An influx of Protestants, who were largely Puritans from Virginia and New England, migrated to the colony. Because they were unused to the proprietary form of government, they expected to have a greater voice in it than the Calverts were willing to give.

    Maryland did have an Assembly which represented the people, but ultimately power was in the hands of the proprietors, who could support or deny any decision the Assembly made. To make matters worse, in the 1670s, the Calvert family attempted to control the colony by enacting a series of laws restricting access to political power. According to these laws, only those colonists who owned a significant amount of property, either land or personal property, could vote; similarly, only those with large land holdings could serve in the Assembly. No average farmer would be able to gain the required amount of land to do either. In addition, because the proprietors owned the land and had the right to choose to whom it would be sold, many of the largest land owners were Catholics. Charles Calvert reduced the size of the Assembly by reducing the number of delegates from each part of the colony. In this way, the colonists still had representation and the proprietors would have fewer elected voices with which to contend and consequently fewer opinions opposed to their own. The common people, particularly the Protestants, were displeased with these measures.

    In 1675, Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, died; his son and heir Charles immediately became the third Lord Baltimore and left Maryland for England to deal with his father’s estate and his own inheritance. While Lord Baltimore was away in England, rebellion arose again in Maryland, as Lord Baltimore was accused of a variety of things that alarmed the British Crown, including that of creating religious conflicts with his insistence on religious toleration. Lord Baltimore responded, quite accurately, that Maryland did not recognize an official church. His own faith was Catholic, but Catholics were a minority. Some in Maryland were Anglicans, but the Church of England was also in the minority in Maryland. The existence of religious tolerance had drawn people of many different Christian denominations to settle in Maryland; it would be imprudent, if not impossible, to declare one to be the colony’s official church and have it be accepted by all the people. The rebellion was quickly put down, but the issues that led to it continued to simmer.

    The year 1681 brought yet another rebellion, this one led by a former governor and rebel, Josias Fendall. As with his first rebellion, this one, too, was a failure. Fendall’s life was spared once again, though he paid a heavy monetary penalty. The people continued to be frustrated by the gap between those with power over the colony and the rest of the colonists. Making matters worse, the price of tobacco had been dropping and continued to drop. Lord Baltimore had considered working with Virginia to raise the prices by holding back the crop one year, but refused as it would have been too difficult for the small farmers who needed their income to survive. The drop in prices of Maryland’s main cash crop created hardship for many of the colonists. Lord Baltimore’s failure to find a solution, or to at least find a way to help the people through the hard times, added to the resentment against him, especially since Calvert and his closest friends and advisors were a privileged class who did nothing to hide it.

    William Penn added to Lord Baltimore’s growing list of problems. Penn had been granted a charter by King Charles II to found his own colony, Pennsylvania, to the north of Maryland. The charter did not define Pennsylvania’s borders as well as was needed, and soon there was a conflict between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Penn and Lord Baltimore were unable to resolve the issue on their own, even though it was simple: Maryland’s northern boundary was the 40th parallel; Penn was building his capitol, Philadelphia, below the line in Maryland territory and advising farmers in the area that they were not in Maryland but Pennsylvania. Lord Baltimore once again sailed for England in 1684 in an effort to resolve the issue there. Penn was wrong and Lord Baltimore right, but Penn was allowed to keep Philadelphia and other lands as well; the issue was not resolved until the Mason-Dixon Line was surveyed in the 1760s.

    Charles, Lord Baltimore, never returned to Maryland, where conflict seemed to be a constant condition. He had left his nephew, George Talbot, in charge in his absence, but before Lord Baltimore had reached England, his nephew murdered a royal official. When hearing of the incident, Lord Baltimore replaced Talbot with William Joseph, an Irishman and Catholic who also did not manage to avoid controversy. Joseph became governor of the volatile colony just as the Glorious Revolution was happening in England. King Charles II had died and was succeeded by his brother, King James II, who had been raised in France and was Catholic. James II was deposed in 1688 in what was called the Glorious Revolution, a bloodless coup by Protestants who wanted no more Catholic kings. The Protestants, in particular the Puritans back in Maryland, felt the same way, and once again, rebellion erupted in 1689. James Coode, who had been involved in the rebellion of 1681, was the leader and succeeded in taking over the colony. With the rebellion and all the other problems of the colony, Calvert lost control of his colony to the Protestants who governed until 1692 when Maryland became a royal colony under the direct authority and management of the Crown. Maryland remained a Royal Colony until 1715 when it was again given to the Calverts as a proprietary colony as it remained until the American Revolution.

    4.5.4: Before You Move On...

    Key Concepts

    The first Lord Baltimore envisioned Maryland as a proprietary colony providing a safe haven for Catholics with an economy based on the cash crop, tobacco. This reasoning was in reaction to the discrimination and harassment faced by Catholics in England in the decades after the Protestant Reformation. His eldest son inherited the charter, and his grandson, Leonard Calvert, founded the colony and became its first governor in 1634. Although the Calverts had encouraged Protestants as well as Catholics to settle in the colony, many Protestants were not happy with the Catholic Calvert’s leadership. There was a view that the Catholic minority was ruling the Protestant majority which created resentment. The Calvert family maintained an active involvement with the colony until 1689, when their charter was lost due to Protestant rebellion. They continued to have an interest in the colony, leading to a restoration as the proprietors in 1715. The Calverts tried to practice religious toleration for all Christians and had one of the most tolerant policies concerning religion of any of the colonies, and they worked to deal fairly with the Indians. However, slavery became firmly entrenched in 1664 in response to the need for a permanent labor force to raise tobacco.

    Test Yourslef

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    1. Who is Maryland named for?

    a. The Virgin Mary

    b. Henrietta Marie, wife and queen of Charles I

    c. Queen Mary of England

    d. Queen Mary of Scotland

    Answer

    b

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    2. Where was George Calvert’s first colony? _______.

    Answer

    Newfoundland

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    3. George Calvert was born a Catholic.

    a. True

    b. False

    Answer

    b

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{4}\)

    Religious tolerance created a happy and unified Maryland Colony

    a. True

    b. False

    Answer

    b

    • Was this article helpful?