US History
US History E-Text > Southern Colonies > Maryland


The founding of Maryland marks the beginning of a new plan in colony building in North America. The tentative experiments of Gilbert and Raleigh had for their object mainly the establishing of trading posts, from which a search for gold and for a northwest passage to the Indies might be carried on. 1 Close upon these followed the founding of the earliest permanent colonies by chartered companies, the chief objects being to bring commerical advantage to the companies, and to make good by actual occupation English claims to the soil. With the founding of Maryland came the first permanent proprietary government of America, that is, a government by a lord proprietor, who, holding his authoriity by virtue of a royal charter, nevertheless exercised that authority almost as an independent sovereign.

As shown previously, the idea of colony planting in America by means of a corporation was borrowed from existing corporations common in England at the time. It is interesting here to note the proprietary form of government, -- its origin, the transplanting of the institution to America, and its gradual democratizing. The Maryland charter was borrowed in great part from the Palatinate of Durham. In medieval times, it was customary in Continental Europe for a sovereign to grant almost regal powers of government to the feudal lords of his border districts, so as to prevent foreign invasion. These districts or manors were often called palatinates or counties palatine, because the lord dwelled in a palace, or wielded the power of the king in his palace. His power was regal in kind, but inferior in degree to that of the king. 2

William the Conqueror, soon after the battle of Hastings, adopted this plan in case of a few counties, one of which was Durham on the borders of Scotland, and this one alone remained at the time of Charles I. The English landlord was as familiar with the palatinate form of government, as Osgood says, as was the English merchant with the corporation. It was most natural, therefore, that the proprietary form of government be adopted in the work of colonizing America, and it was equally natural that the palatine of Durham be made the model.

The charter of Maryland granted in express terms "as ample rights, jurisdictions, privileges, prerogatives, ... royal rights ... as used and enjoyed ... within the bishopric or county palatine of Durham." This was one of the many instances of planting English institutions in America; it was an attempt to introduce a limited feudalism on American soil. And it is a notable fact that all the English colonies founded in America after Maryland were of the palatinate type, except those founded spontaneously by the people in New England. 3

It will be noticed that this form of government was monarchial, but monarchial government did not flourish in America. In a new country where all men were obliged to work for a living, the conditions for building up an order of nobility were wanting. The great distance from the motherland tended to lessen the feeling of reverence for the sovereign, and men soon absorbed that wild spirit of freedom so characteristic of life in the forest. The result was that democracy gained an early foothold in every colony, and it continued to increase in power all through the colonial period.

The father of Maryland was George Calvert, the actual founder was his son, Cecilius Calvert. George Calvery, was a man of broad views and staunch character. About the time of the accession to the throne of Charles I, Calvert resigned his seat as British secretary of state and turned his attention to colonization in the New World. King James had raised him to an Irish peerage with the title of Lord Baltimore. Receiving a grant of land in Newfoundland, which he named Avalon, he removed thither and started a colony; but after a brief sojourn he determined, owing to the severity of the climate and the hostility of the French, to abandon the place. He sailed for Virginia, in which he already been interested as a member of the original London Company and later of the governing council. But Baltimore, having espoused the Roman Catholic faith, found the Virginians inhospitable, owing to the spirit of religious intoleration of the times. Returning to England he obtained the promise of a charter for a large tract of land north of the Potomac River, and King Charles in granting it named the place Maryland in honor of his queen, Henrietta Maria. The object of the lord proprietor, as Baltimore was now called, was twofold. He wished to found a state and become its ruler, for he was truly a man of the world; he loved power and he loved wealth. Second, he wished to furnish a refuge for the oppressed of his own faith; for the Roman Catholics, as well as the Puritans, were objects of persecution in England.

But before he could carry his purpose into execution, and before the Great Seal was placed upon his charter, George Calvert died. The charter was then issued to his son, Cecilius, and the son, who became the second Lord Baltimore, was faithful in carrying out the project of his father.

The new colony as set forth in the charter was bounded on the north by the fortieth parallel, and on the south by the southern bank of the Potomac, while the western boundary was to be the meridian passing through the source of that river. From this line the colony extended eastward to the Atlantic Ocean and included all of the present state of Delaware and portions of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In after years these boundary lines, as marked out by the charter, led to serious complications between Maryland and her neighbors.

Never before had an English sovereign conferred such power upon a subject as that now granted to Lord Baltimore. He was required by the charter to send the king two Indian arrows each year, as a token of allegiance to the Crown, and if any gold and silver were mined in Maryland, one fifth of it was to be paid to the king. But aside from this the proprietor was invested with almost kingly power. He could not tax his people without their consent, but he could coin money, make war and peace, pardon criminals, establish courts, and grant titles of nobility. The government of the colony was very similar to that of the feudal estates of the Middle Ages.

But this "miniature kingdom of a semi-feudal type" was affected by the leaven of democracy from the beginning. The charter, as stated, defined the relations of the proprietor to the the king; it also defined his relations to the colonists. It provided that the laws be made by the proprietor and the freemen. Here was the entering wedge; the people could not be taxed without their own consent, and they were soon making their own laws. They won the right to initiate legislation in their first contest, a light one, in 1635. At first the assembly consisted of the governor, council, and all the freemen; but as the people increased in numbers, the proxy system supplanted this. The proxy system, however, proved unsatisfactory and it soon gave way to the delegate system. By the middle of the century both the representative system and a bicameral legislature were firmly established in Maryland. 4

Aside from the fact that Maryland was the first of the proprietary governments, the colony is especially remembered in American history as the first in which religious toleration had a place. This condition came about in the most natural way. Baltimore, as an honest adherent of the Catholic faith, could not have excluded his fellow-Catholics from his new dominions. Such a course would have proved him untrue to his own avowed principles, and defeated one of his objects in founding the colony; namely, to furnish a home for oppressed Catholics who were shamefully treated in England at that time.

It was equally impossible for him to have excluded Protestants, being the subject of a Protestant king who ruled over a Protestant nation. Had he done this, he would have raised a storm in England which would have proved fatal to the colony. He did therefore the only wise thing to be done, -- he left the matter open, inviting Catholics and Protestants alike to join his colony. The spirit of the age was an intolerant spirit, and while Baltimore cannot be said to have been moved by any advanced views of religious toleration, nor was his primary object in founding a colony a desire to furnish a home for the oppressed in conscience, it is certain that he rose above the intolerance of the times, as shown by his subsequent invitation to the Puritans of Virginia and New England to make their home in Maryland. Thus for the first time in colonial history we have a state in which a man could worship God with freedom of conscience and without being oppressed by intolerant laws. Baltimore proved a wise and just governor. His treatment of the Indians was not surpassed by that of William Penn. Indeed, one might search in vain through all our colonial history for a ruler superior to Cecilius Calvert.

The first settlers, about three hundred in number, reached Maryland in March, 1634. Leonard Calvert, a brother of the proprietor, led the colony and became its first acting governor. They settled on a small island in the mouth of the Potomac, paying the Indians for the land in axes, hoes, and cloth. Here they planted the cross and founded a town which they named St. Mary's. The colony was happily founded, and it advanced more in the first six months than Virginia had done in as many years.

Maryland was singularly free from Indian massacres as also for many years from maladministration; but there was one source of constant irritation that annoyed the colony for a generation, and that was the jealousy of the Virginians. The second charter of Virginia had included all the territory that afterward became Maryland, and the people of Virginia dispute the right of Baltimore to plant this colony there; but their objections could not hold good from the fact that the Virginia charter had been canceled in 1624 and the province had reverted to the Crown. But there were two other causes of an unfriendly feeling from the elder colony: first her northern neighbor was under Catholic control and this was irritating to the intolerant Virginians; and second, Maryland enjoyed free trade in foreign markets which Virginia did not. This unfriendly spirit between the two reached its acute stage through the action of one man, whose name fills a conspicious page in the early history of Maryland, and that man was William Clayborne.

Clayborne was a Virginia surveyor, a member of the council and also a tradesman. The year before the charter of Maryland was issued to Calvert, Clayborne had established a trading post on Kent Island in the Chesapeake without any title to the land. Soon after the settlement at St. Mary's had been made Baltimore informed Clayborne that Kent Island must henceforth be under the government of Maryland; but the latter, encouraged by the governor of Virginia, resisted, whereupon Baltimore ordered that he be arrested and held prisoner if he did not yield. Soon after this a party from St. Mary's seized a pinnace belonging to Clayborne, who, retaliating, sent a vessel against his enemy and in a skirmish, in which several men were killed, the Marylanders made captives of the Virginians. This occurred in 1635 and two years later Clayborne repaired to England to lay his case before the king. He met with little success and during his absence the enemy seized and occupied Kent Island. Clayborne returned to Virginia and for more than ten years longer we find him a disturbing element to the peace of Maryland. In 1645, aided by a piratical sea captain named Ingle, he again gained control of his favorite island and indeed of the government of Maryland, Leonard Calvert being forced to take refuge in Virginia. But Clayborne's reign was of short duration, and the coveted island eventually passed permanently under the control of Maryland.

In spite of internal disturbance, the colony increased in numbers and prosperity year by year. The political and social conditionof the people swayed to and fro with the great events that were taking place in England, and when at last the Puritan party under Cromwell triumphed over the Cavaliers, Baltimore, who had favored the royal party, would doubtless have lost his title to Maryland but for the tact he exercised in appointing a Protestant governor, William Stone, to rule over it.

In 1649, the same year that in British history King Charles I was put to death, witnessed the famous Toleration Act in Maryland. By this act, the toleration of all Christian sects, a privilege that the people had enjoyed in practice since the founding of the colony, was recognized by law.1

The Toleration Act was very liberal for that period, but it would not be so considered in our times. For example, it did not "tolerate" one who did not believe in the Trinity, the penalty for this offense being death. Anyone speaking reproachfully concerning the Virgin Mary or any of the Apostles or Evangelists was to be punished by a fine, or, in default of payment, by a public whipping and imprisonment. The calling of anyone a heretic, Puritan, Independent, Popish priest, Baptist, Lutheran, Calvinist, and the like, in a "reproachful manner", was punished by a light fine, half of which was to be paid to the person or persons offended, or by a public whipping and imprisonment until apology was made to the offended. This act was drawn up under the directions of Cecilius Calvert himself; it was probably a compromise between the Catholic party and the Puritans, who, driven from Virginia by Berkeley, had arrived in Maryland in large numbers. This was the first law of its kind enacted in America, and it was in force, with brief intervals of suspense, for many years.

On the fall of Charles I, a commission sent by Parliament, a member of which was Maryland's old enemy, Clayborne, came to receive the surrender of the colony, and Governor Stone, who though a Protestant was not a Puritan, was degraded from his office. This was in 1652, and three years later Stone, having raised a small army, met the Puritans at Providence, now Annapolis, and a pitched battle was fought, known as the battle of the Severn. Many were killed. Stone was defeated and made prisoner. The Puritans now had full control. Before this battle occurred they had suspended the Toleration Act in defiance of the proprietor and passed one of their own shutting out "popery, prelacy, and licentiousness of opinion". Baptists and Quakers, as well as Catholics and Episcopalians, were denied religious liberty. They basically tolerated "everybody except Catholics, Episopalians, and anybody who disagreed with them". But this was going too far, even for Oliver Cromwell, who sided with Calvert; and at the word of that powerful dictator, the Toleration Act was restored and the Puritan domination was ended.

In 1661, soon after the Restoration in England, Lord Baltimore sent his only son, Charles Calvert, to be governor of his colony. Charles served fourteen years when in 1675 his father, Cecilius, died and he became the lord proprietor. 6 For the first time now the Marylanders had the proprietor living among them. Cecilius, the founder of the colony and its proprietor for over forty years, devoted his life to Maryland; but he resided in London and never crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

This period, from the Restoration to the English Revolution in 1688, was one of unusual quiet in Maryland. It is true that the people were on the verge of rebellion in 1676 -- an echo of the Bacon Rebellion in Virginia -- and that the government after the death of Cecilius was for a time similar to that of Berkeley in Virginia, tending toward aristocracy and nepotism, restriction of the suffrage, and the like; but on the whole the inhabitants were happy and industrious and were rapidly increasing in numbers. During this time, the Quakers, the Dutch, the Germans, the Huguenots were in considerable numbers finding their way to Maryland.

Meantime the boundary dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania, to cover over three quarters of a century, had begun. This will be treated in the account of Pennsylvania. Charles II and his brother James, disregarding the grant of their father to Lord Baltimore, conveyed to William Penn a large portion of his territory, which afterward became Delaware; and James, after he became king, was about to deprive Baltimore of his charter altogether when, in 1688, he was driven from the British throne, in what is known as the glorious Revolution. William and Mary became the sovereigns of England, and Baltimore promptly dispatched a messenger to proclaim to his colony their accession to the throne. But the messenger died at sea, the message was not delivered, and while the other colonies in quick succession proclaimed the new sovereigns, Maryland hesitated. The delay was fatal to Baltimore's charter, and in 1691 Maryland became a royal province. Baltimore, however, was still permitted to receive the revenues in the form of quitrents and excises from his sometime colony. Maryland remained a royal colony till 1715 when it passed back into the hands of the Calverts. The royal governors, among whom we find the ubiquitous Nicholson and Andros, were all men of commendable worth.

When Maryland became a royal colony one of the first acts of its legislature was to pass a law establishing the Church of England7 and persecuting the Catholics and to some extent the Puritans. Alas, for the dreams of the Calverts! They had founded the colony as an asylum for the oppressed in conscience, especially for those of their own faith; but now in less than sixty years after its founding the Catholics constitute but one twelfth of the population and these, though among the best citizens of Maryland, are rigorously proscribed by law; and to further exasperate them the capital was now moved from St. Mary's, the Catholic center, to Providence, alias "Anne Arundel Town," now Annapolis.

In 1715, Charles Calvert died and his son Benedict became the fourth Lord Baltimore. He had become a Protestant, and the government of Maryland was now restored to him. The colony remained from this time in the hands of the Calverts to the war of the Revolution. Benedict died but six weeks after the death of his father, and his son Charles, a boy of sixteen years, became the proprietor of Maryland. 8 During the remainder of the colonial era, frequent quarrels between the governor and the assembly resulted, as in all the royal and proprietary colonies, in a steady gain of power for the people.

It would be interesting to follow the fortunes of this colony through the half century preceding the Revolution, the so-called "neglected period" of colonial history; but the limits of this volume forbid a further treatment, except in a general way with the rest in future chapters on "Colonial Wars" and "Colonial Life."


1See also other motives mentioned on p. 57.[return]

2Osgood, in American Historical Review, July, 1897, p. 644.[return]

3Fiske, "Old Virginia," Vol. I, p. 280.[return]

4Mereness's "Maryland," p. 196.[return]

5Except Unitarians; not till 1826 -- one hundred and seventy-seven years after this -- did Jews and Unitarians gain full political rights in Maryland.[return]

6The population at this time was about twenty-five thousand.[return]

7The annual tax for the support of the church was forty pounds of tobacco for each "poll," rich or poor. But the law did not specify the kind of taobacco, and many paid the minister with the most unsalable stuff that they raised. The clergy sent over were generally a bad lot, gamblers and winebibbers. A common trick with them was to stop in the middle of a marriage service and exact a good round fee before finishing the ceremony.[return]

8The population was now 40,700 whites and 9500 negroes. Chalmers, "American Colonies," II, 7.[return]

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter IV pp. 75-83. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.

© 2001-2012