Chronicles of America 

Founding of Maryland

There now enters upon the scene in Virginia a man of middle age, not without experience in planting colonies, by name George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore. Of Flemish ancestry, born in Yorkshire, scholar at Oxford, traveler, clerk of the Privy Council, a Secretary of State under James, member of the House of Commons, member of the Virginia Company, he knew many of the ramifications of life. A man of worth and weight, he was placed by temperament and education upon the side of the court party and the Crown in the growing contest over rights. About the year 1625, under what influence is not known, he had openly professed the Roman Catholic faith -- and that took courage in the seventeenth century, in England!

Some years before, Calvert had obtained from the Crown a grant of a part of Newfoundland, had named it Avalon, and had built great hopes upon its settlement. But the northern winter had worked against him. He knew, for he had resided there himself with his family in that harsh clime. "From the middle of October to the middle of May there is a sad fare of winter on all this land." He is writing to King Charles, and he goes on to say "I have had strong temptations to leave all proceedings in plantations . . . but my inclination carrying me naturally to these kind of works . . . I am determined to commit this place to fishermen that are able to encounter storms and hard weather, and to remove myself with some forty persons to your Majesty's dominion of Virginia where, if your Majesty will please to grant me a precinct of land . . . I shall endeavour to the utmost of my power, to deserve it."

With his immediate following he thereupon does sail far southward. In October, 1629, he comes in between the capes, past Point Comfort and so up to Jamestown -- to the embarrassment of that capital, as will soon be evident.

Here in Church of England Virginia was a "popish recusant!" Here was an old "court party" man, one of James's commissioners, a person of rank and prestige, known, for all his recusancy, to be in favor with the present King. Here was the Proprietary of Avalon, guessed to be dissatisfied with his chilly holding, on the scent perhaps of balmier, easier things!


In the history of England, recusancy was a term used to describe the statutory offence of not complying with the establishment of the Church of England. From the 16th to the 19th century recusants were subject to civil penalties and sometimes, especially in the earlier part of that period, to criminal penalties. Roman Catholics formed a large proportion of recusants, and were those to whom the term initially was applied, but other non-Catholic groups who dissented from the Church of England were, later, also labeled recusants. The recusancy laws were in force from the reign of Elizabeth to that of George III, though not always enforced with equal intensity.

Source: Wikipedia

The Assembly was in session when Lord Baltimore came to Jamestown. All arrivers in Virginia must take the oath of supremacy. The Assembly proposed this to the visitor who, as Roman Catholic, could not take it, and said as much, but offered his own declaration of friendliness to the powers that were. This was declined. Debate followed, ending with a request from the Assembly that the visitor depart from Virginia. Some harshness of speech ensued, but hospitality and the amenities fairly saved the situation. One Thomas Tindall was pilloried for "giving my lord Baltimore the lie and threatening to knock him down." Baltimore thereupon set sail, but not, perhaps, until he had gained that knowledge of conditions which he desired.

In England he found the King willing to make him a large grant, with no less powers than had clothed him in Avalon. Territory should be taken from the old Virginia; it must be of unsettled land -- Indians of course not counting. Baltimore first thought of the stretch south of the river James between Virginia and Spanish Florida--a fair land of woods and streams, of good harbors, and summer weather. But suddenly William Claiborne was found to be in London, sent there by the Virginians, with representations in his pocket. Virginia was already settled and had the intention herself of expanding to the south.

Baltimore, the King, and the Privy Council weighed the matter. Westward, the blue mountains closed the prospect. Was the South Sea just beyond their sunset slopes, or was it much farther away, over unknown lands, than the first adventurers had guessed? Either way, too rugged hardship marked the west! East rolled the ocean. North, then? It were well to step in before those Hollanders about the mouth of the Hudson should cast nets to the south. Baltimore accordingly asked for a grant north of the Potomac.

He received a huge territory, stretching over what is now Maryland, Delaware, and a part of Pennsylvania. The Potomac, from source to mouth, with a line across Chesapeake and the Eastern Shore to the ocean formed his southern frontier; his northern was the fortieth parallel, from the ocean across country to the due point above the springs of the Potomac. Over this great expanse he became "true and absolute lord and proprietary," holding fealty to England, but otherwise at liberty to rule in his own domain with every power of feudal duke or prince. The King had his allegiance, likewise a fifth part of gold or silver found within his lands. All persons going to dwell in his palatinate were to have "rights and liberties of Englishmen." But, this aside, he was lord paramount. The new country received the name Terra Mariae -- Maryland -- for Henrietta Maria, then Queen of England.

Here was a new land and a Lord Proprietor with kingly powers. Virginians seated on the James promptly petitioned King Charles not to do them wrong by so dividing their portion of the earth. But King and Privy Council answered only that Virginia and Maryland must "assist each other on all occasions as becometh fellow-subjects." William Claiborne, indeed, continued with a determined voice to cry out that lands given to Baltimore were not, as had been claimed, unsettled, seeing that he himself had under patent a town on Kent Island and another at the mouth of the Susquehanna.

Baltimore was a reflective man, a dreamer in the good sense of the term, and religiously minded. At the height of seeming good fortune he could write:

"All things, my lord, in this world pass away . . . . They are but lent us till God please to call for them back again, that we may not esteem anything our own, or set our hearts upon anything but Him alone, who only remains forever." Like his King, Baltimore could carry far his prerogative and privilege, maintaining the while not a few degrees of inner freedom. Like all men, here he was bound, and here he was free.

Baltimore's desire was for "enlarging his Majesty's Empire," and at the same time to provide in Maryland a refuge for his fellow Catholics. These were now in England so disabled and limited that their status might fairly be called that of a persecuted people. The mounting Puritanism promised no improvement. The King himself had no fierce antagonism to the old religion, but it was beginning to be seen that Charles and Charles's realm were two different things. A haven should be provided before the storm blackened further. Baltimore thus saw put into his hands a high and holy opportunity, and made no doubt that it was God-given. His charter, indeed, seemed to contemplate an established church, for it gave to Baltimore the patronage of all churches and chapels which were to be "consecrated according to the ecclesiastical laws of our kingdom of England"; nevertheless, no interpretation of the charter was to be made prejudicial to "God's holy and true Christian religion." What was Christian and what was prejudicial was, fortunately for him, left undefined. No obstacles were placed before a Catholic emigration.

Baltimore had this idea and perhaps a still wider one: a land -- Mary's land -- where all Christians might foregather, brothers and sisters in one home! Religious tolerance -- practical separation of Church and State -- that was a broad idea for his age, a generous idea for a Roman Catholic of a time not so far removed from the mediaeval. True, wherever he went and whatever might be his own thought and feeling, he would still have for overlord a Protestant sovereign, and the words of his charter forbade him to make laws repugnant to the laws of England. But Maryland was distant, and wise management might do much. Catholics, Anglicans, Puritans, Dissidents, and Nonconformists of almost any physiognomy, might come and be at home, unpunished for variations in belief.

Back to: Virginia and the Southern Colonies