St. Mary's City, Maryland
St. Marys City Historic District
St. Mary's City Historic District, Reconstructed Catholic Church, July 2009
|Nearest city||St. Mary's City, Maryland|
|Built||c. 1667. Rebuilt 2009|
|NRHP Reference #||69000310|
|Added to NRHP||August 4, 1969|
|Designated NHLD||August 4, 1969|
St. Mary's City, in St. Mary's County, Maryland, is a small unincorporated community near the southernmost end of the state on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. It is located on the eastern shore of the St. Mary's River, a tributary of the Potomac. St. Mary's City is the fourth oldest permanent English settlement in the United States. It is considered the birthplace of religious tolerance in the United States, as the colony passed the Maryland Toleration Act (1649). Until 1695 St Mary's City was the capital of the Province of Maryland.
St. Mary's City was founded on March 27, 1634 by a group of 300 English settlers. They arrived on the ships "The Dove" and "The Ark". Governor Leonard Calvert, (1606-1647), a Roman Catholic and younger brother of Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore, (1605-1775) the second Lord Baltimore, the "Lord Proprietor", led the group of settlers, who originally landed up the Potomac River's north shore on Blakistone Island (later St. Clement's Island) on March 25, which has later been celebrated as "Maryland Day", an official state and county holiday. Originally the Grant to the colony was given to their father George Calvert, 1st Baron Baltimore (1579-1632), the first Lord Baltimore by his patron and grateful friend King Charles I in thanks for his services to King and Country, before he declared himself a Roman Catholic, making his political position in government untenable for the times or religious rivalry and hatred. But the senior Calvert died before the claim was executed, signed and sealed, however the King continued the grant to his eldest son and heir, Cecil.
The original St. Mary's was laid out according to a Baroque town plan, with the settlers living closely in a town with church, stores and homes close by and outlying farms, fields, woods and orchards laid out in a grid or strips of land. But most residents of St. Mary's City later preferred to live on their tobacco plantations in the surrounding countryside. The settlement was meant to be the capital of the new Maryland Colony and Province of Maryland. A Yaocomico village had formerly occupied the location, but the "Tayac" "Kittimundiq", paramount chief of the Piscataway Indian nation, ordered the village cleared and gave it to the English newcomers. He wanted to develop them as allies and trading partners (especially because of their advanced technology - farming implements, metal-working, gunpowder and weapons, types of food and liquor. For some time, the Piscataway, their tributary tribes, and the English Marylanders coexisted peacefully.
In the second half of the 17th century, St. Mary's City had an economic boom due to successful tobacco farming, which was the most important export commodity. An increasing town population contributed to the desire for constructing public buildings, some of which were a state house, a Jesuit chapel, a jail, and an inn.
During and after the English Civil War, fights between Protestants and Catholics developed in the colonies as well. About forty years later, in 1689, the religious tensions became so great that Protestant settlers revolted against the Lords Baltimore. The English Crown took over the Maryland colony and appointed royal governors.
Maryland governor Sir Francis Nicholson relocated the capital from St. Mary's to the more central Annapolis in 1695. The colonial statehouse in St. Mary's was turned into a Protestant church the same year.
With the seat of government gone, the town lost its reason to exist. Remaining inhabitants were mostly farmers. The former town center was converted to agricultural land, and archaeological remains from the colonial town were undisturbed in the ground. The smaller farms were consolidated into a large plantation by the Brome-Howard family, which operated through the 19th century. Much of the historic area remained under a single property owner well into the 20th century. By the mid-20th century, few 17th-century buildings still stood. The town center site appeared to be farmland with a few private residences, and an expanding school that would become St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Present-day St. Mary's City is primarily the location of St. Mary's College and the Historic St. Mary's City museums. The museum complex is staffed by archaeologists. It includes a visitor center/museum building, outdoor living history exhibits, reconstructed colonial buildings, the St. John's site museum, and a working 17th-century-style farm. This complex, developed to interpret the site for visitors, was created after Historic St. Mary's was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1969.
St. Mary's City is known for its archaeological sites. After explorations by Henry Chandlee Forman in the 1940s, excavations began in 1971 with the creation of the Historic St. Mary's City Commission. The Commission was a state institution tasked with preserving the archaeological remains, establishing a museum on the site, and conducting archaeological research. Since then, much of the old city has been found. Historic St. Mary's City continues to excavate areas of the town today.
Some important discoveries include:
- A 1645 fort with a surrounding moat, claimed to be the only structural remains of the English Civil War in the American Colonies.
- Façon de Venise glassware;
- A set of Kutahya ceramics, one of only two known examples found in the United States;
- Three 17th-century lead coffins;
- The foundation of a Jesuit chapel;
- A quantity of lead type, indicating that the site where it was found was the documented William Nuthead Printing House. The print was the first in the Southern Colonies.
- St. John's Freehold, where Maryland's citizen government was instituted.
- Garret Van Sweringen's Inn, a 17th-century inn founded by Garret Van Sweringen, a leader in St. Mary's City's development.
- 19th-century slave quarters from St. Mary's City's later plantation period.
- Extensive artifacts from successive Native American occupations; and
- The 18th-century house of merchant and planter John Hicks, with an extensive ceramic assemblage.
St. Mary's College
- Andrews, Matthew Page, History of Maryland, Doubleday, New York (1929)
- Historic St. Mary's City
- St. Mary's City Historic District, St. Mary's County, including aerial photo from 1987, at Maryland Historical Trust
- Boundary Map of the St. Mary's City Historic District, St. Mary's County, at Maryland Historical Trust
- "Brick Chapel at St. Mary's City stands as a landmark of religious freedom," My Catholic Standard, by Mark Zimmermann, July 22, 2010.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15.
- "St. Mary's City Historic District". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-12.
- U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: St. Mary's City, Maryland
- PDF (32 KB). National Park Service. , 19 and PDF (32 KB)
- Note: A National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination document should be available upon request from the National Park Service for this site, but it appears not to be available on-line from the NPS Focus search site.
- "History", St. Mary's City
- Andrews, p199
- Lines 15-16
- Lines 30-33
- Line 28
- Lines 48-56