“Maryland Day” Explained
By Kathryn Marchi
It is always nice to be reminded of the history of our state. Every year, on March 25, we celebrate the founding of Maryland but how many of us remember the details? How did “Maryland Day” become a legal holiday? Here’s some background:
Maryland Day celebrates the anniversary of the first pilgrims landing on what was to become the colony of Maryland. In March 1634, approximately 140 European settlers from two ships, the Ark and the Dove, landed on a small island in the Potomac River. It was named St. Clements, after Pope Saint Clement, patron of mariners. Included in the party were Leonard Calvert, three Jesuit priests, including Father Andrew White, 17 Catholic gentlemen investors and a number of indentured servants. One of the first things the settlers did was to erect a large wooden cross and celebrate the first Roman Catholic mass in the original Colonies. They then took ownership of the new land for their “savior and sovereign lord, king of England.”
St. Clements Island was not the final destination of these settlers, however. The site became the temporary base from which they explored upriver until they reached the shore of the New World. Because of the location and the friendly Indians, the group set about building the city of St. Mary’s.
There are a few interesting events that preceded this first landing on St. Clements Island. A rich history surrounds the founding of the state of Maryland and it goes back to England and a man named George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore.
A little known fact is that in 1660, George Calvert tried to set up a colony, called Avalon, in Newfoundland. Calvert, a Catholic, was searching for a place where they could worship freely. He also planned on growing crops as income but the climate was too cold. On his way back to England, he stopped in Jamestown, a colony of Virginia. Since the land was to his liking, he persuaded King Charles I to grant him land to the north of this colony. As part of the agreement, George named his new colony “Mary’s Land” in honor of the King’s wife, Henrietta Maria. Thus the name evolved to “Maryland.”
A charter was then drawn up which allowed Lord Baltimore (Calvert) to rule the colony much like a king. Though the colonists were still English citizens, the charter allowed them to attend the church of their choice and therefore they no longer had to join or support the English monarch’s church with their taxes. Not only was this “freedom of religion” in the colony, it was also the first time church and state were separated. The Maryland colony was the only one where all faiths could worship without difficulty.
Unfortunately, Lord Baltimore died before visiting his colony. His oldest son, Cecil Calvert, inherited the title of Lord Baltimore II and began making plans for the first settlers to begin their journey to the new colony. He stayed behind in England to protect the charter and chose his brother, Leonard Calvert, to join the expedition and appointed him the first governor of the Maryland colony.
Now back to St. Mary’s City: The settlement was the first in Maryland and was named the capital of the colony. Over the years it flourished, with a strong tobacco economy and population growth. However, political and religious factions rose up against Lord Baltimore. The king of England intervened and decided to move the capital to Annapolis. Thus began the demise of St. Mary’s City and no other growth or construction took place until the beginning of the 20th century when archeological excavations began. As a result, this little 17th century city became one of the finest colonial archeological sites in the country. It was named to the National Historic Landmarks in 1969 and now thrives as a tourist center.
School children from all over the state regularly visit this historic site as part of their Maryland history curriculum. There are costumed interpreters to guide them through the Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation, the replica of the “Dove,” which is harbored on the river front, and inside the original State House, where they can participate in mock trials. Other period buildings have been restored and students can enter them and participate in hands-on activities.
Of course, the general public can visit these same displays as well as other special events set up throughout the year. “Living History,” which features re-enactors demonstrating various aspects of colonial life, is but one of these. Google “Historic St. Mary’s City,” where all of the scheduled events are listed.
St. Clements Island is also open to the public; it is now a Maryland state park and with all of the facilities. A 40-foot commemorative cross has been erected there in honor of the first landing in Maryland. Visitors can reach the island from the St. Mary’s city area by water taxi. Google “St. Clement’s Island” where all of the details for visiting the site are listed.
It can be said that Maryland Day isn’t just about the pilgrims landing on St. Clements Island back in 1634. In fact, the Maryland State Board of Education proclaimed the holiday in 1903 to honor Maryland history. The Legislature agreed in 1916 and authorized it as a legal holiday.
Kathryn, a former 4th grade teacher in Maryland, enjoys sharing her love of history and can be reached at email@example.com