Colonial history of Maryland





In the year 1639, a representative government was established in Maryland. It was crude in form, but possessed the prolific seeds of a sturdy republicanism. The freemen chose as many representatives as they pleased. So did the proprietor. These, with the governor appointed by the proprietor, and a secretary, composed the government of Maryland.

In that first representative assembly, the people boldly asserted their rights and dignity. The proprietor presented to the Legislature a system of laws which he had framed. The representatives of the people, feeling that the inherent right to make laws resided in their constituents, rejected the whole system. They adopted a Declaration of Rights, defining the powers and duties of each branch of the government, and set to work to pass bills for the security to the people of every privilege that belonged to a British subject. This popular sovereignty was briefly contested by Lord Baltimore, by a series of vetoes or refusals to sign such bills. After vetoing more than forty, and finding the people firm, the proprietor gave up the contest and yielded gracefully to the popular will.

The province now had an aspect of profound repose, for the Indians regarded the new settlers as friends. Everything social and political promised for Maryland a long career of peace and prosperity, when personal ambition and greed, as usual, disturbed the serenity of society. A restless adventurer, named William Clayborne, had received authority from the governor of Virginia, so early as 1627, to explore the headwaters of Chesapeake Bay north of the 34th degree of latitude. Four years later, King Charles gave to Clayborne the privilege of making discoveries in the same region, and trafficking with the natives. He established a trading-post on Kent Island, in Chesapeake Bay, not far from Annapolis. When Governor Calvert visited Governor Harvey, while the colonists for Maryland were on their way to that province, Clayborne appeared and gave them ominous warnings of the hostilities of the Indians, to which they would be subjected. Not succeeding in frightening the emigrants, he insisted upon the exempation of Kent Island from the jurisdiction of the Maryland proprietor, because his grant was older than Lord Baltimore's thereto. The Virginia Assembly secretly supported his claim; and when Calvert insisted that Clayborn should either leave the island or take an oath of allegiance to the governor he would do neither, but fitted out an armed vessel to protect his doman and cruise against the colonists. His vessel was captured by a Maryland force, and Clayborne, who was not in the expedition, prudently fled to Virginia, and there effectually excited the hostility of the Indians against Calvert's colony, telling the Indians that they were Spaniards. The governor of Maryland demanded the body of Clayborne as a rebel and traitor, and he was saved from arrest only by fleeing to England. The Maryland Legislature, in 1638, deprived Clayborne of his civil rights and property within their jurisdiction. He laid his case before the king, and it was decided against him. For a few years afterward he did not appear as are open enemy of the Maryland government.

During the lull in Clayborne's active hostility, he had secretly poisoned the minds of the Indians with suspicions of dark designs on the part of the settlers toward them. The king of the Patuxents showed much unfriendliness, and the colonists were disquieted. But the more powerful king of the Piscataways resolved to become a Christian. He had been very sick. His forty conjurors could not kill the malady and it was likely to kill him when Father White, the Roman Catholic priest already mentioned, by the judicious use of medicines, cured the monarch. With a grateful heart the king asked to be baptized. He urged his chiefs to receive the rite. On a warm summer's day in 1640, in a chapel made of bark for the occasion, the king, his queen, and their little child, with several of his council, were baptized in the presence of the governor and other distinguished citizens. The king was named Charles in honor of the British sovereign; and in the afternoon he and his queen were married, in accordance with Christian rites. His daughter, an intelligent young woman, followed her father's example and was sent to school at St. Mary's. His example was also followed by many other leading persons among the Indians; and they promised to be a shield for the colonists against outside barbarians. But the king soon afterward died, and his daughter at St. Mary's became queen. She could not protect the Christians against hostile pagans within their borders and beyond, with whom Clayborne and his emissaries had tampered.

The Indians, alarmed by the rapid increase of Englishmen in their country, and made suspicious by the false testimony of Clayborne, at length took a hostile position and made war on the intruders in 1642. The war was mild, but lasted between two and three years. It had just ended when Clayborne, assisted by Captain Richard Ingle, stirred up the people to rebellion. The insurrection flamed out with greater vehemence than the Indian war, but was not so long. Civil war was then raging in England, and the proprietor could not expect aid from the virtually dethroned monarch. The rebels, assisted by disaffected Indians, instantly triumphed, and the governor and his council were compelled to fly into Virginia. For about a year and a half the insurgents held the reins of power, and the horrors of civil war brooded over fair and once happy Maryland. The rebellion was crushed in the summer of 1646, when the governor returned to his chair of state. During the turmoil many of the records of the province were destroyed, and a greater portion of them were carried into Virginia by Captain Ingle and were lost. A wise clemency extended a general pardon to the rebels, excepting Ingle, and tranquillity was speedily restored.

Lord Baltimore displaced Green, a Roman Catholic, who had been acting-governor since the decease of Leonard Calvert, and commissioned William Stone of Virginia, a Protestant and warm friend of Parliament. Through his influence the Virginia Puritans came to the waters of the Chesapeake, insisting upon liberty of conscience. Soon after that the Maryland Assembly of 1649 met, says John Hammond (a friend of Lord Baltimore, in a pamphlet published in London in 1656), composed of Puritans, Church of England men, and a few Roman Catholics. It was this body of a majority of Protestants that passed the Toleration Act of which so much has been written. That act seems to have been an outgrowth of statutes passed by the British Parliament in 1645 and 1647, and adopted by the Maryland Legislature under the pressure of the strong Puritan influence then existing there. By that act, every believer in Jesus Christ and the Trinity, was allowed the free exercise of his or her religious opinions, but from this "toleration" Jews and Unitarians were alike excluded, and it was far from being a full "Toleration Act." No man was allowed to reproach another on account of his peculiar religious doctrines, excepting under the penalty of a fine to be paid to the person so insulted; and to Maryland the persecuted in other colonies now flocked to enjoy this broader freedom--Churchmen from New England, Puritans from Virginia, and Roman Catholics from all. That act is the pride and glory of Maryland's early legislation, yet it was not the first act of the kind (as has been often alleged) passed by a colonial assembly in America. In May, 1647--two years before--the General Assembly of Rhode Island adopted a code of laws which closed with the declaration that "all men may walk as their consciences persuaded them, without molestation--every one in the name of his God." This would include Jew or Mohammedan, Parsee or Pagan. It was absolute toleration.

For more than ten years republicanism prevailed in England. Lord Baltimore, whose politics and theology were easy-fitting garments, professed to be a republican when the king lost his head, but he had too lately been a decided royalist to secure the confidence of Parliament. They appointed a commission, of which Clayborne was a member, to govern Maryland. These commissioners entered upon their duties there with a high hand. They demanded a sight of Governor Stone's commission, and when he produced it, they snatched it from his hands, removed him and his subordinates from office, took possession of the record and abolished the authority of the proprietor of the province. A few months afterward they reinstated Governor Stone, put Kent and Polmer's islands into the possession of Clayborne, and so enabled the vigorous "outlaw" to trample over his enemy, Lord Baltimore.

When the Long Parliament was dissolved in 1653, Cromwell restored full power to Baltimore as proprietor. Stone proclaimed the movements of the commissioners to have been rebellious. He displaced all officers appointed by them, and in other ways acted very unwisely. The incensed commissioners returned to Maryland and compelled the governor to surrender his authority. Then they vested the government of the province in a board of ten commissioners.

Now the passions of the opposing political and religious parties were aroused into vehement action. The Protestants, who were still the majority in the General Assembly which convened in the fall of 1654, were imbued with the narrow bigotry of the early Puritans of Massachusetts, and, unmindful of the better principles of the Toleration Act of 1649, they wantonly disfranchised the Roman Catholics and members of the Church of England, by passing a law which declared that Papists and Churchmen were not entitled to the protection of the laws of Maryland. These zealots flogged and imprisoned Quakers; and their unworthy triumph was celebrated in a book published in London entitled "Babylon's Fall in Maryland."

When intelligence of these unrighteous proceedings reached London, Lord Baltimore obtained an audience with Cromwell, then Lord High Protector and real monarch of England. These eminent men met in the Council Chamber at Whitehall, in friendly conference. Cromwell in power was not like Cromwell fighting for power. He was tolerant. His Latin Secretary, the eminent John Milton (who was present at the interview), had assisted in making him so. When Baltimore courteously protested against the injustice of Puritan legislation in Maryland, the Protector said: "I would that all the sects, like the cedar and the myrtle and the oil-tree, should be planted in the wilderness together," and assured Lord Baltimore that he disapproved of the ungrateful decree. That assurance was followed by an order which Cromwell sent to the commissioners "not to busy themselves about religion, but to settle the civil government."

So encouraged, Lord Baltimore determined to vindicate the rights of his people. He upbraided Stone for his want of firmness, and ordered him to raise an army for the restoration of the authority of the proprietor. Stone, smarting under rebuke, acted vigorously. He raised a force, chiefly of Roman Catholics, seized the colonial records, resumed the office of governor, and inaugurated civil war. Skirmishes followed. Finally, a sharp battle was fought, early in April, 1655, near the site of Annapolis, in which Stone was defeated and made prisoner, and about fifty of his party were killed or wounded. The governor and others were tried for treason. His life was spared, but four of his colleagues were hanged.

For several months, anarchy reigned supreme in Maryland, when Lord Baltimore appointed Josias Fendall, a former insurgent, to be governor of the province. Suspected of favoring the Roman Catholics, the Protestant Assembly ordered his arrest as a disturber of the peace, and for two years longer there was bitter strife between the people and the agents of the proprietor. The latter finally made important popular concessions, and Fendall was permitted to act as the governor. By prudent conduct he secured the confidence of the people, and Lord Baltimore anticipated a lasting relief from trouble on account of his American possessions, when Cromwell died and there were disquieting presages of a change in the government of England. The people of Maryland did not wait upon movements at home, but boldly asserting their supreme authority, dissolved the proprietary portion of the General Assembly in the spring of 1660, and assumed the whole legislative power of the State. The popular representatives then gave Fendall a commission as governor.

Three months after this political revolution in Maryland, monarchy was restored in England, and the son of the beheaded sovereign ascended the throne as Charles the Second. This event was soon followed by the restoration of his proprietary authority to Lord Baltimore. Fendall was tried for and found guilty of treason, because he had accepted office from the "rebellious assembly." But Baltimore wisely proclaimed a general pardon for all political offenders, and for about thirty years afterward Maryland enjoyed comparative repose, while her neighbor, Virginia, was torn by civil war. Under the mild proprietary rule, the province prospered and the people were happy. Commerce flourished. The soil yielded rich rewards for labor. Industry was fostered by well-paid labor, and feminine hands found ample and profitable employment, as in peaceful Pennsylvania at the same time. A quaint writer of the period, discoursing on Pennsylvania, says in relation to the "price of women's labor:" "One reason why women's wages are so exorbitant is that they are not very numerous, which makes them stand upon high terms for their several services, and moreover, they are usually married before they are twenty years of age, and when once in that noose, are for the most part a little uneasy, and make their husbands so too, till they procure them a maid-servant to bear the burden of the work, as also, in some measure, to wait on them, too."

Emigrants came to Maryland from almost every part of Europe to enjoy the tolerant rule there; and the pleasant spectacle was seen of George Fox, the founder of the sect called "Friends," or "Quakers," preaching in the evening twilight on the shores of the Chesapeake to a multitude of people, comprising members of the Legislature and other distinguished men of the province, and a large group of Indian kings and chieftains, with their wives and children, led by their emperor. But the refusal of the Friends to perform military duty or take an oath, subjected them to fines and harsh imprisonments. This was a civil matter, and had nothing to do with their religious tenets.

When monarchy was restored, the people of Maryland were in full possession of the liberty founded upon popular sovereignty, and never parted with the precious treasure. The population of the province consisted of about ten thousand white people living together in comparative harmony, the fierceness of religious bigotry having been subdued by mutual concessions.

Lord Baltimore died in 1675, after a rule in Maryland, with several interruptions, for forty-three years. He was crowned in his old age with the blessing and honors of a colony which he had planted in his youth. He had never trodden the soil of Maryland, but a grateful people cherished his memory as they would that of a beloved father known to them in person. The commercial capital of that State bears the name of his title. His son and successor, Charles, followed in the footsteps of his liberal father in fostering toleration and humanity; and he and his successors continued, with a few interruptions, to administer the government of the province until the storm of the revolution, which burst forth in 1775, swept away every vestige of proprietary and royal government in the English-American colonies. The title of Lord Baltimore became extinct in 1771, and the last of the family in England, of whom anything is known, was a prisoner for debt in the Queen's Bench prison in London, in 1860. In that, and the Fleet prison, he had then been confined, by the fiat of the barbarous law, twenty years.

Maryland, like the other colonies, was shaken by the revolution in England in 1688, and experience deep sorrows for awhile. For several years before, the democratic ideas then rapidly spreading over the provinces, could not reconcile the rule of a lord proprietor with the principles of republicanism. Even so early as when Charles Calvert went to England after the death of his father, signs of political discontent were conspicuous in Maryland. In 1678, the General Assembly, influenced by the popular feeling, established the right of suffrage--casting of a vote for rulers--on a broad basis. When Charles returned in 1681, he annulled this act, and by an arbitrary ordinance restricted the right to freemen owning fifty acres of land or personal property of the value of forty pounds sterling. This produced great disquietude, and Ex-Governor Fendall planned an insurrection for the purpose of abolishing the proprietorship and establishing an independent Republican government. The king was induced to issue orders that all offices of government in Maryland should be filled by Protestants alone; and so, again, the Roman Catholics were deprived of their political rights.

In 1684, Lord Baltimore again went to England, leaving the government of his province in charge of several deputies under the nominal governorship of his infant son. There he found his rights in great peril; but before the matter was brought to a direct issue by the operation of a writ of quo warranto, King James was driven from the throne and Protestant William and Mary ascended it. Lord Baltimore immediately acquiesced in the political change. Because his instructions to his deputies to proclaim the new monarchs were delayed in their transmission, he was charged with hesitancy; and a restless spirit named Coode, an associate of Fendall in his insurrectionary movements--a man of loose morals and blasphemous speech--excited the people by the cry of "a Popish plot!" He circulated the false story that the local magistrates in Maryland, and the Roman Catholics there, had engaged with the Indians in a plot for the destruction of the Protestants in the province. An actual league at that time between the French and the Jesuit missionaries with the Indians on the New England frontiers for the destruction of the English colonies in the East gave the coloring of truth to the story, which created great excitement. The old feud burned intensely. The Protestants formed an armed association. Led by Coode, they marched to the Maryland capital, took possession of the records and assumed the functions of a provisional government, in May, 1689. They met in convention in August following, when they prepared and sent to the new sovereigns a report of their proceedings and a series of absurd and false accusations against Lord Baltimore. In conclusion, they requested the monarchs to depose Lord Baltimore by making Maryland a royal province and taking it under the protection of the crown.

The sovereigns listened favorably to the representations of the convention and complied with their requests. Coode was ordered to administer the government in the name of the king, and so the people were punished for their folly in elevating him to leadership. He ruled with the spirit of a petty tyrant, until the people of every religious and political creed were heartily disgusted with him. He was displaced in 1692, when the king sent Sir Lionel Copley to be governor of Maryland.

The new governor arrived in the spring of that year and summoned a General Assembly to meet at St. Mary's in May. New laws were instituted. Religious toleration was abolished. The Church of England was made the state church for Maryland, to be supported by a tax on the whole people. "Thus," says McMahon, "was introduced, for the first time in Maryland, a church establishment sustained by law and fed by general taxation. Other laws oppressive in their bearings upon those opposed in religious views to the dominant party were enacted, some of which remained in force until the glorious emancipation day in the summer of 1776 gave freedom to our nation.

Partly because the whole people of Maryland might be better accommodated, but largely for the purpose of punishing the adherents of Lord Baltimore, who constituted a greater portion of the population of St. Mary's, the seat of government was moved from there to Anne Arundel town, on the shore of the Chesapeake, early in 1694, and there a General Assembly was convened in February. The following year the name of the place was changed by authority to Annapolis, and the naval station of the province was established there. Annapolis has continued to be the capital of Maryland until now. St. Mary's, dependent for its existence upon its being the capital of the province, speedily sunk into insignificance and fell into ruins.





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