The country near the head of Chesapeake Bay was first explored by Captain John Smith. It afterwards formed part of the grant that was made by Charles I. to Sir George Calvert, by title Lord Baltimore, a Roman Catholic nobleman. Inspired by the same feeling that had moved the Puritans, he sought to establish a refuge in America for men of his religious faith, who were persecuted in England. With this purpose he planted, in 1621, a Catholic colony in Newfoundland. But the unfavorable soil and climate, and annoyances from the hostile French, soon ended his hopes in that quarter. He next visited Virginia, but found there a religious intolerance hostile to his purposes. The territory finally granted him extended from the upper Chesapeake to the fortieth degree, the latitude of Philadelphia.
The charter given to Lord Baltimore, unlike any previously granted, secured to the emigrants equality in religious rights and civil freedom, and an independent share in the legislation of the province. The colony was formed in 1634 by two hundred emigrants, mostly Roman Catholics, who entered the Potomac and purchased of the Indians a village on the St. Mary's River, about ten miles from its junction with the Potomac. The policy of paying the Indians for their land, and their subsequent equitable treatment, inaugurated peaceful relations, though these did not remain long undisturbed. The treaty of Calvert with the Indians, though less dramatic, resembled in principle the celebrated one made many years afterwards by William Penn
INSTEAD of treating the aborigines as wild beasts, or savages towards whom no moral law was binding, he dealt with them as with men whose rights had a claim to respect. He raised no sophistical question whether savages could acquire or transfer any rights in the soil, or whether it was worth while to pay them any price for what they were preparing to abandon. The quantity of goods given them is not known; but the compensation was satisfactory, and there is no reason for alleging that it was not ample. The land ceded was mostly forest hunting-grounds; and the former possessors left them only to remove to others chosen in the boundless wilderness. The articles given in exchange were not trinkets and cheap gewgaws to pamper savage vanity, nor the maddening draught that has been the bane of the race, nor the arms that would render their internal wars more deadly and hasten their extermination; they were not merely of intrinsic worth, but of absolutely inestimable value to the Indian, who could procure nothing comparable to them, and was at once raised a degree in civilization by their acquisition. The possession of an axe of steel instead of his rude tool of stone multiplied his strength and efficiency a hundredfold. If the whites occupied his fields, they gave him, in improved implements, the means of raising larger crops, with less labor, in his new abode; if they restricted his hunting-grounds, they taught him to dispense with his rude garment of skin, and clothed him in the warmer fabric of the loom.
The Indians, on their side, faithfully performed their part of the contract. They shared at once their cabins with the strangers and prepared to abandon them and the cultivated fields as soon as the corn was harvested. In the mean time they mingled freely with the colonists, who employed many of their women and children in their families. From them the wives and daughters of the settlers learned the modes of preparing maize and other products of the soil. While the colonist of New England ploughed his field with his musket on his back, or was aroused from his slumber by the hideous war-whoop to find his dwelling in flames, the settlers of St. Mary's accompanied the red warrior to the chase and learned his arts of woodcraft; and the Indian coming to the settlement with wild turkeys or venison found a friendly reception and an honest market, and, if belated, wrapped himself in his mantle of skins or duffield cloth and lay down to sleep by the white man's fireside, unsuspecting and unsuspected.
Such were the happy results of the truly Christian spirit that animated the first Maryland colonists.
Maryland has the honor of being the first country to establish the principle of religious toleration to people of all faiths. George Calvert "was the first," says Bancroft, "in the history of the Christian world, to seek for religious security and peace by the practice of justice and not by the exercise of power; to plan the establishment of popular institutions with the enjoyment of liberty of conscience; to advance the career of civilization by recognizing the rightful equality of all Christian sects." The religious toleration which already existed by charter was further established by a law of the Maryland Assembly, of April 2, 1649. Rhode Island had previously passed a similar law.
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