In 1634, a group of English colonists, including several Jesuit priests sailed to the New World aboard the Ark, with a smaller ship called Dove accompanying them. The colonists intended to found a new colony, to be called Maryland, north of the Virginia colony and south of Pennsylvania. The charter for this new colony had been given to George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, by King James I, but George died not long after he returned to England from his first, failed colony of Avalon on the island of Newfoundland.
George's oldest son, Cecilius (Cecil), became the first Lord Proprietor of Maryland, and his younger son Leonard became the colony's first Governor.
The Calverts were Roman Catholics, and as such, invited both Catholics from England and Protestants from England and the Virginia Colony to settle in Maryland. In 1649, the Toleration Act was passed, granting freedom of religion to colonists in Maryland who believed in the Holy Trinity and in the divinity of Jesus Christ. This same act also outlawed what we today would call "hate speech," insults directed at believers in Jesus and the Trinity because of their faith.
While non-Christians were still subject to punishment under the law for their beliefs, the Toleration Act was an important first step toward true religious freedom in the Colonies. St. Mary's City can truly be called the birthplace of religious freedom in the English Colonies.
This brick church was completed in 2009. It stands on the site of the original Brick Chapel, which was built in 1667 to replace the first Catholic chapel in St. Mary's City and English America. Excavations revealed the dimensions of the foundation and materials used in the church, but no drawings or detailed descriptions of the original Brick Chapel remain. Because the original church was designed by Jesuits, the Historic St.
Mary's City Foundation decided to model the reconstruction after typical Jesuit designs. The new Brick Chapel was built using techniques and materials that would have been common in Maryland in 1667, including using lime from oyster shells in the mortar.
State House of 1676
This replica of Maryland's first State House was built in 1934. The original State House, constructed in 1676, served as the meeting place for the Assembly and as the courthouse. Not long after the capital was moved to Annapolis in 1695, construction on a new State House began; completed in 1779, this second Maryland State House is still in use today.
Woodland Indian Hamlet
When English colonists arrived in St. Mary's City in 1634, the land was occupied by the Yaocomaco (also spelled "Yaocomico") people. The Yaocomaco were hunter / gatherers who lived off the land; they were very willing to trade a bit of this land and some dwellings to the newcomers for tools, cloth, beads and other goods. Governor Leonard Calvert established a good relationship with the Yaocomaco and the two groups coexisted amicably for many years.
The colonists lived in Yaocomaco houses like this one until they could build homes of their own.
Costumed Interpreter Onboard Maryland Dove
The Maryland Dove, a re-creation of a 17th-century trading ship, is one of the most popular places to visit in Historic St. Mary's City. The Dove, which sailed to St. Mary's City in 1634, remained in Maryland with the colonists, while the much larger Ark, which carried the settlers, returned to England.
The Maryland Dove is not meant to be a replica of the original Dove, although the two ships were of similar size.
Rather, the Maryland Dove is designed to show the original Dove's size and to travel from port to port in Maryland and beyond as an outreach vessel.
While the Maryland Dove is in port and Historic St. Mary's City is open for visitors, costumed interpreters are available to tell you about the ship's history and answer your questions.
Mathias de Sousa came to St. Mary's City as an indentured servant in 1634. He is believed to be Maryland's first resident of African descent because of his description as a "molato" ("mulatto) in a land record document. After he served his indenture, de Sousa became a trader and mariner, eventually working as a ship's captain. Mathias de Sousa's name appears on the list of men serving in the 1642 Legislative Assembly in St.
Mary's City, making him the first person of African descent to vote as an assembly member in England's North American colonies.
The right of all freedmen to vote in legislative assemblies was lost in the second half of the 17th century, when slavery was legalized in Maryland and voting rights were restricted to men who owned property.
Garrett Van Sweringen, a Dutchman, fled the Dutch colony of New Amstel in Delaware when the British attacked it in 1664. He brought his family to St. Mary's City, where he became an innkeeper. In 1677, when the new State House was completed, Van Sweringen bought the building that had been used by the colony as a legislative meeting place and records office and turned it into an upscale private lodging house.
In 1695, the colonial capital was moved to Annapolis. Catholicism was outlawed in 1704, the Brick Chapel was closed and later dismantled, and St. Mary's City began to die. The city all but disappeared, and it was not until 1934, the 300th anniversary of the founding of Maryland, that interest in the area began to grow. A reproduction of the State House was built for the tercentennial celebration, but archaeological exploration did not truly begin until 1971.
Today, Historic St. Mary's City is recognized as one of the most important 17th century archaeological sites in the United States.