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Maryland Their Maryland
For over a century the colony was the feudal property of the Lords Baltimore. It turned out to be a fee of troubles.
August 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 5
George Calvert himself drew up most of the charter, writing it in Latin, but he died in mid-April, 1632, two months before his patent passed the Great Seal, that is, received final approval, and his eldest son, Cecil, became the first actual lord proprietor of Maryland. The royal charter describes the land as hac tenus inculta, “hitherto uncultivated,” and delineates the property as George Calvert had envisioned it. However, within the two months between his death and the graining of the charter to Cecil, it was discovered that Virginians already were cultivating the southern tip of the peninsula, and that area was stricken from the deed. Thus Maryland suffered its first loss of territory even before it became a colony. (Avalon in Newfoundland remained technically the property of the Calvert family, but with no relation to Maryland. After more than a century of litigation and neglect, the Avalon charter was annulled in 1754 on the grounds that the proprietary rights had lapsed from disuse.)
To this Maryland, its bays, rivers, harbors, and ports, including all the “fish, as well [as] whales, sturgeons, and other royal fish,” and to all mines “already found, or that shall be found,” King Charles gave Cecil Calvert and his heirs inalienable rights in perpetuity as “true and absolute lords and proprietaries,” with the liberties, immunities, and “royal rights” of a palatinate. The charter spelled out these rights in detail. The Lords Baltimore could lease any portion of their territory in their own name; they could create manors, with owners entitled to hold minor local courts; they could appoint judges, establish courts, pass and execute laws and ordinances, wage wars, give benefices, and consecrate churches; they could even confer titles of nobility, provided their nomenclature did not duplicate the titles of England. Furthermore, the English Crown promised to abstain forever from levying any taxes of its own upon the residents or inhabitants of the province. Finally, it any doubts or questions should ever arise over the true sense and meaning of the charter, the resulting interpretations were to be made in a manner “judged to be the more beneficial, profitable, and favourable to the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, his heirs and assigns.”
Nevertheless, the charter provided that all laws and ordinances in Maryland were to be “consonant to reason, and be not repugnant … to the laws, statutes, customs, and rights of this our kingdom of England.” Although in his courts the lord proprietor was to have the power of life and death over his subjects, his laws were not to take away any person’s interest or right in his life, freehold, goods, or chattels. In other words, according to the charter, the people of Maryland were to enjoy “all the privileges, franchises, and liberties” that other English subjects enjoyed during the reign of the Stuarts. In some ways they would enjoy more: for instance, they were free to trade with any country without restriction.
Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore, named for his father’s friend Sir Robert Cecil, was born in 1606 and was thus twenty-six when he became the first lord proprietor of Maryland. He had been baptized “Cecil” and confirmed “Cecilius” in the Church of England. Like his father, he was a student at Trinity College. Oxford, but there is no record that he received a degree. He became a Catholic at about the time of his marriage to Anne Arundell, daughter of a Roman Catholic peer. He was twenty-three; the marriage ended fourteen years later, when Lady Baltimore died at the age of thirty-four.
Cecil Calvert inherited his father s integrity, sense of justice, and tolerance; but he lacked George Calvert’s suppleness and acuity, and his flair for public life. He never visited the shores of Chesapeake May during the forty-three years of his proprietorship, but remained in England to fight his enemies at court. His letters, however, show a definite longing to visit Maryland, and in spite of the handicap of separation from his palatinate, he was an able administrator, a man of calm judgment, capable of foreseeing and forestalling many difficulties and of patiently solving, with time and compromise, those that did arise.
When he sent to Maryland the first contingent of about 200 settlers in November, 1633, on the Ark, a ship of 360 tons, and the Dove, a pinnace of about 60 tons, he put his brother Leonard in command, naming him governor of the new province. In Leonard’s hands he placed a letter of detailed instructions for the commissioners of the province that demonstrated a foresight and understanding of human nature well beyond his twenty-seven years.
First of all Lord Baltimore counselled the three commissioners, of whom Leonard was one, to be careful to avoid offense to Protestant settlers during the voyage. Leonard was to “cause all Acts of Romane Catholique Religion to be done as privately as may be” and was to instruct the Roman Catholics to remain silent whenever religion was discussed. Leonard’s second duty was to discover at the outset any disaffection among the seamen or passengers that had been created by enemies of the Calverts in England before they set out for the New World, and to send home all such intelligence.