- Historic Sites
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
Lord Baltimore further ordered that when the Ark and the Dove approached the coast of Virginia, they were not to go to Jamestown or come within the range of the cannons at Point Comfort. When they reached Maryland, the commissioners were to send a messenger at once to Jamestown (making sure that he was a communicant of the Church of England) to give Governor John Harvey notice of his new neighbors’ arrival. A similar messenger was to be sent to William Claiborne, who was established on Kent Island within the boundaries of Maryland, inviting Claiborne to come and confer about future arrangements for trading in the colony as a subject of Lord Baltimore. Thereafter, if Claiborne should fail to appear, the Marylanders should “lett him alone for the first yeare.” The letter closed with instructions for surveying and laying out a town, taking oaths of allegiance to the king, surveying the adjacent country, planting corn, and organizing a militia. There was a final admonition to be “very carefull to do justice to every man without partiality.”
From beginning to end, the history of colonial Maryland is a story of the shrinkage of its territory to the benefit of its neighbors, and a shrinkage of the proprietor’s authority, if not his perquisites, to the benefit of his subjects. The shrinkage of authority began with the first recorded meeting of the Maryland assembly after the arrival of the Ark and the Dove. At that session, in January of 1638, a body of laws drawn up by Lord Baltimore was presented to the new colony—and the assembly turned them down. The assembly then proceeded to draft its own laws, and these the proprietor in turn rejected. The quarrel was over the wording of the charter: whether the proprietor’s right to “enact” laws “with the advice, assent and approbation of the free men” gave him alone the right to initiate legislation. Within six months, recognizing the futility of operating his colony without laws, Cecil Calvert yielded some initiating authority to the assembly, at the same time reserving a share of it—as well as the right of veto—to himself.
In his early struggles with William Claiborne and with a number of Jesuits who had gone to Maryland on the Ark and the Dove, Cecil Calvert was more successful than he was with his assembly. Claiborne was driven out of Maryland after a brief naval encounter on the Pocomoke River, and the proprietor’s authority was established on Kent Island. Lord Baltimore himself, back in England, thwarted the Jesuits’ attempts to acquire land from the Indians independently and to hold it tax free. The Jesuits cited canon law to the effect that ecclesiastical property was exempt from civil jurisdiction, but Lord Baltimore appealed to Rome for their recall from the province, and won.
Lord Baltimore’s comment to his brother, the governor, is interesting: ”… If the greatest saint upon earth should intrude himself into my house against my will and in despite of me, with intention to save the souls of all my family, but withal give me just cause to suspect that he likewise designs my temporal destruction … although withal he do perhaps many spiritual goods, yet certainly I may and ought to preserve myself by the expulsion of such an enemy. …”
In the first years, the inducements to settle in Maryland were generous. Before the Ark and the Dove set sail from England, the proprietor offered a grant of two thousand acres to every “adventurer” who took with him five men between the ages of sixteen and sixty, and to those who transported less than this number he would give one hundred acres for each person within those ages and fifty acres for each child. For these grants the annual quitrent, the direct ancestor of the city of Baltimore’s surviving “ground rent,” was at first twelve pence for every fifty acres of small holdings and twenty shillings for a manorial estate, payable “in the commodities of the country.” Later the annual quitrent was ten pounds of good wheat for each fifty acres.
(In 1780 Maryland’s legislature passed an act declaring Marylanders no longer subject to the payments of quitrents to the lord proprietary, but retained the system in favor of Maryland landlords. For many years the city of Baltimore paid ground rents on properties under the City Hall, the Peale Museum, and the Memorial Plaza. For a while it even paid for the land submerged under one of the municipal reservoirs. Some ground rents can be removed at the end of five years, the owner being required to sell if the tenant is willing to buy, but others are irredeemable if the owner is unwilling to sell.)