- 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
The Indians, who were plain old pagans, gave the white men no trouble in those years. When the Ark and the Dove reached the shores of Chesapeake Bay, the Piscataway were preparing to leave the region to escape a war with the Susquehanna to the north, and they were therefore glad to sell their land and houses to the new Marylanders and even took them into their homes while they were getting ready to depart, teaching them how to prepare pone and hominy. But Maryland’s first four decades under Cecil Calvert were not always peaceful. William Claiborne returned to Maryland soon after his expulsion and created continual disturbances. In the absence of Governor Leonard Calvert in England in 1644, Claiborne repossessed Kent Island, and a Captain Richard Ingle, a Puritan, commanding a ship called the Reformation, captured the Marylanders’ capital, St. Marys, and allowed a state of anarchy there for two years.
This was a time of religious civil war in England, and it deeply affected Maryland. When King Charles I was beheaded in 1649, the news unfortunately reached Maryland while Governor Stone was absent and Thomas Greene was acting as his deputy. Greene celebrated Charles II as the royal successor instead of proclaiming Cromwell’s Puritan regime. William Claiborne, having gone back to England, argued to the Puritan authorities that this was an act of disloyalty, and got himself appointed to a commission to “reduce” the colony and make it submit to the reign of Parliament. With Richard Bennett, a Puritan, he returned to Maryland, unseated the proprietor’s government by his authority and a show of superior force, and issued writs for elections that made Roman Catholics ineligible not only to serve in the assembly but even to vote. In 1654, the assembly passed a new Act Concerning Religion, withdrawing protection from both Roman Catholics and Anglicans.
To the great surprise of the colonists, Cromwell restored the proprietorship to Cecil Calvert in 1658. For a time Maryland’s Puritans resisted the change, but Lord Baltimore overcame them and made Josias Fendall governor. An attempt by Fendall to cut loose from proprietary control was frustrated by the Restoration: Charles II, too, supported the Calverts.
The remaining seventeen years of Cecil’s regime were comparatively quiet. Several new counties were created, among them Baltimore, although Baltimore Town would not be officially founded until 1729; a few highways were built, some of them from the “rolling roads” over which hogsheads of tobacco were rolled from plantations to the bay or tributaries; and treaties were made with the Indians as settlers moved into the frontiers. In 1661, Cecil appointed his only son, Charles, governor of Maryland; and so, when Cecil died in 1675 and Charles became the third Lord Baltimore, he was the first resident proprietor.
Charles Calvert was twenty-four years old when he assumed the office of governor, thirty-eight when he became lord proprietor. He held the title to Maryland for thirty-nine years, during the reigns of Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Queen Anne, but mostly in absentia. He left the province within a year after he assumed the proprietorship, and thereafter Maryland was but one of many interests in his management of a great fortune in England. Inferences may be drawn regarding his attitude toward the property from his appointment of a son, Benedict Leonard, as titular governor of Maryland in 1684 when the boy was only five years old. While other colonies made progress in developing their resources and instituting a kind of autonomy, Maryland remained static.
Charles was the first Lord Baltimore to have serious trouble with Indians. It began in 1673 when the Senecas drove the Susquehanna from their northern hunting grounds to the shores of the Potomac, and shortly afterward several murders along the Potomac were attributed to these normally peaceful and well-behaved Indians. A Maryland force led by Colonel John Washington, an ancestor of George Washington, and Major Thomas Truman, an ancestor of Harry Truman, captured five members of the tribe and put them to death without a trial. The Maryland assembly impeached Major Truman, but the upper and lower houses disagreed as to the seriousness of his crime: he was expelled from the assembly but not tried.
The Susquehanna, failing to appreciate the rather unusual fact that Maryland considered them entitled to the protection of the laws, went on the warpath into the region south of the Potomac and attacked Virginia plantations, murdering whites and burning crops and buildings. One plantation owner, Nathaniel Bacon, being refused a commission by the governor of Virginia to retaliate, raised a force of his own and defeated the Susquehanna, whereupon the governor declared him a rebel: Bacon’s Rebellion was the result.