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
It remained to Charles, fifth Lord Baltimore, to blunder irreparably in the continuing negotiations with William Penn’s sons, who were as wily as their father. Allowing himself to be hoodwinked by an inaccurate map, Charles, through ignorance of the geography of his own property, lost not only the disputed one and a quarter million acres of Delaware but also two and a half million acres more along his northern boundary. This happened in 1732. Charles discovered his error a few months later on a visit to his province and refused to carry out his agreement, but the Penns instituted proceedings against him in England and finally won approval of their claim from the English government in 1750, a year before Charles Calvert’s death. In 1767, Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, English surveyors, established the line dividing Pennsylvania and Delaware from Maryland and marked it with stones (see “Mason & Dixon: Their Line and Its Legend,” in the February, 1964, AMERICAN HERITAGE). Another small loss of territory may be attributed to the Baltimores’ regime in Maryland. Laying out a boundary on the Eastern Shore in 1668, Philip Calvert, a brother of the second Lord Baltimore, had failed to draw a line straight and had inadvertently given Virginia 15,000 acres. Then, after the Revolution, the north branch of the Potomac was mistakenly accepted as the source of that river, rather than the south branch, and Virginia and ultimately West Virginia held on to another 500,000 acres of Maryland.
The last of the Lords Baltimore was Frederick Calvert, who, as his father had been, was a minor when he succeeded to the title in 1751. While Charles, fifth Lord Baltimore, was weak, querulous, and something of a fool, son Frederick was all of these and vicious as well. His ownership of the Maryland palatinate, in the years 1751 to 1771, fell during the restless period that led up to the American Revolution. Yet his name can hardly be associated with Maryland’s history during that time, except as a symbol of the obsolete system of absentee landlordism. His sole concern with the proprietorship seems to have been the income he derived from it. During that score of years, Mason and Dixon ran their line, General Edward Braddock marched from Frederick Town to defeat and death in Pennsylvania in the French and Indian War, Maryland experienced for a while the terrors of border warfare, and in 1765 Marylanders refused to let a British stamp-tax collector land at Annapolis. But during these disturbances Frederick, sixth Lord Baltimore, thought mainly of getting preferment for his relatives in the colony, and quarrelled more often with his own appointed ministers than with the rebellious populace.
Frederick died in Naples at the age of forty, in 1771. His body was returned to London and buried there. Of this occasion the Gentlemen’s Magazine reported: “His Lordship had injured his character in his life, by seduction, so that the populace paid no regard to his memory when dead, but plundered the room where the body lay the moment it was removed.”
For all his amorous proclivities, Frederick had no legitimate offspring and hence bequeathed his proprietorship to a natural son, Henry Harford. But Henry was only nine years old, and his guardians had to go through proceedings against an aunt and possible heiress before the assembly of Maryland would recognize his rights. Eventually, after the Revolution, the British government gave him the sum of ninety thousand pounds sterling for the loss of his rents and other privileges in Maryland. To colonial Marylanders he had been little more than a name to christen a new county with.
In their 144 years of possession, the six owners of Maryland were progressively, generation by generation, men of decreasing vitality and intelligence. The first Lord Baltimore had exhibited unimpeachable public and private character, and had been a member of Parliament and a trusted Secretary of State under James I; the last of the family, the last owner, was a profligate’s bastard, who squabbled with an aunt over his inheritance while his subjects were staging their own version of the Boston Tea Party. In Annapolis Harbor they burnt the brig Peggy Stewart and her two thousand pounds of East India tea. Later they would provide regular troops of the line to the Revolutionary forces, giving the “Old Line State” its sobriquet. But the evil of the Calverts’ legacy to Maryland lay not so much in their moral and physical degeneration as in the blind tenacity with which they clung to their feudal prerogatives to the very end, leaving a stamp upon the government and the people of the state long after it became a free member of the federal Union.