Well, for the second year in a row, we were not able to fully celebrate the birthday of our state thanks to this stubborn, all-encompassing pandemic.
While the usual in-person festivities could not fully materialize once again this March, we would still like to mark Maryland’s 387th birthday, including with news of a recent discovery at St. Mary’s City, our first capital.
Travis Parno, director of Research and Collections for Historic St. Mary’s City, and his team have located the site of the original St. Mary’s Fort, the 1634 palisaded fort erected by the first wave of European settlers who founded Maryland. A formal online announcement, complete with remarks from the governor and other officials, premiers tomorrow, March 25, on the museum’s website.
Archeologists at the museum have been conducting fieldwork in the area since 1971, but definitive traces of St. Mary’s Fort remained elusive until a 2018 state grant allowed Parno to hire a geophysicist a to survey two suspected locations using magnetic susceptibility, magnetometry and ground-penetrating radar. The hunches and hard work paid off once the fort’s site was verified via a brief archaeological dig.
The museum this week also launched its new project, People to People: Exploring Native-Colonial Interactions in Early Maryland, a collaborative effort between Historic St. Mary’s City and Piscataway tribal participants. Visit the website www.peopletopeopleproject.org to learn more about what’s in store for this exciting endeavor.
But, back to the birthday party.
We’ve all heard the tale of the state’s founding by now, but it’s still well worth retelling. After a hard crossing of the Atlantic from England during the winter, settlers aboard the Ark and Dove sailed up the Potomac River, and landed at St. Clement’s Island in 1634. There, on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1634, the Rev. Andrew White celebrated what is believed to be the first Mass by English-speaking people in the New World.
Maryland was established as a haven from the religious persecution that was dogging Europe during the 17th century. It was among the first of the British colonies to allow “freedom of conscience,” which to Catholics and Protestants alike meant freedom of worship. It was a novel idea four centuries ago — that Maryland intended to provide religious liberty for men and women alike. That was a bold notion, when in the most practical and legal sense, real freedom in the colonies was pretty much exclusively for white, male property owners. That’s something to think about as voting rights are still hotly debated in this country.
St. Mary’s City is home to the first colonial capital of the province, as well as the site of the first State House. This was where, almost 400 years ago, the first sessions of the General Assembly of Maryland were held, before the capital was moved to Annapolis.
Some Marylanders living outside of our region might have let the day pass without realizing its importance. After all, Maryland has grown far beyond that small initial settlement. But let’s not forget what that small group of founders did, even as the date gets further and further away, and that speck of land in the Potomac where the settlers first landed continues to erode slowly into the water.
Freedom of conscience. Freedom of religion. It’s important to note and celebrate those and all of the other freedoms we enjoy. All of that, and we have a really cool flag, too. Here’s to the Calvert and Crossland families.
So Maryland, happy birthday to you. Hope all of those candles won’t cave in your Smith Island cake. And not to spoil the surprise, but you can bet we’re gearing up for a big celebration just over a decade from now — a quatercentenary blowout.