English colonizers began settling in St. Mary’s City in 1634, not long after the founding of Jamestown and Plymouth. It is Maryland’s first capital, located on a beautiful hill overlooking the St. Mary’s River.
The original city no longer stands. In 1695 the capital was moved to Annapolis and St. Mary’s virtually vanished, but historians and archeologists have succeeded in locating and recreating many of the 17th century roads and paths, houses and public buildings.
An outdoor museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the story.
There is the statehouse – or, really, a reproduction of the statehouse. It was erected in 1934 and reproduces in design and material the state house that was built at (or near) the site in 1676. The province of Maryland was to be a sanctuary where “men might live free from religious intolerance and political oppression.”
Many of America’s great ideals, including religious tolerance and separation of church and state, were first tested in this place. The idea would last less than 20 years. The capital was moved to Annapolis in 1695, and the ideals would not be revived until the American Constitution was written in 1787.
St. Mary’s City was the most populous settlement in early Maryland. It was never large by today’s standards. Perhaps 200 year round residents lived in the area at any one time, compared to a total of about 20,000 in all of Maryland by 1680.
There were few roads so most of the colonists settled on plantations along the waterways. The rivers and creeks were part of a transportation system on which goods and services could be carried and neighbors linked.
When the capital moved to Annapolis in 1695, the chief reason for the existence of St. Mary’s City vanished. County courts continues meeting here until 1708 but after that most buildings were abandoned and rapidly decayed. Farmers soon began planting tobacco and corn where houses and inns once stood. St. Mary’s remained farmland for more than 3 centuries afterward.
A cemetery now occupies a predominant place of the ancient St. Mary’s City. There are many familiar names there, and simple stones to mark the graves. After Maryland’s capital was moved to Annapolis in 1695 the original 1676 State House was given to the Anglican (later Episcopal) church as a place of worship. Torn down in 1829, its bricks were used to build the the church that is still used today (and seen in the photo below).
The ship anchored in the St. Mary’s River represents a 17th century sailing vessel. It is more the size of the Dove (smaller) than the Ark. It still sails today.
The village itself, with many buildings still under construction, gave us a good idea of what life was like for both the colonists and the Native Americans who lived in the area surrounding the city.
American Indians have lived in the Chesapeake Bay area for at least 12,000 years and were the first inhabitants of what is now St. Mary City. When English colonists arrived in 1634, the local Yoacomaco Indians made an agreement with them. The Indians gave the settlers land and the right to inhabit a small hamlet in exchange for cloth and metal tools. The two groups lived side by side for the next several months.
The Yoacomaco people taught the new residents how to grow corn and other crops. These basic skills provided the means for the colony’s survival. While their relationship was generally peaceful, the pressure from European settlers seeking to occupy land eventually forced American Indians to move away from this region.
Margaret Brent was the sister of Giles Brent, my 7th Great Grandfather, so I guess she is a great aunt. I must take after her, demanding to vote almost 300 years before Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States.
This is a replica of the Catholic Church that was at St. Mary’s City. My 7th Great Grandparents, Giles Brent and Mary Kittamaquund were married by Fr. Andrew White S.J. in St. Mary’s City in 1643, but that was before the church was built. I imagine that Katherine Brent and Richard Marsham (6th Great Grandparents) or Samuel Queen and Katherine Marsham (5th Great Grandparents) could have been married here.
I especially like the windows. The church reminds me very much of St. Thomas Church in Nelson County KY, where so many of the Maryland Catholic settlers went in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
One last thing … Mathias de Sousa:
Mathias de Sousa was the first black Marylander. Of African and Portuguese descent, he was one of nine indentured servants brought to Maryland by Jesuit missionaries and was on the ARK when Lord Baltimore’s expedition arrived in the St. Mary’s River in 1634. His indenture was finished by 1638 and he became a mariner and fur trader. In 1641 he commanded a trading voyage north to the Susquehannock Indians and, in 1642, sailed as a master of a ketch belonging to the Provincial Secretary John Lewger. De Sousa departed and returned to this river many times. He anchored near here and walked to Lewger’s Manor House at St. John’s. While living there he served in the 1642 legislative assembly of freemen. No record remains of de Sousa’s activities after 1642 but his legacy of courage and success is regarded with great pride by all the citizens of St. Mary’s County and Maryland.
Slavery would not begin in earnest until after 1680. The use of enslaved Africans increased dramatically in less than 50 years.