Chesapeake Bay was explored by Captain John Smith in 1608. In 1632, Cecil Calvert, Lord of Baltimore, was given a royal charter from King Charles I. In 1634, a group of English settlers who were predominantly Roman Catholic landed on St. Clement’s Island, which is now known as Blakistone Island. In 1649, Maryland passed the Toleration Act, which granted all Christians religious freedom. However, the Puritan revolt of 1654 to 1658 ended that.
The northern boundary of Maryland, which borders Pennsylvania, was surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, which eventually led to it being known as the Mason-Dixon line. That survey took place between 1763 and 1767. In 1791, some Maryland land was ceded in order to facilitate the creation of Washington D.C.
British forces tried to capture Baltimore in 1814 by attacking Fort McHenry. Francis Scott Key took inspiration from that battle when he wrote the “Star-Spangled Banner” lyrics. Maryland was a slave state throughout the Civil War. However, it did not secede from the Union. Many Maryland families had split opinions about the war, and Maryland residents fought on both sides.
The Chesapeake Bay borders Maryland to the east and west. Maryland has one of the longest waterfronts of any state in the country, thanks to the Chesapeake Bay, as well as various rivers and estuaries. The Chesapeake Bay is also one of the largest producers of clams, oysters, crabs, and certain types of fish. Nevertheless, development in Maryland has led to a decline in fishing from the 1950s to the present day. The water has been polluted by toxins, sediment, and other materials. The Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Protection Executive Order was signed in 2009 by President Barack Obama in an effort to alleviate that problem. The goal of the executive order is to protect the estuary and its watershed from further pollution and repair pollution damage that already exists.
George Calvert was King James I of England’s former secretary of state. He was given Maryland through a grant in 1632. In 1625, he converted to Catholicism which prevented him from continuing to hold public office. His son, Cecilius (Cecil, Second Baron Baltimore) was issued the Maryland Charter in 1632. However, Leonard, Cecil’s younger brother, is the one who brought colonists to Maryland on a ship called the Ark and the Dove. It landed at St. Clements Island in March of 1634. That was located near St. Mary’s, which became the capital of Maryland later. The new colony was called Maria’s Land or Mariland (eventually changing to Maryland), after King Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria.
Luckily for the new colonists, Native Americans in the area were friendly. With their help, as well as the use of laborers who worked in exchange for passage to Maryland from England, they soon established agriculture in the area. African slaves were also brought to the area to speed up farming. By the start of the 1700s, despite friendly relations in the beginning, many Native Americans had been killed in fights with colonists, or by diseases, many of which were brought to the New World by the English settlers. Liquor also contributed to the deaths of some Native Americans.
Many Catholics settled in Charles, Saint Mary’s and Calvert counties, particularly after the 1649 Act of Toleration was passed, granting religious freedom to those living in the region. Many non-conformists who were not Catholic also came to settle in the area, including Quakers and Virginia dissenters from Anne Arundel County. However, the proprietary government was overthrown by Great Britain in 1689, as a result of England’s Protestant Revolution. Maryland’s state church became the Anglican Church. Around that same time, Annapolis became the capital of Maryland because it had a location that was more central and convenient. In 1715, the proprietorship was restored because young Lord Baltimore converted and became a Protestant. The disfranchisement of Catholics in 1781 prevented them from holding public office. However, many Catholics still lived in the area and were served by Jesuit Fathers, but they were forbidden to perform sacraments or Mass by law. It is also worth noting that there were a number of early cross-religion marriages between Protestants and Catholics.
The counties of Saint Mary’s, Calvert, Charles, and Anne Arundel in the south western part of Maryland were settled early on. Prince George’s County was settled a bit later, in 1695. That county spanned all the way from Pennsylvania to Virginia where the Kent Island fur traders had settled, until 1748. Maryland’s eastern shore was home to Somerset County, through which several Virginia colonists arrived. Colonists from St Mary’s and England soon followed. Baltimore County was formed in the 1680. It was situated along the Gunpowder and Patapsco rivers. Maryland records that pre-date the Revolutionary War may contain records from the Delaware counties of Sussex and Kent because borders were unclear at the time.
Western Maryland began to see settlement in the 1700s, when settlers from the Chesapeake area started to explore further to the west. Many Germans moved to what were Frederick and Baltimore counties at the time in the 1730s. New Jersey Quakers also settled in that area around that time. In the middle of the 1700s, Maryland saw an influx of felons, servants, and Jacobite rebels from England. The Jacobite rebels were forced to become laborers. In the 1700s, many people also left Maryland. For example, a group of Catholics traveled from there to Kentucky, and a group of Moravians moved down to the Winston-Salem, North Carolina area in the 1760s, lured by the offer of free land. The Carolinas and Virginia also became home to Ulster-Scots, Germans, and Quakers from Maryland around that time. In 1818, construction of the National Road was finished. That allowed many people to travel through Maryland and head west easier. The construction of the Potomac River’s canal systems and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad also made travel around Maryland and in and out of it much easier.
There were no major battles within Maryland’s borders when the Revolutionary War took place. However, there were many Loyalists living in the state. Also, British soldiers did come to the are via Chesapeake Bay in 1777. Unlike the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 led to many battles within the borders of Maryland. During the Civil War, the state’s loyalties were split. Several Maryland residents fought for the Confederate side, but the state itself remained on the side of the Union. Most of those who were sympathetic to the South lived in counties in the south west part of the state. When the Civil War ended, many of the African Americans living in the south moved to Maryland to escape the devastation. Baltimore became a major hub for immigrants from eastern Europe and Germany at about the same time.
Maryland Ethnic Group Research
There aren’t many published slavery records for Maryland. However, manumission records, sale statistics, slave owner lists, and certificates of freedom are located in the files of the Maryland State Archives. There are also not many published records relating to Native Americans in Maryland.
Many published books are available about Jews, Germans, and Quakers (Friends) who resided in Maryland. Church records are a good place to start.
Maryland History Databases and other Helpful Links
The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for Maryland genealogy work.
- History of Maryland Wikipedia
- Index to Scharf’s History of Western Maryland Vol. I & II
- Western Maryland History
- History of Western Maryland Vol. II
- Maryland Archives, 1658-1783
- Maryland’s colonial Eastern Shore : historical sketches of counties and of some notable structures
- A history of Maryland : from its settlement in 1634, to the year 1848, with an account of its first discovery, and the various
- The life of John Thompson, a fugitive slave
- Fifty years in chains, or, The life of an American slave
- Free African Americans of Maryland and Delaware from the Colonial Period to 1810
- Some old historic landmarks of Virginia and Maryland
- Men of Maryland
- Distinguished men of Baltimore and of Maryland
- Maryland Genealogical and Memorial Encyclopedia
State Genealogy Guides