Maryland was the sixth English colony established on the North American mainland (1634). Sir George Calvert, Lord Baltimore (ca. 1580–1632) was a favorite of the pro-Catholic Stuart kings James I (r. 1603–25) and Charles I (r. 1625–49). When he openly announced his Catholicism in 1625, Baltimore was forced to resign as secretary of state but retained the favor of Charles I, who supported the idea of a refuge for Catholics who were no longer free to worship openly in England. Baltimore had earlier established the colony of Avalon in Newfoundland (1621–23) but abandoned it as “intolerably cold.” He visited Virginia but found that settlers there were strongly opposed to the settlement of Catholics. Baltimore then sought a charter from Charles I for a territory north of Virginia but died before arrangements could be completed. On June 30, 1632, Charles I granted a proprietary charter to Baltimore’s son, Cecilius Calvert, second lord Baltimore. Taking into account the importance of also attracting Protestant settlement to ensure the economic success of the settlement, the charter mandated that Catholics “be silent upon all occasions of discourse concerning matters of Religion.” On March 25, 1634, the Ark and the Dove landed about 150 settlers, the majority of whom were Protestants. Within a few days Leonard Calvert, Baltimore’s brother and governor of the colony, purchased land from the Yaocomico Indians, which became the capital city of St. Marys.
Maryland was unique in that its charter made Baltimore a “palatine lord,” with outright ownership of almost 6 million acres. He hoped to fund his venture by re-creating an anachronistic feudal system, with purchasers of 6,000 acres enjoying the title ‘lord of the manor’ and having the right to establish local courts of law. Landowners bristled at the attempts of the Calverts to restrict traditional English legislative liberties, plunging Maryland into a long period of political instability that almost destroyed the colony. English religious divisions were mirrored in Maryland, with Catholics in the upper house and Protestants in the lower house vying for control of the government, a conflict that sometimes erupted into open warfare. With the Puritan victory in the English Civil War (1642–49), Baltimore feared he might lose Maryland and thus drafted his “Act concerning Religion,” extending freedom of worship to all who accepted the divinity of Christ, though the act of toleration was repealed when Puritans gained control of the local government (1654). When James II, a confessed Catholic, was driven from the English throne in 1688, Protestants forced Calvert’s governor to resign and petitioned the English Crown that Maryland be made a royal colony (1691). Proprietorship was returned in 1715 to the fourth lord Baltimore, who was raised as a member of the Church of England.
Maryland remained predominantly English throughout the colonial period and by 1700 had developed a culture similar to that of neighboring Virginia, though with somewhat greater social mobility. The cultivation of tobacco defined its economic and social structure. Farms and plantations, almost always owned by English settlers, were widely dispersed along the Chesapeake, and a steady stream of indentured servants (see indentured servitude)—predominantly English, Scots, and Scots-Irish—were brought over to work the fields. Around 1700, the growing number of Scots-Irish led to a temporary ban on their being transported to America. After a 1717 decision in Great Britain permitting transportation as punishment, thousands of English criminals were shipped to Maryland and Virginia. A small number of Highland Scots settled in urban areas, and a small pocket of Germans formed the bulk of the population in Frederick County, having responded to sales promotions by some of the great English landholders. In 1700, Maryland’s population of about 34,000 made it the third most populous colony, behind only Virginia and Massachusetts. Altogether about 12,000 slaves were imported into Maryland, and by 1775 slaves composed one-third of the population.
See also Baltimore, Maryland.