Mary­land doesn’t look its age

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

Happy birth­day, Mary­land. No of­fense, but it would take quite a cake to hold all those can­dles.

The birth­day’s al­ready been cel­e­brated plenty through­out the month, but March 25, Mary­land Day, of­fi­cially com­mem­o­rated the 382nd an­niver­sary of the state’s found­ing.

We’ve all heard the tale by now, but it’s still worth telling. 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, Fa­ther 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 in the 17th cen­tury. Mary­land 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 — es­pe­cially when you con­sider that no­tion meant re­li­gious free­dom for men and women alike.

St. Mary’s County 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. So it’s no won­der this his­toric area likes to cel­e­brate each year.

The first birth­day party for this year was on March 19, when more than 600 peo­ple cel­e­brated at His­toric St. Mary’s City, where some orig­i­nal colo­nial doc­u­ments and lead coffins were on dis­play. Those three coffins, long buried un­der the old St. Mary’s Chapel, were re­moved in 1992 for study and dis­play at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions. They are now back in St. Mary’s City per­ma­nently. Buried in the coffins were Philip Calvert, the son of the first and brother of the sec­ond Lord Bal­ti­more; Calvert’s first wife, Anne Wolse­ley Calvert; and an uniden­ti­fied 6-month-old baby. Their ac­tual re­mains are still un­der study at the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion, but will even­tu­ally be rein­terred at St. Mary’s City along with the re­mains of other colonists ex­humed as part of the ex­ca­va­tion years ago.

Also avail­able for pub­lic view dur­ing the event was a let­ter from Mary­land’s first gover­nor, Leonard Calvert, de­scrib­ing the fort at St. Mary’s in 1634, as well as an ac­count of the voy­age of the Ark and Dove by White, a Je­suit priest.

And the pres­i­dent of the Mary­land Se­nate, Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince Ge­orge’s), came bear­ing gifts for the birth­day cel­e­bra­tion. Miller an­nounced the ap­proval of $155,000 in bond bills to pay for a ren­o­va­tion of the visi­tors cen­ter at His­toric St. Mary’s City, as well as $300,000 for re­con­struc­tion of the pier that serves the replica of the Dove.

At an­other birth­day party for Mary­land on March 24, St. Mary’s County gov­ern­ment did its own thing, in­clud­ing lay­ing a wreath at the St. Cle­ment’s Is­land Mu­seum on the main­land in Colton’s Point, just a stone’s throw away from where it all be­gan.

Some Mary­lan­ders liv­ing out­side of St. Mary’s might have let the day pass with­out re­al­iz­ing its im­por­tance. Mary­land has grown far be­yond that small ini­tial set­tle­ment. But let’s not for­get what that small group did, even as the date gets fur­ther and fur­ther away.

Free­dom of con­science. Free­dom of re­li­gion. It’s im­por­tant to note and cel­e­brate those and all of the other free­doms we en­joy.

Happy birth­day, Mary­land.

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