Maryland doesn’t look its age
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.