Do you know where Maryland’s first capital was?

Kimberly Bean
Kimberly Bean
Published on September 22, 2016

Image via Historic St. Mary's City on Facebook.

Image via Historic St. Mary’s City on Facebook.

Quiz anyone on state capitals, and their answer for Maryland is, correctly, Annapolis.

But did you know that Annapolis wasn’t always the capital city?

Way back in the 1630s, British Lord George Calvert had a vision. He was a practicing Catholic at a time when Catholics were being persecuted. He wanted a settlement in the North American colonies that would allow people of all faiths to live together in freedom, tolerance, and safely.

After Calvert’s death, his sons Cecil and Leonard took over the dream. In 1633, Leonard Calvert set sail with about 300 settlers on the ships The Ark and The Dove.

The name of the new settlement?

St. Mary’s City.

The city, now home to St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the Historic St. Mary’s City living history museum, was the site of the first settlement in Maryland and the fourth permanent English settlement in America. Leonard Calvert became governor of the new colony.

St. Mary’s City is also considered the birthplace of religious freedom in America. In fact, in 1649, the Maryland Assembly ratified the Maryland Tolerance Act, which established religious tolerance between Christians of various sects in the colony. The act remained in place for 40 years and helped to quell some of the fighting that had been taking place in Maryland over religion.

The capital of the Maryland remained at St. Mary’s City until 1694. During that time, the state had grown, and the location of St. Mary’s City – at the far southern tip of the state – was too far away for most residents of the colony. The capital was moved to Annapolis, then known and Anne Arundel Town.

Image via Historic St. Mary's City on Facebook.

Image via Historic St. Mary’s City on Facebook.

But the story didn’t end there for St. Mary’s City. In 1840, the St. Mary’s Female Seminary, an all-girls high school, was established on the site of the old city. The school became a junior college in 1926 and a four-year college in 1966. It was given a new name at that time: St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The history of this important Maryland city was solidified in 1969 when it became a National Historic Landmark. Historic St. Mary’s City, a living history museum built on the site of the original city, tells the story of the settlers and their Native American neighbors. The museum includes working farms, costumed interpreters, reconstructed colonial buildings, a reconstruction of The Dove, and other annual presentations and events. The museum is owned by the State of Maryland.

So much is known about the history of St. Mary’s City because of the archaeological digs that have been taking place there for decades. Digs uncovered the site of the first printing house in the southern colonies and valuable information about the lives of the colonists and the Native Americans who lived there. The museum is an internationally known archaeological site and a training location for archaeologists. The museum allows visitors to see the artifacts uncovered at the city and to see working dig sites.

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