ST. MARY’S CITY, Md. – March 25, known as Maryland Day, commemorates the arrival of European colonists on the shores of what they would call Maryland nearly 400 years ago. In the spring of 1634, approximately 150 colonists landed on St. Clement’s Island after months at sea. Among them were figures such as Leonard Calvert, Maryland’s first governor; Mathias de Sousa, the first person of African descent to serve in colonial government; and Father Andrew White, a Jesuit priest who recorded details about the initial voyage and settlement. Calvert and the Maryland contingent traveled with the authorization of English King Charles I, who granted to the Calvert family the right to settle in land characterized in the Maryland Charter of 1632 as “a Country hitherto uncultivated, in the Parts of America, and partly occupied by Savages, having no knowledge of the Divine Being.” From the King’s perspective, and that of the colonists, this was land to be claimed for the expansion of the English empire, for the spread of Christianity, and for economic opportunity. It was also a unique place where Christian practitioners could exercise ‘freedom of conscience,’ the critically important forebear of religious freedom that Americans enjoy today.The land the colonists aimed to secure had been home to Native peoples for at least 12,000 years. In 1634, Maryland’s western shore was controlled by the Piscataway, a powerful confederacy of tribes that had held sway in the region for centuries. Their leader, Wannas, met the Maryland colonists with 500 bowmen at his side. Rather than accept the Maryland colonists into the territory near his seat of power, Wannas demurred. The colonists traveled further away from the Piscataway, heading instead up the St. Mary’s River. There they met with the leader of the Yaocomaco and reached an agreement to settle. Although relations between the colonists and Yaocomaco were initially cordial, they quickly eroded. The colonists’ desire for land led some to encroach on Native lands, which sparked disagreement and violence. The cycle of colonial encroachment and conflict would continue for generations.
Today, Maryland Day offers an opportunity to reflect on the history of our state from all angles. In doing so, we celebrate the many significant figures whose talent, prudence, and perseverance led to the freedoms we appreciate. We also honor the lives of those who struggled and continue to struggle under the weight of colonialism. Together their stories, and ours, make Maryland.