Maryland Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In many ways, Maryland is a microcosm of much of the United States, combining elements from the north, south, east, and west. Physically located in the middle of the English colonies, it was the center state of the new nation and thus the logical site for a capital, which is located in the District of Columbia.

History of Maryland

In many ways, Maryland is a microcosm of much of the United States, combining elements from the north, south, east, and west. Physically located in the middle of the English colonies, it was the center state of the new nation and thus the logical site for a capital, which is located in the District of Columbia. After the Revolution, Maryland led efforts to develop the nation westward; it remained in the Union during the Civil War but sent soldiers to both the North and the South during that conflict. After World War II, the state managed to preserve its historic traditions and environmental legacy while advancing into the future.

Early History and Settlement

It is uncertain when Native Americans first entered the area now known as Maryland, but tribes of the Iroquoian and Algonquian peoples were certainly present several hundred years prior to European arrival. The major Iroquoian tribe was the Susquehannock, sometimes known as Conestoga, who came south from the Pennsylvania area. The Algonquians included the Choptank, Portobago, and Wicomico, names which still survive on the map of Maryland. The major Algonquian tribes were the Piscataway on the western shore (the mainland) of the Chesapeake Bay and the Nanticoke on the eastern shore (the peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic coast). Both Iroquoian and Algonquian Indians lived and farmed in permanent settlements.

The Algonquian tribes welcomed the English settlers, but the Susquehannock proved hostile, although their attacks were aimed as much against Native American allies of the English as against the English themselves. In any event, the colonists successfully defended themselves and in 1652 concluded a peace with the Susquehannock, which included the American Indians’ departure from Maryland. Between the 1690’s and the mid-1700’s, first the Piscataway and then the other Native Americans also moved away from the area.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to explore the area, but the English were the first permanent settlers. English colonists from Virginia under councilman William Claiborne established a trading post on Kent Island in Chesapeake Bay in 1631. The following year, King Charles I granted George Calvert, Baron Baltimore, land north of the Potomac River, which included Maryland. It was on this land that Calvert’s son Cecilius, known as Lord Baltimore, established a colony in 1634. Led by Leonard Calvert, half brother of Cecilius, the colonists included many Roman Catholics, among them two priests. At this time Roman Catholics were forbidden by British law from voting or holding office. In part, Maryland was founded with the tacit understanding that it would be a refuge for English Catholics. In fact, the name of the colony, while officially honoring Queen Henrietta Maria of England, was often interpreted as referring to the Virgin Mary. In 1649 the colony adopted an “Act Concerning Religion,” the first act of religious toleration in the colonies. Soon afterward, a group of Puritans arrived from Virginia.

In the meantime, Maryland settlers under Leonard Calvert disputed Virginia’s claims to Kent Island. In 1654 Virginian Claiborne led the Puritans in a revolt that exiled Calvert, an action recognized by the English Commonwealth that had overthrown and executed Charles I. However, in 1658 Calvert and proprietary government were restored to Maryland. In 1692 Maryland became a royal colony, and the Church of England was declared the established, or official, church. In 1718 Roman Catholics were denied the right to vote.

By far the most important influence on Maryland’s history has been the Chesapeake Bay, the largest inlet on the East Coast. The bay is nearly two hundred miles long from north to south and as wide as twenty-five miles and is important for commercial fishing, oystering, and crabbing. At the head of the bay is Baltimore, one of the major American ports since its founding in 1729 and Maryland’s largest city.

Revolution and Growth

Marylanders joined with other colonists in their distaste for the high taxes imposed by Britain, and in 1774 a group of patriots boarded the Peggy Stewart in Annapolis Harbor and destroyed more than two thousand pounds of its cargo of tea. During the Revolution, when the British threatened the capital of Philadelphia, the Continental Congress moved to Baltimore, then to Annapolis. Maryland troops were among the best in the Continental Army, and their straight ranks and orderly battle lines earned Maryland the nickname “The Old Line State” from General George Washington.

In 1791 Maryland and Virginia ceded land to the United States to create the District of Columbia as the site of the new national capital. Construction of the White House began in 1793 and of the Capitol in 1794. In 1800 Congress moved to the new capital city from Philadelphia. During the War of 1812, British forces seized Washington, D.C, and burned the White House but were unable to force their way past Fort McHenry to capture Baltimore. It was while watching this bombardment from Baltimore harbor that Francis Scott Key composed the poem “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which later became the national anthem of the United States.

In its key central position, Maryland took a leading role in the growth of the new nation, especially in its westward advancement. The Cumberland Road, also known as the National Pike, was a prime avenue for settlers heading into the interior of the continent; by 1818 it reached the Ohio River. Maryland was also active in the construction of canals, essential for transport of cargo during that period. Two vital waterways, the Chesapeake and Delaware and the Chesapeake and Ohio, connected the bay to those two rivers. The state also took the forefront in exploiting the new technology of the steam railroad, with the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) starting operations in 1830 as the first American railroad to carry both passengers and freight.

Civil War

Slavery was legal in Maryland, and when the Civil War came there was considerable sentiment in the state for it to join others in the South in seceding from the Union. However, in 1861 the Maryland legislature rejected a bill of secession; still, many of the state’s residents left to fight with the Confederate army, and many others were sympathizers. During the first months of the war mobs attacked Union troops as they marched through Baltimore. However, these disturbances were suppressed, and soon a ring of Union forts was erected to protect Washington, D.C., from Confederate attack.

A number of battles were fought in Maryland during the Civil War, the largest being that of Antietam, fought in 1862. Antietam was the single bloodiest day of battle of the war, with more than twenty-three thousand casualties. It was a narrow Union victory, but enough for President Abraham Lincoln to feel justified in announcing the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in the Confederacy and transformed the nature of the war to a crusade for liberty. During the summer of 1863, Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia passed through the state on its way to the Battle of Gettysburg. In 1864 Confederate forces under General Jubal Early threatened Washington, D.C., but were driven back at the last moment by federal reinforcements.

Post-Civil War Progress

Agriculture had been dominant in Maryland prior to the Civil War, with the major crop of tobacco being shipped through the port of Baltimore. However, after the war the state’s economy shifted toward manufacturing. Baltimore remained a key shipbuilding and weaponry production center; in the twentieth century the city would make rockets and missiles for the U.S. military. Both shipbuilding and weapons manufacture were spurred by government purchases during the two world wars.

Education in the state received an infusion of resources during the second half of the nineteenth century, especially with donations from philanthropists such as Johns Hopkins, who provided the financial backing to create the prestigious university that bears his name. Later, in the 1960’s, federal funds were allocated for the National Institutes of Health at Bethesda and the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Toward the Future

As the twentieth century advanced, Maryland’s agriculture remained important, with the chief crops being tobacco, corn, hay, and soybeans. Manufacturing continued to expand, primarily in shipbuilding, transportation equipment, and modern technology such as electronics. Fishing in the renewed Chesapeake Bay provided much of the seafood sold nationally. However, it was commerce which led Maryland’s revitalization, especially in its largest city.

Throughout most of Maryland’s history, trade and commerce focused on Baltimore, which underwent a striking revival starting in the 1950’s. Under Kurt Schmoke, the first African American elected mayor of the city, Baltimore completed an ambitious reconstruction of its inner harbor, with its centerpiece being the USS Constellation, the first warship commissioned by the U.S. Navy, in 1797. In 1992 the Baltimore Orioles opened their new stadium, Camden Yards, widely hailed as one of the best-designed and most attractive of modern baseball parks.

Perhaps Maryland’s most visible success is its reclaiming of Chesapeake Bay and its adoption of a policy of smart growth to combat urban sprawl. After decades of environmental neglect, including drainage of agriculture chemicals, unregulated dumping of waste, and overfishing, the bay was seriously endangered. Governor Marvin Mandel established a Chesapeake Bay Interagency Planning Committee, and a widespread Save the Bay organization was created–two parts of a comprehensive effort that linked grassroots activists, government, and the private sector in addressing the problem. Spurred by the growing success of this effort, an association of environmental and citizen groups known as the Thousand Friends of Maryland began to campaign for strategic planning and “smart growth” to control urban sprawl, save Maryland’s traditional farmlands, and preserve its small towns and their unique character. Supported by Governor Parris Glendening, who made smart growth an issue in his reelection campaign, the Maryland smart growth program became a national trendsetter for the twenty-first century.

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