Maryland - History and Heritage

The first Marylanders were Paleo-Indians who arrived more than 10,000 years ago from other parts of North America to hunt mammoth, great bison and caribou. By 1000 B.C., Maryland was home to more than 8,000 Native Americans representing nearly 40 different tribes, including the Nanticoke, the Powhatan, the Susquehanna and the Shawnee.

Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian explorer who traveled the Chesapeake Bay in the 1500s, was the first European to see Maryland's shores. The famous Captain John Smith arrived from England in 1608, and in 1631 William Claiborne established a fur-trading post on Kent Island, the first English settlement in the upper Chesapeake.

Maryland's roots as a recognized colony date to the days of King Charles I who promised George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, a colony north of Virginia. Before he set eyes on the land, however, George Calvert died. His son, Cecilus, became the second Lord Baltimore and spearheaded efforts to settle the colony. Maryland's Calvert and Cecil counties are named for the two men.

Cecilus named his new colony "Terra Maria," or "Maryland," in honor of Charles' wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, and sent his younger brother Leonard to lead 140 colonists to the area and serve as their first governor. The group arrived at St. Clement's Island on March 25, 1634, and established the state's first capital at St. Mary's City, where it remained until 1695, when it was moved to Annapolis.

Unlike most of the colonies, Maryland was predominately Roman Catholic, and the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649 established the then novel concept of tolerance for all Christian sects.

In 1783 and 1784, Annapolis served as the capital of the United States and is where Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolution.

During the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, inspiring him to write a poem he called "The Star-Spangled Banner," which eventually became the national anthem.

A slave state, Maryland produced some of the country's most influential African American leaders in the anti-slavery movement: Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Tubman was born a slave in Dorchester County who escaped to Philadelphia and then immediately returned to Maryland to guide her family and other slaves to freedom. Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County. After being taught the alphabet, he learned to read and taught the skill to other slaves. Eventually, he escaped to Philadelphia and New York and became a prominent orator, author, and abolitionist. In the years following the Civil War, he served as ambassador to Haiti and was the first African American ever nominated for U.S. Vice President.

The Civil War brought division among Marylanders. The majority sided with the Union, but about 25,000 fought for the Confederacy. The war's bloodiest single day occurred in Antietem, in western Maryland. The Sept. 17 1862 battle, which ended without a clear victor, resulted in more than 22,000 casualties.

Since those early days, Maryland has played important roles in every aspect of American history, from the Reconstruction to the decoding of the human genome.

Throughout Maryland's history, farming and fishing played a major role in the state's economy. Today, though those industries have faded, they remain vital and are key to the state's identity. To capture Maryland's rich heritage, tour the tobacco barns of southern Maryland, see the log cabin in Allegany County that George Washington used as his headquarters during the French and Indian War, sail the Chesapeake or sample a few of the Bay's famous blue crabs.

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