MARYLAND CATHOLICS ON THE FRONTIER

Lori

Maryland was founded as the third English colony in the New World, and it was
distinctive for the policy of its founder, Lord Baltimore, religious freedom
for all.

This freedom of religion was denied Englishmen during the lifetime of George
Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, whose dream it was to found such a colony.
Born about 1580 in Yorkshire, Northern England, he was the son of Leonard
and Alicia Crossland Calvert, a family of wealth and social position in that
area, and probably a Catholic family.

In spite of his religion, or perhaps because the family had previously
abandoned Catholicism in the face of rampant Protestant persecution, he rose
to a position of political influence in the court of King James I. He was
knighted in 1617 and in 1619 became principal Secretary of State.

In 1624, George Calvert resigned his position and announced that he had
become a Roman Catholic. King James rewarded Calvert for past service by
making him Baron of Baltimore. Long interested in the colonization of
America, the new Lord Baltimore now turned his talent, energy and
considerable fortune to the establishment of a new colony in America.

His first venture was Avalon, a settlement at Ferryland, a harbor community
located on the southeastern coast of Newfoundland. He equipped a group of
colonists and sent them to the settlement about 1622, and he received a royal
charter to the province of Avalon on April 7, 1623.

Because of the severe winter climate, the colony did not prosper and, in
spite of Calvert investing a large portion of his fortune in the venture, it
failed. He visited the colony in 1628 and abandoned it the next year in
favor of Virginia. The Avalon colonists were not welcomed in Virginia,
however, where the colony's laws provided for strict Protestant conformity.

Calvert refused to take the required oath of supremacy at Jamestown and
planned to return to England. Before he went, however, he explored the
Chesapeake Bay and saw unsettled land where the climate was conducive to
farming. Upon his return to England, he petitioned King Charles I for a
grant of land north of the Virginia colony.

George Calvert never returned to America. Physically and financially
weakened by the Avalon experience, and saddened by the loss at sea of his
second wife and children--they had remained behind in Virginia after he left
and were returning to England on another ship--the first Lord Baltimore died
on April 15, 1632.

Cecelius Calvert inherited his father's title--and his dream. Two months
after his father died, he received the charter from King Charles, granting
the second Lord Baltimore almost regal powers and ownership of all the land
of the colony which he had named Maryland, in honor of the Mother of God.
This land was used to attract settlers to the new colony.

Those who would pay their own way to Maryland were granted 100 acres of land,
and if they transported servants--men and women who agreed to indentured
service for seven years to pay for their passage--they could obtain 100 more
acres. Later, that amount was reduced to 50 acres of land, and the servants,
after their term of servitude was over, would also be granted 50 acres of
land.

After months of preparation and delays, the first colonists sailed from
Cowes, Isle of Wight, England on Nov. 22, 1633, on two ships, the Ark and the
Dove. After a frightful, stormy voyage of more than three months, they
finally landed on St. Clement's Island about March 10, 1634.

Cecelius Calvert named his brother, Leonard, as governor of the colony, and
he stayed in England to administer the colony's affairs there. Gov. Leonard
Calvert was an able administrator, serving the colony for 13 devoted years,
until his death in 1647. He was especially adept in dealing with the Indians
who inhabited the area, the Piscataway and Yaocomico tribes of the Algonquin
Indians. It was the Yaocomico village on the banks of the St. Mary's River
which the governor purchased in 1634 and renamed St. Mary's City.
The colony prospered, in spite of political and religious controversy. In
England, there was continued political upheaval and religious intolerance,
and that condition was reflected in Maryland. There were repeated efforts to
wrest the government from Lord Baltimore. In 1649, the Maryland General
Assembly passed an Act of Religious Toleration, which was remarkable because
it was passed at a time when there was rampant religious intoleration, both
in England and in the other American colonies.

After several abortive attempts at overthrowing the Proprietary government in
Maryland, the Protestant revolution of 1689 was successful. It was fomented
largely by the non-Catholic colonists of Maryland--about two-thirds of the
population of Maryland at that time--who had benefited by the religious
toleration policies of Lord Baltimore.

Almost immediately after the take-over occurred, the subjugation of all
Catholics began in Maryland. Justices and other public officials, even
sheriffs and clerks, were replaced if they were Catholics. Arms and
ammunition of most Catholics were confiscated. The very presence of any
Catholic in St. Mary's City during the session of the Protestant
Associators--the group which was to constitute the ruling body of Maryland
for the next two years--was forbidden.

In 1692, an Act was passed which established the Anglican Church as the
official church of the colony, and all residents were taxed to support the
church. Catholics were excluded from public office, from voting, or even
jury duty.

In 1704, the "Act to prevent the Growth of Popery within this Province" not
only forbade all works of conversion but also closed all Catholic churches
and schools in the province. Most of them still clung to their Faith,
however, and practiced their religion privately, in their own homes. Many
baptisms and marriages were recorded in the Anglican churches, usually with a
notation that they were known Catholics

These restrictions on public worship and other persecution of Catholics
continued through the colonial period, which extended to the American
Revolution and the Bill of Rights.

Marylanders, both Catholic and Protestant, fought valiantly in the
Revolution, and the newly-independent United States used the vast western
domain which the English had won in the French and Indian War and ceded to
the new American nation at the end of the Revolution, to reward those who
served in the Continental Army and Navy. These western lands were also
available to persons other than veterans, and between 1789 and 1799, nearly
500,000 acres of undeveloped western land, most of it in what is today the
States of Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, was offered as a
means to promote settlement of the country's frontier.

Many of these western migrants were Maryland Catholics. Burdened by a century
of anti-Catholic bias in Maryland, they sought not only new land but, once
again, religious freedom. Even before the greatest migration began in 1789,
Maryland Catholics were on the move.

In 1785, a group of southern Maryland residents formed a "Catholic League of
Families" and agreed to move to Kentucky as soon as they could settle their
affairs in Maryland. John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore, promised to send
a parish priest if the emigrants settled together.

Another reason for the exodus of people from the Chesapeake Bay area to
Kentucky was the depredation suffered by the citizens at the hands of the
British during the Revolution. The British fleet, almost constantly present
in the Bay, confiscated slaves and stock, sacked homes and literally lived
off the supplies plundered from the Maryland residents.

Economic reasons also figured in the exodus to Kentucky. Many farmers were
ruined by the Revolution and lost their lands because they could not pay
their debts. They saw migration to Kentucky as a way out of their economic
woes.

St. Mary's County, alone, lost nearly 3,000 persons to the westward migration
between 1790 and 1810. Most of these people went to that area of
north-central Kentucky which now comprises Washington, Nelson, Marion and
Hardin counties.

Because most of these people were Catholics, this area of Kentucky is known,
even today, as the Kentucky Holy Lands.