Maryland was the first proprietary colony in North America. It was a colony run by a proprietor – that is a colony run by one person. Maryland was successful from the first.

The First Lord Baltimore

George Calvert was the first proprietor of Maryland. In 1619, the king made him secretary of state, a position of great importance. Calvert also sat in Parliament from 1609 to 1624. Then, in 1625, the king made him a member of the nobility with the title Lord Baltimore. By then, however, George Calvert had become a Catholic, which brought to an end his career in government.
George Calvert

To be a Catholic in England at that time was even worse than to be a Puritan. Catholics were suspected of disloyalty to the Crown. By law, English Catholics could not be lawyers or teachers or doctors. They could not hold public office. They could be punished severely for not attending the services of the Church of England.

Most Catholics were loyal to the English Crown. King James I and King Charles I did not enforce the laws against Catholics very strictly. However, Catholics in England were still not very secure or comfortable.

When he left the king’s service, Lord Baltimore began to think about starting a settlement in North America. He wanted to set up a colony where Catholics could find peace and security. He also wanted to have a great estate in North America like those of the wealthiest nobles in England.

In 1628 Lord Baltimore went to Newfoundland to start a settlement. However, the colony was threatened by the French, who also claimed Newfoundland. In addition, Baltimore found the winters in Newfoundland to be too harsh. He decided to start again farther south, in a warmer climate. He visited Virginia, but the Virginians made clear that they did not welcome Catholics. So Lord Baltimore returned to England, determined to get a grant to unclaimed lands near Virginia.
Lord Baltimore

Maryland’s Charter

Baltimore asked King Charles I to grant him lands in North America. In 1632, the king gave him a charter for 10 million acres north of Virginia. The new colony was named Maryland for the queen, Henrietta Maria.

Baltimore’s charter gave him great power over the colony. He appointed all the officials of the colony. He, not the king, issued all legal orders. Baltimore could pardon criminals, impose taxes, and set up towns. He could even give noble titles to Marylanders he wanted to honor.

The charter did say that the colony’s freemen, adult males who were not indentured servants, had to give their advice and consent to new laws. But only the proprietor could propose new laws.

Why did Baltimore give himself such enormous power over the colony? For one thing, he was the one who wrote most of the charter. With years of experience in English government, he knew how to get the most rights for the people with the fewest obligations to the Crown in return. Second, the new colony was on the frontier of the English settlements. To its north was a Dutch colony. It was long understood in England that such outposts needed power so they could defend themselves. Finally, the king was generous because he knew and trusted Lord Baltimore.

The Second Lord Baltimore

By the time the Maryland charter was officially granted, Lord Baltimore had died. Therefore the charter was issued to his 26-year-old son, Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore. Cecilius Calvert shared his father’s ambitions and his Catholic religion.

Young Baltimore also seemed to know quite a bit about starting a settlement. He gave the first settlers especially large grants of land, with a bonus for those settlers who brought five or more people with them.

Young Baltimore told the colonists to plant food crops before starting any other projects so they could feed themselves. He wanted no starving time in Maryland. In that regard, he was successful, partly because the local Indians helped the first colonists by selling them corn.

Young Baltimore expected to sail with the first colonists who reached Maryland in 1634. However, he could not do so. He had to stay in England to defend his charter. Though he lived another 40 years, until 1675, he was never able to join the colonists. Baltimore had many political enemies, and he was kept busy in England.

The Proprietor’s Troubles

The Virginians were among Baltimore’s enemies. They fought against him and his charter because the territory of Maryland had once been a part of the Virginia Company’s lands.

The Maryland settlers also caused problems for Baltimore. Most of them were Protestants. They were not happy with the great powers of the proprietor or with the colony’s other Catholic leaders. They used the advice-and-consent clause in the charter to insist on their right to have an assembly, much like Virginia’s.

The assembly first met with the governor and his council in 1638. Right away the assembly began questioning the proprietor’s rights. Four years later, the assembly tried to separate from the governor and the council. Maryland’s assembly finally became bicameral in 1650.

Religious Conflicts: Baltimore thought that Catholics and Protestants could live together in peace. He was disappointed. Catholics and Protestants became more and more hostile to each other.

To protect the colony’s Catholic minority, Baltimore wrote Maryland’s famous Act Concerning Religion of 1649. It promised that most Christians could practice their religion freely. The law did not apply to non-Christians, and even some Christians did not fit under its terms. The assembly, with a Protestant majority, approved the law after adding some amendments (changes) spelling out harsh punishments for offenses such as cursing or calling people heretics (a heretic is a person who does not practice religion in the accepted way).

Civil War in England: Maryland Protestants remained unhappy with Baltimore’s power over the colony. Soon events in England made them think that they could overthrow the proprietor.

Charles I was not a popular king. He persecuted Puritans. He tried to govern without Parliament. In the 1640’s civil war broke out, that is a war between groups of English people. Puritans and the supporters of Parliament fought together against the forces of the king. The king was defeated, and in 1649 he was beheaded.

During the 1650’s, the Puritans Oliver and Richard Cromwell ruled England. The Protestant Marylanders had good reason to think they could get English support to bring down Lord Baltimore. However, Maryland operated under its original charter for almost 40 years.

A Place Like Virginia

In some ways, Maryland developed much as Virginia did. There, too, the settlers became avid tobacco farmers. There too the colonists tended to live in isolated farms spread along the rivers rather than gather together in towns. Power in Maryland, as in Virginia tended to settle in county courts.

Virginia and Maryland colony were so much alike that they formed, along with the northern parts of Carolina, a single social and economic section of the American colonies. It was known as the Chesapeake.