The Influences of Protestantism and Catholicism on Colonial Maryland

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for

Composition 12 and

American History

Sara Peoples

The Tome School

November 27, 1996

The colony of Terra Maria, better known as Maryland, had its beginnings in the Old World long before there was any European colonization in the Americas. Maryland was a colony founded by English religious discontents as a place where any Christian could worship freely. Because of the predominantly anti-Catholic attitude of the English government, and in effect, the English people, there was a strong dislike for anyone known to practice the Catholic form of Christianity. England had long been a Catholic nation, until the days of King Henry VIII, when because of a personal dispute with the Pope, King Henry denounced the Catholic Church. Henry was excommunicated, and started his own Protestant church which was to be supported by tax money, and of which he was the head.

Most of the former Catholics converted to Protestantism, but there were a few who remained faithful as Catholics. When the lack of toleration for British Catholics was too much for one man to take, he decided to ask for a grant of land in the New World where he envisioned freedom of religion for all Christians. That man's name was George Calvert, First Lord of Baltimore. Born a Protestant, Lord Calvert was converted to Catholicism in the middle of his life. Although there were many conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in England, that anti-Catholic attitude was not manifest in the Maryland colony during its early years.

Once England had been converted to a Protestant nation, the people who remained true to Catholicism, especially the commoners, were looked upon with extreme suspicion, and often charged with crimes that they did not commit, in an effort to discourage Catholicism in England.1 Most Catholics had to practice their form of Christianity in secret to insure that they would not be persecuted by the English government.

The conflicts were further exacerbated by troubles between Catholic Queen Mary of Scotland, and Protestant Queen Elizabeth of England.2 Queen Mary was next in line for the English throne because she was Queen Elizabeth's second cousin, on Mary'-s father's side of the family. Mary was the first child of King James V of Scotland, who died a week after her birth. Mary was immediately proclaimed Queen. Mary refused to recognize the power of Elizabeth as Queen of England, and was involved in many plots to overthrow her. Queen Elizabeth had Mary sent to jail for many years, and refused her requests to-be executed until Mary went on trial for high treason. After Queen Mary was convicted, Elizabeth signed Mary's death warrant, and she was beheaded on February 8, 1587.3 This conflict divided the country along religious lines in terms of those who were supporters of Catholic Queen Mary, and those who supported Protestant Queen Elizabeth.

As a result of these conflicts, there were many new laws passed that restricted the activities of known Catholics in England. For instance, there were laws passed which prohibited Catholics from holding public offices. Imprisonment and execution of Catholics were acceptable practices in the time of Queen Elizabeth.4 Many Catholics left England during that period of time for other friendlier countries.

Elizabeth was succeeded by James I of Scotland. His Minister of State was George Calvert. Because of his conversion to Catholicism, he was forced to resign from his political position, although he was still on good terms with the king.5 Lord Calvert asked to be given a land grant in the New World where a colony could be founded. King James I first gave him an island colony on the coast of Newfoundland which was named Avalon after the mythical place where Christianity entered England.6

Calvert was looking forward to a profitable colony with rich harvests, and a thriving maritime economy. The colony did well for the first few months, until a very harsh winter came. Many people in the colony fell sick and died.7 In the April after that winter, Lord Calvert sailed to Virginia to survey the climate and to see how Virginians would accept a Catholic. Calvert had a lukewarm reception to say the least, and after a short time, sailed back to England.

Once in England, Calvert asked for a new land grant in a more hospitable climate.8 The King agreed, but Lord George Calvert died shortly thereafter, before the charter could be drawn up. In June of 1632, Lord Cecil Calvert, the son of the first Lord of Baltimore, accepted his father's title, and a land grant in the New World that lay just north of Virginia. This new colony was named Terra Maria after the Queen at that time, Henrietta Maria. 9 This made Lord George Calvert's vision of a colony free from religious persecution of Catholics come full circle.

Two small boats, the Ark and the Dove carried the first group of settlers to Maryland. Although the smaller boat, the Dove, was blown off course for a while during a storm, both boats landed safely in the Maryland colony on March 25, 1634.10 The Ark and the Dove carried a combined total of 220 passengers, of whom 128 were Protestants and 92 were Catholics. The leaders of this first expedition were Leonard and George Calvert, brothers of Lord Cecil - Calvert.11

The new colonists had no trouble with the Native Americans, who were quite friendly to the settlers after they found out that they were not Spanish Conquistadors. They had been told this by English settlers from the Virginia colony who did not like the fact that the new colony was to be run by Catholics.12 The settlers definitely took advantage of the Native American's good will that was directed to them. They traded beads for land, and lived in the Native American's huts until they were able to build houses of their own. These Native Americans1 as described by a colonist quoted in a book entitled Colonial Maryland by Aubrey Land, were "a great nation and very populous". The colonists planned to convert the Natives to their religion, thus turning them into something that they were not, and possibly were not ready for. The Native American society had remained unchanged for so long that this sudden thrust into the future was something that they were not prepared for. The settlers not only brought Christianity to the natives, but death as well, in the guise of whiskey, disease, and weapons such as guns.13

There were very few problems between the early Protestants and Catholics in the Maryland colony. Most of the Catholics were from the aristocratic class and settled on large estates that had been given to them by Lord Cecil Calvert.14 The Protestants were mainly artisans and skilled craftsmen who helped to build the homes of the aristocrats. Later Protestants who came to Maryland were poor indentured servants who were brought over to help on the plantations of the eastern shore, middle class farmers, or seamen lured by the great natural wealth of the Chesapeake Bay and it's estuaries.15 These two religious groups coexisted in peace because of the laws passed in the new Maryland Colonial Assembly.

The peace and freedom of religion that was enjoyed by both Protestants and Catholics was made possible by the Act of Toleration passed by the Maryland Colonial Assembly in the year 1649.16 The first part of this act stated that anyone who was not a Christian could be put in jail, or even executed. The second part stated the following:

no person or persons whatsoever within this province ... professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth bee any waies troubled, molested, or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exersise thereof... nor in any other way compelled to the beleife or exercise of any other Religion against his or her consent.17

The second part of this document guaranteed the freedom of religion for Christians that so many people had longed for in England. The Act of Toleration was one of the best laws that was passed in the colonial time period. Because of this act, many religious conflicts were avoided that had made for much trouble in other colonies such as Massachusetts Bay, and Virginia.18 The Act of Toleration was originally Lord Cecil Calvert's idea.19

While the second Lord Calvert controlled Maryland, the government ran very smoothly. Lord Calvert appointed both Protestant and Catholic governors. Lord Calvert believed that only the educated should be allowed to vote, therefore there were property, sex, and racial qualifications for voters.20 Calvert was very sensitive to the problems that could possibly develop if the government was not responsible to a higher power for the decisions that were made. In Maryland's early years, the issue of religion was handled very carefully by Lord Calvert, the governors, and the assembly of Maryland. The most important example of this was the Act of Toleration. Because of the careful handling of religious matters, Lord Calvert succeeded in creating a land of refuge for all Christian discontents, not only Catholics but Puritans, Quakers, and other Protestant groups.21 Everything was very peaceful until the 1650's when the Puritian Revolution occurred in England.

When the Protestants gained control of England in the 1650's and set up a Puritan, Lord Cromwell, as a dictator, the power to control Maryland was taken away from Lord Calvert and given to the new government.22 The new Puritan leaders persecuted the Catholics more than ever. The Maryland Assembly was forced to revoke the Act of Toleration. The governors now appointed to Maryland were strict Puritans who forced their religion on other people. These new developments deeply upset the Catholics and the non-Puritan groups in Maryland.23

In 1653 new English commissioners were sent to Maryland to represent the English dictatorship.24 After receiving a lukewarm reaction in St. Mary's City because of its strong Catholic ties, the commissioners went to the new predominately Puritan city of Providence which was near the current site of Annapolis. Governor William Stone followed them, and outside of Providence there was a small battle called the Battle of Severn.25 The governor lost, and so began six years of persecution of all non-Puritans by the Puritan controlled government. Priests were forbidden in the Maryland Colony, and everyone had to claim to be Puritan or else risk the punishments of whipping, imprisonment, or even death.26

Finally, when King Charles II was restored to his throne after the death of his father, the power to govern Maryland was given back to Lord Cecil Calvert. The Act of Toleration was put back into practice, and Maryland was restored to the land of religious freedom that Lord George Calvert had envisioned. Until the American revolution the Mary Land colony was controlled by descendants of Lord George Calvert, when the colonial period ended, and the freedom of self rule was given directly to the colonies.27

The colony of Maryland was founded so that the English Catholics could have a place to live where they could escape the intoleration of the English monarchy. Although it was originally founded to be a haven for Catholics, the Protestants who also found a home in Maryland were also allowed to worship as they chose. Although the colony of Maryland was far from what a modern person would call a religiously tolerant state with it's harsh rules concerning non-Christians, it was ahead of it's time compared with the other colonies that surrounded it. The idea1 or rather, the ideal of Lord George Calvert carried on through his son, and to the Maryland colony as a whole. The colony went through the adversity of strict Puritan control during the Commonwealth Revolution, and came out unscathed from the intoleration that they had to deal with for six years. Because of the toleration offered by the Maryland colony it was a haven for all sorts of religious discontents, not only Catholics, but Protestants as well who lived in peace together while they were free from the influence of the English government.


1 Charles Lippy. Christianity comes to the Americas. (Lanham, MD, 1992), p. 5.
2 Leonard Trinterud. The Forming of an American Tradition. (Philadelphia, PA. 1962), p. 10.
3 Ibid.
4 Roger Daniels. Coming to America. (New York, NY, 1990), p. 12.
5 Vera Rolo. Your Maryland. (Lanham MD, 1985), p. 20.
6 Ibid. p. 15.
7 Paul Wilstach. Tidewater Maryland.(Cambridge, MD, 1969), p. 20.
8 Mason, F. The Maryland Colony. Crowell-Collier Publishers (New York, N.Y., 1969), p. 16.
9 Ibid. p.17.
10 W. T. Russell. Maryland: Land of Sanctuary. (Baltimore, MD, 1907), p. 14.
11 Ibid.
12 Rollo, p. 18.
13 Land. p. 49.
14 Wilstach, p. 23.
15 Rollo. p. 25.
16 Russell. p. 23.
17 Land. p. 51.
18 Ibid.
19 Rollo. p. 20.
20 Russell. p. 28.
21 Lippy, p. 40.
22 Donald Dozer. Portrait of a Free State. (Cambridge, MD, 1976), p. 23.
23 Ibid.
24 Rollo. p. 34.
25 Russell. p. 29.
26 Lippy, p. 40.
27 Stephanie Wolf. As Various as Their Land. (New York, NY, 1993), p.45.


Brugger, Robert. Maryland. John Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD, 1988.

Daniels, Rodger. Coming to America. Harper Collins Publishers. New York, NY,1990.

Dozer, Donald. Portrait of a Free State. Tidewater Publishers. Cambridge, MD, 1976.

Land, Aubrey. Colonial Maryland. KTO Press. Millwood, NY, 1981.

Lippy, Charles. Christianity Comes to the Americas. Paragon House. New York, NY, 1992.

Mason, F. The Maryland Colony. Crowell-Collier Publishers. New York,NY, 1969.

Rollo, Vera. Your Maryland. Maryland Historical Press. Lanham, MD, 1985.

Russell, W. T. Maryland: Land of Sanctuary. J. H. Furst Company. Baltimore, MD, 1907.

Trinterud, Leonard. The Forming of an Americian Tradition. Westminster Press. Philadelphia, PA, 1962.

Wilstach, Paul. Tidewater Maryland. Tidewater Publishers. Cambridge, MD, 1969.

Wolf, Stephanie. As Various as their Land. Harper Collins Publishers. New York, NY, 1993.

Woodward, Kenneth. "In the Beginning", Newsweek. October 21, 1996. Vol. CXVIII No. 17.

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