Today is Maryland Day, a state holiday commemorating when the first settlers disembarked from two ships, “The Ark” and “The Dove” onto St. Clement’s Island in the Potomac River in 1634. We commemorate Maryland Day today with a Humanities Connection segment* by Kristen Schenning, Director of Education at the Maryland Historical Society, which aired March 13, 2014.
On an early March day 380 years ago, two small ships sailed into the Chesapeake Bay. This was the beginning of a new colony and a pious experiment – a colony based on the concept of religious toleration. Lord Baltimore had a problem. The primary investors in his Maryland colony were Catholic, like he was, however the majority of the colonists were Protestant indentured servants. To have a successful and prosperous colony, he needed to find a solution to a religious feud that had plagued English society for years.
This unlikely collection of pioneers, along with a small contingent of Jesuit priests, set sail from England on November 23, 1633, on St. Clements Day – interestingly the patron saint of mariners. The voyage however was not smooth sailing for the future Marylanders. The two ships making the voyage, the Ark and the Dove, were separated by a storm within days of leaving port.
Without knowing if the other ship had survived, both forged ahead and eventually reunited in the Caribbean before continuing north to the Chesapeake Bay.
The colonists landed on an island they named for St. Clement off the coast of what became St. Mary’s City, Maryland’s first capital. The colonists were fortunate find a Native American nation, the Piscataway, willing to aid them in their settlement. In thanksgiving for their successful journey, Father Andrew White, one of the priests who made the voyage, said a mass on the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1634.
Although it started as a day of thanksgiving for the original colonists, the celebration of Maryland Day as we know it today began in the early twentieth century when the State Board of Education designated March 25 as a day for the study of Maryland History. It became an official state holiday in 1916.
The purpose of Maryland day is to remind us of nearly four centuries of Maryland history and to examine the contributions of Marylanders such as Frederick Douglas, Francis Scott Key, Clara Barton, Margaret Brent, Harriett Tubman and many many more. This year we are honoring those citizen soldiers who, during the Battle of Baltimore, inspired Marylander Francis Scott Key to capture the feeling of a nation with the words, ‘O Say Can you See…”
* This essay excludes original content about the Maryland Historical Society’s Maryland Day celebration activities last year. To learn about this year’s events, visit www.mdhs.org.