Have you ever driven through a town that seems to have been abandoned with empty houses and vacated factory buildings?

The economy of tobacco dictated where and how settlements developed in the tidewater regions of Virginia and Maryland. When Leonard Calvert landed on the southern tip of Maryland in 1634, he encountered an Indian population that was friendly. St. Mary’s was to become a settlement in the wilderness that never grew into the normal composition of a village or a town.

In Pennsylvania, our towns grew into cities and our grain economy turned into wealth. Maryland’s historical experience of the late seventeenth century was based entirely on the cultivation and sale of tobacco.

Calvert was accompanied by the Jesuit Order of the Roman Catholic Church. At some point a brick chapel was erected at St. Mary’s. Surrounding the brick chapel are the unmarked graves of hundreds of Maryland’s founders. Other outlines of structures found at St. Mary’s are Smith’s Ordinary, Codea’s Hope, Lawyers’ office, Calvert House, Van Sweringen house and St. John’s. St. Mary’s has been under some restoration since at least before 2001. No maps of St. Mary’s have survived.

Later in time a settlement of Puritan exiles founded a settlement in 1649, named “Providence” and located on the north shore of the Severn River on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The exiles were driven out of the Virginia colony by Gov. William Stone who enforced Anglican hegemony. The English Civil War began in 1642 and by 1654. Parliamentary forces seized control of Maryland. Almost a year later Charles Calvert returned at the head of royalist forces. Stone was returned to power. However, at the first colonial naval battle called Battle of Severn, Stone was captured and replaced by Lt Gen. Josias Fendal. Fendal remained in power until the Restoration of Charles II to the English throne (1660, Restoration) when Philip Calvert’s charter was reclaimed. In short, religious and political divisions reached across the Atlantic from England and impacted Virginia and Maryland.

St. Mary’s City and Jamestown, Va., were unique in the tidewater region of the Chesapeake in the 17th century. Unlike the New England colonies, the population in the tidewater area never concentrated in towns. The Jesuits and other planters lived on tobacco plantations close to the river, so hogsheads of tobacco could be sold directly to purchasers on board ships. These purchasers would grade the tobacco to determine how much they would pay. In the 17th century and before the capital was moved to Annapolis in 1694. St. Mary’s had no more than 200 people at one time, but the original layout of the town contained a chapel, an Ordinary and a potter’s site, and three leaded coffins were located. When the assembly and court sessions occurred the population would swell and lodgings and food was needed. Many intriguing artifacts have been found in the archaeological digs which tell the history of St. Mary’s. St Mary’s was set up on a baroque plan with streets similar to Rome’s configuration. This configuration was two triangles.

Many indentured servants were imported to work the tobacco and later came African slaves. The Jesuit order increased its power which the Calvert family began to notice. Historians believe the Jesuit order financed the fledgling settlement of St Mary’s.

James Fritz is a member of HGAC.

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