St. Mary's County, Maryland

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Leonard Calvert and a group of adventurers left Cowes, Isle of Wight in England on November 22, 1633 in two ships, the Ark (a large ship of 400 tons) and the Dove (weighing 40 tons.) A replica of the Dove is at Historic St. Mary's City. On March 25, 1634, they landed at St. Clements Island and religious ceremonies were held to give thanks for a safe voyage to the new land. On March 27th they arrived at the Indian Village of Yeocomico, and purchased it from the Indians for blankets, cloth, knives, trinkets, axes, hoes and other tools. They renamed the village St. Mary's.

By 1642, the town had at least ten houses, a forge, mill and Catholic Chapel. The colonists built homes made of wooden slabs, with roofs made of shingles. In 1664, the Assembly at St. Mary's City passed a law that could be called the first Maryland building code. The law ordered that all houses built in the town should be at least twenty feet square, two and a half stories high and built with chimneys made of brick. Originally, the chimneys had been made of logs. lined with clay. As they aged, they became fire hazards.

In 1676, the famous State House was built. It was torn down in 1829, and the bricks used to build Trinity Church. To celebrate the 300th birthday of Maryland, a replica of the State House was built.

The priceless heritage of St. Mary's City was Religious Toleration. The Calverts made it a cornerstone of their new settlement. The Religious Toleration Act was passed in 1649, giving everyone the right to worship freely.

An Act passed in 1695, established the bounds of St. Mary's County. "St. Mary's County shall begin at Point Lookout and extend up the Potomac River (and Wicomico) to the lower side of Budd's Creek, and so over by a straight line drawn from the head of the main branch of Budd's Creek to the head of Indian Creek in the Patuxent River, including all that land lying between the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers, from the lower side of said two creeks and Point Lookout." In 1695 the capital of Maryland was moved from St. Mary's City to Annapolis and St. Mary's City gradually reverted to a completely rural community.

In 1943 the Naval Air Station Patuxent River was built on approximately 6500 acres in what is now Lexington Park, the largest community in the county. The Naval Air Station is the home of the Naval Air Warfare Center-Aircraft Division, U.S. Navy Test Pilot School and the Naval Air Test and Evaluation Museum.

St. Mary's County is where Francis Scott Key, the author of a poem which became The Star Spangled Banner, and professional wrestler Scott Hall grew up. St. Mary's County was the birthplace of Dashiell Samuel Hammett.

Another account, by unknown author:

The NESEA facility, including the Puma Site, is located just a few miles south of St. Mary's City, site of the first settlement in Maryland and the first seat of colonial government. The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) established one of the earliest manors in the new colony at St. Inigoes soon after St. Mary's City was founded. The NESEA facility is situated within the manor's original 2,000-acre land grant. In many regards, the early history of the colony is the history of St. Mary's County, and the Jesuit Manor played a prominent role in that history.

In 1632, the first Lord Baltimore, Sir George Calvert , began procedures to acquire a charter for lands in the Chesapeake Bay region. He died before King Charles I and the privy council had completed the arrangements, and it fell to Sir George's son, Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, to complete the negotiations and obtain the charter. After obtaining the charter, Calvert went about finding financial backers to help support his attempt to start an overseas colony. In order to attract wealthy immigrants and financial backers, Lord Baltimore offered a variety of inducements that included large land grants, government offices, and noble titles for those who would transport sufficient numbers of settlers to the province. Central to Calvert's plan was a reward of 2,000 acres of land (later 1,000) to investors for every 5 men between the ages of 16 and 50 that they brought into the province (Menard and Carr 1982:177,189). Anyone transporting enough people to receive a grant of at least 1,000 acres (later 3,000) could have his tract designated a manor, complete with the right to hold court and other privileges. Lord Baltimore envisioned the manorial lords as forming a new nobility with similar powers and responsibilities as the established landed gentry in England. The formation of manors was to be an important step in the growth of the colony, and the manors would serve as a central institution in the life of the province, serving as an instrument of social control and as a focal point for community loyalties (Menard and Carr 1982:177-178). Generally, the manorial system, as envisioned by Lord Baltimore, was a failure, although in many ways the Jesuit manor at St. Inigoes fulfilled Calvert's vision. St. Inigoes Manor was owned by the Jesuits for over 300 years and served as a stabilizing force in the local area.

Lord Baltimore was largely unsuccessful in his attempts to attract wealthy immigrants, and the next year, when the ships Ark and Dove were sent off to colonize his landholding in the New World, they carried only 17 gentlemen investors. These men were among the group of 140 to 200 settlers that also included two or three Jesuits and their servants. Most of the remaining passengers were Protestant indentured servants employed by the Catholic investors. The venture was under the directorship of Leonard Calvert, Lord Baltimore's younger brother, who had been assigned governor of the settlement before leaving England (Menard and Carr 1982:168).

In March 1634, the settlers, after exploring the area and meeting with the Piscataway Indians, landed at a Yacomoco Indian village six miles up the Potomac on St. George's River (later called St. Mary's River). After negotiating terms, the Indians agreed to leave their village and their fields; at this place, St. Mary's City was founded (Menard and Carr 1982:185-187).

One of the first activities at the new settlement was the erection of a fort. However, within three years, the settlers had dispersed to various plantations and the fort was abandoned. The settlers soon turned to tobacco as the primary cash crop. High tobacco prices during the mid-1630s, coupled with friendly relations with the Indians, fertile soil, and abundant natural resources provided an adequate foundation for the colony's early survival. Population increased mainly by the arrival of new settlers, and, by 1637, when St. Mary's County was formed, the population totaled between 340 to 390 (Menard and Carr 1982:187).

In 1642, most of the settlers were still located within a few miles of the original landing site and were divided into three administrative units known as "hundreds": St. Michaels, from Point Lookout to St. Inigoes Creek; St. Mary's, on the east bank of St. Mary's River, north of St. Michaels; and St. George's, on the west bank of St. Mary's River. Others had moved farther away, near the Patuxent and Wicomico rivers and were organized into St. Clement's Hundred, between St. Mary's Hundred and the Wicomico River and Mattapanie Hundred on the Patuxent River (Pogue 1983). Of the five "hundreds" in the county, St. Michaels, which included St. Inigoes Neck, was the most populous with 120 occupants; however, St. Mary's Hundred, which included the fledgling town of St. Mary's, was the most densely settled. By 1642, 13 tracts of land had been surveyed in the town and 12 households were settled in the general area (Menard and Carr 1982:193).

Sixteen manors were in existence by 1642, which together contained 31,000 acres and represented over 80 percent of all of the patented land in the province. An estimated 90 percent of this land remained unimproved as of1642. Throughout the early years of the settlement there was a chronic labor shortage and manor owners found it difficult to improve their grants. Few servants desired to remain at the manor after completing the term of indenture, which was usually four or five years. Upon completion of this term, the former servant could collect "freedom dues," which consisted of a suit of clothing, an axe and hoe, three barrels of corn from the former master, and (until 1681) a SO- acre land warrant obtainable on demand from the proprietor (Carr and Menard 1979:207). As a consequence, many small owner operated plantations, not manors, became the dominant agriculture unit (Menard and Carr 1982:193).

The next twenty years proved difficult for the colony. In 1645, Richard Ingle and a group of rebels raided St. Mary's, looted, sacked, and burned many of the outlying plantations, captured several Jesuit priests and Catholic leaders, and seized control of the government. Governor Calvert fled to Virginia, as did many settlers. Late in 1646, Calvert returned with an armed force and restored order, but the county had lost many of its inhabitants. Between 1646 and 1652, the county experienced a short period of economic expansion and general growth; however, in 1652 Lord Baltimore lost his charter when a commission from the new English Commonwealth seized control of the provincial government. The proprietorship was restored to Lord Baltimore in 1658. After 1660 and the restoration of King Charles II, the province, now consisting of six counties, began a period of sustained growth (Menard and Carr 1982:210).

In 1667, St. Mary's was established as the first official city of the province, which formalized its position as the seat of government in the province. Thereafter, a period of significant expansion began which reached its peak in the 1680s. During this period, public buildings were constructed, and inns and stables were opened to tend to the needs of those coming into the city. All this came to an end in 1689, when a group calling themselves the Protestant Associators seized the government and named one of their members, Nehemiah Blackstone, as governor. As a result, the seat of government was moved to Annapolis in 1695. Without the business of government, St. Mary's City lacked an economic base, and most of the settlement was abandoned. By the 1720s, little trace of the first settlement remained (Menard and Carr 1982:213).

During the first 30 or 40 years after the founding of the colony, real opportunity existed for freed servants to achieve considerable property and status, and many went on to distinguish themselves in government and as planters. Beginning around 1675, however, the highly mobile, predominantly small planter society that had evolved since 1640 changed significantly. In 1680, a thirty-year period of economic depression began that would be broken only by two short periods of prosperity (1685-86 and 1698- 1702). Indentured servants, when they completed their terms, found themselves free but with no capital and little credit in a depressed economy that offered little chance of advancement (Carr and Menard 1979:234). Society became less mobile during this period, and those with inherited wealth and family position comprised an emerging native elite. By the early 1700s, this elite constituted a rigid oligarchy that held power within the county well into the nineteenth century (Ridgeway 1979:129).

The population of St. Mary's County increased slowly during the seventeenth century while the county's share of the population of the colony decreased. In 1675, the population of St. Mary's County was 2,218, only third highest in the colony, although for the first time population growth was a result of native births rather than immigration. By 1712, population had only increased to 4,090, which represented less than 10 percent of the colony's total population. The population of St. Mary's County continued to grow at a slow pace until 1775 when it reached a peak of 16,950. After 1775, the population decreased significantly, and it would not be until a hundred years later (1880) that the population would approach pre-Revolutionary War numbers. To the end of the eighteenth century and for much of the nineteenth century, the population remained between 12,000 and 13,000. Between 1860 and 1930, there were modest increases, and the population of the county grew to between 15,000 and 17,000 (Wesler et al. 1981:162- 164). Population growth began to accelerate after 1940, and in 1970 there were about 48,000 people living in the county (Dozer 1976:7; Gibson 1978:1).

By 1725, social and economic trends that would continue into the twentieth century had been established in the county. From the time of initial settlement, tobacco had been the main agricultural staple and economic activity. Tobacco production and shipment did not encourage the development of towns because ships continued to land at tobacco plantations into the mid-nineteenth century. This practice also slowed the establishment of a road network in the county. Social and economic development in the county was behind that of other counties that diversified their agricultural base and developed industries. Tobacco agriculture also influenced the demographic development of the county. While indentured servants continued to make up most of the work force until the early part of the eighteenth century, the number of slaves in the county increased rapidly after that time. Initially, slaves were introduced due to the difficulty of obtaining white servants, but by 1712 slaves made up over 10 percent of the county's population. The percentage increased throughout the eighteenth century, and from the 1780s to emancipation, slaves would comprise over 40 percent of the county's population (Wesler et al. 1981:162-164). During the second half of the nineteenth century, there was some attempt to diversify the economic base of the county. Oyster- shucking and canning and crab-packing industries were started in the last quarter of the century. A commercial fishing industry also began and reached a peak in the early twentieth century. However, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were marked by the persistence of small agricultural towns. The county has retained its rural character and tobacco production remains the major economic pursuit. Over the past 40 years, the addition of government services, mixed commercial enterprises, construction, and forestry have provided the county with a more varied economic base (Dozer 1976:70; Gibson 1978:1).


The county has a total area of 1,582 km2 (611 mi2). 847 km2 (327 mi2) of it is land and 734 km2 (284 mi2) of it is water. The total area is 46.43% water.

The county is largely bordered by water: the Patuxent River, the Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River, and the Wicomico River.

Adjacent Counties

Cities and towns

Saint Mary's County includes one municipality, classified as a town under Maryland law: Leonardtown, the county seat (incorporated 1858).

Unincorporated areas are also considered as towns by many people and listed in many collections of towns, but they lack local government. Various organizations, such as the United States Census Bureau, the United States Postal Service, and local chambers of commerce, define the communities they wish to recognize differently, and since they are not incorporated, their boundaries have no official status outside the organizations in question. The Census Bureau recognizes the following census-designated places in the county:

  1. California
  2. Charlotte Hall
  3. Golden Beach
  4. Lexington Park
  5. Hollywood
  6. Mechanicsville


County Government

St. Mary's County is governed by a board of 5 elected commissioners. The County Seat is located in Leonardtown, Maryland.

State Government

The county is within legislative district 29 and subdivided into three sub-districts: 29A, 29B, and 29C. District 29 is also share by small portions of Charles and Calvert counties.

The State Senator for District 29 is Roy P. Dyson.

The three delegates are:

Federal Government

Maryland is represented in the United States Senate by Barbara A. Mikulski (D) and Benjamin L. Cardin (D). Southern Maryland falls within the 5th Congressional District which is represented by Steny Hoyer (D). Hoyer also serves as the House Majority Leader, second in command to the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D) of California.


See St. Mary's County Public Schools and St. Mary's County Private Schools.

Colleges and universities

Police, Fire, & Emergency


For a list of all churches, see


  1. St. Clements Island - Potomac River Museum
  2. Old Jail Museum
  3. Patuxent River Naval Air Museum

Historic Sites & Churches

Military Bases

The county houses the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, which plays a significant role in the local economy. The Naval Air Station also has an annex at Webster Field in St. Inigoes.