ST. MARY'S MARYLAND
THE RISE AND FALL OF A CITY
A story of the town of St. Mary's, the first Capitol of Maryland, as presented by James W. Thomas of Cumberand on March 6, 1894. Mr. Thomas is a grandson of Maryland Governor James
Thomas, and is a St. Mary's County native.
James Thomas was the 23rd Governor of Maryland, 1833 to 1836, was botn in St. Mary's County and died in St. Mary's ccounty. He is also buried in St. Mary's county, in the Thomas family cemeter at Deep Falls. He had practiced medicine in St. Mary's until 1812, when he became a major in the 4th Maryland Cavalry.
This is his story: St. Mary's City, first capitol of Maryland, sat on the east side of St. Mary's River which was a tributary of the Potomac, five miles away, and 16 miles of Point Lookout, all on the western shore of southern Maryland, occupies a high bluff fifty feet above the river's waters.
The early colony in it's effort to avoid hostilities with their Indian neighbors, waived the right to superior power, bought the town and territory lands of the natives with commodities useful and satisfactory. It should be known that no place other can boast of the humanity and justice shown toward the natives on all occasions. Te 'landing' on 27th March, 1634, had been made with such
formality as circumstances permitted, by Governor Calvert who proclaimed formal possession of St. Mary's, Maryland.
The settlers undisturbed several years by domestic or external factions, the colonial town grew rapidly. Brick, other builders supplies, were imported , and were abundant as building material.
St. Mary's , in a short time after settlement, had besides the home of Lord Calvert, a church, a State House, a jail, other public houses , sixty homes, two forts, with ordnance of the day.
As the 'place' for holding General Assembly, The Seat of Provincial Court , a port where all ships trading with Maryland Province had to first enter, St. Mary's became important. In 1688 it became a city with privileges above and beyond any other place of the province. It had officials, mayor, recorder, six aldermen and ten councilmen. There was a weekly market and a yearly 'fair'.
Praise be to Leonard Calvert, he who left his native land to lead the early colonist to Maryland, he who proclaimed and practiced fundamental principals, and became the Governor.
Leonard Calvert died an early age, 40 , on June 9, 1647, at St. Mary's and is buried there.
In 1694 , Francis Nicholson became Governor of Maryland and it was he who called the
death-knell of St. Mary's when he summoned Assembly to convene at Ann Arundel Town, now Annapolis. At this Assembly it was determined upon to move the government from St. Mary's to
Ann Arundel town, now Annapolis. He ordered to have the archives and records delivered to the sheriff of Ann Arundel Town , this was done, and on 28th of February, 1695, the state of Maryland
General Assembly met in its first session in the present capital.
After St. Mary's ceased to be the capital it began to decline, the loss of government officials seriously diminished the population , in 1708 it was no longer the county seat, the last symbol of official character. There being no commercial nor manufacturing interest, it had no means of support. The fort fell apart, homes fell apart , nothing remained save the old State House and a few more
durable buildings which were used as homesteads for the farms that came to be. The state house became used as a church and court for St, Mary's justices. In 1859 this historic old building was pulled down and the material used to build Trinity Church near by.
The first State House stood on St. Mary's Bluff at the northwest extremity of town, and had a view of the town, the river, and surrounding country side, making a picturesque feature to the landscape . It was 45 x 55 feet, its architectural design that of a Maltese Cross, built of large red
vitrified brick, thick walls, twenty eight inches and eighteen inches which diminished in thickness with their height.
The lower floor was divided into two halls, accommodating the Upper and the Lower Houses of Assembly. They were paved with flagstone. It was two and a half stories with a steep roof of red tiles. An iron spire, with ball, at the top a vane inscribed with “1676”, the year it was erected. This building, with a jail cost 330,000 pounds of tobacco.
The structure was built without chimneys , to make it impracticable to be uses as an “eating
house” or 'ordinary', as was the custom in those early days. For 20,000 pounds of tobacco , two years later, two massive outside chimneys were added.
The State House Square stood “The Old Mulberry”, under which assembled early colonist, St. Mary's first mass was said and governor Calvert and Chiefs of the Yacomoico Indians sat to make peace. It stood tall for two hundred years, took the tacks and nails of official notices and proclamations.
Fifteen feet of the State House is the 'Calvert Vauit' where Governor Leonard Calvert lay with other Calvert family members. Tradition has it that the entrance is covered and the key to it;s lock has been tossed in the river to allow the revered peace. Many monuments also take their place in the State house Square.
Source: The Baltimore Sun of Baltimore, Maryland, Tuesday, March 6, 1894, titled “The Rise & Fall Of A City”. By John W. Thomas of Cumberland. Abstract Harrison Howeth, 2017.