When Lord Baltimore and 140 fellow English men and women landed on the shores of the St. Mary's River in 1634, the area was already settled by Native American tribes, including the Yaocomaco people, an Eastern Woodland group, with whom the first colonists traded. Also living in the state were the Algonquin, Leni-Lenape, and Nanticoke. These people are responsible for naming the places still so valued here today: the Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River, and Assateague.
Maryland's first capital, St. Mary's City, was founded by a Catholic nobleman who enacted the first Freedom of Conscience law in the world. Settlers were free to worship as they saw fit, and to hold office no matter what their religion. There were other precedents set here, too. The first man of color held office in Maryland, and the first Catholic church to be built in the English colonies was built here. A woman sought the opportunity to vote here, but, as progressive as the settlers were, they turned her down. The first print shop south of Boston was established here (and run by a woman) in the 1600s.
Meanwhile, 75 miles to the north, another Englishman, William Claiborne, had established in 1631 a trading post in the Chesapeake Bay for the colony of Virginia. Now known as Kent Island (the eastern terminus of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge), the settlement became a source of conflict even after it was absorbed into Lord Baltimore's colony.
The colony, centered in St. Mary's City, grew in strength and number. Demand for Maryland tobacco grew in Europe, making the noxious plant the currency of the day. The economy boomed and the town grew with the construction of inns, a statehouse, and a chapel. By the late 1600s, some 20,000 people lived there.
But the days of St. Mary's City were coming to an end. Tensions from an English revolution spilled into the Catholic colony, and disgruntled Protestants led a revolution against Lord Baltimore in 1689. The crown appointed royal governors who moved the capital from St. Mary's City to Annapolis in 1695.
The first capital all but disappeared under cornfields and woodlands. Hidden below ground were all sorts of treasures -- shards of glass, rosary beads, lead coffins, and shadows of hearths and posts -- valuable markings that would enable archaeologists and historians to piece together the design and history of the first capital and rebuild parts of it, now known as Historic St. Mary's City.
Revolution & Statehood
The colony continued to grow. Annapolis became the hub of government and the center for exports, most notably tobacco but, to its shame, for the slave trade, as well. As the home of the state legislature, it attracted the wealthy and the powerful, the trader and the barrister, and the waterman and the farmer.
Farther north, in a deep harbor of the Patapsco River, another city was taking shape. Formed from the shipbuilding center of Fell's Point and the industrial center of Jonestown, the new city, named after the colony's founder, was founded in 1729. Baltimore grew quickly as a center of trade and industry. It became the home port of a fleet of speedy trading vessels, the Baltimore clippers.
As the colony grew, the desire for independence from England grew as it did in the other 12 English colonies. Annapolis became a center for revolutionary thought. The tax on tea prompted protest. The Peggy Stewart, a ship laden with a ton of tea, was burned when its owner paid the tax. Protesters tossed shipments of tea overboard in the Eastern Shore city of Chestertown, in response to the closing of the Boston harbor.
Marylanders, including three Carrolls -- Charles Carroll the barrister, his son Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and Daniel Carroll, the barrister's nephew -- and two Chases -- Jeremiah and Samuel -- took part in the Continental Congresses in Philadelphia. When the time came to sign the Declaration of Independence, Maryland's four delegates stepped up: Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Samuel Chase, William Paca, and Thomas Stone.
As the conflict with England escalated, Annapolis became the United States's first peacetime capital. From November 26, 1783, to August 13, 1784, the legislature met in the State House, where the Maryland General Assembly continues to gather every January through April. This was the site of the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, the document in which Great Britain recognized American independence. It was also here that George Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the army.
When the Constitution came before the General Assembly in April 1788, Maryland became the seventh of the original 13 colonies to ratify it. Peace and prosperity continued as the new state grew. Maryland had been virtually untouched during the American Revolution, but this would not be the case when the British Navy returned to reclaim its colonies in 1812. This time, a single flag flying over Baltimore's harbor would become a symbol of America's independence.
The War of 1812 began with a British blockade of the Chesapeake and Delaware bays. Many small towns along the Chesapeake found themselves facing British warships. The Battle of Baltimore, on the night of September 13, 1814, is remembered every time we sing the national anthem. American forces were ready for the British. Ships were deliberately sunk near Fort McHenry to keep the British and their powerful cannons away from Baltimore and its harbor. Instead, the British aimed their guns at the fort through the night. The siege was witnessed by Francis Scott Key, a young attorney who had met with the British while seeking the release of a doctor captured during the British march toward Washington. Though the doctor was freed, he and Key were forced to stay aboard the British ship until the battle was over. Seeing the giant flag sewn by Mary Young Pickersgill flying over the fort the following morning inspired Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner." Set to the tune of a drinking song, it became the national anthem in 1931.
A Time of Growth
The 19th century was a time of immense growth for Maryland, especially for its most industrialized city, Baltimore. The first sugar refinery was built here, and saccharine and Bromo Seltzer antacid were developed here. The first American umbrella factory opened here, as did the first commercial ice-cream factory. Samuel Morse created the first American telegraph line here.
But it was in transportation that Baltimore -- and the state -- made its mark. The first national road from Baltimore to the frontier began construction in 1806. (Much of it is intact, from Baltimore to Western Maryland, as part of the National Historic Road.)
George Washington envisioned a watery highway between Washington, D.C., and the fertile Ohio Valley. The C&O Canal, which stretches through the Potomac Valley from Georgetown to Cumberland in Western Maryland, includes a towpath for mules to haul the barges along the canal. A newfangled invention, the railroad, made the canal obsolete even before it was begun. But the towpath has been preserved as a national park and offers visitors 184 miles of trails for biking and hiking from Georgetown to Cumberland.
America's first commercial railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio, got its start in Baltimore in 1828. "Tom Thumb," the first steam-burning locomotive, even proved in a race between Baltimore and Ellicott City that it was faster than a horse. (Alas, a technical malfunction enabled the horse to win the race but the point had been made.) Though the Tom Thumb was not preserved, a replica built in 1926 is on display at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, site of the original B&O headquarters.
Civil War & the Underground Railroad
Baltimore earned its most detested moniker in the opening days of the Civil War. When the Sixth Massachusetts Union Army troops and the Pennsylvania Volunteer Washington brigade passed through Baltimore's President Street Station on their way to Washington, D.C., they had to march through the city's streets to reach the Camden Station, a few blocks away. But an angry mob gathered and blocked their passage. The skirmish resulted in the "First Blood of the Civil War." Four soldiers and 12 civilians were killed that day, April 19, 1861. And the city became known as "Mobtown."
Maryland was deeply divided during the War Between the States, with many loyal to the South. These divided loyalties caused federal troops to be deployed to Baltimore and martial law enacted. Guns set up on Federal Hill in the Inner Harbor were trained on the city to ensure loyalty to the Union -- and guarantee that Washington, D.C., would not become surrounded by Confederate States.
Soldiers crisscrossed Maryland several times in the course of the war, including the July 1863 battle that came to be known as the "high-water mark of the Confederacy" and General Robert E. Lee's final great campaign, Gettysburg. The tiny town of Sharpsburg witnessed the bloodiest day of the Civil War. The battle at Antietam, in September 1862, marked the bloodiest day of the war -- and of any war since, even D-day. Some 23,000 Americans were killed or wounded that day.
The war touched other Maryland towns, as well. Ransoms were demanded of the citizens of Frederick and Hagerstown to save them from torching. In southern Maryland, John Wilkes Booth made his way through Waldorf and Clinton both before he assassinated Abraham Lincoln and then as he attempted to escape.
Though the Civil War never came to the Eastern Shore, the Underground Railroad had many routes through the flat farmlands here, where slaves escaped north to freedom. Harriet Tubman was the most famous of the Underground Railroad conductors. A slave in Dorchester County, she escaped to lead several hundred people to freedom. Frederick Douglass, who was enslaved in Talbot County, escaped the bonds of slavery while working in Baltimore and became a renowned abolitionist. Tubman and Douglass are remembered in both counties, as well as other places where they led enslaved people to freedom.
Industrial Baltimore continued to grow through the 20th century. It became a major manufacturing city, home to General Motors and Bethlehem Steel plants, Domino Sugar and McCormick Spice, Noxell, and Westinghouse.
During the world wars, Maryland turned its talents to the creation of military material, planes, and ships. Defense contractors built up around Fort Meade, the Patuxent Naval Air Station, and Aberdeen Proving Ground -- places that will continue to see growth as defense workers relocate here from closed military bases over the next decade.
Modern medicine has made its mark in Baltimore as well, thanks largely to the efforts of health professionals at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and University of Maryland Medical System. These two centers of healthcare attract patients from around the world. The shock trauma center at the University of Maryland, pioneered by Dr. R. Adams Cowley, is a model for emergency rooms around the world.
"The land of pleasant living" was once an advertising slogan, but Marylanders have taken it to heart. Playgrounds have developed around the state to take advantage of its natural wonders. Ocean City was established as the state's first beach resort in 1875. A year later, a summer resort opened near the B&O railroad line in Garrett County.
The advent of the automobile and new roads, bridges, and other engineering marvels made these attractions popular with the average Joe and Jo. The Chesapeake Bay bridges, built in 1952 and 1973, brought the Eastern Shore's delights and the beaches of Ocean City closer to Baltimore and Washington residents. Construction of Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland in 1925 turned the Appalachian Mountains into a family resort. A Pittsburgh resident named Helmuth Heise turned a little hill above the lake into a ski resort he named Wisp. Once I-68 was complete, the trip to Western Maryland got a lot easier and Western Maryland resorts became year-round attractions.
Baltimore, which had seen the rise of industry, a devastating fire in 1905, and civil strife in the 1960s, began to turn around in the 1970s -- and continues to do so today. James Rouse's vision of Harborplace became a model re-created as far as Sydney, Australia. The immense popularity of Harborplace in 1980 led to further development of the Inner Harbor, including new stadiums for the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Ravens. Harbor East is Baltimore's newest gathering spot, with other neighborhoods around the waterfront showing signs of rebirth.
Even St. Mary's City, the state's first city, has experienced a renaissance. Now a living history museum, its State House, print house, taverns and ordinaries, even its Brick Chapel, have been re-created as a testimony of those early days of trial, bravery, and freedom.
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