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Home > Visit a Gateway > By Theme > Early Discovery and Settlement of Chesapeake Bay > Driving Tour: Early Settlement in Maryland
Driving Tour: Early Settlement in Maryland

This tour takes visitors to the island where English colonists first landed in what is now Maryland, and then to a living history museum at the site of the first Maryland capital.

First Landing in Maryland
St. Clement’s Island-Potomac River Museum, Colton’s Point, MD.

St. Clements Island Potomac River Museum Historic St. Mary's City Religious tolerance is a hallmark of American history. For Catholics, it began here, the site of the first English landing in Maryland. In England, Catholics could not worship in public or hold public office. Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, wanted to create a place in the New World that would tolerate all religious beliefs. In 1633 his son Leonard Calvert and a group of 128 colonists boarded the ships Ark and Dove and sailed for the Chesapeake. They stopped briefly in Jamestown, then headed north up the Potomac River. They stopped at St. Clement’s Island, and on March 25, 1634, celebrated the first Roman Catholic Mass in the colonies. The Potomac River Museum documents this story. A water taxi takes visitors to the island, where a 40-foot cross was erected in 1934 in tribute to these first Maryland settlers.

Maryland’s First Capital
Historic St. Mary’s City, St. Mary’s City, MD.

Leonard Calvert and his colonists did not tarry on St. Clement’s Island. Close by they found suitable land on the St. Mary’s River, naming their settlement “Saint Maries” in honor of the Virgin Mary. With taverns, a print shop, stores and homes, this became Maryland’s first capital, and the site of its first statehouse. In 1695, the seat of Maryland government was moved to Annapolis, and St. Mary’s City almost vanished. Today, this National Historic Landmark, about an hour-long drive from St. Clement’s Island, is a living history museum. Come here and tour a replica of the Dove and watch re-enactors tending to a working tobacco farm. You can also watch archaeologists continue to unearth Maryland’s past. More than 300 archaeological sites have been documented here, including the foundation of the Brick Chapel of 1667, and three lead coffins found within it.


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