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Volume xviii, Issue 11 ~ March 18 - March 24, 2010

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A Time for New Beginnings

What is Maryland Day, and why should we care?

Student reenactors at Charles Carroll House during last year’s Maryland Day, below, helped commemorate The Founding of the Colony of Maryland, depicted above, by 17th century painter Tompkins Harrison Matteson.

by Ben Miller

This weekend, Annapolis and Anne Arundel County celebrate Maryland Day — the symbolic date of the state’s founding — with history-based walks, talks, teas, reenactments and a four-mile run.

Historic sites and museums open their doors at reduced rates. Hotels, shops and restaurants give discounts. Owners of private homes welcome visitors. Reenactors assume the identities and describe the lives of historic figures.

Perhaps you seek to give a story to an ancestor who is only a name in your family’s past? On Friday, get help from genealogists working with the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation at Soujourner-Douglass College in Edgewater.

Feel like hopping through history with the family? Meet at City Dock on Saturday at 8am.

Want to meet the elite? Visit William Paca’s House and talk to Mr. and Mrs. Paca.

Want to talk to black watermen of the Chesapeake? Stop by the Banneker-Douglass Museum from 1-3pm to meet the men and and see a spectacular quilt dedicated to their story.

On Sunday, many historic Maryland sites are open in Annapolis. Or drive to South County to go back in time at Historic London Town and Gardens, the Captain Salem Avery Museum, the Deale Area Historical Society.

An added bonus is that the cost of many of these entries and activities is $1 or free. Some homes, like the Jonas Green House in Annapolis, are open this weekend only.

Maryland Day Q&A

The celebration of Maryland Day brings to mind a question: What is Maryland Day?

My wife, Cathy, conducted an informal, non-scientific poll of her book club. She received blank looks.

The answer, if you, too, draw a blank: Maryland Day, March 25, commemorates the founding in 1634 of the first European settlement in Maryland. Maryland Day is an official state holiday authorized by the Maryland legislature in 1916. Once upon a time state workers got the day off. Now it is a holiday where not even government employees get the day off.

Has Maryland Day become a holiday like Flag Day, June 14, which remains on some calendars, but whose meaning has faded with time?

Will this weekend’s events help revive Maryland Day?

Burt Kummerow, director of the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore and former director of St. Mary’s City, suggests we take a “fresh look at Maryland Day history.”

Founding the Maryland Colony

Some time in February and March of 1634, two ships, the Ark and the Dove, sailed up Chesapeake Bay. They bore the first English settlers, who found the colony of Maryland.

Mr. and Mrs. Paca and their family and servants open their doors to the public for Maryland Day.

Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, had been granted the rights to establish a colony by King Charles I of England.

His father, George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore who had died a few months before, envisioned the colony as a place where Roman Catholics could practice their religion.

According to Kummerow, the expedition — led by Leonard Calvert, Cecilius’ brother — was much better planned than those landing in Virginia in 1607 or Massachusetts in 1620.

The Calverts had information about the country that these other expeditions lacked. The first Lord Baltimore knew that Newfoundland, his alternate choice for a colony, had far more severe winters. And since Captain John Smith had recently described and mapped his travels around Chesapeake Bay and its many rivers, Leonard Calvert knew where his expedition was going.

And unlike the founders of Virginia and Massachusetts, the Maryland settlers “very carefully chose to arrive just before the planting season,” said Kummerow.

The colonists took time to explore. One thing they did, according to Kummerow, was to go “up the Potomac and make peace with the Indians.”

Then it was time to celebrate.

A New Beginning

March 25 is not the date the settlers first set foot in Maryland, as is sometimes said.

March 25 is the date when the colonists erected a large cross and held a religious service on St. Clements Island in Chesapeake Bay to celebrate the founding of a colony where Catholics — and those of any faith — could worship as they pleased.

The settlers deliberately chose this date.

The symbolism of March 25 may be lost to us, but, according to Kummerow, it wasn’t lost to Leonard Calvert, the settlers and the Jesuit priests who accompanied the expedition.

First, March 25 is the date of the Feast of Annunciation, an important date in the Catholic calendar. This celebrates the time when the Angel Gabriel told Mary she was pregnant with the Son of God.

Second, the date is close to the first day of spring, a time of new beginnings.

Third, in 1634, March 25 was the first day of the English civil and legal year, according to the Julian calendar in use in England until 1752.

These Maryland colonists were starting something new. They wanted the world to know it.

It’s true that new things and fresh starts seem in short supply these days, but this coming of spring can remind us that adventures and opportunities lie ahead.

“Maryland Day is a very specific symbol for Maryland,” Kummerow said. “This is all about beginnings.”

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