St. Mary’s City: Maryland’s First Capital

05/07/2016
By Preservation Maryland

Annapolis may be the first city to come to mind when considering Maryland colonial history; but did you know that St. Mary’s City was Maryland’s first capital?

Not only was St. Mary’s City established as the first Maryland colony, it was also the birthplace of religious freedom in North America and the first seat of Maryland’s colonial government. St. Mary’s City acted as the capital of the Maryland colony for 61 years, until 1695, when the capital was moved to the more centrally-located town that we now know as Annapolis and the St. Mary’s State House (pictured above) was converted into a Protestant church.

After the demotion, St. Mary’s City experienced a significant decline and was later abandoned. In 1840, St. Mary’s Female Seminary, today’s St. Mary’s College of Maryland, was founded as a living memorial to the colonial St. Mary’s City and the religious tolerance that was practiced during its time.

Coinciding with the availability of a new federal framework for preservation due to the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act, the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission was created as a device of the Governor to steward the historic site and has since been absorbed by St. Mary’s College. In 1969, the St. Mary’s City Historic District was listed as a National Historic Landmark, the highest recognition of historical significance within the US. Historic St. Mary’s City has been preserved as a 17th century colonial town, tourist and educational destination, and archaeological site ever since.

Visitors to Historic St. Mary’s City witness the Maryland colonial past preserved through costumed interpretations, archaeological demonstrations (over 300 archaeological sites have been excavated in the city), reconstructions of town structures, and museum exhibits. Historic St. Mary’s City also provides the opportunity to explore and learn about the unique tidewater culture and Native American history of the region.

HEAD TO HISTORIC ST. MARY’S CITY TODAY

There are many year-round opportunities to discover this distinct destination for yourself, and especially today, Historic St. Mary’s City invites you to celebrate the arrival of Spring in colonial style! Today, May 7, the City will host May Day festivities from 10am to 4pm. Visitors are encouraged to participate in a Maypole dance, play games, peruse the wares of local vendors, and create a craft to take home.

The lead-in photograph is the ca. 1934 reconstruction of the original State House of 1676. Our Preservation Month posts were written and prepared by Rachel Rettaliata, one of Preservation Maryland’s Waxter Interns. Rachel’s work with us focuses on communications and advocacy. She is a Fulbright Scholar and will be attending the historic preservation program at the University of Maryland this fall. Learn more about Rachel and our intern program here: presmd.org/waxter

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