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Maryland plans to reconstruct house of first governor

leonard calvertSt. Mary's City, MD - From history’s shadows, Leonard Calvert, the first governor of Maryland, is about to emerge.

The enigmatic leader of the Maryland colonists when they embarked across perilous seas from England’s Isle of Wight in November 1633 was shadowed in life and in his passing. He died young at 41 years of age when the colony, barely in its infancy, had already endured a significant religious rebellion from Puritan factions. The site of his burial is unknown to this day.

For more than two centuries historians H. Chandlee Forman and others labored to find where his house stood, as they were able to determine from the written record that the entire layout of the town was anchored to the governor’s house. The search for Leonard Calvert continued into the 20th-century’s eighth decade when Historic St. Mary’s City [HSMC] archaeologists led by Henry Miller, Tim Riordan and Silas Hurry unearthed at last the elusive puzzle piece.

What they discovered is that part of the foundation was actually under part of the foundation of the Brome-Howard House, an 1840 mansion at the center of a 3,000-acre 19th-century farm. The house was relocated to its present location on Rosecroft Road in 1994 to allow archaeologists to at last, access the more important site where the state Palatinate took root and blossomed, allowing religious toleration in an era where little to none existed.

“There is evidence to indicate the Brome family knew what they were doing when they built the house here,” HSMC Site Supervisor Travis Parno said. “That time period was the era of colonial revival. They knew what the significance of this site was, enough to place their house on the exact spot where Maryland was founded.”

What is happening beginning this summer and continuing through the next two years will be even more exciting for the new generation of archaeologists digging in the dirt at St. Mary’s. Historians intend to unearth the entire foundation of Lord Calvert’s home, which after his death served as a fort, temporarily as the state house and then a common ordinary in the 1660s.

The site will be used not only for interpretation, but also as the keystone to understanding the nature of the structure itself.

“It’s a huge puzzle that stresses me out from time to time,” Parno confessed. “It’s so complex.”

In addition to exposing the house foundation, archaeologists are also going out four feet from the former edifice on all sides to make sure they’re not missing anything.

“In some areas we’re finding more 19th century artifacts that 17th century,” he admitted. They are, however, exposing areas in the foundation that have never been explored before and continuing in areas last researched in 1981.

The goal, Parno said, is to find what kind of structure they’re actually dealing with.

“We’re hoping to be able to answer a lot of lingering questions about the house, how it evolved, was it built in different phases, things like that,” he added.

historic st. mary's cityArchaeologists also uncovered something they didn’t expect while working around the Calvert site, an unusual feature indicating a fence in a strange 45-degree angle from the house, forming an odd small oval-shaped enclosure. Judging from the huge concentration of drinking and smoking materials they’ve found there, Parno said the evidence is pretty conclusive that what they’re looking at is a 17th-century cockfighting ring.

The project to unearth Leonard Calvert’s house is a prelude to what will be Historic St. Mary’s City’s grandest accomplishment: the reconstructed version, slated to be climate controlled and about “four or five years” from construction. There will be a new visitor’s center as well, to replace the current building which will become an educational center for school children.

The best part is, you too can become involved in helping to unearth Maryland History at Tidewater Archaeology Weekend, Saturday and Sunday, July 29-30 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Dr. Henry Miller will conduct guided tours through the site, while others can join the seven St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Salisbury State University, George Washington, Marquette and University of South Florida students who are sweltering in the brutal summer heat. Hey, it’s the life of an archaeologist, and this year the discoveries really mean something. There is a cost of $10 for adults; $9 seniors; $6 youth; free to ages 5 and younger, and to Friends members. Call 240-895-4990 or go to www.hsmcdigshistory.org/

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com

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