Museum Event Remembers Maryland History

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Museum Event Remembers Maryland History

Colton's Poiint, MD - 3/27/2013

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By Dick Myers and Dr. Julia King, St. Mary's College of Maryland

(l to r) Lt. Gov. Brown a Commissioner Jones, Russell and Jarboe participate in a wreath laying ceremony
(l to r) Lt. Gov. Brown a Commissioner Jones, Russell and Jarboe participate in a wreath laying ceremony

The annual Maryland Day celebration at St. Clement’s Island Museum was held Monday on the 379th birthday of the first landing in Maryland. That occurred on St. Clement’s Island, within view of the museum. The weather challenged event, normally held outside, forced attendees to cram inside the museum.

Master of Ceremonies St. Mary’s County Commissioner Francis “Jack” Russell noted the first settlers on the Ark and Dove encountered a thunderstorm but didn’t have to contend with the early spring snow blizzard going on aside.

Lt. Governor Anthony Brown attended a Maryland Day event in the state’s Mother County for the first time. Arriving a little late because of a meeting with the governor, Brown was greeted at the museum door by Dr. Thomas Gerard (in the person of reenactor Michael Barber). Brown said he was absolved of being late because Gerard said, “It was a muddy path I had to travel down here.”

Brown said of those first settlers, “They knew the journey would be rough but they wanted to build a better life for themselves and their children.” He added, “Progress is always possible if you look to the future.”’

Guest speaker St. Mary’s College Professor of Anthropology Dr. Julia King spoke on the subject: “Why Dr. Thomas Gerard Matters.” According to Dr. King, “Gerard, who came to Maryland 1638, became the manor lord of St. Clement’s Manor, rose rapidly in colonial government, and, when he died in 1673, was one of the largest landowners in the colony.”

Dr. King’s students were invited by the current owners of land that included St. Clement’s Manor to conduct an archeological project. The result was the uncovering of a large number of artifacts. “What was impressive was the high end nature of the materials coming out of the ground,” she said. The museum currently has an exhibit showing photographs of the project.

Dr. King says that Maryland State Archivist Ed Papenfuse calls Dr. Gerard “a very controversial figure frequently at odds with Lord Baltimore.” Gerard was suspended from the council and was the ringleader of a Protestant rebellion.

She noted that the struggles were indeed religious in nature, but they also involved the constitutional issue of the source of authority in government. She said, “The questions being raised, both in Maryland and elsewhere, boiled down to this: did English citizens have liberties as a natural right, or were these liberties subject to the approval of the King?”

The following is the complete text of Dr. King’s speech:

Why Dr. Thomas Gerard Matters

Julia A. King

St. Mary’s College of Maryland

    I’d like to begin my remarks today by thanking Debra Pence and the St. Clement’s Island Museum for inviting me to speak, here, on Maryland Day, in the shadow of where the Maryland colonists first came ashore 379 years ago.  It is an honor to be able to talk with you a little bit about early Maryland history.  I thank you for this opportunity and I also thank Dr. and Mrs. James Clifton, who invited my students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and me to spend time with them this past fall 2012 testing an important archaeological site on their property in Bushwood.  Some of those artifacts are here today for you to see.

We’re convinced that it was Dr. Thomas Gerard who lived in the house whose foundations are now buried on the Cliftons’ farm. Gerard, who had come to Maryland in 1638, became the manor lord of St. Clement’s Manor, rose rapidly in colonial government, and, when he died in 1673, was one of the largest landholders in the colony – I think only Lord Baltimore ‘s land holdings exceeded Gerard’s.  

When Dr. and Mrs. Clifton, who don’t live too far from the Museum, began finding colonial artifacts in their horse pasture, they turned to archaeologists for some help with identification.  What we saw were materials dating to the 1640s and 50s – a pretty rare, important, and, frankly, super-exciting discovery given that the Maryland colony was only a few years old itself. What was even more impressive was the high end nature of the materials coming out of the ground.

Dr. Gerard’s house was heated by a fireplace with at least some brick incorporated into the chimney. He and his family consumed their meals from fancy tin-glazed or “delft” dishes and drank wine from fine Venetian glassware. One of the most unusual finds – and the only one of its kind known from anywhere in North America – is a molded face fragment from an expensive combination salt dish and candleholder, probably made in Flanders in the early 17th century.

The artifacts speak to the place, too: Indian trade smoking pipes and fragments of Indian-made pots, probably used to hold corn exchanged with the colonists, suggest that Gerard interacted regularly with the local Native American population. Still other artifacts point to the times: a surprisingly high number of gunflint-related artifacts suggest that Gerard’s household could be ready for defense at a moment’s notice.

The artifacts from the Gerard site are exciting to study. But my remarks today about Thomas Gerard are not so much about the stuff he left behind as to why this man, almost forgotten in most standard narratives of Maryland history, deserves our reconsideration. If Gerard is remembered, it’s usually in a context concerning religion: Gerard, a Catholic, built a chapel of ease for his wife, Susanna, a Protestant; he was also later arrested for closing the chapel and confiscating its religious furniture; the finding of Gerard’s guilt is often used to prove the Calverts’ sincerity for religious tolerance.

But otherwise, we rarely hear much about Thomas Gerard.  Ed Papenfuse, the Maryland State Archivist, calls him a very controversial figure who was frequently at odds with Lord Baltimore. Indeed, Gerard was suspended from the Maryland Council in 1658 for “maligning other councilors,” and, in March 1660, Gerard was a ringleader in Fendall's Rebellion.

At a series of meetings that took place at Gerard’s home and at the home of his son-in-law, Robert Slye, also in Bushwood, Gerard along with Governor Josias Fendall, persuaded other councilors to essentially end Baltimore’s political leadership by doing away with the Upper House or Maryland Council.  Fendall’s Rebellion, later styled a “pygmie rebellion” by contemporaries because it was so short-lived, ended both Fendall’s and Gerard’s political careers in the colony. And, in so doing, relegated their story to the dustbin of history.

But now some historians, including Drs. Antoinette Sutto and Owen Stanwood, are re-visiting Fendall’s Rebellion and other “rebellious” efforts, asking us to look at the constitutional questions raised by Fendall’s “pygmie rebellion:” what is the source of authority in government? 

Now most people know that the Lords Baltimore – first Cecil until his death in 1675 and then his son, Charles, until his death in 1715 – were the absolute lords and proprietors of Maryland, and you can assume that these two had very strong views about the source of authority in government. They saw their authority conferred by the King, through the Maryland Charter, and their authority was absolute. Many of these views, Dr. Sutto notes, did not “go down easily in the colonial assembly, or, at times, even with colonial administrators in England.”

Fendall’s Rebellion was one expression of the Assembly’s struggle over this issue. Fendall’s Rebellion lasted a mere three months, initiated in March and over in June when Charles II, himself just restored to the English throne, restored Baltimore’s power in Maryland. As such, Fendall’s Rebellion has been cast as a freak political event, even though its real genesis is grounded in the ongoing struggle in Maryland over the authority of the Lord Baltimore.

To comprehend the significance of Fendall’s Rebellion, we need to look at the entire 17th-century history of Maryland.  The pattern is clear: from Day One, Lord Baltimore was engaged in a constant struggle for power and authority in his colony:

In 1634, Virginian William Claiborne refused to leave Kent Island until Leonard Calvert sent a force in 1638 to “reduce” the island and demand Claiborne’s submission to the Calvert government. In the 1640s, privateer Richard Ingle sailed into the Potomac, on behalf of Parliament, he claimed, attacking St. Mary’s, imprisoning proprietary leaders, and forcing Leonard Calvert to flee to Virginia. In the 1650s, the next generation of Calvert representatives in the colony had to contend with a group of contentious Puritans who had come from Virginia and settled around the Severn River, calling their settlement Providence. The newly arrived settlers refused to take an oath of loyalty to Baltimore and, in 1655, at the Battle of the Severn, Baltimore’s militia – sent to “reduce” the Puritans at Providence – was defeated.  The Calverts were out of power for three years until Charles II restored the government to them. A year later, Baltimore’s own governor – Fendall – and councilor – Gerard – were advocating the dissolution of proprietary control.

Often, these struggles have been represented as religious battles, and to be sure, religious identity played a role in these events. Baltimore’s Catholicism – the public practice of which was forbidden in England – was easily used to challenge his authority, but to see these struggles as solely religious in nature – and that is what we have done – hides the serious constitutional issues at hand, that is, what was the source of authority in government?

This was not just a Maryland issue. In fact, the questions being raised in Maryland were being raised in Virginia and in England itself: the Calverts’ religious or confessional faith gave Maryland’s struggles their unique flavor. The questions being raised, both in Maryland and elsewhere, boiled down to this: did English citizens have liberties as a natural right, or were these liberties subject to the approval of the King? 

The Colonial Assembly would argue the former, Baltimore and his councilors, the latter.  Baltimore, after all, held that his power – and the rights of the denizens of Maryland – came through the Charter of Maryland, which had been granted by Charles I.

The Assembly, for its part, took issues with the Charter, saying that, while it may have been granted by the king, its terms were contrary to English law.

In Maryland, anti-Catholic language became a way of criticizing both the Maryland and the English government while cleverly avoiding the accusation of treason. Criticizing Baltimore’s Catholicism allowed people to criticize the source of Baltimore’s legal authority while making it appear grounded in normal English thinking about religion. For their part, Baltimore and his son never wavered from their argument: the Maryland Charter gave them their power as absolute lords and proprietors; and criticizing the Charter was, in essence, criticizing the King, because it was the King who had granted the Charter to the second Lord Baltimore. And criticizing the King was treason.

And so, when a man like Thomas Gerard, one of Lord Baltimore’s councilors who was, like Baltimore, a Catholic, decides to abandon the Council and throw his lot in with the Assembly, we have an opportunity to see something besides anti-Catholicism at work. Instead, Gerard has been dismissed as a kind of odd-ball troublemaker and his actions as a mere blip in the history of Maryland.

Turning back to the archaeology, my students at St. Mary’s College, in their surveys of places like Gerard’s St. Clement’s Manor, have begun to reveal how, on the ground, the Calverts fully appreciated the issues Gerard and Fendall were trying to raise even if they didn’t agree with them. They knew that this part of St. Mary’s County (near Bushwood), where Gerard and many of his compatriots lived, constituted a serious and growing threat to the proprietor.

To that end, Baltimore wasted no time in cultivating Thomas Notley, a neighbor of Gerard’s and a Protestant, who lived a short five miles upriver. There, Notley the Protestant, and Baltimore the Catholic, when he was in residence at Notley Hall, could keep an eye on Gerard and Fendall, the latter living across the Wicomico River in what is now Charles County. The artifacts coming from these sites give us some sense of how Baltimore, Gerard, and Fendall – and many others – used landscape to achieve political ends.

These men could not have looked into a crystal ball and foreseen that debates about constitutional issues were not going away – yesterday’s Washington Post, for example, had eight articles discussing constitutional issues.  Further, the 17th century debates raged within a minority of wealthy, white landholding men. Who knows what they would think, three and a half centuries later, of how we still talk about rights and liberties in the pursuit of a more perfect union; they may be shocked at the lengths to which we’ve gone to recognize the consent of the governed. But it was with them, and men like Thomas Gerard and the other so-called controversial and difficult settlers of early America, that these conversations began and took on their peculiar American character:

Thank you again for inviting me to speak with you today.

Further Reading:

Charter of Maryland (1632). Available online at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/ma01.asp.

Papenfuse, Edward, Alan F. Day, David W. Jordan, and Gregory A. Stiverson (1979) A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789. Baltimore: Johns Hopokins University Press. Available online at http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc2900/sc2908/000001/000426/html/.

Stanwood, Owen (2011) The Empire Reformed: English America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sutto, Antoinette (2008) Built Upon Smoke: Politics and Political Culture in Maryland, 1630-1690. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of History, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.



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