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Historic St. Mary’s City is reconstructed on the original foundations of buildings erected by the colonists of the Ark and Dove when they landed in 1634. This was only the fourth permanent settlement by the English in North America, following Jamestown, Plymouth, and Massachusetts Bay. St. Mary’s was the first capital in Maryland. Upon their landing colonists were confronted by natives known as the Yaocomaco. The colonists were able to buy the land from the Yaocomaco and build the city. St. Mary's was the capital for 61 years until Annapolis became the capital in 1695. Maryland was a place of religious freedom and many other firsts before its abandonment just after the move of the capital (St. Mary's College, par. 1-2). The foundations of the city's structures were discovered under agricultural fields in the 1930s. Now many structures stand, and each holds their own unique and intertwined history.

  • The State House, the government building where federal documents were kept and court held.
  • Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation House demonstrates a middling sized plantation.
  • Smith's Ordinary, one of the many inns owned by Van Sweringen.
  • St. John's, was the home of John Lewgar, first Secretary of State for the Maryland colony. Served many purposes such as a government building before the State House was built.
  • Brick Roman Catholic Church, the first in English North America. Photo by Amber Steffey
  • The Maryland Dove, one of the two ships that brought the settlers to the first landing in Maryland.  
Photo by Amber Steffey
  • The museum's shop
Photo by Amber Steffey
  • One of the buildings rebuilt in St. Mary's City. Refurnished with replica furnature and tools. 
Photo by Amber Steffey
  • Inside the Plantation home, this is the main room with the large fire pit and rare family table. 
Photo by Amber Steffey
  • Information board in St. John's Museum in St. Mary's City. About one of the slaves in St. Mary's City.
Photo by Amber Steffey
  • Information board in St. John's Museum in St. Mary's City. About the Native America's signing documents with the officials of the town. 
Photo by Amber Steffey


The Ark, a four hundred ton capacity cargo ship, transported over 140 colonists into Maryland along with their supplies. The Dove, a forty ton capacity cargo ship, was purchased alongside the Ark by Cecil Calvert, so that the colonists would have the use of a ship once the Ark sailed back to England (Historic St. Mary's City, par. 1). Father Andrew White documented well the chronology of the Ark's voyage and what he could see of the Dove from a distance.

On Friday November 22nd the Ark and Dove depart from Cowes, early the next morning a French ship cannot properly anchor which forces the Dove to set sail to avoid the oncoming collision. The Ark follows and at 10:00am pass the west end of Isle of Wight and barely avoid running aground. Sunday the 24th the Ark and Dove begin sailing westward into the Atlantic. At 3:00pm they acquire the Dragon of London bound for Angola. The next evening the wind increases forcing the Dragon to return to Plymouth. It is established, by Richard Orchard of the Dove, that if danger arises the Dove will display lights from it's masthead and the Ark would choose whether to return to England or continue. In the night the lanterns are sighted on the Dove but then they lose sight of the ship entirely. The Ark assumes the Dove was lost in the storm. The Ark faces one more storm with violent showers and winds on Saturday, November 30th and Sunday, December 1st. (Henry Foley, 1875 pg. 339-367).

Through December the Ark sails along the coast of Spain. On Christmas the passengers celebrate by passing around wine. But, the following day, thirty colonist fall ill of fever from excessive drinking. Twelve colonists die, including Nicholas Fairfax and James Barefote, two Catholics. After 42 days from when they set sail the Ark lands in Barbados where a few weeks later the Dove arrives. Apparently, the Dove harbored in Plymouth in the November storm then sailed with the Dragon to Barbados. On Friday the 24th of January the Ark and Dove set sail hitting a few ports along the way to the Chesapeake Bay where they end their voyage on Monday, February 24th. (Henry Foley, 1875 pg. 339-367).

On Thursday, March 27th Governor Leonard Calvert makes the agreement with the Yaocomaco to purchase the land the settlers have already started building on. The Ark and the Dove make a few other independent voyages, the Dove making a few unauthorized stops claiming the ship needed repairs. The crew deserts the Dove after finally being paid. Finally, the Dove is loaded with beaver and other animal skins and timber, and sets sail for England in August of 1635. But, the Dove is lost at sea. The original crew has to sue Lord Baltimore to get their wages and only win because the loss of the Dove proved it was too damaged to be fit for ocean voyage (Henry Foley, 1875 pg. 339-367).

The paths of St. Mary's City hold five main buildings and many wooden frames where archaeologists have identified buildings from the 1600s. The Historic St. Mary's City Commission has been preserving, protecting, and doing research on this historic site since 1968. Henry Miller had been doing research on the city since the 1980s and discovered that the town was designed "using sophisticated Renaissance principals derived from the Italian Baroque." (Hurry, pg. 2)


A typical inn in the Maryland settlements is re-created in the form of Smith's Ordinary, here guests learn about the reconstruction of buildings based off historical research and archaeology. The second inn is the Van Sweringen Inn, where some of the brick flooring was discovered intact. On that floor many prominent people such as the Governor's Council enjoyed the colony's cider in the late 17th century. (St. Mary's City, par. 1-2).

Garrett Van Sweringen (1636-1698) was a Dutch colonist whom originally came to America as a worker for the City of Amsterdam. He was sent to their colony, New Amstel, on the Delaware River. Van Sweringen moved to Maryland after the capture of New Amstel by the English in 1665. Upon his arrival in St. Mary's City he took over the building already known as Smith's Ordinary as the innkeeper. (Men's Career Files, 1668-1698). 

Smith's was newly built by William Smith who died just before the structure was finished. Van Sweringen then leased the structure from Smith's widow. In late 1672 Van Sweringen bought Smith's and began renovating. He doubled the size, added expensive refinements such as plastered wall and decorative tin tiles. The Ordinary was not Van Sweringen's main source of income; he often traveled to do business with the government and the trips were subsidized by the state in pounds of tobacco. (St. Mary's City, pg. 1-3).

Seeing an opportunity to advance himself, Van Sweringen left Smith's in 1677. Smith's was leased to John Derry so that Van Sweringen could open a private house. The law required that ordinaries had to accept anyone in need of lodging at any time, as well as setting the fees and charges. A private house would be potentially more profitable. His private house was to cater to the elite and he started brewing to appease these patrons. (St. Mary's City, pg. 1-3).

Just after making renovations on the Van Sweringen inn, such as a new kitchen, more chimneys, and plaster walls, Smith's Ordinary burnt to the ground. But, his new house was attracting the wealthiest of the colony so he was able to recover from the loss of Smith's with the high rates of his new inn. (St. Mary's City, pg. 1-3).

There is evidence to suggest, based on archaeological digs, that one of the outer buildings used for brewing and baking may have been a coffee house. If so, this would have been the first in the Chesapeake region. The outbuilding was better maintained than most of the others and the artifacts found within suggest that there was smoking and drinking, but little food consumption. There was also an entry corridor, formed by fences, to this outer building. It was likely that this was intended for public use so that patrons of the coffee house could enter without going through the private yard. (St. Mary's City, pg. 1-3).

Upon his death in 1698 he had owned three recognized businesses, did government work, was mayor of the city, and had amassed such a large estate, including a 1,500 acre plantation just south of St. Mary's City, that it was valued at over 300 pounds of sterling. That would place him in the top 5% of wealthiest householders in St. Mary's County in his time. (St. Mary's City, pg. 1-3).


The Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation is reconstructed on land previously owned by Daniel Clocker, a carpenter who, to earn his way across the ocean, was an indentured servant to Thomas Cornwallis. Clocker arrived in St. Mary's in 1636 and survived his first year in the New World. Though illiterate and poor, he had acquired 200 acres of land by 1660, and was sitting on the Common Council of St. Mary's City by his death in 1675. (Summerfield, 2012, par 1).

While Daniel was an upstanding citizen of the city, his wife Mary, originally an indentured servant to Margaret Brent, was the city's midwife. This made her well known among the few hundred that lived in St. Mary's and well trusted. That is until 1659, when Mary was named, tried, and sentenced to be hanged for theft from Simon Overzee. (Women's Career Files, 1658/9). Overzee lived at St. John's and while he was away Mary was tending to his wife, who was in labor. Overzee's wife died and while Daniel was tending to the body Mary and an unnamed accomplice hid fabric, clothing, and other goods under their skirts. While Mary used these items openly for her family, the accomplice hid their stolen items in a tree. Once found, the crime came to light. (Wilkinson, pg. 1-3)

The day after the sentence the new Governor pardoned Mary, (Women's Career Files, 1658/9) in this time most trades and deals were done vocally, without written contract so there were many property disputes in court. It is possible that Mary was taking what she thought was owed to her after Overzee refused to pay her for her services attending his wife and child. (Wilkinson, pg. 1-3)

It was Clocker land that the plantation was physically reconstructed on, though the story and information of daily life is based on the real Maryland planter, Robert Cole and his family. Cole brought his family to St. Clement's Manor in 1652, then he and his wife died in 1662. Cole's records of inventory and his will have provided much information on the everyday life of a tobacco plantation in the 17th century, as well as the detailed account of this period by the children and servant's guardian. (Summerfield, 2012, par. 2)

Tobacco was the primary cash crop of the Maryland colony and one of the primary reasons people moved there. Early plantations were set up close to water in order to get the product onto the ship quickly and easily. These early plantations were run and cultivated by the family that owned it as well as indentured servants. The plantation houses were all wooden structures, small with only one or two rooms and a loft above. They were covered with clapboard instead of plaster, had wooden shutters, and mud and stick chimney, or wattle and daub. They could be built quickly and cheap, even the wealthier would live in these structures with the added benefits of glass windows, brick chimneys, and wooden floors. (Summerfield, 2012, par. 3). Most people probably slept on a sack called a ticking filled with cornhusks which laid on the floor, sat on stumps, and used chests to store things as well as using them as tables. (Wilkinson, pg. 2, par. 2). Earlier plantations did not have any outer buildings for cooking, smoking meat, or other such jobs. All of this was done in the single plantation home. (Summerfield, 2012, par. 3). 

Raising tobacco takes a lot of time. Most of the year is dedicated to hilling, then planting, weeding, worming, eventually pruning, then cutting, striping, drying, and packing. That is just the work that has to be done to the actual product. The fields had to be surrounded by fencing to keep wildlife out, other fields prepared for next season's tobacco, firewood cut, along with the everyday survival necessities of fishing, hunting, and growing corn. The women and children would take care of the household, gather berries, grow herbs, raise vegetables, pick fruit, pound corn, make and mend clothing, and help in the fields. (Wilkinson, pg. 2, par. 3). 


In the time that the colonies were being founded religion was a predominant aspect of everyday life. While Europe was facing religious turmoil and wars such as the 30 years' war, brought on by religion, many decided to leave. Colonists would rather face the uncertainty of a three month voyage into an unknown territory and face potential hostilities from native peoples, than not be able to practice their religion freely. Lord Baltimore, who founded St. Mary's and was a Roman Catholic, offered religious toleration and envisioned spreading that ideology, eventually, elsewhere in the New World, as well as in Europe. In 1689 the Calvert family (Leonard Calvert, representing his brother - the second Lord Baltimore) loses the colony after its abandonment following the state capital being moved to Annapolis in 1695. (Hurry, pg. 1). Once abandoned, the architecture is lost to nature and not uncovered again until 200 years later.

The first church built in St. Mary's was a wooden chapel on the parcel of land they named "the Chapel Land." This was the founding of English America's Roman Catholic Church. But, in 1645 there was an attack on St. Mary's by those opposed to Lord Baltimore. This attack saw the chapel burned. Once King Charles II restored Kingship in England in 1660, the Calvert family was reinstated in Maryland and the Brick Church was built. (Maryland's First Capital, 2007, pg. 1). 

Sadly, in 1704 the royal governor of Maryland ordered the church sealed and the Jesuits used the church's brick to build a new manor house and in 1753 the land was sold to William Hicks for agriculture. (Maryland's First Capital, 2007, pg. 1). 

In 1938 Dr. H. Chandlee Forman found the foundation of a large structure. The foundation laid out into that of a Latin cross in contrast to Virginia churches which were rectangular. The handmade brick wall was almost 5 feet into the ground in addition to the three foot thickness. And, some of the features of the interior subsurface explained some of the internal architecture of the building. (Hurry, pg. 2-3). 

The seemingly excessive resources used on the foundation suggested a tall building. Looking further into it, Tim Riordan found that there is a correlation in other brick churches from the colonial era. Then, because of the chapel's foundation it can be predicted that the building was 23 feet at the eaves, and the walls nearly 25 feet. (Hurry, pg. 2-3). 

In the dig, some architectural artifacts were found. Mortar with ruled joints was standard practice for making the handmade bricks more uniform. It was discovered through recovered plaster that it was applied directly to the brick instead of building a wooden frame around the brick and then plastering. Fragments of roofing were found proving a tile roof. And peculiar building stone was found that suggested an imported stone floor from the Old World. (Hurry, pg. 2-3). 

There was no specific evidence for an exact time period of the Church but it can be safely estimated that the construction was done in 1667. It had to have been complete before 1670, when court cases show that Robert Pennywell was charged with breaking the windows of the chapel. (Archives of Maryland, par 1). There are only a few mentions of the chapel in any documented history from the time, the court case being one and one description by Governor Francis Nicholson in 1697. He was responsible for the move in capital from St. Mary's to Annapolis, he described it as "a good brick chapel." (Hurry, pg. 4). 

According to Silas D. Hurry, the HSMC Curator of Collections and Archaeology Laboratory Director, "only one or two Catholic chapels were actually built in England during the period and these were Chapels Royal for the Catholic wives of Stuart Monarchs." So he poses the question, "How do you determine a pattern for the only brick Roman Catholic building constructed in the American British colonies?" They first looked at other Catholic nations for precedence. Then at the individuals that built the church, which brought about a deeper look into the architectural terminology of the resident Roman Catholic priests, or the Jesuits. In the late 1500-1600s church design was heavily done by the Jesuits. One such church design is the Gesu that also makes a Latin cross with the foundation. All Jesuit built churches have tall walls, though clear interior views that allows light in and focuses on the altar. (pg. 5-6). 

Using Jesuit design principles and what they know from what was recovered in artifacts the built team constructed a blueprint and then created what is, as close as we can guess, a near-exact replica of the first and only 17th Century Roman Catholic Church built in America. (Maryland's First Capital, pg. 3-12). 

The first step in the actual construction of the church was the marking and protection of the graves located in Chapel Field. Once onto the construction, it was decided that the new church would take root directly on top of the old church's 335 year old foundation. To try to make this church as close to the last as possible the bricks were layered with the same oyster shell mortar as the first; unfortunately it did not set well in the cold weather and construction had to stop every winter season until its completion. Many details went into the creation of this project, handmade bricks, glass windows, architectural embellishments, all created as accurately as could be guessed in how the settlers created the church originally. In the fall of 2007 the chapel received its finishing details and was completed. (Maryland's First Capital, pg. 3-12). 


St. John's Site Museum is located inside of the building, reconstructed on the foundation, of one of the largest enclosed spaces in the colonies. This structure was originally built for Maryland's first provincial secretary, John Lewgar, in 1638. Here policies were formed by the colonies legislators, one of those policies being the Proprietor's mandate to separate church and state. The U.S. constitution used these policies when it was written one hundred and fifty years later. Among other firsts, In 1642 Mathias de Sousa, the first person of African descent, voted in American legislature. And in 1648, just six years after, Margaret Brent requested the right to vote, which was denied, but she was the first woman in documented American history to ask for women's rights in government. St. John's was also used to sign treaties with Native Americans and later served as an inn and records office. Unfortunately, St. John's was far too damaged due to decay and was abandoned in 1715. (Miller, pg. 1). 

The first archaeological attempts on St. John's was by H. Chandlee Forman, who also located the church, in 1962. Excavation was difficult with all the trees so true digging was left for ten years later with some modern methods by Garry Wheeler Stone and Alexander H. Morrison II. Fortunately, St. John's cobblestone foundation was well preserved. (Miller, pg. 1, par. 2). 

According to Henry M. Miller, Lewgar had built what was called a Lobby Entrance house, which meant "the front door opened into a small waiting area from which doors led into the two ground floor rooms. Above were chambers reached by a stairway originally built next to the chimney stack." This was a style popular in East Anglia of Britain at the time of construction. (pg. 2). 

In 1678, when St. John's was an inn, the innkeeper, Henry Exon, was given permission from Lord Baltimore, the lease owner at the time, to make some much needed renovation on the ageing structure. He dismantled the original chimney, moved it to the north wall of the house and built it in a wider "H" plan brick stack build. In this location a new stairway to the upper floor could be built for easier access for the patrons. He also imported Dutch pantile to re-roof the house. The kitchen was re-done, the chimney re-done. These renovations helped preserve the house and let it remain standing into the 18th century. (Miller, pg 2-3). 

HSMC archaeologists covered the remains of the house with a fiberglass A-frame so the public can view it without disturbing the integrity of the artifacts. The museum was built up, around, and over the sight so that the entire house is the main attraction, though the original foundation of the west gable was used to fully reconstruct a replica. (Miller, pg 4). 

St. Mary's College. "Historic St. Mary's City - About St. Mary's." About St Marys. Accessed July 17, 2016. Historic St. Mary's City. "Ark and Dove - HSMC." HSMC. 2013. Accessed July 17, 2016. Henry Foley, Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus. Historical Facts Illustrative of the Labours and Sufferings of Its Members in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, vol. 3 (London: Burns and Oates, 1875), 339-367, accessed July 14, 2016. Hurry, Silas D. "Recreating the Chapel." Accessed July 15, 2016. Unknown. "Garrett Van Sweringen." Accessed July 14, 2016. St. Mary's City. "Town Center." Accessed July 14, 2016. Summerfield, Mark. "Godiah Spray Tobacco Plantation." Msummerfieldimages RSS. July 25, 2012. Accessed July 17, 2016. Wilkinson, Susan. "Good Neighbor Clocker." Accessed July 16, 2016. Maryland's First Capital. "Reconstructing the Brick Chapel of 1667." 2007. Accessed July 16, 2016. "Archives of Maryland, Volume 0057, Preface 0054 - Proceedings of the Provincial Court, 1666-1670." Archives of Maryland, Volume 0057, Preface 0054 - Proceedings of the Provincial Court, 1666-1670. Accessed July 17, 2016. Miller, Henry M. "St. John's Site." Accessed July 16, 2016. "Dr. Lois Green Carr, Men's Career Files MSA SC 5094 Image No: Sc5094-4301-001." Dr. Lois Green Carr, Men's Career Files MSA SC 5094 Image No: Sc5094-4301-001. Accessed July 17, 2016. "Dr. Lois Green Carr, Women's Career Files MSA SC 4040 Image: Sc4040-0374-10." Dr. Lois Green Carr, Women's Career Files MSA SC 4040 Image: Sc4040-0374-10. Accessed July 17, 2016.