Maryland—The Catholic Experiment

New England was not the only destination sought by those fleeing religious persecution. In 1632, Cecelius Calvert, known as Lord Baltimore, was granted possession of all land lying between the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. Lord Baltimore saw this as an opportunity to grant religious freedom to the Catholics who remained in Anglican England.

Catholics were still a persecuted minority in England in the 17th century. Baltimore thought that his New World possession could serve as a refuge, and he wanted to turn a financial profit from the venture.

Maryland, was first settled in 1634. Economic opportunity was the draw for many Maryland colonists. The first inhabitants were a mixture of country gentlemen (mostly Catholic) and workers and artisans (mostly Protestant.) This mixture would surely doom the Catholic experiment. Usually, there are more poor than aristocrats in any given society, and the Catholics soon found themselves in the minority.

Maryland was similar to Virginia in geography and thus good for growing tobacco. The desire to make profits from tobacco led to the need for low-cost labor. The number of indentured servants expanded and the social structure of Maryland reflected this change. Faced with frequent battles with malaria and typhoid, life expectancy in Maryland was about 10 years less than in New England.

Fearing that the Protestant masses might restrict Catholic liberties, the House of Delegates passed the Maryland Act of Toleration in 1649. This act granted religious freedom to all Christians. Unfortunately, Protestants swept the Catholics out of the legislature within a decade, a religious strife ensued. Still, the Act of Toleration is an important part of the colonial legacy of religious freedom that would culminate in the First Amendment in the American Bill of Rights.

Source: Maryland—The Catholic Experiment
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