Today, the Maryland Tercentenary Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin tells the story of the first expedition’s arrival under Lord Baltimore’s patent for Maryland 381 years ago.
From Scribner’s Popular History of the United States published in 1896:
Cecilius Calvert, now Lord Baltimore, intended to go himself as leader of the first expedition, but being, for some reason, detained in England, he delegated the command to his younger brother Leonard; Jerome Hawley and Thomas Cornwallis, “two worthy and able gentlemen,” being appointed his councilors or assistants.
It has been a disputed question, whether the majority of those taking part in this first voyage to Maryland were “gentlemen” or laborers, but the larger portion of the emigrants undoubtedly belonged to the latter class.
The expedition, moreover, was in every sense under Roman Catholic leadership. Maryland was to be an asylum for the then persecuted Romanists, and of those who came to share in the new venture the leading men were some twenty gentlemen “of very good fashion,” men of influence and often of wealth, who hoped to find a quiet resort beyond the sea.
Among these adventurers, their presence and leadership lending to the voyage something of the aspect and fervor of a religious pilgrimage, were the Jesuit priests Father Andrew White and Father John Altham, two men whose earnestness, self-sacrifice, and simple piety, have compelled kindly recognition from historians of every sect and opinion.
Father White became the annalist of the expedition, and from his quaint and picturesque “Narrative,” written in Latin and having its description interspersed with many pious reflections and devout thanksgivings, the most vivid idea of the voyage and settlement is gained.
The whole number of assembled emigrants, including servants and of laborers, was nearly or quite three hundred.
On Friday, November 22, 1633, they sailed from Cowes, in the Isle of Wight, in a ship, The Ark, accompanied by a pinnace, The Dove, “and after committing the principal parts of the ship to the protection of God especially, and of His most Holy Mother, and St. Ignatius, and all the guardian angels of Maryland,” they put to sea, “with a gentle east wind blowing.”
The voyage was long, for the vessels followed the circuitous southern course by the Azores and the West Indies; and at St. Christopher’s and Barbados, they made a considerable stay.
The first part of the passage was full of danger; a terrible tempest on the 25th of November, separated the pinnace from the ship, nor did the smaller vessel reappear till six weeks later, when she overtook The Ark far on in her course, and the devout emigrants offered up a hearty thanksgiving for their reunion with the friends they had long given up for lost.
Fears of pirates haunted them throughout the voyage; they narrowly escaped falling into the hands of a Spanish fleet which lay along the Cape de Verd islands; and only the timely discovery of a plot among the slaves at Barbados, prevented their finding that island given up to anarchy and massacre, amid which they would have run some risk of being murdered for the sake of their ship and cargo.
Storms were frequent, nor were they always saved from danger by monitory “sun-fish swimming with great efforts against the course of the sun,” which Father White believed to be “a very sure sign of a terrible storm,” and which once, at least, led them to take prompt precautions.
Beset with perils as they were, the emigrants nevertheless made their voyage in safety, and at last, on February 24, 1634, they sighted Point Comfort, in Virginia.
Glad as they were to be so near the end of their tedious voyage, the newcomers had some cause to fear for their reception among the colonists along the James, where the hostility excited by the granting of Lord Baltimore’s patent was now at its height.
But Governor Harvey, anxious to gain favor with the king, and personally friendly to Baltimore’s purposes, was able to prevent any disagreeable manifestation of the popular feeling.
He met the settlers, fortified as they were with royal letters to him, most hospitably, and treated them kindly during their stay of more than a week.
On the third of March, they again set sail, and were soon within those boundaries, on the shore of the beautiful bay, which were to mark their future home.
Right gladly did they see the pleasant region that awaited them, for few emigrants to North America had been greeted by a more genial climate or more beautiful lands than these; and in the pride of possession they “began to give names to places,” calling the southern point at the Potomac’s mouth, now Smith Point, by the name of St. Gregory, and the northern one St. Michael’s, now Point Lookout.
The entrance to the great river, as Father White described it with enthusiastic admiration, presented nearly the same appearance as in our own day.
“It is not,” he remarked, “disfigured with any swamps, but has firm land on each side. Fine groves of trees appear, not choked with briers or bushes and undergrowth, but growing at intervals as if planted by the hand of man, so that you can drive a four-horse carriage wherever you chose among the trees.”
To the right and left opened the mouths of broad estuaries, — tributary streams with low shores, behind which rose gentle hills, covered with plentiful, yet not dense forests.
“Never have I beheld a larger or more beautiful river,” wrote the priest; “the Thames seems a mere rivulet in comparison with it.”
The Ark and the Dove sailed up the broad stream, while the shores at night blazed with the campfires of the Indians; and the daylight revealed to the emigrants armed bands hurrying to and fro, the tribes they believed mustering to resist their landing.
Somewhat more than thirty miles from the river’s mouth lay a group of islands, called the Herons’ Islands, from the great number of those birds that flocked about them.
They are known now as the Blackstone Islands, and in the two centuries that have elapsed, almost all of them have been washed away, a few only rising above the level of flood tide.
The first of these, long since reduced to a long, low sand spit, hardly discernible above the water, the voyagers named St. Clements, and chose as their first landing-place on Maryland soil.
It had then a sloping shore, and cedars, nut-trees, sassafras, with flowers and herbs, covered the four hundred acres of dry land, which have now so nearly disappeared.
On March 25, the “day of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Virgin Mary,” — an omen which the pious emigrants did not fail to note, — they took possession of the country with solemn ceremonies.
After celebrating mass upon the beach, they followed their governor in reverent procession to the highest part of the island, where they planted a great cross of wood and knelt around it, while the litany was read.
Then Leonard Calvert solemnly proclaimed their right to the beautiful region about them, and took possession of it “for our Savior and for our Sovereign Lord the King of England.”
The Maryland Tercentenary Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin displays against a print of Lord Calvert showing Lycurgus the document establishing civil and religious liberty in Maryland in 1649.