St. Mary's City and Maryland's Old State House
By John T. Marck
As Maryland's birthplace, St. Mary's County has many interesting and historical places. St. Mary's City is one such place. On March 25, 1634, Leonard, brother of Cecil Calvert, anchored his ships, the Ark and the Dove, by St. Clement's Island. On this day they came ashore to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. Today we celebrate March 25 as Maryland Day. While most of the crews lived on the ships, Leonard and others traveled up the Potomac River to meet with the Emperor of the Piscataway Indians, and arranged for a peaceful settlement for his people on the Indians' land. Two days later, on March 27, 1634, Leonard, with the Ark and the Dove sailed up the St. George's River (now St. Mary's) to an established village of the Yaocamico Indians. The Yaocamico Indians were in the process of evacuating their village for fear of attacks by the Susquehannock Indians. Leonard and the new colonists took over the village and paid the Indians for it with hatchets, axes, farm tools and cloth. Soon the colonists built St. George's Fort, followed by a town laid out according to Leonard's plans. Year by year the colonists increased in number and in 1676 built a statehouse.
St. Mary's City was the first capital of the State of Maryland, and remained so until the capital was moved to Annapolis, a more convenient location, in 1694. Also originally the county seat, St. Mary's City lost this status, and declined rapidly, when the seat was moved to Leonardtown.
During the colonial days of St. Mary's, the money used to purchase items were the English pound, shilling and pence, the official currency of Maryland. But because of a shortage of these types of currency, other items of value were used. These included furs, tools, cloth, salt, corn, meat, livestock and tobacco. Because coins were so scarce, Cecil Calvert ordered shillings, sixpence, silver groats, and copper pennies to be made. To accomplish this the first mint was established in Maryland, in St. Mary's in 1660. The English king, learning of the minting of coins, disapproved and ordered the mint closed. Consequently, only several hundred coins were made. Some of these coins are still around today. One such collection, believed to be a complete set, may be viewed at Johns Hopkins University. These coins were the property of John W. Garrett, who willed them to the university in 1942, along with his estate "Evergreen," and his paintings and library of books.
As English money became more and more scarce to obtain, other forms of currency were used in Maryland by the 1700s. These include Spanish dollars, pistoles (gold), and doubloons (gold). French half-guineas and francs, Dutch guilders, and German pieces of gold. Because coins were hard to come by, some of the larger coins were cut into sections, sometimes halves and quarters. The quarter coin of the United States gets its name from this procedure. Also the Spanish used a money mark symbol which was inscribed as "$" which in modern times symbolizes a dollar sign. When the coins were cut into halves or quarters, this symbol "$" was placed on each coin meaning that it originally came from a dollar. Thus the "$" symbol became known or to mean "dollar."
Some of the original buildings built in St. Mary's City in colonial times are no longer there. Still, the city has many historic sites.
Historic St. Mary's, an eight hundred acre outdoor history museum includes St. Mary's Old State House; located on Middle Street. This old State House was built in 1934 to celebrate Maryland's tercentenary. Bricks from ruins of several old buildings were used to reconstruct the Old State House. The original building was built by Captain John Quiqley in 1676, paid for with 300,000 pounds of tobacco and cask. Cannons which were buried for centuries and unearthed can be found at the entrance way and on the grounds.
Copyright © 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. From Maryland The Seventh State A History, by John T. Marck. Copyright © John T. Marck, All Rights Reserved.
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