Oh, Maryland, my Maryland. We’re sorry you’re having such a lousy birthday today.
We can’t party in person, because we can’t gather in groups of more than 10. And a lot more people than that think you’re pretty special, so this is a real letdown.
We had such grand plans to mark your 386th.
We were going to have a big throwdown last Saturday at Historic St. Mary’s City — you know, your first capital — also marking the Year of the Woman. In addition to all of the other usual excellent living history displays, there was to have been a keynote address by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland’s first female lieutenant governor.
We were thinking about offering you an enormous Smith Island cake, big enough to hold all of those candles (pardon us for being a bit indelicate about your age, ma’am). But the bakeries were all closed. So we figured we’d whip up one ourselves. We rushed out to all the shoppers’ club stores and groceries, but we struck out again. The shelves were already wiped out of flour and sugar. We also noted a severe shortage of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and bottled water.
But as good Marylanders do, we’ve adapted, improvised and overcome the challenge presented by the coronavirus outbreak. Historic St. Mary’s City MC will instead mark your birthday today, March 25, while practicing responsible social distancing. Folks can go to its Facebook page at https://bit.ly/2QyKKey, and can create something that shows their Maryland pride. They’re encouraged to share it to social media and tag them @HistoricStMarysCity.
The St. Clement’s Island Museum is also making your birthday a social event, virtually speaking. Folks can check out www.facebook.com/SCIMuseum at 2 p.m. today, March 25, when St. Mary’s County museum division staff members will make a live announcement.
We’ve all heard the tale of your founding by now, but it’s still well worth retelling. After a hard crossing of the Atlantic from England during the winter, settlers aboard the Ark and Dove sailed up the Potomac River and landed at St. Clement’s Island in 1634. There, on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1634, the Rev. Andrew White celebrated what is believed to be the first Mass by English-speaking people in the New World.
You were established as a haven from the religious persecution that was dogging Europe during the 17th century. Maryland was among the first of the British colonies to allow “freedom of conscience,” which to Catholics and Protestants alike meant freedom of worship. It was a novel idea four centuries ago — that Maryland intended to provide religious liberty for men and women alike. That was a bold notion, when in the most practical and legal sense, real freedom in the colonies was pretty much exclusively for white, male property owners. That’s something to think about in this 100th anniversary year of women winning the right to vote, 50 years after African American men also were late to gain that privilege.
St. Mary’s City is home to the first colonial capital of the province, as well as the site of the first State House. This was where, almost 400 years ago, the first sessions of the General Assembly of Maryland were held, before the capital was moved to Annapolis.
Some Marylanders living outside of that region might have let the day pass without realizing its importance. After all, Maryland has grown far beyond that small initial settlement. But let’s not forget what that small group of founders did, even as the date gets further and further away, and that speck of land in the Potomac where the settlers first landed continues to erode slowly into the water.
Freedom of conscience. Freedom of religion. It’s important to note and celebrate those and all of the other freedoms we enjoy. All that, and you have a really cool flag, too. Here’s to the Calvert and Crossland families.
So Maryland, happy birthday to you. We hope to do better by you next March.