St. Mary´s City is a town located at the southernmost tip of the state of Maryland. This was the first European settlement in the Province of Maryland, and thus the historic site where the Province of Maryland was founded. This province later became the Colony of Maryland, and eventually the State of Maryland. The settlement St. Mary is the fourth-oldest permanent English settlement in the United States, and St. Mary´s was the capital of Maryland from 1634-1695, before being succeeded by Annapolis.

St. Marys City Full-sized working replica of the Dove, St. Mary's City
Full-sized working replica of the Dove, St. Mary’s City

Today, Historic St. Mary´s City is a large, state-run historic area, which is both an active community with over 2,300 residents, and a partly reconstructed colonial settlement with a living history section and a museum complex. Of the residents, roughly 1,400 are college students living in campus dorms and apartments associated with St. Mary´s College of Maryland.

Historic St. Mary´s City is a major tourist attraction and receives around 25,000 tourists and 20,000 student visitors per year.

Where is it?

Coordinates: 38°11′21″N 76°25′56″W

St. Mary´s was founded on a short, brackish water tidal tributary of the Potomac River, close to the point where the river reaches the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. This area is now the southernmost tip of the state of Maryland, and the tidal tributary river is called St. Mary´s River. The surrounding county is also named St. Mary´s, after the settlement.

Reconstructed colonial town and living history museum

Historic St. Mary´s City is a large historic interpretation area in St. Mary which is open to the public. It includes four museums, and re-creates both the original settlers’ village and the original colonial capital, with both buildings and artefact replicas. There is even a working colonial-era farm.

The staff for the entire complex wear period dress, and some of them are actors who will play historic roles to help boost the feeling of being in a settler’s village or colonial city. Archaeologists and their students are also present to provide information and historical interpretations for the archaeological site displays.

Outdoor historical reenactments take place year-round.

The Dove

The historical site includes a fully working replica of The Dove. The Dove was one of two sailing ships that brough the original English settlers to the first European settlement in the area.

The Piscataway Native American Nation

During special events, members of the Piscataway Native American Nation will be present to educate visitors about Native American aspects of the colonial era. The Piscataways inhabited the area when the English settlers arrived and helped the early colonists.

St. Mary is a National Landmark

St. Mary´s City was declared a National Landmark in 1969.

Archaeology

Over 200 archaeological excavations have been carried out in St. Mary so far, and projects are still going on. It is an internationally recognized archaeological research area, and also functions as a training site for new archaeologists. The Historical Archaeological Field School is based in St. Mary.

Some initial research was carried out in the 1940s, but the first major archaeological dig here did not commence until the early 1970s. This is when St. Mary´s Historic Commission was established to promote and supervise archaeological and historical research efforts in the area.

At the time of writing, several archaeological projects are ongoing in St. Mary, continuously providing us with more information about the various epochs of the area, including pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times.

One of the most attention-grabbing discoveries in recent years occurred in 2019 when St. Mary´s Fort was unearthed. St. Mary´s Fort was built by the first English colonists in 1634.

Here are a few other examples of archaeological finds in St. Mary´s:

  • Artefacts from successive Native American populations living in the area.
  • A printing house. This is believed to have been the very first printing house in the Southern Colonies within British America. Lead print type found at the site suggests that it was the William Nuthead Printing House, which we know of from surviving documents.
  • In addition to the abovementioned 1634 fort, archaeologists have also discovered a 1645 fort surrounded by a moat.
  • The site where St. John´s Freehold used to be. This is where Maryland’s citizen government was instituted.
  • The site where St. Peter´s Freehold used to be. This was the home of Maryland Chancellor Philip Calvert. The building was destroyed in 1695, when 900 lbs of gunpowder stored in the cellar were set ablaze. If the explosion was intentional or not remains unknown.
  • The site of Garret Van Sweringen’s Inns, was built in the 1600s.
  • Three lead coffins from the 1600s.
  • The foundations of a Jesuit chapel.
  • Plantation slave quarters from the 1800s.
  • Former slave quarters on land that is now the campus of St. Mary´s College of Maryland.