Founding & Early History
Calvert County was founded on July 3, 1654, though the first colonists came to the county soon after the arrival of the ships Ark and Dove in 1634. Only three counties in the state are older: St. Mary’s was founded in 1637, Kent in 1637 and Anne Arundel in 1650.
Captain John Smith explored the Chesapeake Bay and, sailing past the cliffs of Calvert, wrote: “The Western Shore, by which we sailed, we found well-watered, but very mountainous and barren, the valleys were fertile, but extremely thick of small woods, as well as trees, and much frequented with wolves, bears, deer and other wild beasts. The streams were crystal clear and full of fish.”
The first settlements in Calvert County, at the lower Patuxent River and on St. Leonard Creek, were probably made soon after the colonists arrived in St. Mary’s. The earliest records appear in General Assembly documents in 1642. The growth of the county during the next 50 years was rapid. During this half century the county was settled by European colonists, many of whom were highly educated for their time.
The early history of Maryland and Calvert County is closely tied to political affairs in England.
Lord Baltimore established the county, though he sent his friend, Robert Brooke, a Protestant, to organize and govern. Brooke arrived with his wife, 10 children and 28 servants in June 1630. He was followed by many families from England.
When the Puritans were driven out of Virginia, many of them settled in Maryland. Some of them, under the leadership of Richard Preston, settled in Calvert County. The two plantation houses he built about 1650 on the lower Patuxent River are still standing. One of them, known as Charles Gift, was the site of the first assembly held in Maryland. Here in 1655, an armed band of Governor Stone’s men from St. Mary’s County took the Puritans by surprise and took the papers and documents that the Puritans had taken from St. Mary’s. The great seal of Maryland was lost in this raid and it has never been recovered. It is believed to be buried in the garden or hidden in the walls of the old house.
In addition to the Puritans, many Quakers came to Calvert County and these early settlers are woven into its history. The plantation system developed and much of the cultural, social and political life of the county were tied to this structure.
War of 1812
One of the most famous naval battles in Maryland history took place against British forces in the Patuxent River in 1814 during the War of 1812. Of the few large naval vessels in the American Navy, none could be spared for defense of the Chesapeake Bay. This was left to Commodore Joshua Barney and the small flotilla of barges under his command. These barges were rowed by oarsmen and it was thought that they would have an advantage over the wind-driven British ships. However, the American barges were forced to find haven in St. Leonard Creek, which was too small for British ships. The British put ashore many raiding parties that burned and destroyed much property. Many of the old plantation homes were burned or badly damaged.
Figures of Note
Calvert County has contributed many important names to the pages of history. Thomas Parran was surgeon general of the armies during the Revolutionary War. Two “first ladies” had their homes here: Louisa Catherine Johnson became the wife of President John Quincy Adams and Margaret Mackall Smith married President Zachary Taylor. Perhaps the best known Calvert Countian was Roger Brooke Taney, whom President Andrew Jackson appointed Attorney General of the United States, Secretary of the Treasury and finally Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He held this position from 1836 to 1864.
Calvert County has as many historical old homes and churches within her borders as any place of comparable size in the United States. Christ Church, in the southern part of the county, was rebuilt several times. The present building dates from 1769. All Saints Church, in the upper county, was established as a parish in 1632. The present church was erected in 1774. Many beautiful and historic houses date back to the Colonial Period and can be visited during the house and garden tour in the county.