In St Mary's City - 38:11.50N, 76:26.10W
Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Mon 31 Aug 2009 16:58
At the mouth of the Potomac on the Maryland coast lies St Mary's City on the St Mary's River. This is a place of huge historical interest to Americans, as it was the capital of Maryland in the early 17th Century, before that status was subsequently bestowed on Annapolis some years later. St Mary's was only the 3rd settlement established by the British after Jamestown & Plymouth when they ventured into these parts, although this area of Maryland was already inhabited by the Yaocomaco Indians, an independent tribe of the Piscataway nation, who proved to be a friendly bunch that fished the river and worked the land. The friendliness could have been affected by the various firearms the British banded around on their arrival perhaps, but that's being cynical. Arrive the British certainly did, in two ships, the Ark (nothing to do with Noah) of some 400 tons and the Dove, a small pinnace of some 60-70 ft and 40 tons that had both sailed from Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1633. The Arc was much bigger, but the Dove was ideal for exploring ahead of it's larger companion ship.
The large bay at St Mary's The old churchyard
The story is told that the Yaocomacos were being harassed by their nasty neighbours the Susquehannocks, so when the British offered to buy some land off the Yaocomacos, who were about to move out of the area anyway they must have thought all their totem poles were in harmony that day, as it gave them the chance to skedaddle across the river and let the British deal with the Susquehannocks. What's more, they even let the British move into their huts so they had somewhere ready to live in whilst they built something more traditionally British. They purchased it from the Indians in exchange for blankets, cloth, knives, trinkets, axes, hoes and other tools. Hhhmm - those axes could have been risky in the wrong hands!
The Indians did teach the newcomers farming methods so they could make the most of the new land they were settling onto. They renamed the village St. Mary's. (We did wonder if we British were stitched up a little at St Mary's and how shocked those bullying Susquehannocks were when they next attacked the village of the Yaocomacos). But who can be sure what is fact and what makes a good story where history is concerned. What is known is that one of the Chief's daughters Mary Kittamaquand was sent to live with the British as a 7 year old girl in 1641 so as to learn the customs and language of the new settlers. Poor wretch! She married an English settler 4 years later who was suspected of using it as a way of securing rights to Indian lands. (An early example of 'gold digging' perhaps).
The reconstructed State House Inside the State House
What we do know is that St Mary's did become a large settlement where a seat of Government was established and a constitution drawn up for a way of life that had religious tolerance at it's centre, considering that England in those times was strictly Protestant but would shortly erupt into civil war. The first Catholic church in the new world was established at St Mary's but at the outbreak of the English civil war it was closed down by Protestants living in nearby Virginia. The only place outside of the Mother country affected directly by the Civil War.
For some years there has been an archaeological programme underway at St Mary's to unearth and re-construct the past. There is a vessel built locally that although not being a replica of the Dove, is an interpretation of what it may have looked like. This is moored on a jetty at St Mary's and is included as part of the tour round the site.
What the Dove may have looked like...... Note the horizontal windlass for raising the anchor
Having dropped anchor in the large protected horseshoe shaped bay off St Mary's City we paid our $20 for the tour and walked round the large well marked path which led to the various buildings which had been erected on the original site of St Mary's City. This is a living museum/site so they have people dressed up as the British settlers to give an air of authenticity, until we came to the Indian huts where we were met by a young American girl not dressed as an Indian. This is where we ran into our first issue of political correctness, as it was explained to us that it wasn't considered ethical to dress a white American in an Indian's costume, although strangely enough this hadn't stopped the Americans elsewhere on the site dressing up as British settlers. Maybe it was pertinent that the native Indians in those days shaved their heads and wore very little which could have proved to be a problem getting volunteers to take on the role. We moved on, and spent some time talking to the man that was minding the printing press, which was the only one in Maryland at that time. A fascinating piece of machinery, it reminded us of how difficult printing was in those days with 1000's of tiny little lead pieces for letters all laid out in open boxes. He could actually feel what each letter was without looking at the typeface. A catastrophe should the box be accidentally upset, but a bigger problem he mentioned was the parties of school children touring the site who's little fingers would attempt to take samples or mix up the letters !!
The printing press Skip listening to a young lady describe life in an 'Ordinary' (name for a 'B&B' in those times)
'Farthing's Ordinary '- used as the gift shop on site Exploring the interior of the Indian hut - wigwams or tepees weren't used in these parts.
These are called 'Ghost houses' which depict where various dwellings existed One of the many paths covering the site
We would have spent more time walking round the site as the history here is fascinating. A short distance away was the tobacco plantation that brought great wealth to the area, but a distant roll of thunder reminded us there was a storm on the way which had been forecast for later that day so we hurried back towards where we left the dinghy. Unfortunately we didn't hurry enough and the storm was upon us as we got to within striking distance. Ajaya was about 200 yards offshore, but we didn't even make it to the dinghy as the heavens opened and torrential rain descended. We took shelter at the St Mary's College sailing compound as the lightening started to streak down close by, with one simultaneous clap of thunder and streak of lightening that clearly hit the opposite bank of the creek. We watched Ajaya, wondering if this would be the time she would get hit - at least we were safe. The wind generator was flying round as the wind was now approaching 30 knots. The storm was quick moving though and as the lightening strikes passed steadily into the distance we headed for the dinghy (which was full of water naturally) and reclaimed our floating home which was unaffected by the passing storm.