Desktop version

Home arrow History

Colonial Maryland

The rich English Catholic Lord Baltimore founded Maryland (1634), located just up the Chesapeake Bay from Virginia. He hoped to make a profit and provide a haven for his fellow Catholics, who were still heavily discriminated against in England. He was thinking of vast feudal estates, but colonists didn't want to come unless they personally got to own some land. New residents planted tobacco. To work the fields, the Maryland settlers imported indentured servants, generally poor white Englishmen who agreed to work for four to seven years for free in exchange for passage to the New World. In the early days, three of every four English immigrants to the Chesapeake Bay came as indentured servants.

Despite the promise of eventual freedom, only 40 percent of the indentured servants lived to win their freedom, due largely to the early death rate from disease. As indentured servants died out in the late 1600s, Maryland began to import larger numbers of slaves. Even with servants working and slaves on the way, Maryland managed to make a stand for freedom with the adoption of the Act of Toleration (1649). The act guaranteed freedom of religion to all, Catholic or Protestant, as long as they believed in Jesus. The Toleration law didn't help much if you were Buddhist or Jewish, though; the act threatened nonbelievers in Jesus with death.

The Virginia colony

When he wasn't bankrolling colonies, Sir Walter Raleigh liked to smoke a pipe. Back then, people called it "drinking tobacco," but by any name, the habit has always been hard to quit. Smoking really took off in England after John Rolfe, the husband of Pocahontas, figured out a way to grow smoother-tasting tobacco in the Jamestown colony. He made so much money that pretty soon people were planting tobacco in their front yards and even in the street. As the market for the "bewitching weed" grew, colonists pushed for more land to grow it on. With more land, they needed more labor: Virginia finally had an economic hit.

Just in time, a Dutch ship appeared off Jamestown and sold a cargo of 20 Africans to work for hungry Virginia planters. It was still a year before the Pilgrims came to New England seeking freedom. In the same year that the slave ship arrived, London authorized the House of Burgesses (1619) in Virginia to be the first representative government in the New World. America was already on a two-track system. Early Africans were indentured servants, just like Europeans on contract for a limited number of years. Slavery replaced indenture in the late 1600s.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics