Roots of state’s history – and historic tree – highlight Maryland Day

By Mark Zimmermann
Courtesy Catholic Standard
ST. MARY’S CITY  – This year’s celebration of Maryland Day at Historic St. Mary’s City was all about roots – the state’s roots as the cradle of religious liberty in the United States, and the roots of Maryland’s Liberty Tree, remnants of which were fashioned into a cross that is now part of the reconstructed Brick Chapel of 1667.
The March 19 ceremony culminated in a procession in which the Liberty Tree Cross was carried into the chapel, where the cross is part of the reconstructed Carroll family tabernacle, based on the one that scholars believe was used at the chapel in the 17th century. 
The rebuilt Brick Chapel stands as a symbol of Maryland’s status as the birthplace of religious freedom in what became the United States. The Maryland colony was founded in 1634 by Lord Baltimore, a Catholic, on the ideals of freedom of conscience and religious toleration, which at that time were revolutionary concepts for England and its colonies.
Maryland Day in 2016 marked the 382nd anniversary of March 25, 1634, when those first English colonists, representing various faiths, landed on St. Clement’s Island in what is now St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland. On that spot, Jesuit Father Andrew White celebrated the first Catholic Mass in the English-speaking colonies.
The annual commemoration had added poignance this year, as the Liberty Tree Cross was blessed the day before by Baltimore Archbishop William Lori at a ceremony at Fort McHenry National Monument. It was then placed on board the rebuilt 1812-era topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore II, where it was transported to Historic St. Mary’s City.

Archbishop William E. Lori blessed the Liberty Tree Cross March 18 at Fort McHenry National Monument. It was then placed on board the rebuilt 1812-era topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore II, where it was transported to Historic St. Mary’s City. (Maureen Cromer/CR Staff)

The Maryland Liberty Tree was a 600-year-old tulip poplar in Annapolis that served as a meeting spot for colonists seeking freedom during the American Revolution, and reportedly Washington and Lafayette met under the tree before marching to Yorktown. After the tree was destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, some of the roots were saved and later fashioned into three wooden crosses. The first two crosses were presented to Pope Francis and Prince Charles, and the third was brought to Historic St. Mary’s City for the tabernacle at the rebuilt Brick Chapel.

“The rich symbolism of a cross made from the roots of Maryland’s Liberty Tree completing the altar at the place (where) the first roots of Liberty of Conscience were planted in the new world is truly wonderful,” said Dr. Henry Miller, the director of research for Historic St. Mary’s City, in a statement announcing this year’s Maryland Day ceremony, at which he was the keynote speaker.
The Liberty Tree Cross was presented to the Brick Chapel by the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Maryland. A leader of that group, Scott Watkins, dressed as Leonard Calvert, the first governor of the Maryland colony, solemnly carried the cross into the chapel in the procession at the end of the Maryland Day ceremony.
The afternoon had begun with about 125 people, including participants in colonial era costumes alongside men, women and children from across the state, marching alongside the cross bearer as the artifact was carried from the Pride of Baltimore II at the dock at Historic St. Mary’s City to a large tent erected beside the chapel.
The speakers at the ceremony included Watkins, a parishioner of St. Ignatius in Baltimore, who praised the faith and vision of Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore and founder of the Maryland colony, who was the brother of Leonard Calvert, its first governor.
“He had the courage, faith and integrity to go forward,” said Watkins, who also praised the faith of Maryland’s first colonists. “May this cross always be a reminder of God’s love for us.”
Also for Maryland Day, two documents from the Maryland Historical Society were displayed at the Brick Chapel: pages from Father Andrew White’s handwritten account of the first colonists’ journey to Maryland, and a letter from Gov. Leonard Calvert about the construction of a fort at St. Mary’s City.
The event also marked the opening of an exhibit at the Brick Chapel, in which the lead coffins that held the remains of members of Maryland’s founding family – Philip Calvert; his wife Ann Wolsey Calvert; and an infant – were on display through a glass floor at the chapel, where the rare coffins had been discovered.
The lead coffins had been on display in an exhibit this past year at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, “A Tale of Three Coffins: Living and Dying in 17th Century Historic St. Mary’s City,” and before that, they were part of the “Written in Bone” exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History for five years.
The Maryland Day celebration also commemorated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Historic St. Mary’s City as a museum of history and archaeology at Maryland’s first capital. Special citations marking that milestone were presented on behalf of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and from the Maryland State Senate and House of Delegates. 
Speakers at the event included John Wobensmith, Maryland’s Secretary of State; and Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. The ceremony opened with the Southern Maryland Youth Orchestra playing “Maryland, My Maryland,” and at its end, fourth-grade students carried flags from each county in Maryland and from Baltimore city. 
Jesuit Father William George, the chair of the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission, offered benediction, using the Liberty Tree Cross.
The Cross Bottony Award, inspired by the red and white cross on Lord Baltimore’s crest and Maryland’s flag, was presented to two forensic anthropologists from the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Douglas Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide, for their analysis of the skeletons of the early settlers excavated from the chapel site at Historic St. Mary’s City. Their research helped provide an identification for the people buried in the three lead coffins and shed light on the hardships endured by Maryland’s first settlers. “Thank you for allowing us to help investigate this premier historic site,” Owsley said.
In his keynote address at the Maryland Day ceremony, Dr. Miller – who also serves as the Maryland Heritage Scholar at Historic St. Mary’s City – noted the museum’s golden anniversary, and paid tribute to the key role in its founding played by retired Gen. Robert Hogaboom, a leader of the 3rd Marine Division at the Battle of Iwo Jima. In his retirement at St. Mary’s City, Gen. Hogaboom took on a new battle, convincing state legislators to establish a museum at the site of Maryland’s first capital, which they did in 1966.
Dr. Miller said Maryland’s first settlers came to that land for “opportunity and freedom, the same incentives that continue to draw people to America today.” He noted that the graves of 400-500 of those first colonists surround the Brick Chapel, making it “truly a sacred place.” The historian said the freedom of religion in the Maryland colony became a cornerstone element of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, and those ideas later became key aspects of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Maryland was truly a leader in the development of human rights in the world,” he said.
Today’s Marylanders are cultural descendants of those founding colonists and their ideals, Dr. Miller said, who noted that Maryland’s story of a colony established on religious freedom, where the royal governor later ordered the original Catholic brick chapel to be locked in 1704, “shows that freedom should never be taken for granted.”
The chapel was later disassembled, brick by brick, and the land surrounding it became farmland. For the past 50 years, Historic St. Mary’s City and its exhibits and reconstructed buildings have told the story of Maryland’s legacy to new generations of Marylanders.
The guests at the Maryland Day ceremony included George Davis Calvert, a 12th generation descendant of Cecilius Calvert, the founder of the Maryland colony.
“I’ve been coming here since the beginning,” said Calvert, a 79-year-old Baltimore resident and a retired construction manager, who wore a tie patterned after the Maryland flag.
Standing outside the rebuilt Brick Chapel at Historic St. Mary’s City, he said, “To see it completed is wonderful,” and added that the exhibits there offer a reminder of Maryland’s role as a haven for freedom of conscience, and the importance of respecting everyone and being civil to them.
“Many of them (the first colonists) came here in order to believe and practice those ideals that Cecil wrote about,” he said.
Mark Zimmerman is the editor of the Catholic Standard, which serves the Archdiocese of Washington. 

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