In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Maryland

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals and Reference Works
  • Primary Sources
  • Pre-Contact Indigenous Society
  • Settler-Indigenous Relations
  • Women and Gender

Atlantic History Maryland
Paul Musselwhite
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0389


Maryland was established, by Cecil Calvert, 2nd Lord Baltimore, in 1634 as an English colony encompassing the northern half of the Chesapeake Bay. With a central position along the North American coast, the colony has traditionally been seen as a middle ground between the economic and social models of other British Atlantic regions. In reality, though, Maryland was actually far from the median. It was distinctive in four crucial ways. Firstly, Maryland’s founder, Lord Baltimore, was Catholic, and he envisioned the colony as a haven where his fellow English Catholics could practice their faith. Although Catholics never made up a majority of the colony’s population, a struggle between religious toleration and anti-Catholicism shaped Maryland’s culture and politics. Secondly, Maryland was established as a proprietary colony that granted Baltimore a level of sovereignty and autonomy practically unique in British America. This personal rule, especially exercised by a Catholic, inspired persistent instability. Thirdly, the colony lay at the northern edge of the ecological zone that could support commercial monocrop agriculture. Maryland colonists initially embraced tobacco cultivation, but through the eighteenth-century, Maryland witnessed one of the most profound economic reorientations of any British Atlantic colony as it transitioned to wheat production and industry. Finally, partly because of that economic transition, Maryland became a frontier for the institution of slavery. Approximately one-third of Maryland’s population was enslaved in the mid-eighteenth-century, but high levels of private manumission during the Revolutionary era left the newly independent state with a slave system but also the largest free Black population in the United States by 1810. These four critical distinctions make Maryland an important site for exploring a range of topics and phenomena in Atlantic history. Unfortunately, though, because Maryland shared the Chesapeake Bay and the tobacco and slave agricultural complex with the larger colony of Virginia, there has long been a tendency to lump the two together. The massive literature on the Chesapeake often collapses the very real difference between the two colonies and states throughout their histories. Many of these Chesapeake studies are informed by Maryland sources and crucial to the historiography of Maryland, and so they feature here, but it is important to remember that many of these works are often implicitly responding to and drawing upon scholarship on Virginia.

General Overviews

Because the colony of Maryland eventually became a US state with a government and culture that endures to the present, there are abundant resources and published accounts focused on giving it historical coherence. Inevitably, though, these accounts tend toward the teleological by combining the colony’s early history with a sweeping narrative through independence and modern statehood. Brugger 1988 is the fullest traditional narrative of the state’s history, but Chapelle and Russo 2018 is a more up-to-date and concise overview. Introductions that focus specifically on Maryland’s colonial period and its relationship with the Atlantic world are less common because of the aforementioned tendency of scholarship to be framed around the Chesapeake as a whole. Land 1981 provides a Maryland-specific narrative of the colonial era, but its overwhelming focus on elite politics is now somewhat outdated. Russo and Russo 2012, while being an introduction to the Chesapeake region as a whole, does trace Maryland’s distinctive narrative. Curtin, et al. 2001 explicitly engages with the Chesapeake paradigm by providing an introduction that centers the ecology of the larger region.

  • Brugger, Robert J. Maryland: A Middle Temperament. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1988.

    DOI: 10.56021/9780801833991

    A lengthy narrative history of the colony and state through the early 1980s, with an understated core argument about Maryland’s history of pragmatic compromise and moderation in politics and culture. Weaves together political history and then-current insights from social and economic history, but limited discussion of Indigenous Marylanders or the social and cultural world of enslaved and free African Americans. Limited footnotes but extensive tables and graphs.

  • Chapelle, Suzanne Ellery, and Jean B. Russo. Maryland: A History. 2d ed. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.56021/9781421426228

    A concise and extensively illustrated textbook-style account of the colony/state’s history, with little overarching argument and no footnotes but many helpful timelines and maps.

  • Curtin, Philip D., Grace S. Brush, and George W. Fisher, eds. Discovering the Chesapeake: The History of an Ecosystem. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2001.

    An interdisciplinary collection of essays exploring the environment and ecology of the whole Chesapeake Bay region from prehistoric times to the nineteenth century. Essays explore both the impact of the environment on Indigenous and European lifeways and also the impact of colonial agriculture and fisheries on the region’s ecology, but the majority focuses upon the latter.

  • Land, Aubrey C. Colonial Maryland: A History. Millwood, NY: KTO Press, 1981.

    Narrative political history of the colony that dwells mostly on the eighteenth century and the Revolutionary period, and which argues for deep-rooted provincial independence and resistance to proprietary control rather than an Atlantic perspective. Incorporates some social and economic history related to the colonial elite, but very limited on the experiences of the enslaved and Indigenous populations.

  • Russo, Jean B., and J. Elliott Russo. Planting an Empire: The Early Chesapeake in British North America. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1353/book.72238

    A concise survey of Chesapeake history from European settlement until the mid-eighteenth century. Rare for a Chesapeake study in its careful examination of both the differences and similarities between Maryland and Virginia (although less so for the eighteenth century). Solid treatment of the lived experience of the enslaved, but ends very abruptly at the Seven Years’ War.

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