Prior to European settlement, Maryland was populated by several Indian tribes. Most of them departed when white settlers began to arrive. Although Spaniards explored Chesapeake Bay in the 1500s, the first settlers were British. Some of them came as a result of a land grant to George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore, by Charles I in 1632. Calvert, a Catholic, wanted a place where Catholics could practice their religion without persecution. In 1649, Maryland passed a landmark act guaranteeing religious toleration to people of all Christian faiths.
Another settlement was started by William Claiborne of Virginia, on Kent Island in Chesapeake Bay. Claiborne's trading post actually predated the Calvert colony and he disputed Maryland's claim of jurisdiction. The boundary issues between Maryland and Virginia were not finally settled until the Constitutional Convention that met in 1787.
Maryland warmly supported independence during the Revolutionary War, although relatively little fighting took place on its soil. On December 12, 1774, the Maryland deputies assembled at Annapolis and endorsed the Association of the Continental Congress. In fact, Maryland exceeded the recommendations of the First Continental Congress when the decided to form a militia. Maryland ratified the Constitution in 1788. During the War of 1812, the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor inspired Francis Scott Key to compose "The Star Spangled Banner."
Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, many people supported the American Party ("Know-Nothing Party") rather than either the increasingly proslavery Democrats or the antislavery Republicans. But by 1856, no party was safe from the effects of slavery and the Know-Nothings divided over the issue. The party's official candidate, Millard Fillmore, carried only the state of Maryland.
Geographically, Maryland was a Southern state and when Southern states began to secede in 1861, a decision to join the Confederacy would have made Washington untenable as the Union capital. However, despite being a slave state and having many Southern sympathizers, Maryland remained in the Union. Several major battles, including Antietam, were fought in Maryland. The state abolished slavery in 1864.
During the national debate on Prohibition, Marylanders were in the forefront of opposition. Many considered Prohibition to be a violation of states' rights. A newspaper editor consequently coined the nickname "Free State" for Maryland, which remains in some use today.
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