George Calvert

The English statesman George Calvert 1st Baron Baltimore (ca. 1580-1632), was the founder of the colony of Maryland in America.

George Calvert was born in Yorkshire about 1580, the son of Leonard and Alice Crossland Calvert. He matriculated at Oxford in 1594 at the age of 14, graduating in 1597. Later, he became secretary to Robert Cecil, a leading figure in the English government. With Cecil's support and encouragement from the King, Calvert advanced rapidly, attaining a seat in Parliament, membership on the Privy Council, and the position of secretary of state. Prominent public service, however, brought difficult responsibilities. He was obliged to defend in Parliament the unpopular Continental diplomacy of James I, especially the rapprochement with Catholic Spain. His active part in examining Irish grievances led to knighthood in 1617. Following his conversion to Catholicism, Calvert resigned as secretary of state. As a reward for his service, James I gave him the Irish title of Baron Baltimore.

Calvert's interest in America was of long standing. He had held stock in the Virginia Company and was a member of the Council for New England. In 1623 Calvert obtained a royal charter to found a private colony in Newfoundland. He received the powers of a "Bishop of Durham," a medieval authority, which meant that the proprietor could exercise feudal control over the land, award titles of nobility, and dominate the government of any colony he established. Known as Avalon, the new colony received Lord Baltimore's firm support. He visited it in 1627 and later returned with his second wife and children, leaving in England only his eldest son Cecilius. Because of the bitter arctic cold and French attacks, the colony proved a failure. Without giving up his proprietary hopes, Baltimore looked southward, arriving in Jamestown, Va., in 1629. However, his religion and interest in a proprietary colony antagonized the Virginians, who forced Baltimore to return to England. There he prevailed on Charles I to grant him another colony north of the Potomac River, with proprietary features similar to Avalon. Shortly before the charter gained final approval in 1632, Calvert died at the age of 52. The grant was completed in the name of his heir, Cecilius, who proceeded with the colonization of Maryland.

Lord Baltimore's activities in America indicate the profound impact which the New World had made in England. Some of the most influential men in the mother country were directly involved in western expansion. Moreover, the proprietary grants which Baltimore sought reveal that an interest in establishing feudal estates in America provided important motivation for colonization.


Further Reading on George Calvert

A biographical account of Calvert by a noted authority is Clayton C. Hall, The Lords Baltimore and the Maryland Palatinate (1902). For the English background of Calvert's life consult Godfrey Davies, The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660 (1937; 2d ed. 1959). An excellent and concise interpretation of the background to the Maryland proprietorship is in Charles M. Andrews, Our Earliest Colonial Settlements (1933).