The First Marylanders

Maryland's history and heritage spans thousands of years and a myriad of cultures

Native Americans

The first inhabitants of Maryland were Paleo-Indians who came more than 10,000 years ago from other parts of North America to hunt mammoth, great bison and caribou. By 1,000 B.C., Maryland had more than 8,000 Native Americans in about 40 different tribes. Most of them spoke Algonquian languages. They grew corn, peas, squash and tobacco. They also hunted, fished and traded with tribes as far away as New York and Ohio.

We do not know what the Native Americans called the Chesapeake Bay. That name came from the Native American word "Chesepiuk," an Algonquian name for a village that the Roanoke, Virginia colonists discovered in 1585 near the mouth of the Bay. Later, mapmakers used the word to name the Bay. People have said that Chesapeake means "great salt water" or "great shellfish bay," but no records exist to verify those definitions.

On the map of the state, you'll see names of other places, such as Potomac, Piscataway, Accokeek and Choptank, that remind us of the Native Americans who lived here before there was a Maryland.

The First Colonists

Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian explorer in the 1500s, was the first European to visit the Chesapeake. Later came English settlers, who left England for more economic opportunities and to escape religious oppression. In 1608, Captain John Smith thought there was "no place more perfect for man's habitation" than the Chesapeake Bay. Fur trader William Claiborne thought so, too, and set up a fur trading post on Kent Island in 1631. This was the first English settlement in the upper Chesapeake.

Maryland began as a colony when King Charles I promised George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, a colony north of Virginia. Before he could visit the colony, George Calvert died. His son, Cecilius, became the second Lord Baltimore and the Lord Proprietor of Maryland. He named his colony "Terra Maria," or "Maryland" in honor of the king's wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. Because Cecilius Calvert had to remain in England, he sent his younger brother, Leonard, to accompany the colonists and to be the first governor.

Historic St. Mary's City
Historic St. Mary's City

Experience the 17th century at Maryland's first capital - Historic St. Mary's City. Interactive and participatory displays at the village provide a glimpse into the lives of English settlers who sought democracy and toleration. 

Woodland Indian Discovery Day at Historic St. Marys City
Maryland Tourism Office