Religious Freedom

Taste freedom on the wind. Witness the divine in every ripple of the river. Explore Southern Maryland, cradle of American religious liberty.

To board a tiny ship and set sail across the broad unknown of the Atlantic, Maryland’s first English colonists must surely have been drawn by something magnificent, and indeed, they were. For these brave souls, Maryland was a new world where new ideals might take hold. They gave up not just their old lives, but their whole known world to build a new home on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. In Historic St. Mary’s City, “the birthplace of religious toleration in North America,” they would build the foundation of American freedom. Today, you can follow in the wake of these pioneers through a tidewater land in places unspoiled by the winds of time along the Religious Freedom Byway.  This route is also part of the Great Chesapeake Bay Loop and visits places to enjoy and explore the bay.

Port Tobacco Loop

Including MD 6, MD 425 & MD 224

The byway begins in Port Tobacco, originally a Potapoco Indian village where Jesuit Father Andrew White established a missionary outpost. Visit the one-room schoolhouse built in 1872 and tour the Port Tobacco Courthouse, now a museum containing tobacco exhibits and archaeological finds.

Continue west, stopping at the Christ Church Durham Parish. Though the parish dates to 1692, the current brick structure was constructed in the 1730s. Next is Smallwood State Park, which houses the estate of Gen. William Smallwood, a Revolutionary War hero and the fourth governor of Maryland. There is also a marina and excellent fishing opportunities. Numerous national bass-fishing competitions have been held here.

Freshwater fishing is available on a 23-acre lake inside the Myrtle Grove Wildlife Management Area. Then, as you head back to Port Tobacco, be sure to stop by the Mt. Carmel Monastery, which was established in 1790 as America’s first religious community for women.

The last stop on this portion of the byway is the 322-acre Thomas Stone National Historic Site, which is also part of an 830-mile Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail that stretches between the Chesapeake Bay and the Allegheny Highlands. Take a guided plantation tour to learn about Stone, who was one of four signers of the Declaration of Independence to hail from Maryland.

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