Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) is a living museum that replicates life in 17th century Maryland in the historic first capital of the state. The site occupies 800 acres of coastal waterways in southern Maryland and is the most well-preserved English colonial site in the United States. HSMC includes several recreated historical structures as well as a tobacco plantation complete with heirloom livestock and farm, a tall ship, and a Woodland Indian witchott, a one-room building historically used by multiple Native American families as their home. The HSMC is also home to the Tidewater archeology site, which is actively being excavated and researched today. Throughout the village, interpreters in period costumes are available to offer historical color, answer questions, and engage with guests.
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Among the recreated historical structures are the 1676 State House, a 1667 brick chapel, and a Native American village. The Maryland Dove is a tall ship that has been recreated to resemble the Dove, one of the first ships to bring colonists to the Atlantic coastal town in the 1600s. Exhibits aboard the ship tell the history and significance of maritime trade in the 17th century, and their impact on St. Mary’s City. HSMC’s landscape has been carefully restored to reflect the tidewater species that existed in the English colony, as plants brought over by the colonists were integrated with local flora and wildlife cultivated by Native Americans. As an academic institution, St. Mary’s City offers a wealth of resources related to the history and archeology of Maryland. Historical items in the permanent collection include documents such as land and probate records as well as over 7 million archeological artifacts from the 1600s to today. Exhibits incorporate many of these artifacts into interpretive displays that teach guests about the historical significance of the site.
Maryland City was among the earliest English colonies in North America, and the fourth such site to be considered permanently settled. It was the first city in Maryland and served as the state’s capital for 61 years. Significant historic firsts that took place in Maryland City include the first government to make efforts to separate church and state, North America’s first legislator of African American descent (Mathias de Sousa in 1642), and the first woman to petition for the right to vote in North America (Margaret Brent in 1648).
Dr. Lois Green Carr, a Maryland historian who received her PhD from Harvard in 1968, established the research department at the museum in 1966 by collecting and cataloging historical documents. Carr was an authority on 17th and 18th century life in Maryland. With a grant from the Society of the Ark and the Dove, Carr established many of the museum’s programs and was able to make all her biographical research on the first families of Maryland available online. The archeological program at HSMC began in earnest in 1971, and continues to this day, with much of the site still to be explored. The site has been a National Historic Landmark since 1969 and is among southern Maryland’s busiest tourism sites, while USA Today voted it among Maryland’s top five tourism sites.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Programs include activities and workshops, lectures and film nights, and outdoor weekend concerts. Visitors to HSMC can take part in historical colonial games and interact with the costumed interpreters throughout. Workshops teach skills and crafts that were popular and necessary in the 17th century, such as hide tanning using traditional methods of the Yaocomaco tribe. Other special events include an annual Brew Fest, May Day celebration, and Maryland Day. Shakespeare in the City offers outdoor performances on the State House lawn. Indian Discovery Day teaches of the history of the site before the arrival of Europeans, while Militia Muster offers reenactments of early colonial militias.
A variety of tours are available for all ages and may be customized to the interests of the group. Group tours are available for groups of 15 or more. Over 20,000 grade school students visit the site each year for an immersive history lesson. Collegiate-level history and archeology students may apply for internships at HSMC, which are offered all year round. A rigorous 10-week field school program has been ongoing at the museum for over 40 years, and is the longest running archeological program in the U.S. Throughout the summer program, university students work alongside the museum’s chief archeologists to assist with research projects.
18751 Hogaboom Lane, St. Mary’s City, MD 20686, Phone: 240-895-4990