Leonard Calvert

Leonard Calvert

(1606-1647)

Leonard Calvert was born in England in 1606. His father George, an important English lord and the Baron of Baltimore, was a devout Roman Catholic. Seeking to establish a safe haven for Catholics, Lord Baltimore obtained a charter to colonize what eventually became Maryland.

When George Calvert died just before the charter was issued, his eldest son, Cecil, became the colony’s Lord Proprietor. Cecil remained in England and sent his brother Leonard to Maryland, to serve as the first governor of the province.

Leonard Calvert sailed for the New World along with 200 colonists in November, 1633. They landed in March, 1634, and set up the nucleus for the colony at St. Mary’s City. Even though the charter from King Charles I granted great powers to a Lord Proprietor, Leonard Calvert agreed to the establishment of an assembly of freeholders.

That assembly met in February, 1635 and soon gained the right to initiate legislation on its own accord. The Lord Proprietor retained veto power over the laws passed by the assembly. Calvert found that the greatest stumbling block to the colony’s growth and progress was a Virginian named William Claiborne (see no. 23).

Claiborne began a controversy over the ownership of Kent Island in Chesapeake Bay, a dispute that would last for more than 20 years and threaten the security of the colony.Calvert launched an attack on Kent Island while Claiborne was away in February, 1638.

Calvert’s troops captured the island, but his troubles with Claiborne had only begun. The Virginian continued to harass the Maryland colony.In 1643, Calvert went to England to confer with his older brother, the Lord Proprietor. During Calvert’s absence, Claiborne made an alliance with Richard Ingle, an English sea captain, and launched an invasion of the Catholic colony.

St. Mary’s fell into Claiborne’s hands, and the Protestant minority within Maryland welcomed Claiborne and Ingle as heroes.Calvert sailed from England to Virginia, where he recruited soldiers to fight for his side. He knew he could not rely on support from England because Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan government were hostile to his cause.

Using Virginian soldiers as mercenaries, Calvert invaded Maryland, defeated both Claiborne and Ingle, and restored the original government to the colony. Shortly after he had done so, Calvert fell ill. He left the governorship to Thomas Green and made Margaret Brent, his sister-in-law, his executor (see no. 34). Calvert died in 1647, leaving behind a fragile colony that would eventually grow into the important city of Baltimore.