Maryland’s earliest colonial settlement — and one of the first American colonies — finally has been discovered after nearly a century of searching.
Archaeologists Travis Parno and Tim Horsley announced the discovery on Monday, The Washington Post reported. Parno had been searching for the settlement, St. Mary’s, since 2017, but archeologists have been seeking evidence of the settlement since the 1930s. Parno and Horsley’s discovery was deemed conclusive in late 2019, but the coronavirus pandemic kept them from announcing their find.
Parno, director of research for the organization Historic St. Mary’s City, said the discovery was “the earliest colonial archaeological site in Maryland.” He was actually at a board game convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on a brief vacation when Horsley texted him to say their work had paid off, the Post reported. Horseley “had been scanning a site a half-mile from St. Mary’s River with ground-penetrating radar that could detect the outlines of ancient buildings,” the outlet reported. From the Post:
Horsley’s scans had revealed the imprint of post holes that formed a large rectangle with a semicircular bastion at one corner.
The scans also showed evidence of what appeared to be dwellings inside the fort, including several that may have been Native American.
Excavation later turned up evidence of the brick cellar of a guardhouse or storehouse, the trigger guard for a musket, and a quartzite arrow head that was 4,500 years old.
Historic St. Mary’s City owns the site of the settlement, which the Post reported was “about the size of a football field.”
William M. Kelso, the archeologist who discovered the lost fort at Jamestown, Virginia in 1994, called Parno and Horsley’s discovery “extremely significant,” adding that it was “sort of a sister colony” to Jamestown.
As the Post reported, the original 150 colonists who settled at St. Mary’s included English Catholics escaping from Protestant persecution. The original settlement was established in March 1634, making them one of the earliest American settlements, behind Jamestown in 1607, Plymouth in 1620, and Massachusetts Bay in 1630.
The settlement was eventually abandoned, with Maryland’s capital moved to Annapolis some 60 years after the first settlers arrived in the state. The area that had once been the city of St. Mary’s had already produced other archaeological finds, the Post reported, though the actual fort had not been found.
“In 1990, experts exhumed three lead-lined coffins containing the remains of Maryland colonial governor Philip Calvert, who died in 1683, his first wife, Anne, and Calvert’s 6-month-old son,” the Post reported. “Anne’s coffin contained sprigs of the memorial herb rosemary, bits of a silk ribbon that may have been used to bind her wrists for burial – and much of her hair. The baby had suffered from the childhood disease rickets and probably scurvy.”
Archaeologists searched for the fort from the 1930s through the 1980s and 90s but found nothing. The search was put on hold until Parno started it up again.
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