October 4, 2023

Why a Cross?

st. clement's island cross
Posted by A. Shane Mattingly
Pax Leader

Photo of the St. Clement's Island cross by World Island Info

Our law office’s website rotates three photographs that convey not only the history of this community but the continuation of many of the historic traditions the community continues to cherish. However, it is typically the photo of the St. Clement’s Island cross that I’m asked about.

Once known as Blackiston Island, St. Clement’s Island was the first landing site of theĀ first English settlers in Maryland on March 25, 1634. Father Andrew White, one of the leaders of the expedition, wrote that “in this place we first offered [mass], erected a crosse, and with devotion took solemn possession of the Country.”

In 1634, when Father Andrew White wrote about the island, it covered 400 acres and is no more than 40 acres today. The cross that stands today was erected at at the south end of the Island in 1934 to commemorate the 1634 landing

St. Clement’s Island, as depicted in the National Register Listings in Maryland, “has continuing international, national, state, and local significance as the site where the declaration of religious freedom and democratic worship was first made in America. St. Clement’s thereby has continuous and personal meaning for each citizen of and visitor to the United States.

“On March 25, 1634 English Catholic immigrants first landed on Maryland soil at St. Clement’s Island. They had come to settle the proprietary colony of Cecil Calvert, second Lord Baltimore. Once ashore, Leonard Calvert (1606-1647), a brother of Lord Baltimore, read Lord Baltimore’s Instructions: the first formal pronouncement granting freedom of religion among the settlers.

“The settlers erected a wooden cross on the island and the first Roman Catholic mass in English America was said by Father Andrew White. Before the 1634 landing, the island had been inhabited by Indians, who peaceably vacated the area when the settlers arrived. In 1963 one Indian burial site containing prehistoric artifacts was uncovered.

“St. Clement’s Manor, including the Island, was the first Manor granted by Lord Baltimore and its lord, Thomas Gerard (Gerrard), played a significant role in 17th century Maryland history.

“The island is strategically located to have helped provide for the defense of the Potomac River, and Washington, D. C., the nation’s capital, during the respective eras covering the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II.”

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