St. Clement's Island Coltons Point Reviews
St. Clement's Island Aug 27, 2015
St. Clement’s Island is a tiny dot of land in the Potomac River where the first settlers to the new colony of Maryland landed on March 25, 1634. Terrae Maria, or Mary’s Land, was named after Henrietta Maria, the French Catholic wife of King Charles I who spent her last years in exile after her husband was beheaded in the English Civil War. On a more cheerful note, her namesake colony was established under the banner of religious toleration, making it a refuge for English Catholics who sought to openly practice their faith. The first Catholic Mass celebrated in Britain’s North American colonies took place on the island on the day of landing, led by a Jesuit priest.
The 150 colonists only stayed for a few weeks before moving onto the mainland, but they affectionately named the island after the patron saint of mariners. Over the centuries it has had several private owners (the first of which also bought some land further up the river where the United States Capitol building now sits), saw a lighthouse built in the 1800s and then an oyster cannery in the early 1900s. Today it is a state park with a dock for private boats, a fishing pier, a picnic area, a reconstruction of the old lighthouse that was finished in 2008, and a giant stone cross put up in the 1930s marking the site of that first Catholic Mass. Supposedly it represents the notion of religious tolerance rather than the affirmation of Christianity on public land to get around the separation of church and state problem. Whatever the cross is supposed to mean, it photographs well.
There is a small museum on the mainland that does a surprisingly good job explaining the political and religious tensions in 17th-century Great Britain that formed the backdrop for the colony’s formation. Early colonial American history was essentially an extension of what was going on in Europe at that time and the museum does not shy away from this fact. I learned that the Catholic Calvert family led by Cecil Calvert (Lord Baltimore), who were the backers of the Maryland venture, had previously founded the colony of Avalon in Newfoundland as a Catholic sanctuary but decided to move south to a warmer climate. The Maryland state seal still mentions Avalon as its sister colony and the town of Ferryland (sounds familiar) that the Calverts established up north still stands in Canada.
It costs $3 to visit the museum, but on weekends from the beginning of June to the end of September you can both see the museum and take a water taxi over to St. Clement’s Island for $7. It’s about a ten minute ride on the small boat, though the water can get choppy (I got splashed a few times). There is a bathroom on the island, a small beach and outdoor grills if you want to take food over for a barbecue. The lighthouse has no furnishings inside so there really isn’t much to see except for the climb to the top. This all makes for a relaxing weekend day trip from either Baltimore or Washington.
Part of the list Maryland
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