Mission & History

The mission of the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission is to preserve and protect the archaeological and historical record of Maryland’s first colonial capital and to appropriately develop and use this historic and scenic site for the education, enjoyment, and general benefit of the public.

Adopted 1997
Senate Bill 393
Maryland Legislature

Historic St. Mary's City is an outdoor living history museum, offering education and enjoyment for all ages

Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) has been recognized as a National Historic Landmark since 1969 and is one of Southern Maryland’s leading tourism attractions.

The outdoor living history museum commemorates the fourth permanent English settlement in North America, Maryland’s first city and for sixty-one years, its colonial capital.

The Historic St. Mary’s City Commission, the governing body of the museum, was established in 1966. Led by retired Gen. Robert E. Hogaboom, the commission set about the work of building a museum to memorialize and preserve early Maryland history on the site of the colony’s first capital, St. Mary’s City. Beginning with less than an acre of property, the commission grew the park, eventually protecting over 800 acres. In 1967, the Department of Research and Collections started with the hire of preeminent historian Lois Green Carr. In 1969, the Secretary of the Interior designated St. Mary’s City a National Historic Landmark in recognition of the uniquely well-preserved archaeological record of more than 10,000 years of human occupation. The recognition of this land on a national scale is a testament to the importance of St. Mary’s City to the history of Maryland and the United States of America.

Research Director Cary Carson, hired after Dr. Carr, assembled a team of architectural historians and archaeologists to explore life in the 1600s and developed a strategic plan for the study of St. Mary’s City. In 1971, the Historic St. Mary’s City Commission began a formal archaeology program. In that year, the museum’s first annual Field School in Historical Archaeology was convened to conduct excavations around the reconstructed state house. Soon after, the construction of Maryland Dove began. This wooden tall ship was built to represent a medium sized cargo ship of the time and named in honor of Dove, the smaller ship that accompanied Ark with Leonard Calvert and the first colonists to Maryland. The ship was opened to the public in 1979. This began the living history program that now includes four outdoor exhibits where museum staff share their knowledge via engaging hands-on demonstrations.

Today, HSMC is dedicated to studying and interpreting the lives of those who dwelled in the area that is currently known as St. Mary’s City. This includes the ancestors of contemporary Native American groups, including the Piscataway Indian Nation and Piscataway Conoy Tribe, who recognized the region’s unique environmental advantages and lived here for thousands of years. It includes the European colonists from all walks of life who made the brave decision to voyage to an unfamiliar land and make a home on the banks of what came to be called the St. Mary’s River. It also includes the people of African ancestry who were forced from their homes and transported across the Atlantic Ocean to labor in perpetual bondage. The interactions of these groups of people gave rise to the complex legacies of opportunity and oppression whose effects are still being felt today.

HSMC is responsible for the preservation of more than 800 acres of land and three miles of shoreline. The museum continues to make new archaeological discoveries and train future archaeologists with its annual Field School in Historical Archaeology, the longest running historical archaeological field school in the country. HSMC continues to engage both students and the general public in educational programs in novel and exciting ways, encouraging people of all ages to connect the past with their contemporary lives.