In 1608, Capt. John Smith explored Chesapeake Bay. Charles I granted a royal charter for Maryland to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, in 1632, and English settlers, many of whom were Roman Catholic, landed on St. Clement's (now Blakistone) Island in 1634. Religious freedom, granted all Christians in the Toleration Act passed by the Maryland assembly in 1649, was ended by a Puritan revolt, 1654–1658.
In 1814, during the British attempt to capture Baltimore, the bombardment of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” During the Civil War, Maryland was a slave state but remained in the Union. Consequently, Marylanders fought on both sides and many families were divided.
Maryland's Eastern Shore and Western Shore embrace the Chesapeake Bay, and the many estuaries and rivers create one of the longest waterfronts of any state. The Bay produces more seafood—oysters, crabs, clams, fin fish—than any comparable body of water. Since the 1950s, fish stocks have declined due to increased residential and commercial development in the area and the attendant amount of nutrients, sediment, and toxic substances polluting the water. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Protection Executive Order that called on the federal government "to restore and protect the nation's largest estuary and its watershed."
Important agricultural products are greenhouse and nursery products, chickens, dairy products, eggs, and soybeans. Stone, coal, sand, gravel, cement, and clay are the chief mineral products.
Manufacturing industries include food products, chemicals, computer and electronic products, transportation equipment, and primary metals. Baltimore, home of the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, ranks as the nation's second port in foreign tonnage. The capital, Annapolis, is the site of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Among the popular attractions in Maryland are the Fort McHenry National Monument; Harpers Ferry and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Parks; Antietam National Battlefield; National Aquarium, USS Constellation, and Maryland Science Center at Baltimore's Inner Harbor; Historic St. Mary's City; Jefferson Patterson Historical Park and Museum at St. Leonard; U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis; Goddard Space Flight Center at Greenbelt; Assateague Island National Park Seashore; Ocean City beach resort; and Catoctin Mountain, Fort Frederick, and Piscataway parks.
In March 2012, Maryland passed legislation to legalize gay marriage, becoming the eighth state to do so.
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Selected famous natives and residents:
- Benjamin Banneker mathematician and astronomer;
- John Barth writer;
- Eubie Blake musician;
- John Wilkes Booth actor and Lincoln assassin;
- Francis X. Bushman actor;
- James M. Cain writer;
- Samuel Chase jurist;
- Frederick Douglass abolitionist;
- John Fletcher Hurst Methodist bishop and educator;
- Christopher Gist frontiersman;
- Philip Glass composer;
- John Hanson president of Continental Congress;
- Matthew Henson polar explorer;
- Billie Holiday jazz-blues singer;
- Johns Hopkins financier;
- Reverdy Johnson lawyer and statesman;
- Thomas Johnson political leader;
- Francis Scott Key lawyer and poet;
- Barbara Kingsolver novelist;
- Thurgood Marshall jurist;
- H. L. Mencken writer;
- Hezekiah Niles journalist;
- Charles Willson Peale painter;
- Nancy Pelosi public official;
- Frank Perdue farmer, businessman;
- Michael Phelps swimmer;
- James R. Randall journalist and writer of the state song;
- Adrienne Rich poet;
- Babe Ruth baseball player;
- Upton Sinclair novelist;
- Roger B. Taney jurist;
- George Alfred Townsend (Gath) journalist;
- Harriet Tubman abolitionist;
- Leon Uris novelist;
- John Waters filmmaker;
- Frank Zappa singer.