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… in Maryland’s colonial legislature

You have to wonder, just a little, about Maryland in the 1730s.

The Legal Genealogist certainly did, last night, while poking around in early statutes in anticipation of this weekend’s Fall Seminar of the Maryland Genealogical Society.

Because you can’t help but wonder what the backstory must have been when you read some of the early laws of places like Maryland.

Think about what Maryland must have been like in the 1730s.

The first European hadn’t laid eyes on Maryland until 1608, when John Smith explored Chesapeake Bay.1

It had only come into existence as a royal colony in 1632, when a royal charter for what was to become the Province of Maryland was granted to Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore.2

The first settlers didn’t arrive until March of 1634, at St. Clement’s Island, now St. Mary’s County3 — fewer than 300 people, led by Leonard Calvert, who promptly got himself into a jam politically by trying to rule rather than govern, By 1638, a colonial Assembly had forced him to follow the laws of England.4

Annapolis didn’t become the capital until 1695, Baltimore wasn’t even founded until 1729, with major league boundary issues with both Virginia and Pennsylvania.5

An underpopulated, agrarian colony less than 100 years old, then, as of 1732.

So… what were the very first topics of legislation “at a session of Assembly, begun and held at the City of Annapolis, on Tuesday, the Eleventh Day of July, in the Eighteenth Year of the Dominion of the Right Honorable Charles, Lord Baron of Baltemore,”6 in 1732?

Grazing beasties.7

And election fraud.8

The backstory on beasties is pretty clear right in the law itself:

divers Persons living in (Chester Town, in the County of Kent) do raise and keep large Quantities of Swine, Sheep, and Geese, within the same Town, whereby not only the Grass necessary for the Support of the Cows and Horses of the Inhabitants is consumed; but that also, the Ground is so rooted up, and the Streets so broke, that in Winter or wet Weather, they are almost impassable; also, that the Swine there are so numerous and ravenous, that they break into Warehouses where Grain is stored, and that several young Children have been in Danger of being devoured by them; and that the Inhabitants cannot preserve their Gardens and Inclosures from being broke down and destroyed by them…9

The law went on to make it unlawful for anybody living in the town to keep any swine or sheep or geese unless the animal was fully enclosed — fenced in — with a penalty of 100 pounds of tobacco for each violation of the law.10

But the reasoning behind the election fraud statute wasn’t set out in the law, so we have to kind of read between the lines.

That law required every person who wanted to vote in the Assembly elections to swear (or if Quaker affirm) that he hadn’t, directly or indirectly, accepted anything of value for his vote.11

It provided that:

if any Person who hath or claimeth to have, or hereafter shall have or claim to have any Right to vote in any such Election, shall ask, take, receive, any Money, or other Reward, by way of Gift, Loan, or other Device: or agree, or contract for any Gift, Employment, or other Reward whatsoever, to give his Vote, or to refuse or forbear to give his Vote in any such Election; or if any Person by himself, or by any Person emploied by him, doth, or shall, by any Gift or Reward, or by any Promise or Security for any Gift or Reward, corrupt any Person or Persons to give his or their Vote or Votes in any such Election, or shall use any Threats or Menaces, to induce or compel any Person or Persons to give, or not to give, his or their Votes at any such Election; such Person so offending, shall, for every Offence, forfeit Fiftv Pounds Current Money of Maryland…12

And it even provided for an incentive for bribed voters to turn in other bribed voters: anybody who did so could get a pass from the penalties if the second bribed voter got convicted.13

Doesn’t that make you wonder just what was going on in Maryland in 1732?

Even more so when you find that the act never became law?

You see, in colonial Maryland, the Proprietary — at that time Charles, Lord Baltimore — could veto any act of the Assembly. And this act bears the marginal note: “The Proprietary dissented.”14

It sure makes you wish you knew just who paid off who for what votes in 1732 Maryland…

Grazing beasties and election fraud.

Just another day in the colonial legislature…


  1. See “Maryland History Timeline,” Maryland Tourism ( : accessed 11 Sep 2017).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Maryland’s History: Pre-Colonial History,” Maryland Kids, Maryland Secretary of State ( : accessed 11 Sep 2017.
  5. See “Maryland History Timeline.”
  6. That’s not a typo. Or at least not my typo. That’s the way it’s spelled on the cover of the book.
  7. An Act to prohibit the raising of Swine, Sheep, and Geese, in the Town of Chester, in Kent County,” in Laws of Maryland, … 1732 (Annapolis : Parks and Hall, printers, 1732), 1; digital images, Archives of Maryland Online, Session Laws, imaged from microfilm MSA SC M 3179 ( : accessed 11 Sep 2017).
  8. An Act for preventing Bribery and Corruption in the Elections of Citizens or Delegates to serve in Assembly for the City of Annapolis,” ibid. at 2.
  9. An Act to prohibit the raising of Swine, Sheep, and Geese, in the Town of Chester, in Kent County,” in Laws of Maryland, … 1732 at 1.
  10. Ibid.
  11. An Act for preventing Bribery and Corruption in the Elections of Citizens or Delegates to serve in Assembly for the City of Annapolis,” ibid. at 2.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, May, 1730-August, 1732, p.516; volume 37, Archives of Maryland Online ( : accessed 11 Sep 2017).
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