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Traditionally, St. Mary's County has been known for its unique and historic culture of Chesapeake Bay tidewater farming, fishing, and crabbing communities. But with the advent of the military bases, growth of an extensive defense contractor presence, and the growth of St. Mary's College of Maryland, as well as increasing numbers of long-distance Washington, D.C. commuters, it has been undergoing a decades-long transformation which has seen the county's population double since 1970.
The settlement of Lord Baltimore's Maryland began with the arrival of passengers from England at St. Clement's Island in the Potomac River in what is now southwestern St. Mary's County on March 25, 1634 and the annual anniversary of this landing is celebrated as Maryland Day. The passengers arrived in two vessels, the Ark and the Dove that had set sail from the Isle of Wight on November 22, 1633. The county is the site of the first Catholic Mass celebrated in one of the original thirteen colonies (after they had become English colonies). Earlier dates of masses being said were during 1526-1527 at San Miguel de Gualdape.
Due to the small size of the island and its lack of resources, there was no intention to make a permanent settlement on the island. Instead St. Clement's was used as a base for the settlers while scouting for a more suitable site. This was how a bluff overlooking the nearby St. Mary's River was chosen for numerous reasons, and became the site of the first permanent settlement. It would soon be named, "St. Mary's City".
St. Mary's City, Maryland is the site of the first Maryland Capitol and remained so for more than 50 years, until 1695, when the state capital was moved to Annapolis.
Today Historic St. Mary's City is a major attraction in Maryland with four museums, a reconstructed colonial village, and the reconstructed Maryland Dove settlers ship. It also has become one of the top archeological research sites in North America.
St. Mary's County was the first county established in Maryland, in 1637, probably by an order of the governor.
In 1649, Lord Baltimore, with the Maryland General Assembly, passed the Maryland Toleration Act, which provided religious freedom for any (Christian) sect and which was the first law of its kind in the New World. There is a statue in St. Mary's City commemorating this event, along with extensive museums, a reconstructed Colonial town, living history actors, and a replica of the Maryland Dove.
St. Mary's County has some of the oldest extant buildings in English North America. Many of these of properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These buildings range through many historical periods, from the 1600s to the 1800s. There are notable buildings of the early twentieth century, as well.
The United States Colored Troops Memorial Statue is a memorial to the more than 700 African-American soldiers and sailors from St. Mary's County who served among the Union forces during the American Civil War. The memorial site includes an educational display and special celebrations are held there each year.
Politics, government, and law
St. Mary's County Courthouse, July 2009
In presidential elections, St. Mary's County leans strongly toward the Republican Party. No Democrat has won the county since Jimmy Carter did so in 1976.
The county commissioners exercise such executive powers as exist in the government of the county.
Circuit court judges
Hon. David Densford,
Hon. Michael J. Stamm, administrative judge
Hon. Joseph Stanalonis
St. Mary's County has the oldest documented sheriff's office in Maryland and one of the oldest in the United States. In 1637, James Baldridge was appointed sheriff. Since 1776, sheriffs in St. Mary's County have been determined by election. Tim Cameron is the current[update] sheriff.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 764 square miles (1,980 km2), of which 357 square miles (920 km2) is land and 407 square miles (1,050 km2) (%) is water. It is the second-largest county in Maryland by total area.
Located on the St. Mary's Peninsula, St. Mary's County is largely bordered by water: the Patuxent River (northeast), the Chesapeake Bay (east), the Potomac River (southwest), and the Wicomico River (west). Its coastline has many coves, tidal creeks, bays, and inlets. Many coastal areas are made up of mixed clay-and-sand cliffs and bluffs, which protect many parts of the county from storm surges, however, there are low-lying coastal areas with coarse sand or gravel beaches or tidal marshlands, as well.
The interior of much of the county is hilly to varying degrees, with forests and agricultural fields. There also are coastal plain areas, much of which are under agriculture or under new development. Residential development has been increasing steadily for decades.
The county's very extensive waters are mostly brackish, ranging from significant degrees of saltwater in tidal areas that are on or near the Chesapeake Bay, to a greater predominance of freshwater and lower-salt-concentrations in its interior tidal waterways and also further up its bordering rivers.
St. Mary's County borders Virginia, across the Potomac River. St. Mary's County waters also are bordered by Virginia's territorial waters in Potomac tributary mouths on the Virginia side, tidal interface zones, and the Chesapeake Bay. Sometimes, water rights in all of these areas are still disputed.
There were 30,642 households out of which 25.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.10% were married couples living together, 15.10% have a woman whose husband does not live with her, and 34.90% were non-families. 29.40% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.90% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.72 and the average family size was 3.14.
In the county, the population was spread out with 27.90% under the age of 18, 15.70% from 18 to 24, 29.50% from 25 to 44, 22.20% from 45 to 64, and 9.10% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 101.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 119.10 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $54,706, and the median income for a family was $61,397. Males had a median income of $27,496 versus $23,035 for females. The per capita income for the county was $22,662. 7.20% of the population and 5.20% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 28.40% are under the age of 18 and 19.10% are 65 or older.
As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 105,151 people, 37,604 households, and 27,084 families residing in the county. The population density was 294.4 inhabitants per square mile (113.7/km2). There were 41,282 housing units at an average density of 115.6 per square mile (44.6/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 78.6% white, 14.3% black or African American, 2.5% Asian, 0.4% American Indian, 0.1% Pacific islander, 1.0% from other races, and 3.2% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 3.8% of the population. In terms of ancestry, 17.4% were Irish, 17.3% were German, 16.0% were English, 8.8% were American, and 5.2% were Italian.
Of the 37,604 households, 38.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.5% were married couples living together, 11.7% had a female householder with no husband present, 28.0% were non-families, and 21.8% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.72 and the average family size was 3.18. The median age was 36.0 years.
The median income for a household in the county was $80,053 and the median income for a family was $89,385. Males had a median income of $61,971 versus $46,487 for females. The per capita income for the county was $34,000. About 4.7% of families and 7.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.1% of those under age 18 and 7.3% of those age 65 or over.
Amish and Old Order Mennonite community
Amish horse and buggy in Mechanicsville
St. Mary's County is home to an Amish community in the Mechanicsville area in the northern part of the county that consists of eight church districts and about 1,000 people. The Amish first came to the area in 1940 after some members left the Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania over a conflict with schooling. The Amish in St. Mary's County maintain dairy and produce farms along with small Amish businesses. There is also an Old Order Mennonite community in the county that stretches as far south as Loveville. In recent years, increasing development has threatened the Amish community.
"Webster Field" is a smaller naval annex and secondary airfield and it is located in Saint Inigoes. It used for avionics engineering testing and development.
Coast Guard Station St. Inigoes (also in Saint Inigoes), technically two bases because it comprises two separate areas, however, it is all under the same command.
Limited local buses are provided through St. Mary's Transit  and commuter bus service to Washington, D.C. is provided by MTA. Southern Maryland Express shuttle services daily schedules to Baltimore (BWI), Dulles (IAD), and Ronald Reagan (DCA).
Margaret Brent: English immigrant to the first Colony of Maryland who lived in St. Mary's City, was an early (indirect) advocate for women's rights by asserting her own right to run an estate and vote, and was the first woman in the English North American colonies to appear before a court of the Common Law
Leonard Calvert: leader of the first English settlers in Maryland and first governor of the Maryland Colony, lived in St. Mary's City
Charles Calvert: 3rd Baron Baltimore (1637-1715), second long-term governor of the Maryland Colony (his Uncle Philip Calvert also governed before him, but only very briefly), lived in St. Mary's City
Mary Chapin Carpenter: Grammy winning folk, country, and rock singer and songwriter who composed a song about St. Mary's County and has lived in St. Mary's County at various times
Betty Currie: personal secretary to the president of the United States (Bill Clinton), personal secretary to the director of the Peace Corps
Norton Dodge: economist, collector of dissident Soviet era art, smuggled thousands of Soviet dissident paintings, prints and sculptures out of communist Russia over a series of visits and at great risk to his own life and amassed one of the largest collections of Soviet-era art outside the Soviet Union, taught at St. Mary's College in St. Mary's City
John Dorsey: also known as Johnny Dorsey, general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs professional football team, NCAA College Football winner, and professional football player whose pro football career was cut short due to injuries, born in Leonardtown
Michael Glaser: poet, educator, literary editor, the Poet Laureate of the State of Maryland from 2004 through 2009, was awarded the Andrew White Medal for contributions to intellectual and artistic life in Maryland, taught at St. Mary's College, and lives in St. Mary's County
Ted Koppel: journalist and former host of the news show Nightline, lives in Southern St. Mary's County
William and Dinah Nuthead: established the first printing house in the Southern Colonies at St. Mary's City, Maryland
J. Frank Raley: State Senator and state representative, trustee of St. Marys College of Maryland, credited for helping to establish St. Mary's College as a four-year institution and playing key roles in its development into a nationally top-ranked public college, born and raised in St. Mary's County
Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote a song about St. Mary's County, entitled, "Down in Mary's Land", in 1989. She is known for having great affection for St. Mary's County.