“Get Out the Vote” Digitization Spotlight- A Relation of Maryland, 1635

Early voting laws in American varied throughout the colonies and territories, with authority to create and enact new laws limited to an appointed few. Published in 1635, A Relation of Maryland describes the geography, peoples, and other practical information Maryland to those making the journey to the province. It includes the Charter of Maryland, in which King Charles I of England granted to George Calvert proprietary rights to a region east of the Potomac River.

The early Maryland historical text is featured in Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America, a Special Collections & University Archives exhibit exploring the history of voting rights in America.

Each month, we shine the spotlight on items from the exhibit that have been fully digitized and made accessible online.

For October, we choose the oldest item in the exhibit, pulled from the Rare Books collection in Hornbake Library: A Relation of Maryland; Together, with a Map of the Countrey, the Conditions of Plantation, His Majesties Charter to the Lord Baltimore, published in London, 1635.

In section VII of the Charter of Maryland, Lord Baltimore is authority to enact laws “in agreement” with the freemen of the province, although mechanisms of obtaining consensus are not outlined and left entirely up to Lord Baltimore’s discretion:

“Know Ye therefore further, that We, forges, our Heirs and Successors, do grant unto the said now Baron, (in whose Fidelity, Prudence, Justice, and provident Circumspection of Mind, We repose the greatest Confidence) and to his Heirs, for the good and happy Government of the said Province, free, full, and absolute Power, by the Tenor of these Presents, to Ordain, Make, and Enact Laws, of what Kind soever, according to their sound Discretions whether relating to the Public State of the said Province, or the private Utility of Individuals, of and with the Advice, Assent, and Approbation of the Free-Men of the same Province, or the greater Part of them, or of their Delegates or Deputies, whom We will shall be called together for the framing of Laws, when, and as often as Need shall require, by the aforesaid now Baron of Baltimore, and his Heirs, and in the Form which shall seem best to him or them.”

Visit the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery in Hornbake Library to view the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America or explore the exhibit online.

“Get Out the Vote” Spotlight – Margaret Brent

Margaret Brent was an early advocate for expanding voting rights law, challenging the Maryland General Assembly to grant her voting rights in 1648. 

Margaret Brent, born circa 1600 in Gloucestershire, England, was a prominent attorney, “founding mother” of Maryland, and the first female in the colonies to demand the right to vote in court. She first arrived in St. Marys City, Maryland with three of her siblings in 1638. She subsequently became involved in various business ventures and became the first woman landowner in Maryland. She was renowned for her business savvy and knowledge of the law. In 1647, then-Governor of Maryland Leonard Calvert appointed her executor of his estate shortly before he died. As Calvert’s executor, she played an instrumental role in stabilizing Maryland at a time of political crisis for the colony. 

In 1648, Brent argued before the provincial assembly for a voice in the council and two votes, one as Lord Baltimore’s representative and one as a landowner in her own right. As an unmarried, property-owning gentlewoman, Brent’s argument was consistent with English law, but she was ultimately denied the vote. After falling out of favor with the Calvert family, Brent moved to Virginia, where she died circa 1671.

You can view the transcript of request for the right to vote to the Maryland General Assembly in 1648 in volume 1 of the Archives of Maryland, on page 215. The volume is available in Special Collections & University Archives and online through the Internet Archive:

At the heart of the Special Collections & University Archives exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America are advocates, like Brent, and grassroots organizations who have fought for expanding the right to vote. Their individual and collective voices have driven major changes to American voting rights, moving the nation closer to the ideal of “one person, one vote.”

Visit the Maryland Room Exhibit Gallery in Hornbake Library to view the exhibit Get Out the Vote: Suffrage and Disenfranchisement in America or explore the exhibit online.