A Sketch of the life of Father Andrew White. As a follow-up to my previous column on the early history of Maryland, the colony, I would be remiss if I did not introduce our readers to the “apostle of Maryland,” Father Andrew White, S.J.
Today, the feast of the Annunciation, is also “Maryland Day. ” It commemorates the landing of the Maryland pilgrims in 1634 on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. With the settlers on one of their two ships, “The Ark” and “The Dove,” was the Jesuit missioner, Father White. Although these one hundred and forty pilgrims actually landed on March 3, they did not disembark from the ships until the 25th. On this day, the English priest offered the first Mass on the turf that is Maryland.
Andrew White was born in London in 1579. He studied in Spain and, later, at the College of Douay in Belgium. Here, in 1605, he was ordained. He was shortly thereafter sent to the English mission. When, in 1606, his priesthood was discovered, he was imprisoned and subsequently banished. In 1607 he was received, upon his request, into the Jesuit Order. In 1609 the Society sent him back to England where he labored in the southern counties. For the next thirty-three years of his life he was either working covertly in England or teaching at the Jesuit colleges of Louvain and Liege. Together with Lord Baltimore he worked for four years on planning and promoting the idea of a Catholic refuge in colonial New England. His “Declaration for the Colony of the Lord Baron of Baltimore” did much to attract the interest of prospective settlers and investors.
For ten years Father White labored in the mission field of the new colony, both among the settlers (the vast majority of whom were Protestant) and the native Indians. Of him (and other Jesuits who worked in Maryland) one Protestant writer testified: “The history of Maryland presents no better, no purer, no more sublime lesson than the story of the toils, sacrifices, and successes of her early missionaries” (Mr. Davis, in Day-Star, p. 160).
The relations between the indigenous tribes and the settlers of Maryland was more irenic than in the other twelve colonies. In fact, the land for the first settlement, which was named Saint Mary’s City in honor of Our Lady, was duly purchased by Governor Calvert form the Yaocamicoe Indians. A gala celebration between the two peoples marked the event with music, song, cannon fire, good food, and probably lots of tobacco smoke in the air.
Up and down the Potomac and its tributaries traveled the English Jesuit and his guides, who also helped him master the dominant Potomac language. In addition to the Potomacs, Father White brought the news of salvation to the Patuxents and the Anacostans. A particularly inspiring event was the solemn baptism of Chief Chitomachon, the Tayac or “Emperor of Piscataway,” which took place on July 5, 1640, in the presence of Governor Calvert and other dignitaries.
Father White composed a catechism in the native dialect (which was related to Algonquin), as well as a dictionary and grammar. He was the first person to put an Indian language into English grammatical form. But success was not to be long-lived in the colony. As I explained in my previous column, after the English Civil War of 1644, the Puritans gained the upper hand in the land that was chartered to be a refuge for persecuted Catholics. In 1645, a band of marauders, under one Richard Ingle from Virginia, invaded the colony and plundered the Jesuit plantation missions. Father White and two companions were put in shackles and sent back to London. The charge against him? Treason. He dared as a Romish priest to enter England when it was against the law to do so! “But,” his defense argued, “he was dragged here in irons, not of his own free will.” So, seeing the inanity of the charge, the Commonwealth spared his life, but nevertheless, incarcerated him in Newgate Prison. On account of his advanced age his petitioners managed after three years to effect his release and, although he pleaded with his superiors to send him back to his beloved Marylandians, he was denied. He died in his own country in 1656.