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Thomas Cornwallis (c. 1605-1675/76)

Thomas Cornwallis was one of the first investors in the colony of Maryland and one of its leading men. He was born into a noble Catholic family in England in 1605, but as a second son he could not hope to inherit land in England. Instead, he decided to come to America, and in 1634 he accompanied Leonard Calvert to Maryland as one of the original Commissioners of the colony.

As Commissioner, Cornwallis advised the Governor about important matters. During the colonyís early years, Cornwallis served as captain and chief military officer. He led the soldiers in a number of battles, especially in the Kent Island region.

William Claiborne of Virginia resented that his lands had been included in the grant to Lord Baltimore and refused to submit to Marylandís authority. Cornwallis was involved in several naval battles over Kent Island in 1635 and in 1638 he led an expedition that took control of the island for the Calvert family. He also fought against the Indians in 1643.

Cornwallis combined his military power with economic success. He established the first mill in the colony and built a large framed house as an example to others.1 Although Cornwallis grew some tobacco, he earned most of his money by investing in the fur trade.

Like many merchant-planters in the colonies, Cornwallis served as a creditor to his poorer neighbors, lending money and then collecting interest. At one point in 1642, Cornwallis had debts due him in the amount of 40,056 pounds of tobacco, or about 664 pounds sterling.2 All of these activities helped make Cornwallis wealthy. At one point, he seems to have been the richest man in Maryland.3

But Cornwallis lost much of his land and money when a radical Protestant, Richard Ingle, began attacking Catholic settlements in St. Maryís in 1644. Ultimately, Cornwallis returned to England, but his early role in Maryland as an investor as well as a political and military leader was important to the colonyís success.

1Lois Green Carr, Russel R. Menard, and Louis Peddicord, Maryland... At the Beginning. Annapolis, MD: Hall of Records Commision, Department of General Services, 1984, p.9.


2Aubrey C. Land, Colonial Maryland: A History. Millwood, NY: KTO Press, 1981, p.29.


3Timothy B. Riordan, The Plundering Time: Maryland in the English Civil War, 1642-1650. Unpublished draft manuscript, 1997, Chapter 2, p.14.

SOURCES:
  • Carr, Lois Green, Russel R. Menard, and Louis Peddicord, Maryland... At the Beginning. Annapolis, MD: Hall of Records Commision, Department of General Services, 1984.


  • Land, Aubrey C., Colonial Maryland: A History. Millwood, NY: KTO Press, 1981


  • Maloney, Eric John, Papists and Puritans in Early Maryland: Religion in the Forging of Provincial Society, 1632-1665. PhD. Dissertation, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1996.


  • Riordan, Timothy B., The Plundering Time: Maryland in the English Civil War, 1642-1650. Unpublished draft manuscript, 1997.


  • Papenfuse, Edward C., et al. A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789, 2 vols. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.
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