With our upcoming Reunion taking place in Annapolis, Maryland, you may ask yourself - - why was it that John Gaither relocated to Maryland from his Virginia homestead? What could possibly have forced him out of that valuable holding, which he settled as virgin land, and had held for 14 years? Was it a natural disaster, need for better land, adventure? The answer is a broken promise of freedom.
In Virginia, John was part of a community known as Non-Conformists who had come to America for land and freedom from the restraints of Royal rule in England. They sought religious freedom, representation in governance, and relief from taxation. By the 1640s, many of these Non-Conformists were followers of Oliver Cromwell, supporters of the English Revolution, and increasingly chafing at an abridgment of their freedoms under the rule of Virginia's Royal Governor, Sir William Berkeley.
When England’s Civil War broke out in 1642, Governor Berkeley, ever loyal to the Crown, became nervous about the Non-Conformists in his midst and began to take increasingly severe actions against them. Those actions included banishing their ministers, fining those who did not attend Anglican services, forbidding assembly, jailing Non-Conformist leaders, and finally requiring Non-Conformists to sign an oath of allegiance or be banished from the Colony.
The leaders in the Non-Conformist community took their case to the Virginia General Assembly and lost. Governor Berkeley ruled that they must "conform" by the end of 1649, or have their property confiscated or worse. Fortunately, the Non-Conformists, anticipating this terrible outcome, had been exploring a solution in the Colony of Maryland.
During this period of unrest in Virginia, Cecil Calvert, the Lord Baltimore, was having difficulty colonizing Maryland. Without colonists, and the revenues they generated, Lord Baltimore's Royal charter was in jeopardy. And so, in a fortuitous confluence of events, Lord Baltimore invited the Virginia Non-Conformists to Maryland. The colonists negotiated for, and were granted by Lord Baltimore, greater liberties than in Virginia, and acreage equal to their Virginia land grants.
And so, it was that in 1649, the entire Non-Conformist community of Virginia, comprising some 200 families out of a Virginia population of about 2,200 Colonists, moved "en masse," to the frontier, virgin lands along the Severn and South Rivers of Maryland - - the lands around, and including what is now Annapolis.