Thomas Kennedy
Maryland Legislator Who Made A Difference

Thomas Kennedy was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1776. He sailed for Georgetown in 1795 and, according to tradition, the first person he met when he left the ship was his brother Matthew, who had come down with the rest of the townspeople to watch the ship arrive.

In 1802, Kennedy married Rosamond Thomas from Frederick and signed a lease for mill land on the Conococheague. Two years later, he obtained a lot and probably built a home for himself and his family in the village of Williamsport.

Kennedy was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1817, representing Hagerstown. From the very beginning of his legislative career, he was interested in religious freedom. Because of this interest, he was, in 1818, placed on a committee in the House that was to consider religious freedom .

At the time, there were only about 150 Jews in Maryland. Thomas Kennedy had never even met one, but he was outraged by the injustice of excluding an entire group of people because of their religious beliefs.

In 1825, Kennedy ran for the House of Delegates and was elected. By this time, public and press opinion in the state had turned in favor of the measure and in 1826, the bill became law. A few months later, two Jews were elected to the Baltimore City Council.

Having fully accomplished what he had set out to do some eight years earlier, Thomas Kennedy returned to Hagerstown where he put his long interest in writing to use by establishing the Hagerstown Mail. His fellow citizens again prevailed upon him to represent them in the General Assembly, and he was elected to the State Senate to serve out the term of a member who had died. He sat in the Senate from 1826 to 1831 but found that he preferred the Lower House and returned to that body in the next election.

An epidemic of Asiatic cholera claimed the life of Thomas Kennedy in October 1832.

The bill that Thomas Kennedy helped to pass in 1826 extended political rights to Jews, but it still required that an officeholder profess belief in a "future state of rewards and punishments." This requirement was retained in the Maryland Constitution of 1851 and was not dropped until the present Maryland Constitution was adopted in 1867.

One who loved his fellow man. Inscription on Thomas Kennedy's burial monument, Hagerstown, Maryland. The monument was erected in 1918 by a few Jewish citizens in recognition of services rendered by Thomas Kennedy in the Md. Legislature of 1818.

Written The Maryland State Archives for the State House Trust

© Copyright October 16, 1997, Office of the Secretary of State.
Last Modified September 16, 2003.