Tuesday, July 17, 2012

John Shaw and the State House, 1783

John Shaw (1745-1829) is widely considered to be the premier cabinetmaker of Annapolis during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He owned the largest furniture-making shop in Annapolis which produced furniture for private and public patrons, including many commissions for work at the State House. Much of Shaw’s furniture, including objects made for the State House, was stylistically distinctive and frequently identified by labels. Between the 1770s and 1819, Shaw, more than any other Annapolis artisan, played the most extensive role in shaping the appearance of the State House, its furnishings, and in particular, the Old Senate Chamber. 

Shaw and Chisholm Label, c. 1783-4; found on MSA SC 1545-0814
Shaw was one of several Scottish artisans who came to Annapolis in the early 1760s in search of employment as journeymen cabinetmakers. By 1772, Shaw had partnered with Archibald Chisholm (d. 1810), another Scottish immigrant, to form the largest cabinetmaking shop in the city. The firm of Shaw and Chisholm advertised more than any of their local contemporaries, partnered with other local artisans, imported and sold English goods, and trained apprentices. Shaw and Chisholm dissolved their partnership and opened independent firms in 1776, but they briefly partnered again in 1783.
Shaw began providing a range of services at the State House as soon as the building was completed in 1779, and by 1783 he had established himself as the building’s unofficial caretaker. In April 1783, to celebrate the end of the American Revolution, he was paid more than £46 for building “a booth and illuminating State House on the news of the proclamation of peace.”

Shaw’s April 1783 bill: AUDITOR GENERAL (Journal) MSA S 150-5, Peter Force Collection B-2, MSA SC 4391

In November 1783, the state turned to Shaw to ready the State House in advance of the arrival of Congress in Annapolis. At the state’s direction, he commissioned the fabrication of two 9’ x 23’ flags to fly from the State House and the governor’s residence to signal the presence of the national government. A reproduction of this flag, known as the John Shaw Flag, now hangs in the State House Rotunda. This replica was created through careful analysis of Shaw’s original receipts and a 1794 watercolor by Cotton C. Milbourne that is owned by the Hammond Harwood House.

Shaw flag: MSA SC 1545-3348
The following month, December 1783, Shaw was charged with preparing the State House for George Washington’s resignation as commander-in-chief. The Maryland State Archives has the bills Shaw submitted for purchasing 95 pounds of candles “for the entertainment of General Washington” and also for 1000 nails, 100 feet of plank, turpentine, and labor of five people in preparing the State House for the resignation. 

Shaw’s December bill: MSA S 1005-11773, 19,999-077-107

This entry is the first in a series that will explore Shaw’s career, his furnishings, and his influence on the eighteenth-century appearance of the Senate Chamber.

Do you have a Shaw furnishing made for the State House? Please contact us if you have, or know of, a furnishing that may have been made by John Shaw for the State House.

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