Thursday, August 9, 2012

"Standing on this spot..."

The dedication of the plaque commemorating where Washington resigned 

Recorded on page 554 of the voluminous (1300 page) proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Continental Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution, held in Washington, D.C. from April 17-22, 1916, is a record of the activities of the Peggy Stewart Tea Party Chapter for the previous year. Among the Annapolis chapter's expenses is:

"$40.10 for tablet set in floor of Old Senate Chamber to mark the spot where Gen'l Washington stood when he resigned his commission in the Continental Army."

1920 - 1924 
Photograph of reenactment of Washington's resignation in restored Old Senate Chamber 
Howard E. Hayman, Jr. Collection 
MSA SC 1804-02-0058

This modest expenditure (at least by today's standards) provided for what has become one of the most enduring monuments in the historic Old Senate Chamber--establishing the spot where generations of visitors have posed themselves to commemorate Washington's historic action in 1783 of handing over control of the military to the civilian government.

The name "Peggy Stewart Tea Party Chapter" commemorates the event that occurred in the Annapolis harbor on October 19,1774, when local ship owner Anthony Stewart was forced by a mob to burn his brig, Peggy Stewart, after paying the hated tea tax in violation of the colony's non-importation resolution. This chapter of the DAR had a long established association with the Old Senate Chamber, being granted permission to hold their regular meetings in the historic room.

The dedication ceremony for the bronze plaque on December 23, 1915, (the 132nd anniversary of the event) is described in detail in the DAR Magazine of July, 1916. The chamber was not large enough "to accommodate the audience of three hundred or more distinguished guests, including officials of the State as well as Patriotic societies, and necessitated the use of the Ante-Room and Rotunda." The room was festooned with greenery, and "the President's chair, which stands on the dais, was draped with Stars and Stripes, while, from the arch above, there fell, in graceful folds, the American flag, entwined with the beautiful flag of Maryland."

Governor Phillips Lee Goldsborough presided and his 13-year old son, Brice, unveiled the plaque. In his remarks, Governor Goldsborough extolled the virtues of George Washington, and the ladies of the DAR, accepting their gift to the State of Maryland saying: 

"you may be sure that it will ever be preserved to the end that when seen by those of the present and future generations, there may be paid to the 'Father of His Country'--to the greatest man of all times and all lands--a token of reverence, respect and affection."

Upon the moment of unveiling there was a ringing of bells in Annapolis, signaled by that of St. Anne's Church, and including "church and fire bells" throughout the city.

The ceremony was chiefly planned by chapter member Mrs. L. Dorsey Gassaway, a great great niece of General Washington whose idea it was to create the historical marker. Among the other members of the committee were several descendants of colonial legislators, as well as members chosen for their "lifelong familiarity with the location of the historic spot." 

Certainly oral tradition and the written descriptions of the event must have played a part in determining where to place the plaque, as did painted versions of the scene which consistently show Washington standing just to the left of the dais.

The welcoming remarks were made by the chapter regent, Mrs. Daniel M. Garrison. She summed up the mission of the DAR to promote patriotism among the public, adding that:

"It is with that idea of inculcating a patriotic spirit amongst our people that many places associated closely with our history have been marked with tablets...that the chance wayfarer may see, and seeing, recall to mind sacrifices that our forebears were called upon to make, that our nation might live."
Rudy Barry of Washington D.C. on a self guided tour
of the State House.
Nearly a hundred years later, thousands of "chance wayfarers" continue to look upon this simple bronze plaque as they walk through the Old Senate Chamber, pausing to consider the meaning of Washington's selfless act in shaping our country. Undoubtedly, the 1915 members of the The Peggy Stewart Tea Party Chapter would be proud to know that their $40.10 investment is continuing to pay dividends. 
George Alcott, of San Antonio, and
Duncan Dickson, of Orlando,
contemplating George Washington's
resignation before Congress.

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