Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

While Thanksgiving was not officially declared a national holiday until 1863, several days during and after the Revolutionary War were designated as days of thanksgiving. The Continental Congress issued many Thanksgiving Proclamations between 1774 and 1789 in honor of military victories during the war.[1] As president, George Washington declared the first national day of Thanksgiving in 1789.

To celebrate, we hope you enjoy trying this eighteenth-century recipe for Molly Ridout’s herb soup!

Herb soup recipe in Molly Ridout's handwriting, c.1765-1775. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 371-0-2-9.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Congress Arrives in Annapolis

On this day, two hundred and thirty years ago, Congress officially arrived in Annapolis to begin holding sessions in the Maryland State House’s Old Senate Chamber. Though it would take several more weeks for enough delegates to trickle into Annapolis to officially meet the quorum, November 26, 1783 marked the beginning of a congressional session that would witness the resignation of George Washington, the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, and the appointment of Thomas Jefferson as foreign minister. The next nine months would not only set the course for America’s future, but also mark the Maryland State House as the nation’s first peacetime capitol and the only state house to ever serve as the nation’s capitol.

Portrait of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, one of Maryland's signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Senate President in 1783. Painted by Thomas Sully, 1834, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1114.

On October 1781, the British surrendered at Yorktown, but the struggles of establishing a strong government to run the new country were just beginning. The Continental Congress faced staggering war debts and soldiers demanding pensions that the government couldn’t afford to pay, causing civil unrest and dramatic inflation. In June 1783, riots in Philadelphia threatened the safety of the delegates, then meeting in Independence Hall, and Congress relocated to Princeton, New Jersey in the first of a series of congressional venues between 1783 and 1787.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Flag for the State House

In autumn of 1783, men like Jubb Fowler and John Shaw were hurriedly preparing for the arrival of Congress to the Maryland State House on November 26, 1783. Actually a cabinetmaker by trade, the State House hired John Shaw for a variety of tasks. Among Shaw’s various projects in late 1783, perhaps the most famous is what is now known as the “John Shaw flag.”

This watercolor painted by Charles Cotton Millbourne c.1794 is the best known image of a depiction of the original "John Shaw flag." View of Annapolis, courtesy of the Hammond Harwood House Association. You may also view their blog here.

On November 12, 1783, the state paid Messrs C. and R. Johnson of Baltimore for purchasing “2 pieces of red bunting, 2 ditto white bunting, 19½ yards blue ditto. The above, to make a pair of colours for the State at the request of the Gov & Council and Ordered of the purchaser in Balto.”[1] Shaw was paid for providing two matching flags - both were nine by twenty-three feet and were of an unusual design. Descriptions of the eighteenth-century Shaw flag have always been vague, but it was certainly built according to the 1777 resolution by Congress that the nation’s flag must have “13 stripes alternating red and white” and “13 stars white on a field of blue representing a constellation.”[2]

Friday, November 15, 2013

“A Most Amiable Man As Well As An Excellent Artist:” Edwin White’s Commission

Last week, Washington Resigning His Commission was removed from its place on the grand staircase of the State House’s New Annex for conservation as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration. But how did this major work come to be in the State House?

Edwin White's Washington Resigning His Commission as Commander-in-Chief, painted in 1859. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1112.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Recent Press in The Baltimore Sun

We are excited that last week’s removal of Edwin White’s Washington Resigning His Commission was featured in The Baltimore Sun’s The Darkroom, an online outlet which focuses on visual journalism. The article includes a series of thirteen images by notable photographer Barbara Haddock Taylor that chronicle the deinstallation of the painting, offering readers a chance to glimpse some behind-the-scenes images of the process.

Conservator William Lewin examines parts of the original frame which will go under conservation. Courtesy of The Baltimore Sun, 12 November 2013.

Washington Resigning His Commission will be off-exhibit for approximately twelve months while it undergoes conservation in conjunction with the restoration of the Old Senate Chamber.

You can read the full article to enjoy the rest of the images!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The State House At War

The Maryland State House has been the setting for dramatic turns in the history of Maryland and the nation. Over the years, all of the nation’s wars have in some way impacted the building and the politics that take place within it. During the War of 1812, the State House dome was even used as a lookout while the British fleet raided the Chesapeake Bay. Situated at the center of Annapolis, which is home to the United States Naval Academy as well as Maryland’s capital, it would be difficult for the Maryland State House to not play a prominent role in the home front.

Photograph of procession on Maryland Avenue, with the State House in the background, dated 1859-1906. Copy by Marion E. Warren, Marion E. Warren Collection, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1890-02-3244.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, we will take a moment to reflect on the State House and its consequential role in the Revolutionary War effort.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"All Eyes Being Fixed on Washington:" Washington Resigning Leaves the State House

This past Monday, a team of conservators and professional art handlers from Artex Fine Art Services worked with the Department of General Services and the Maryland State Archives to remove Edwin White's Washington Resigning His Commission from the State House. The painting, part of the state-owned art collection managed by the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property and completed in 1859, will undergo major conservation over the course of the next year, and will return to the State House in conjunction with the completion of the restoration of the Old Senate Chamber. This masterpiece has hung above the grand staircase of the Maryland State House since 1904, when it had been moved from its original home in the Old Senate Chamber.

Artex staff works to remove Washington Resigning from its place on the grand staircase. Maryland State Archives, 4 November 2013.
An army of art handlers from Artex worked carefully for several hours to first remove the painting from the wall and lower it to the floor. The canvas was then removed from the frame, and the disassembled frame was carried piece by piece downstairs where it was wrapped for safe transport. The canvas, meanwhile, was secured in cardboard and plastic, and carried out of the State House through a window in the original part of the State House. A specialty contractor removed the window to accommodate the painting; they reinstalled it immediately after the painting was out of the building. Once outside, the canvas and the frame components were loaded into a truck for transportation to the conservators’ studios.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Major Anniversaries at the State House

Washington's resignation is far from the only piece of significant history to have occurred in the Maryland State House.  Today the State House celebrates two anniversaries of significant events in Maryland's history: the first occupancy of the current State House, and Maryland's abolition of slavery.

On November 1, 1779, two hundred and thirty-four years ago, the Proceedings of the House of Delegates recorded "Monday, November 1, 1779, being the day appointed for a receiving of the General Assembly, appeared at the Stadt-house, in the city of Annapolis."[1] This entry marks the day that the legislature first moved into the third and current State House, and making today the start of the building's current streak of continuous occupancy--the longest such streak in the nation. 

A conjectural image of the third State House when it first opened. Even though the legislature had begun to occupy the State House in 1779, the roof was not finished until nearly a decade later. By 1788, the dome had been redone and completed by architect, Joseph Clark. Sketch by Elizabeth Ridout, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1444.
The current State House that the delegates moved into in 1779 was not the first State House built on top of Annapolis' State Circle. In fact, there had been two prior. The first, constructed in 1695, was short-lived and burned down in 1704. The second was completed in 1709, and had begun to show its age after sixty years of use. In 1769, William Eddis, the Surveyor of Customs in Annapolis, wrote, "The public buildings do not impress the mind with any idea of magnificence...nothing expressive of the great purpose to which it is appropriated; and by a strange neglect; is suffered to fall continually into decay."[2]