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]

Back of a receipt to Messrs C. & R. Johnson for red, white, and blue bunting. On the back of the receipt, it says, "Flagg made by Mr. Shaw and hoisted for the President of Congress." Maryland State Archives, MSA S1005-94-14068.
Recently, a unique apprenticeship record has been found that may shed some new light on the creation of the Shaw flags. On May 13, 1778, John Shaw took on nine year-old Jane Lewis as a seamstress apprentice, an unlikely skill to learn in a cabinetmaking shop.[3] Provided Jane had survived and completed her apprenticeship, she very likely played a significant role in the creation of the flag. As the only known seamstress in Shaw’s shop, and nearly completed with her seven-year apprenticeship by 1783, Jane would have had the skills that Shaw would have required to complete the task.

Upon completion, the two Shaw flags were raised in honor of Congress’s arrival. One hung above the State House to signal that Congress was in Annapolis, and another likely hung above Jennings House, the governor’s residence where President of Congress, Thomas Mifflin, was staying. The flags were probably raised on December 4, 1783, the day after Mifflin’s arrival to Annapolis. The Shaw flag remained above the State House while Congress was in session throughout 1784, making it the flag of the first peacetime capitol of the United States.

Reproduction of the John Shaw flag. 2009, CRW Flags, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-3348.

In preparation for the bicentennial celebrations of 1983-4, the Maryland State Archives staff engaged noted textile scholar Grace Rogers Cooper to develop a plan to reproduce the original Shaw flag for the State House. Ms. Cooper was able to determine the size of the flag by analyzing the materials that Shaw purchased from Messes C. and R. Johnson in 1783. Based on this research, a Shaw flag was reproduced for display in the State House.

Shortly after the bicentennial celebrations, a watercolor painted by Charles Cotton Millbourne around 1794 was found in the collections of the Hammond Harwood House. It depicted a view of Annapolis as it was in the late eighteenth-century. The State House’s dome appears in the background of the watercolor, with the Shaw flag flying from the flag post. Using the detail of this image, the Maryland State Archives worked with Reverend Richard Libby to create a historically accurate replica of the flag, which was completed in 2009 with the help of CRW Flags and the Maryland State Society of the Daughters of the Revolution.

The accurate version of the Shaw flag typically hangs in the State House Rotunda, but has been off exhibition since 2012 because of renovations in the inner dome. The flag will return to the State House in early 2014!

[1] Maryland State Papers (Scharf Papers) MSA S1005-94-14068 MdHR 19,999-086-128
[2] Journals of Continental Congress 1774-1789, Vol. Vlll, 14 June 1777.
[3] Anne Arundel County Register of Wills (Orphans Court Proceedings), 1777-1779, MSA C125-1, MdHR 9524, p.11.

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