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.

The third and current State House officially opened for legislative use in 1779, almost four years after the start of the American Revolution. Its very beginnings were impacted by wartime struggles. A lack of labor and resources delayed its construction, begun in 1772, so that it took nearly seven years to complete. In the meantime, the Maryland legislature temporarily met in other locations: the Senate continued to meet in the Conference Chamber on the State House grounds, and the House of Delegates in the house of Annapolitan Joshua Frazier and later, the Annapolis Assembly Rooms.[1/2]

Not all significant contributions to the Revolutionary War were made on the front lines. In Annapolis, significant decisions and contributions were continually being made to the patriot cause. On the State House grounds, government offices like the Auditor General tracked payment and accounting for the war. Meanwhile, key players in State House history took prominent roles in assisting the war effort from Annapolis.

Out of necessity, many Annapolitans took on a variety of jobs at once. Cabinetmakers Archibald Chisholm and John Shaw, who later became state armorer, worked with the state to manufacture muskets and oversee the state’s military supplies. John Crisall, the Annapolis Commissary, sought to provide provisions to the State House, troops, war wives, and hospitals. Crisall dealt in goods that ranged from candles to clothing and rum. Even the superintendent for the building of the State House, Charles Wallace, also worked as a prominent Annapolis merchant and supported the war effort through active involvement with the Council of Safety.

Receipt from Archibald Chisholm to John Crisall regarding supplying more candles. An English immigrant whose wife and children remained in England while he worked in Annapolis, Crisall supported the Continental Army and the colonial Maryland legislature between 1776 and 1786. Maryland State Archives, MSA S1004-11-2122.

The State House's most notable contribution, however, came at the conclusion of the war. Between November 26, 1783 and August 19, 1784, the Continental Congress chose the Maryland State House in Annapolis as the seat of its session. On January 14, 1784, Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris in the Old Senate Chamber, thus officially ending the Revolutionary War. This act made the Maryland State House the first peacetime capitol of the United States.

For more information on Maryland's involvement in the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Long Island, you can follow the Maryland State Archives' blog on the Maryland 400.

Have a wonderful Veteran’s Day!

[1] Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, March 1774 Session, Archives of Maryland Volume 64, page 304.
[2] November 1779 session. in Votes and Proceedings of the House of Delegates, November 1788 Session, page 82.

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