Friday, December 27, 2013

Happy Holidays from the State House!

For centuries, the State House has celebrated the holiday season with decorations and concerts. Today, children from schools in Maryland ensure that the State House stays decorated by making ornaments that hang on the official State House tree.

Stereographic image of the State House in the snow, 1836-1872. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

Before the building was accommodated with central heating, its occupants would warm themselves with fireplaces located in the offices and official rooms. The building was kept stocked with wood, which was often acquired in huge quantities by men like Jubb Fowler who worked as caretakers of the State House.

We hope you stay warm this holiday season and to help you, please enjoy these early nineteenth-century knitting instructions for gloves from the Ridout family!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Resignation: Washington Resigns His Commission Before Congress

Two-hundred and thirty years ago today, at noon on Tuesday, December 23, 1783, Congress assembled in the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House. The roll that day recorded only seven states in attendance, “namely: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, and most of these only by two delegates.”[1] While this was not enough to pass legislation, Congress determined unanimously three days before that it would be enough to receive the resignation of the commander-in-chief.[2]

Despite the generally poor attendance of delegates, the room was crowded with citizens. Ladies filed into the gallery and men on the floor. David Howell of Rhode Island wrote, “The State House was crowded with people of the first fashion who all partook in the occasion. And many testified their affectionate attachment to our illustrious Hero & their gratitude for his Services to his Country by a most copious shedding of tears.”[3] On this day, the Old Senate Chamber had reached such a capacity that some people were asked to leave! Even so, the crowd was still overwhelming, as James Tilton, a delegate from Delaware, recorded: “At twelve o’clock the General was introduced by the Secretary, and seated opposite to the president, until the throng, that filled all the avenues, were so disposed of as to behold the solemnity. The ladies occupid the gallery, as full as it would hold, the Gentn. crouded below stairs.”[4]

George Washington Surrendering His Commission by Francis Blackwell Mayer, 1883. Image courtesy of the Mint Museum, 1971.14.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Resignation: The State House Illuminated

On Christmas Day, 1783, James Tilton was a little disgruntled over his own behavior at a ball that had occurred three days prior. In a letter to fellow Delaware delegate, Gunning Bedford Jr., he bemoaned, “Such was my villainous awkwardness, that I could not venture to dance on this occasion, you must therefore annex to it a cleverer Idea, than is to be expected from such a mortified whelp as I am.”[1]

The particular ball that Tilton referred to was a rather important one, held at the State House on December 22, 1783 in honor of General Washington. After all, Washington’s public appearances in Annapolis in December 1783 were not only confined to the resignation ceremony, but also included several public celebrations held in his honor. Tilton’s letter to Bedford has since become a valuable resource in determining contemporary impressions of the resignation and the celebrations held on the eve of it.

James Tilton, a Delaware delegate in Congress, was present for the resignation. Lithography by Thomas Edwards, 1828. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.78.141.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Resignation: Committee for Procedures

By all standards, George Washington’s resignation as commander-in-chief was a dignified yet modest affair for Congress. All the same, a certain amount of ceremony for an event as momentous as the resignation was required. Delegates Thomas Jefferson, Elbridge Gerry, and James McHenry were selected by Congress on December 20, 1783 to form the Committee for Procedures for the event.[1]

James McHenry, by Charles Balthazar Julien Feveret de Saint-Mémin, 1803. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Their report was likely prepared during the weekend before the resignation. Apart from establishing the protocol of the actual ceremony, the committee’s responsibilities may have also included writing the President of Congress’ response to Washington’s resignation speech, though James McHenry admitted to not having been involved in this task. In December 1783, McHenry was love-sick over his fiance, Margaret Caldwell, and wrote to her, “I was to assist in writing our answer to General Washington’s resignation - but I am unfit for the purpose.”[2] 

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Resignation: Washington at the City Gates

In the days leading up to the two hundred and thirtieth anniversary of Washington’s resignation as Commander-in-Chief in the Old Senate Chamber, we will review the events leading up to one of the most significant events in American history.

On the evening of Friday, December 19, 1783, Generals William Smallwood and Horatio Gates, both Revolutionary War heroes, waited alongside several prominent Marylanders on the road a few miles from Annapolis to meet and escort General Washington into the city.[1] Annapolis was to be the final stop in what had become a sort of farewell tour for Washington, who had stopped in several cities along the way. A discharge of a cannon publicly announced his arrival as Smallwood, Gates, and the others led Washington to Mann’s Tavern where he would lodge for the duration of his visit. After meeting with several leading citizens that night, Washington spent some time with the President of Congress, Thomas Mifflin, before retiring for the evening.

A twentieth-century depiction painted by Everette Molinari of Mann's Tavern, where Washington stayed during his resignation and ceremonies. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-2893.

Friday, December 13, 2013

“The Prettyest in America:” Accounts of the OSC

Much like their accounts of the city discussed in last week's blog post, delegates of Congress had much to say about their new seat at the Maryland State House. Due to a lack of surviving pictorial evidence from the eighteenth century, these descriptions serve as valuable evidence for determining the appearance of the Old Senate Chamber in 1783.

Opinions on the State House were generally favorable, even from those delegates who were unimpressed with the entertainments of Annapolis. David Howell of Rhode Island, who looked unfavorably on the lack of a church in the city, said of the State House, “The State House & the House assigned for the President are spacious & eligantly finished, far exceeding those buildings in Philadelphia.”[1] Charles DeWitt, a delegate from New York, similarly described the State House in a letter to his son as, “the most superb, it is thought, in any of the United States.”[2]

Conceptual sketch of the State House c.1859. Drawn by Elizabeth Ridout, 1954, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1444-01-20.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Annapolis: A “School of Idleness"

Though Congress had opened session on November 26, 1783, very little was getting accomplished. Not enough delegates had arrived to reach even the minimum amount required to vote and pass legislature. In fact, on the day of Washington’s resignation, the Journals of Congress noted that only seven states were represented, and “most only by two delegates.”[1] Without nine states, legislation could not be passed, and with delegates arriving and leaving, the issue of representation was a reoccuring problem. In a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson’s frustration was evident as even Maryland delegates at times failed to show up in their own state capitol: “We have eight states only and seven of these represented by two members... the other absent states are N. York, Maryland and Georgia. We have done nothing and can do nothing in this condition but waste our time, temper, and spirits in debating things for days or weeks and then losing them by the negative of one or two individuals.”[2]

With little business in Congress taking place, delegates occupied their time in other ways in their new city. Annapolis, in its heyday, elicited a diversity of opinions from the delegates.

Captaine Michel du Chesnoy's 1781 map of Annapolis, known as "The Frenchman's Map." Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1427-1-7.