Friday, December 19, 2014

There At the Resignation: James McHenry

Over the past several months, we have covered many of the key players in the Old Senate Chamber’s history, several of whom will be featured in our exhibit. From Molly Ridout to John Shaw, we have introduced you to famous attendees and artisans alike. Now, with only a short time to go until the opening of the restored room, we bring you one last biography of the man who provided one of the most significant accounts of the resignation - one of Maryland’s delegates in Congress, James McHenry.

Pastel portrait of James McHenry, by De Nyse W. Turner after James Sharples, 1975. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1029.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What's Next for the Maryland State House?

The Old Senate Chamber is only a few weeks away from opening, but we hope you don’t get the wrong idea that that is the end of our work for the Maryland State House! Rather, the Old Senate Chamber fits into a larger plan that seeks to restore the Maryland State House, enhance visitor experience, and maintain the building and its grounds for future generations. While perhaps one of the most famous, the Old Senate Chamber is far from the only structure on the State House grounds with a long and impressive story. From the Old House of Delegates Chamber where the Constitution of 1864 was signed to one of the original cannons that came to Maryland on the Ark and the Dove, Maryland’s State House is a building we must preserve.

Artistic sketch of the Old Treasury Building from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, from a sketch by Joseph Becker, 1881. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 4314-1-3.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Conserving Maryland's Masterpieces

With Washington Resigning His Commission soon to return to its home at the Maryland State House, and the Old Senate Chamber project hurtling towards completion, we thought it was time to give a little insight into the work that went into many of our great pieces conserved over the past year. Edwin White’s Washington Resigning, Charles Willson Peale’s portraits of the six governors, William Pitt, and Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown have all undergone conservation work as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration.

Staff at Olin Conservation, Inc. show areas on Charles Willson Peale's Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman that will require further investigation. Image by Maryland State Archives, 26 March 2014.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Martha Wasn't There! And Other Common Misconceptions

With the Old Senate Chamber opening in just over a month, no one can ignore the myths that have taken hold over the past several centuries surrounding the room. While the Old Senate Chamber is filled with many fascinating tales, some true and some less so, it’s time to set the record straight on at least a few of these favorite stories.

The ladies in the gallery during the resignation, including Martha Washington at the center. Crop from General George Washington Resigning His Commission by John Trumbull, 1824. U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Baltimore’s Frame Maker: Samson Cariss and Washington Resigning

This time last year, we watched Edwin White’s Washington Resigning His Commission leave the State House to undergo conservation as part of the restoration, and marked the occasion with a feature on the nineteenth-century artist. So, what better way to welcome Washington Resigning home in the coming weeks, than with a feature on the frame’s craftsman, Samson Cariss!

The frame's latest conservation has revealed superb, detailed craftsmanship and generous gilding. Maryland State Archives, 9 June 2014.

At first glance, Cariss may not seem of interest. Compared to White’s popularity in the American artistic expat inner-circle, Cariss appears only in passing in state correspondence, and it was even questioned for a time whether he could have made the elaborate, carefully crafted frame that has miraculously stayed with the painting over the course of nearly a century and a half. Compared to White’s $3,000 payment, Cariss secured only $300 for the generously gilded work. Because of this, it had been previously suggested that he may have been only the procurer of the frame.[1]

Friday, October 24, 2014

Protecting a Historic Shrine

With the opening of the Old Senate Chamber less than two months away, we are thrilled to soon have a historic room that will be filled with important original and recreated fine arts and furnishings. While we are eager to share many of the original artifacts with the public, much of the items on display in the Old Senate Chamber, and many other rooms in the Maryland State House, are irreplaceable, and the possibility of damage to the room or anything it contains is a constant worry. With such risks being taken, what sort of plan is there to protect the Maryland State House’s historic rooms?

The restoration of a room does not solely revolve around research and architectural discoveries, nor does the care of a room stop on opening day. Rather, many meetings are spent discussing preparation plans to protect the room from disaster and care for it on a regular basis. One aspect of preparation planning of particular importance for historic preservationists is how to protect your artifacts in the case of a fire.

The Old Senate Chamber restoration was prompted by plaster in the room falling off the walls due to nearly twenty layers of several different types of paint applied directly to the historic bricks. By collecting detailed records and working on preventative care of the room and its furnishings, we are taking measures to ensure this does not happen again. Maryland State Archives, April 2004.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Building the State House: Charles Wallace and the Old Senate Chamber

The answer to the question of who built the Maryland State House may be more complicated than you might imagine. While Joseph Horatio Anderson is commonly considered to be the original architect, and provided some of the first floor plans, he did not actually supervise the construction of the building. On June 20, 1771, the Maryland General Assembly contracted a somewhat unexpected individual to undertake the actual construction after Joseph Horatio Anderson had left. Charles Wallace, an Annapolitan, and one-third of the successful eighteenth-century mercantile firm, Wallace, Davidson & Johnson, agreed to take on what would become one of his most famous projects.[1]

Front elevation of the Maryland State House, by Charles Willson Peale, July 1788. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1051-2.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Receipts, Letters, and the News: How Archival Documents Crafted the Restored Old Senate Chamber

When most people think of an archives, the first thing to come to mind is often how the documents can be used as genealogical and legal resources. People rarely consider how these centuries of valuable documents can all be applied to restorations. While research within the Maryland State Archives, such as the Legacy of Slavery in Maryland, Maryland 400, and Brookeville projects, all use resources in the institution’s holdings to attempt to piece together the histories of people, the Old Senate Chamber restoration has similarly been using the same documents for years to piece together the history of a single room.

1825 header depicting the State House on the Maryland Gazette, one of the first published American newspapers. Many original editions of the paper are in the collection of the Maryland State Archives. Maryland Gazette, 21 April 1825, MSA SC 378-42.

With a room as old and historic as the Old Senate Chamber, shadows of architectural remains and photographs of the room in later periods do not suffice to explain all aspects of the room's original appearance. Instead, more unusual resources need to be used to flesh out the narrative. In the past, we have used probate and watermark analysis on documents to verify information and craft the lives of the key players in the Old Senate Chamber’s history.

Friday, September 12, 2014

228 Years Ago: The Annapolis Convention of 1786

Many visitors to Maryland's capital city don’t realize that Washington’s resignation and the ratification of the Treaty of Paris were not the only significant national events to take place in eighteenth-century Annapolis. On September 11 through September 14, 1786, delegates from Congress who were elected as commissioners descended upon the city once again in the hopes of meeting to determine the course of American government. While poor attendance prevented much progress at the Annapolis Convention of 1786, its impact on the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 and the resulting United States Constitution cannot be ignored.

A famous depiction of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, where the Constitution was signed. This gathering is considered by many to be a direct result of the Annapolis Convention of 1786. Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940, courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol.

After the Revolutionary War, the United States government found itself without money, unable to even offer soldiers’ their pay, and in the midst of an economic depression. Furthermore, Congress found that it could take few measures to resolve this problem as the lack of a unified currency, among other things prevented ease in interstate state trading. Public unrest became a constant problem and though many rebellions were quickly squashed, Shays’ Rebellion in particular threatened the new government from August 1786 until February 1787. It was clear to delegates that something would need to be done.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Charles Willson Peale and the Seven Governors

Edwin White’s Washington Resigning His Commission and Charles Willson Peale’s Washington, Lafayette, and Tilghman at Yorktown are not the only valuable paintings under conservation for this restoration! In fact, a slew of portraits in the state art collection, dating from Peale’s 1774 portrait of William Pitt all the way to the 1970s campaign of crafting copies of portraits of many of Maryland’s founders have become candidates for conservation. Among the slew of fascinating stories attached to the art of the Maryland State House, there is one with a particularly long history. Between 1823 and 1825, Charles Willson Peale painted the portraits of seven of Maryland’s first governors, several of whom played prominent roles in Maryland’s Revolutionary War past and some even in Washington’s resignation!

Detail of Charles Willson Peale's portrait of John Hoskins Stone, 1824, while under conservation as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1057.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Restoration That Didn't Happen

Despite several restoration campaigns to get the Old Senate Chamber back to its original eighteenth-century appearance, the room remains a reflection of its several centuries of history. With the excitement of the room’s earliest days, it is sometimes hard to remember that fascinating stories happened after Washington’s resignation. From the 1876-1878 desecration, to remaining evidence of some of the earliest restoration efforts in 1904-1906, the room continues to hold scars and additions from its entire life.

Most people know that the most recent major restoration of the room occurred in 1940 under architect, Laurence Hall Fowler. However, few people realize that a decade beforehand, efforts were already being made to begin restoring the room. Though the economic depression made funding the restoration unfeasible, the efforts in part resulted in the 1940 restoration, which provided some of our most valuable resources on Old Senate Chamber furnishings to this day.

Sketched floor plan for the Old Senate Chamber, 1930-1940. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Old Senate Chamber Refurbishment Collection, MS 574, copied from the Johns Hopkins Archives.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Furnished with Mahogany: Shaw in the Old Senate Chamber

Several months ago, we covered the humble beginnings of John Shaw’s life in Annapolis. Upon his death at 83, the Maryland Gazette had called him one of the most respected inhabitants of Annapolis, and declared, “He was gifted by nature with strength, as well as fortitude of mind….his whole conduct remained free from reproach, and he descended into the grave, survived by a fair and unblemished reputation, and in peace with the human family. He was not afraid to die!”[1] But what was it that Shaw had done during his life that had changed his status from a Glasgow cabinetmaker to one of Annapolis’ most famous citizens?

Senate President's Desk, made in John Shaw's shop for the Old Senate Chamber, 1797. The desk is inscribed with "W 1797 T," and was made by one of Shaw's most famous apprentices, William Tuck. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-0749.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Lighting the State House: Charles Kaflinski and the OSC’s Chandelier

In June 1837, the Niles’ Weekly Register reported on a new addition to the Old Senate Chamber. “A splendid chandelier” had been provided by Cornelius & Son of Philadelphia and was described to be “one of the most beautiful things of the kind that we have ever seen.”[1] Only a few months later, however, the chandelier fell down while being lit, breaking several of the branches and the glass shades.[2] Surely, when mass efforts were made under the contractor Lind & Murdoch in 1858-1860 to refit the entire State House with gas light, a chandelier that had required repair after only a few months would not have survived the renovation.

However, research shows that the 1830s chandelier in the Old Senate Chamber survived much longer than originally thought, and even makes an appearance in one of the earliest images of the room, a c.1868 stereoview taken by William M. Chase. But who would have refitted the chandelier?

The OSC chandelier c.1868, refitted for gas lighting by Charles Kaflinski, taken by William M. Chase. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 5907-1-1.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Get a Sneak Peek of Washington Resigning!

At this point in the Old Senate Chamber restoration project, many of the state’s paintings that will be on display as part of the Old Senate Chamber exhibit are now in the midst of conservation. Recently, MSA staff were able to visit conservators working on the canvas of Edwin White’s Washington Resigning His Commission, which was removed last November from the grand staircase of the State House to undergo its first major conservation since 1981. During the visit, we were able to capture some of the cleaning on camera to give blog readers a special look at what it takes to clean a masterpiece.

Washington Resigning's canvas is currently under conservation at Artex Fine Art Services. To understand the scope of the surface cleaning process, take note that the videos included for this week's blog post all focus on a small part of the table cloth near the attendees. Maryland State Archives, 24 July 2014.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Are You Sitting Down? Finding a Chair Fit for the Resignation

When Congress first arrived in Annapolis to hold session in the Maryland State House, the state’s General Assembly was faced with a rather embarrassing problem. Maryland’s Intendant of the Revenue, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, had ordered five dozen Windsor chairs from Matthew Ridley and Mark Pringle in November 1783, likely as a means to accommodate the rush of delegates who would be occupying the Old Senate Chamber. However, due to an unusually cold winter, the Baltimore harbor froze and the chairs did not arrive until April 1784.[1]

Annapolis had won the right to become the first peacetime capital of America, yet had suddenly found itself offering a room that would not have enough chairs to actually host the delegates. While some furniture could likely have been pulled from other offices in the State House, an event as crowded and historic as Washington’s resignation meant that chairs for Congress would have to be procured from another source as well.

William Paca's armchair, now in the collection of the Maryland Historical Society and on loan to Historic Annapolis, Inc., MHS 20.39.2. Iverson, Marion Day, The American Chair 1630-1890. New York: Hastings House, p.112.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Last Royal Governor at Washington's Resignation?

It seems unlikely that one of Maryland’s last living reminders of their days as a colony would attend Washington’s resignation, an event that symbolized the new country’s loyalty to the democratic principles that encouraged the dramatic break with England. Yet, in 1783, the last royal governor, Robert Eden, and the last Lord Baltimore’s illegitimate son, Henry Harford, had returned to Annapolis in the hopes of regaining their property that they had lost as loyalists during the war; and, on December 23, the Englishmen entered the Old Senate Chamber not as intruders, but as honored guests.

Portrait of Sir Robert Eden, by Florence Mackubin after Charles Willson Peale, 1914. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1108.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Capital Gazette Features the Old Senate Chamber

Charles Willson Peale's portrait of John Eager Howard, 1823, taken while the portrait is under conservation as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1053.

This past weekend, we were pleased to have the Capital Gazette feature the Old Senate Chamber restoration. The article covers the origins behind the original restoration and especially focuses on many of our paintings currently under conservation as part of the project.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Joseph Clark's Dome

Many tourists enter the Maryland State House, admire the copy of George Washington’s resignation speech in the rotunda, and look above them at the interior of the dome. Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that the dome visitors see today was the very dome that stood when Washington entered the building on December 23, 1783. In fact, the famous dome that crowns the State House is not the first on the building.

Conjectural drawing of the original appearance of the State House dome when the building first opened in 1772. Sketch by Elizabeth Ridout, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1444.

Though construction on the State House began in 1772, when Continental Congress arrived in 1783, they found a building still riddled with complications. The building's undertaker, Charles Wallace, left the project in 1779 due to frustration with finances and continual delays to the project from weather and war. Though the rooms were fully completed and furnished in 1783, the roof continually leaked and damaged much of the upstairs rooms. Aesthetically, the original dome that Congress would have seen was considered too small and unimpressive for a building considered the most beautiful in America.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Signer at the Resignation

It’s almost the Fourth of July and what better way for the Old Senate Chamber to celebrate American Independence than to honor the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence? Charles Carroll of Carrollton, apart from his contributions to the national cause, was deeply interested in the politics of his own state, and spent perhaps an unequaled amount of time in the Old Senate Chamber.

Portrait of Charles Carroll of Carrollton by Thomas Sully, 1834. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1114.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Lafayette Becomes “Quite the Thing” in Annapolis

As recent visitors to the State House may have noticed, the Old Senate Chamber restoration impacts much more than just the closing of one room! Many paintings in the state art collection are currently undergoing conservation as part of the restoration, including several portraits of Maryland governors, which have recently been removed from the Archives Room. Walls in the State House rarely remain bare for long though, and we are pleased to use this opportunity to introduce a new exhibit to the Archives Room, featuring an eighteenth-century character with surprisingly strong connections to Annapolis! The Marquis de Lafayette, who first landed in the colonies on June 13, 1777, 237 years ago this month, visited the Maryland State House several times over the course of his long and heroic life.

Marquis de Lafayette by Robert Templeton after Charles Willson Peale, 1975. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1034.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tench Tilghman's Historic Swords

With just over six months to go before the Old Senate Chamber reopens, many pieces in the state collection are undergoing conservation to ensure that everything will be ready and looking its best for years to come. Some people may not realize that this group of valuable relics consists not only of paintings, but also artifacts, like the very sword worn by Tench Tilghman in Charles Willson Peale's Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown! Tench Tilghman’s swords, gifted to the state in 1997, have become some of our most treasured pieces, representative of one famous Marylander’s role in the Revolutionary cause.

Long officer's sword, owned by Tench Tilghman and seen in Peale's Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 4873.
Short sword, supposedly passed down to Tilghman by his great-great grandfather. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 4873.

Friday, June 13, 2014

“A Venerable Relic” That Guards the State House

While the Old Senate Chamber is still closed to the public while in the final stages of construction, the Maryland State House is still filled with enough history to make it worth a trip this summer. One item in particular sits outside of the Old Senate Chamber on the State House grounds, and has some of the strongest ties to Maryland’s early history! The cannon, a popular attraction for many visitors to the State House, has long since been believed to have been one of approximately eight cannons to have arrived on board Maryland’s “Mayflowers,” the Ark and the Dove.

Image of the historic cannon in its current location, outside of the State House. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1430-00211, August 1949.

In 1634, European settlers first landed on the banks of the St. Mary’s River on board the Ark and the Dove. While seventeenth-century settlers are generally believed to have been encouraged to supply their own weapons, it was the expectation that the colony’s proprietor, Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, would supply the settlers with larger ordnance.[1] According to a receipt dated August 23, 1633, Lord Baltimore included “four sakers ordnance” and four demi-culverins to be taken on board the Ark.

Friday, June 6, 2014

“That Most Illustrious Character:” Peale’s Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman

Anyone who has visited the Maryland State House in the years past doubtless left with an impression of Charles Willson Peale’s Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown. One of the largest paintings decorating the building’s walls, Peale’s work has been in the Maryland state art collection since its completion in 1784. All the while, the famous Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman has had a long historical relationship with both the Old Senate Chamber and Old House of Delegates Chamber.

Charles Willson Peale's Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown, completed in 1784. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1120.

In 1781, the patriot cause saw great reason to celebrate with the American victory at Yorktown and subsequent surrender of British General Charles Cornwallis. The Maryland General Assembly sought to mark the occasion by unanimously voting “to write to Mr. Peale, of Philadelphia, to procure, as soon as may be, the portrait of his Excellency general Washington, at full length, to be placed in the house of delegates, in grateful remembrance of that most illustrious character.”[1] A Maryland native who had already earned the respect of the Maryland General Assembly with his portrait of William Pitt hanging in the Old Senate Chamber, Peale was an obvious choice for the painting’s commission. A year earlier, Peale’s painting of Washington in Princeton had garnered enough popularity, that he made several copies of the piece. However, Peale was not satisfied with the idea of presenting his native state with a copy. He sought to paint something new, and a rendition of Washington from life. Ultimately, Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman took three years to complete.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Congress Assembled: Why We Care About Ceremonial Protocol

On December 21, 1783, Thomas Jefferson sent a carefully drafted speech intended for the President of Congress to the rest of the Committee of Procedures for Washington’s resignation ceremony. To Elbridge Gerry and James McHenry, who were furiously drafting a set of ceremonial instructions known as protocol, he wrote “I send you the sketch, which I have been obliged to obliterate and blot after making what I intended for a fair copy…. Perhaps this answer is too short; perhaps it is too warm. A want of time must apologize for the one, and an exalted esteem for the other faults.”[1] Together, the three men came up with the adopted protocol for the resignation ceremony that today remains one of the most important written records to describe what happened on that day.

While protocol may seem like a boring list of who was bowing when, we have discovered that eighteenth-century ceremonial protocol is actually much more complex and revealing than originally thought. Protocol actually provides a contemporary account of how eighteenth-century people saw each other. What’s more, by learning exactly who was sitting and where, we can get one of the most accurate and contemporary descriptions of the Old Senate Chamber on the very day Washington resigned! Our staff has conducted months of intensive research to study every ceremony conducted by Congress between 1778 and 1783 in the hopes of putting together the puzzle pieces to recreate what exactly happened on December 23, 1783.

This print of Benjamin Franklin's reception at the French court is a perfect example of the American colonies, and later the United States, trying to communicate with other countries based around monarchies. Franklin's Reception at the Court of France, 1778, by Anton Hohenstein in the 1860s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

William Buckland's Annapolis

For those of you who are desperate for a sneak preview of the Old Senate Chamber, you may be surprised to find that hints are all around you! Our architectural historians have conducted months of research on interiors in many colonial structures in the Annapolis area, and the architects who created them.

One man in particular had a long-standing association with the Old Senate Chamber that merited attention. We encourage anyone who is paying a visit to Maryland’s capital this holiday weekend to keep a special eye out for the works of Virginia and Maryland architect, William Buckland.

Portrait of William Buckland by Charles Willson Peale, 1774 and 1789, completed thirteen years after Buckland's death. Before Buckland is the floor plan to his masterpiece, Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis. Image courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Evolution of the Niche

Of all the architectural features of the Old Senate Chamber, one of the most remarkable is the niche, a crescent-shaped indent in the wall situated opposite the entrance. While almost every other point in the room will be recreated to resemble its eighteenth-century appearance, the niche has miraculously survived centuries of makeovers and is one of the only original features of the room. Which of course, begs the question, how did the niche, where Thomas Mifflin once sat to famously receive Washington’s commission, survive?

Elevation drawing of the niche by J. Appleton Wilson, c. 1905. Image courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

The niche was first conceived during the construction of the third (and current) State House between 1772-1779 as a location for the President of the Senate. The room, constructed in the Palladian style popular at the time, emphasized symmetry above all else. The door that led to the Senate Committee Room, for instance, was balanced out with a fake door on the opposite side of the fireplace. Likewise, the main entrance to the room was mirrored by a niche, situated on top of a platform known as the dais. The spot was intended for the President of the Senate to sit and preside over meetings of the legislature, ironically creating an elevated space that resembled a throne.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Thomas Jefferson's Appointment

While Continental Congress was holding session in Annapolis in the Old Senate Chamber, the room inevitably bore witness to several significant events in our nation’s history. Visitors to the State House will undoubtedly hear about Washington's resignation and even the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, but sometimes overlook another event that occurred toward the end of the Congress’ time in the State House. A little over 230 years ago today, on May 7, 1784, Thomas Jefferson was appointed a trade commissioner in the Old Senate Chamber, making him the first official representative of the independent United States to a foreign government.

Thomas Jefferson painted by Mather Brown in London, 1786. Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Commemorating George

In the early twentieth-century, Annapolis lawyer and amateur historian George Forbes would give lectures using vintage photographs of Annapolis that he had collected over the years. When one picture of Edwin White’s Washington Resigning would appear on the slideshow’s projector, Forbes would read a speech from his lecture notes on the history of the painting, and wouldn’t be able to resist adding, “Something should be done to commemorate this scene either by marking the place with a star, where Washington stood; by erecting a statue of him thereon, or in a way which I think better still, and which I urged in an address before the Municipal Art Society, to reproduce the entire scene in wax, after the works of Eden Musee, and Madam [Tussauds] in London.”[1]

Forbes was far from the first person to believe that the momentous occasion of Washington’s resignation needed to be immortalized in the room where it took place. Though perhaps not as eclectic as Forbes’ wax sculpture scene, people over the years have come up with a multitude of creative ways to immortalize the resignation.

Plastic mannequin of George Washington - one of the most recent incarnations of a tribute to the resignation. Gift of the Maryland Society of Senates Past and the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter One, Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-808.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Portrait for the Revolution

Many famous works of art have at one time or another decorated the walls of the Old Senate Chamber. From portraits of the four Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence, to Charles Willson Peale's Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown, and Edwin White’s massive Washington Resigning His Commission, the Old Senate Chamber has undergone a multitude of aesthetic changes.

One painting, though, has a particular connection to the room. Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of William Pitt has been in the hands of the state of Maryland since 1774 and was one of the original art pieces to decorate the Old Senate Chamber. While Congress was in session in Annapolis between 1783-1784, it was the Pitt portrait that overlooked such momentous events as George Washington’s resignation and the ratification of the Treaty of Paris.

Charles Willson Peale's William Pitt in the Maryland state art collection. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1113.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The State House's Artist: Francis Blackwell Mayer

When walking through the historic State House, many visitors do not realize that its appearance today was in great part influenced by one man. From the art in the Victorian Old House of Delegates Chamber to the early twentieth-century restoration of the Old Senate Chamber, Francis Blackwell Mayer (1827-1899) was truly a key player in Maryland’s nineteenth-century art community. It would be impossible to give an account of the State House’s history without mentioning one of its most fascinating contributors to both the building’s preservation and artwork.

Francis Blackwell Mayer's The Planting of the Colony of Maryland, 1893, can be seen hanging in the Old House of Delegates chamber alongside his other work, The Burning of the Peggy Stewart. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1125.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Desecration of the Old Senate Chamber

Readers of last week’s blog entry may have noticed an event in the Old Senate Chamber’s history that forever left its mark on the appearance of the room. Known to some historians today as “the desecration,” the phrase was used in Elihu Samuel Riley's 1905 work, A History of the General Assembly of Maryland. Calling the renovations, "an act of historic sacrilege," Riley supposedly, "stood in the midst of the Chamber, when the desecration was in progress, and declared: 'This ought not to be done.'"[1]

On March 30, 1876, the General Assembly approved an appropriation of $32,000 for the “repair and improvement of the State House.”[2] In the next two years, under the supervision of Baltimore architect George A. Frederick, drastic changes were made to the historic rooms in order to preserve the safety of the building while updating the building’s style to a Victorian aesthetic. Unfortunately, these changes ultimately hid or destroyed several original architectural details throughout the State House.

The Old Senate Chamber, as it appeared after the 1876-1878 renovations. Most notable in this picture is the re-opening of two windows at the front of the room and the disappearance of the niche, covered with elaborate drapery in keeping with the Victorian aesthetic. Printer in Souvenir Album, General Assembly of Maryland, 1898 Session, MSA SC 5788.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Living Shrine, The OSC in the Nineteenth-Century

The life of the Old Senate Chamber did not stop on December 23, 1783 when George Washington resigned his commission. In fact, while seeking to restore the room to how it appeared in the months that Congress was in session at the Maryland State House, researchers have had to look at the entire history of the room - stretching all the way through the nineteenth-century and into the present day. Though the Old Senate Chamber would change dramatically over the years, its status as the room where Washington appeared before Congress was never completely forgotten. Even as early as 1823, Maryland politicians were discussing placing a bronze statue of Washington in the Old Senate Chamber “upon the very spot where he resigned.”[1]

A detail of one of the earliest known stereocards of the Old Senate Chamber, c.1868, before renovations in the 1870s, taken by William M. Chase. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 5907-1-1.

Before the renovations between 1876-1878 that considerably altered the appearance of the room (known to some historians today as “the desecration”), the Old Senate Chamber had already dramatically changed since 1783. New, fashionable Empire-style desks were added in 1838 to replace the John Shaw desks supplied in the 1790s. Portraits of the four signers decorated the room, and a carpet was added in 1856. In 1858, the fireplace was taken out to make way for Edwin White’s Washington Resigning, the massive size of which inevitably made it a focal point of the room, consistently earning a mention in nearly every account until its move to the grand staircase in 1904.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Washington’s Britannia: Authenticating the Resignation Speech

As the clock continues to tick closer to the opening of the restored Old Senate Chamber in December 2014, we have already begun planning for the unveiling of Washington’s copy of the resignation speech. New followers of the project may be asking themselves why this speech is so important in the first place. In an age where documents can readily be viewed online and the frequent danger of forgeries, how, exactly, do we know that this is actually Washington’s copy of the speech?

Britannia watermark on Washington's resignation speech.
Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 5664-1.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Dove and the Crown: Using Watermarks to Discover the OSC

Undoubtedly, some of the most important resources for learning what sort of furniture and architecture was in the Old Senate Chamber in the eighteenth-century comes from early receipts and state payment records. However, more frequently than you may imagine, these records can be left unsigned or undated - at which point historians have to look at other ways to understand the documents.

This partial watermark of a crown was found on an undated Intendant's memo that has since been narrowed to date between 1783-1786. You may also notice vertical (called chain lines) and horizontal (called laid lines) on the paper, which appear as part of the pre-industrial papermaking process. Maryland State Archives, MSA S1005-14154.

Papermakers in the eighteenth-century would often include subtle images called watermarks in their work. Though their original purpose is unknown, it is commonly thought that they were used as a sort of maker’s mark. To see a watermark, a viewer may sometimes have to look closely, holding the paper up to a light. While paper watermarks have largely disappeared from modern use, you can still see them on paper currency as a means of proving that it is not counterfeit.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Different Kind of Laborer: Jane Lewis and Betty Simmons

Much like the unsung African American laborers who worked on the early State House, women’s contributions to the running of the State House went largely unrecorded. While we may know more about women of the upper-classes, like Molly Ridout, many working-class women have been long been lost to time. However, research into the Old Senate Chamber frequently comes up with rather unexpected results - and records of two women’s contributions to the running of the State House are among them. There is a lot we don’t know about these women, but what is known is interesting enough to hint at a possibility of many different stories.

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

Followers of the blog may have seen the name Jane Lewis before, perhaps connected with Annapolis cabinetmaker, John Shaw. On May 13, 1778, the Orphans’ Court proceedings recorded, “The Court binds Jane Lewis, the Daughter of Ann George, an Infant of 9 years of age, as an apprentice to John Shaw of the City of Annapolis, as a Seamstress, the Said John Shaw obliging himself to cause her to be taught to read and write, and to pay her the sum of six pounds currency at the expiration of 16yrs her time of Servitude, in lieu of freedom dues.” Where Jane Lewis came from, who her mother Ann George was, and what happened to Jane after this record remains a mystery for now. However, what we do know from this rather peculiar record provides a considerable amount of information.

Friday, February 28, 2014

“The Sound of Fiddles,” Balls on State Circle

The ball for Washington, while most well-known, was far from the only celebration in Annapolis. In fact, contemporary accounts say there was a public ball at least twice a month during the city’s social season in the winter. Congressional delegates and passers-through to Annapolis in the eighteenth-century expressed delight at the entertainments of the city.

Annapolis in 1750 by Francis Blackwell Mayer, 1876, shows a romanticized depiction of a social scene between two prominent Maryland families - the Calverts and the Carrolls. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 4680-10-0064.

When he first arrived in Annapolis as the Surveyor of Customs, under the protection of the Royal Governor, Robert Eden, William Eddis couldn’t help but describe the balls with some awe. “During the winter,” he remarked, “there are assemblies every fortnight; the room for dancing is large; the construction elegant; and the whole illuminated to great advantage. At each extremity are apartments for the card tables, where select companies enjoy the circulation of the party-coloured gentry, without having their attention diverted by the sound of fiddles, and the evolutions of youthful performers."[1]

Friday, February 21, 2014

African Americans in the State House

Frustratingly for everyone, the eighteenth-century lives of freed and enslaved African Americans are largely undocumented. However, occasionally, clues to these experiences appear in unexpected places. A search through eighteenth-century payment records for the Old Senate Chamber, for instance, can reveal some unexpected details about Maryland’s early workforce.

On March 15, 1784, the State of Maryland documented a payment for 9 shillings and 6 pence to a “Negro Cardy” for sweeping the chimney in the Court House.[1] To date, this is the earliest record of a free or enslaved African American working in the State House or on its grounds. Between 1784 and 1785, Cardy received at least three more documented payments from the state for chimney sweeping in the Court House and State House.

The earliest known payment record to a free or enslaved African American for work on State House grounds. Cardy's name appears on the fifth line from the top. Maryland State Archives, MSA S1005-97, p.37.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The State House in the Spotlight

As an active legislative building of great historical significance, the State House continues to play host to an extraordinary variety of exciting events. This weekend, both the Senate and House of Delegates will receive attention for two very different events.

In June of this past year, a film crew for Netflix’s award-winning series, House of Cards, transformed the House of Delegates chamber into the US Capitol’s Senate Chamber. Portraits of past speakers of the Maryland House were removed and fake marble was added to the chamber. This has been the first time the interior of the State House has been used as a film location since 2003 when it was used for the comedy, Head of State, starring Chris Rock.

Premiering on Netflix today, the second season of House of Cards continues to follow the political career of a scheming South Carolina congressman, played by Kevin Spacey. Many exterior scenes were filmed at locations throughout Maryland, and the State House is very excited to have been included as a significant film site.

Crew members spent a full day making temporary changes to the House of Delegates chamber so that it would resemble the nation's Senate Chamber. Image courtesy of the Capital Gazette, 17 June 2013, photographed by Joshua McKerrow.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Kennedys in Annapolis

One of the reasons the Maryland State House is such a unique historic site is that it has actually remained an active legislative building all the way through the present day. Because of this, the State House has inevitably been witness to several key moments in history which include not only the founding of the nation, but also our more recent past.

Just over fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, visited the State House twice during John F. Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency in the 1960 election.

Photograph of John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Trooper Kaplan outside the State House, 13 May 1960. Maryland State Archives, J. Millard Tawes Collection, MSA SC 5297-1-1.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Mysterious Life of John Shaw

On March 5, 1829, both the Maryland Gazette and the Maryland Republican ran an identical article of remarkable length for an obituary of that day. The obituary described the deceased, an Annapolis cabinetmaker called John Shaw, in glowing terms: “He was not afraid to die! … He was a good man, who lived sincerely beloved by his family, and deservedly esteemed by his fellow-citizens; and has, we trust, passed from this world of care, to partake of the joys promised to the righteous.”[1]

Doubtless, followers of this blog have noticed the recurrence of John Shaw’s name in various capacities throughout the construction and operation of the eighteenth-century Maryland State House. Today, the cabinetmaker has played a critical role in research for the renovation of the Old Senate Chamber. Recent research into John Shaw’s life has uncovered new and exciting details, perhaps sometimes raising more questions than answers. All the same, in gaining a better grasp on the biographical details of Shaw, we are better able to understand how and when he would have furnished the Old Senate Chamber.

Signature of John Shaw on a receipt for candles to illuminate the State House for Washington's ball, December 1783. Maryland State Archives, Scharf Collection, MSA S 1005-83-117.

In this entry, we will focus specifically on recent research that uncovered details on his early life, fostering the man who would become one of the greatest contributors to the interior appearance of the Maryland State House.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sick of Body, but of Sound Mind: Probate Research for the OSC

When researching a room as well-known as the Old Senate Chamber, a historian would find that many of the more obvious sources have long since been combed. So, over the course of this project, our team has had to think creatively to find new information. This has meant digging up new, less obvious, resources. In this first of a series of blog posts, we will be taking a look at some of the research methods used to form restoration of this historic room.

Probate, referring to legal documents regarding the deceased including wills and inventories, may seem an unlikely source for information regarding the architecture and decor of an eighteenth-century room. Quite the contrary, probate records have been a key source to the Old Senate Chamber restoration since they not only tell us about the people who worked on and in the room, but they also provide a means of tracking specific objects over the course of centuries.

Example of an inventory. This particular one belonged to Sarah Joyce, the mistress of William Paca, in 1803. Sarah Joyce's inventory was among many searched as a part of OSC research for any evidence of chairs she may have had in her possession that had belonged to William Paca. A set of Paca's chairs have been rumored to have been present in the Old Senate Chamber while Congress was in session. Anne Arundel County Register of Wills (Inventories), 1803, MSA C88-8, vol. JG5 p.503.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Treaty of Paris is Ratified

Washington’s resignation was far from the only significant event to occur while Congress was in session in the Old Senate Chamber. On January 14, 1784, the Treaty of Paris was ratified, officially ending the American Revolution and making the Maryland State House the first official peacetime capitol of the United States.

An excerpt from the Treaty of Paris, 1783. Image courtesy of International Treaties and Related Records, General Records of the United States Government, Record Group 11, National Archives.

Negotiations for peace began as early as April 1782, but it wasn't until September 3, 1783 that British and American delegates signed the final draft in France. In order for the treaty to officially take effect, it had to be ratified by Congress within six months. Congress immediately called its delegates to meet in Annapolis that November to approve the treaty.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Resignation...Again?

The words of Washington’s resignation speech, “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life,” have been uttered more than once on the floor of the Old Senate Chamber.[1] In fact, multiple reenactments of George Washington’s resignation before Congress have taken place over the years.

From the dedication of a plaque by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1916 to Colonial Day in 1928 and the Bicentennial Celebrations in 1932, the resignation ceremony has been a focal point in the way Maryland remembers George Washington.

Photograph of a costumed ball in the State House lobby for Colonial Day, 1928. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1754-01-15.