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.