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.