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.