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.

Born into the privileged Eden family of Durham, England on September 14, 1741, Robert Eden was the second son of Mary Davison Eden and Robert Eden, the second Baronet of West Auckland. At the age of 16, he joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and a year later the Coldstream Guards with whom he served in Germany in the Seven Years War, earning him a captainship at 21. His early accomplishments and family’s prominence assisted him in the courtship and marriage of Caroline Calvert, the favorite sister of the last Lord Baltimore and proprietor of Maryland, Frederick Calvert.

Widely regarded as charismatic and kind, Eden’s marriage and personality were key to his future fortunes. In 1768, Frederick Calvert, in the hopes of avoiding his own responsibilities to the colony’s management, gifted the royal governorship to his new brother-in-law. On June 5, 1769, Eden arrived in Annapolis with his wife and young children to great excitement. His period as governor coincided with a time when Annapolis was one of the most fashionable colonial cities, and his governorship saw the construction of a new theatre and ballroom. In almost no time at all, Eden quickly rose to the peak of the social scene in the colony.

Frederick Calvert, by Johann Ludwig Tietz, c.1762. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1024.

When tensions broke out between the colonies and Britain, Eden’s position became tenuous. In 1772, his wife and children, aware of the oncoming dangers, returned to England, leaving Eden in Annapolis. During the approach of war, Eden sought a middle stance, hoping for a compromise between the two parties. He continued his gubernatorial duties, even laying the first stone of the State House, as many of his loyalist friends began to leave for England. Many members of his own cabinet, including Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, became leaders of Maryland’s patriot cause.

Other states began to take notice of Maryland’s seeming hesitancy to remove the leader of their royal government. A future general for the Continental Army, Charles Lee, wrote with some frustration, "What poor mortals are these Maryland Council men! I hope the Congress will write a letter to the People of that Province at large advising 'em to get rid of their damn'd Government. Their aim is to continue feudal Lords to a Tyrant."[1] Soon, it became clear that Maryland could no longer exist with two governments and Eden’s governorship could not continue.

A trial was held to dispose of him, and the Convention and Council of Safety generously decided that he could leave voluntarily. Though originally allowed to bring his personal items with him, the promise was not carried out, and Eden’s belongings were returned to the Governor’s House, where they were eventually confiscated by the government and inventoried around 1780-1782. On June 23, 1776, Eden set sail on board the Fowey, and was seen off at the dock by the entire Council of Safety.

Even during the war, Eden maintained connections with several of his old friends - including, perhaps surprisingly, George Washington. Prior to the war, a citizen of Annapolis remembered, “General Washington...always staid with [Eden] when in this city. They resembled in stature. I had seen them walk arm in arm.”[2] Even during the war, Eden and Washington maintained limited correspondence passed through Robert’s brother, William. Washington, with a note of emotion, wrote to William Eden, “The [letter] from your Brother gave me particular satisfaction, as it not only excited a pleasing remembrance of our past intimacy and friendship, during his residence in this Country, but also served to show that they had not been impaired by an opposition of political sentiments."[3]

William Eden, 1st Baron of Auckland, by William Dickson after Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1796. National Portrait Gallery, UK, NPG D7446.

Unfortunately, Eden’s family relationships did not fare as well. Like many families during the war, even the Edens became divided by the cause, and Robert’s brother, William, wrote to him of another brother, “Tom Eden is as violent a Patriot that he will not let me write one word worth your reading, as he says that my accursed Politics have already brought a flux on the Blood of our Family.”[4]

Once the war was over, in August 1783, Eden and Harford returned in the hopes of reclaiming some of their proprietorship lost during the war. They stayed with Dr. Upton Scott, uncle of Francis Scott Key, and resumed connections with many of Eden’s old acquaintances still in town. In the winter, when Washington arrived to resign his commission, Eden and Harford attended many of the events, including the ball held at the Governor’s residence, formerly Eden’s home, now occupied by William Paca. Maryland delegate, James McHenry, who contributed to the protocol for Washington’s resignation, and provided one of the few detailed accounts of the event, was struck by Eden’s situation at the governor’s ball:
Sir Robert Eden would have persuaded one by being of the party, that he had lost all remembrance of his having been the owner of the house in which he danced, and the late governor of Maryland -- but the thing could not be, where every person he met, and every picture and piece of furniture he saw, served to remind him of the past, or brought up the recollection of pleasures he could no longer repeat. This state has taken away his property, and a libertine life his constitution. He finds himself a dependent on persons he despised, and insignificant on the spot where, but lately he was everything. He sees his old parasites and companions enjoying places under the present government, and devoted to new interests....He perceives, that even the hearts he is said to have subdued by his entertainments or warmed by his gallantries have altered by time or submitted to other seducers....So situated and circumstanced I could neither believe him happy or at his ease, unless I had supposed, that, with his estate and constitution he had lost his sensibility. [5]
At the resignation, Molly Ridout wrote of the 42 year-old aristocrat, “Sir Robert Eden seems in bad health. He does not flirt now.”[6] Her comment foreshadowed Eden’s illness, and untimely death, the following September in Annapolis. Eden had been buried near the alter of the second St. Margaret's Church, which burned down in the first half of the nineteenth-century. For nearly a hundred years, his grave site had been lost to time, until an archaeological expedition uncovered his bones in 1924. On June 5, 1926, Eden was interred in his final resting place at St. Anne’s in Annapolis in a grave designed by J. Appleton Wilson and Howard Still.

When the American Revolution began, not all people made bold and deliberate political choices, and not all personal relationships on opposing sides were severed forever. Eden’s attendance at Washington’s resignation is an unusual and fascinating tale that reminds us of the personalities and friendships that humanize these historical characters. Indeed, Eden could be said to be remembered more for his personality, than his governorship, as he is memorialized in a poem by Thomas Jennings, composed while the two shared membership to the elite Homony Club prior to the war:
Me thinks I see with slow and solemn pace
The grave Sir Robert take his destined place;
His courtly bow and unaffected air,
The high-bred man of quality declare,
Kind, lavish nature did to him impart
Endowment proper for the dancing art;
And all must own that 'tis to his address
Our club's admired so much for politeness. 

[1] Charles Lee Papers, Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1872, p.96.
[2] Mrs. Rebecca Key, "A Notice of Some of the First Buildings with Notes of Some of the Early Residents," Maryland Historical Magazine, XIV (1919), 270.
[3] George Washington to William Eden, 12 June 1778. John C. Fitzpatrick, editor, Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources. University of Virginia Library, vol. 12 p. 52.
[4] William Eden to Robert Eden, 15 November 1775. State of Maryland. Calendar of Maryland State Papers Number 4 Part 1: The Red Books. Annapolis, MD: Publications of the Hall of Records Commission No. 10, 1955.
[5] James McHenry to Margaret Caldwell, 21 December 1783. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, vol. 21 p.218.
[6] Mrs. James N. Galloway and Mrs. Frederick G. Richards Collection, 1784, MSA SC 358-1-2. Letter, Mary Ridout to Mrs. Anne Tasker Ogle, 16 Jan. 1784.
[7] Beirne, Rosamond Randall, “His Entrance.” Maryland Historical Magazine, September 1950, p.175. Gilmor Papers, MS.387.1, Maryland Historical Society.

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