Friday, January 23, 2015

The Thirteen Cannons: Maryland’s First Inauguration

This past Wednesday, Governor Hogan was the center of celebrations as the State House played host to the state’s 62nd gubernatorial inauguration. Standing in front of a crowd of hundreds, Hogan, along with Lt. Governor Rutherford, was sworn-in, received a 19-cannon salute, and delivered his first speech as governor to the people. The ceremony of the day begs the question, from where did many of these traditions come from? The answer to that question can be found at the very root of Maryland’s inaugurations, tracing all the way back to the state’s first governor.

Thomas Johnson, Jr. by Charles Willson Peale. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1119. This painting has recently been conserved as part of the Old Senate Chamber restoration.

Thomas Johnson, Jr. was born in 1732, the fifth of twelve children. After studying law in Annapolis with Stephen Bordley, Johnson was elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 1762, to which he served until 1774. His time in government, and his prominence in patriotic politics leading up to the Revolutionary War earned him a position in the Continental Congress in 1774. Of the delegate, John Adams once remarked, “Johnson of Maryland, has a clear and cool head.”[1] During his time in Congress, he received credit for being the man to nominate George Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, which he later resigned in the Maryland State House’s Old Senate Chamber.

In 1776, Johnson returned to Maryland to serve as a delegate on the first Convention to create the state’s constitution, and is credited with the concept of requiring the recitation of a short oath before one serves in a State office, thereby creating the swearing-in ceremony for all future governors. With the state in need of their own governor, on February 13, 1777, the legislature elected Thomas Johnson to become the first governor of Maryland.

According to the proceedings of the House of Delegates, “[Johnson] was inaugurated with great pomp in the State House in Annapolis on Friday, March 21, 1777. The soldiers who were drawn up for review on the lawn, fired three volleys, and batteries of artillery fired a salute of thirteen rounds. A gala night followed the inauguration, the state ball revived memories of the brilliant entertainments that had won for Annapolis international renown in the days preceding the Revolution.”[2]

Photograph of Annapolis' Assembly Rooms, where the procession for the first inauguration began. "West (Main) Elevation, Looking North - City Ballroom or Assembly Room(s), 150 Duke of Gloucester Street, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, MD," Library of Congress, HABS MD, 2-ANNA, 43-3.

Johnson, who was a superintendent for the building’s construction, was the first to have the State House as the backdrop for his ceremony. The procession began at the Assembly Rooms, and was led by the high sheriff and the president of the Senate, with military officers, “gentlemen strangers,” and citizens bringing up the rear. After the high sheriff proclaimed the governor at the State House, cannons were fired thirteen times to announce the news. The procession then moved on, this time with “his excellency, the Governor” walking ahead of the president of the Senate, in accordance with his new rank. The official procession then moved on to the coffee house, where celebrations would take place, and the day concluded with an elegant ball in honor of Johnson.

Unfortunately, Johnson’s inauguration was not an entirely happy affair. During the firing of the cannons, a mattross, the title given to gunner’s mates in the Revolutionary War, got “in the smoak before one of the cannon just as it was fired,” and “unhappily lost his life.” Participants could not forget the struggles of warfare and the uncertainty of the future, either, as evident in their toasts to “the memory of the brave patriots who have fallen in the cause of America” and “wisdom and unanimity in the councils of America, and undaunted courage in her forces to execute her measures.”[3]

Don’t forget to check out Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of Thomas Johnson, and several other early governors of Maryland, when the Old Senate Chamber exhibit opens soon!

[1] Charles Francis Adams, The Works of John Adams, II, p. 395.
[2] House Journal, February Session, 1777, pp. 50-51.
[3] Maryland Gazette, 27 March 1777, p.2.


  1. Great vignettes of history! Thank you.

  2. Enjoy the blog and look forward to the updates each Friday but have not seen one in the last two weeks. Has it stopped?

    1. Thank you for you interest in the blog! As the Old Senate Chamber rapidly approaches completion, we find ourselves very busy, but will certainly continue to be updating this blog until the room's opening in the coming weeks. While you wait, we encourage you to check out the Maryland State Archives Instagram at, for behind-the-scenes images of the Archives and state art collection.

  3. I think it ringht. but why picture in this blog is lost!?

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