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Chapter 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Annapolis: Its Colonial and Naval Story

Walter B. Norris

published by
Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 9
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p125  Chapter VIII

A Glance at Annapolis before the Revolution

Though we have taken a glance at the principal inhabitants of Annapolis in Colonial days, both Tories and patriots, we have hardly secured an adequate picture of the landmarks of the town or all its citizens worthy of mention. Had a visitor in 1775 climbed to the roof of the State House which still stands, built in the years following 1772 in Governor Eden's time except for the dome, which was not added till several years later, he would have looked down upon the city almost enclosed by the Severn and by Dorsey's Creek to the north and Spa Creek to the south. Its streets would lie about as to‑day, stretching out from the State House and St. Anne's like spokes from a hub of a wheel and bearing still familiar names of Duke of Gloucester, King George, Prince George, Cornhill, Fleet, Church, Conduit, West, South, North, Northwest, and Hanover.

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 p126  To the north from the point of vantage just mentioned the eye would probably first rest on the unroofed and falling walls of "Bladen's Folly," hard by the sturdy trunk and towering branches of the huge poplar tree around which patriotic meetings were already being held to protest against the oppression of Parliament. A little nearer would be seen the Bordley House at the foot of the State House hill. This house was probably built by Thomas Bordley just before his death in 1727, but descended to his son, Stephen Bordley, another lawyer who found Annapolis a favorable place for wealth and reputation by conducting the litigation which was so frequent in colonial Maryland. Stephen Bordley had been educated in England during a stay of ten years, including several years of study at the Temple. When he returned to his native town in 1733 he brought back with him the cultivated tastes of the English gentleman. Beautiful furniture, massive silver plate, and the largest library in Annapolis displayed the distinction of this well-to‑do, life-long bachelor. The best wigs to be procured in London were ordered for his appearances in court, and his  p127 extant letter books contain mentions of the finest linen and the best cambric being sent for from England.

Bordley was, as might be expected, something of a connoisseur in regard to wines, and we find him writing to his agents, Hill & Co., to order "a pipe of your best Madeira, cost what it will; as I do not stint you in price, I hope you will not slight me in the wine." And writing to his friend James Tilghman, he remarks, "My Burgundy is almost out; but I shall keep some of that as well as of champagne till the Provincial Court, when I hope we shall share it together." It has already been said that in true English style he died of the gout at the early age of fifty-five.

His mansion, now called the Randall House and situated well back from the street in a picturesque garden plot, is the larger of the two brick structures there. Its facade was originally set with lofty columns which extended from the floor of the porch to the eaves of the roof in the general style of Mount Vernon, but these were long ago removed. What remains is, however, still impressive and shows taste and training on  p128 the part of the unknown architect. The library is noteworthy. Placed in a sort of connecting passage from the main house in the north wing, it has a surprisingly lofty effect, due to its floor being sunk several feet below the level of the rest of the house and its walls extending clear to the roof.

This was also the Annapolis home of John Beale Bordley, a younger half brother. He also was educated in London and himself sent his sons to be similarly trained. Already comfortably wealthy, he married into a family of wealth, the Chews, and then left Annapolis to accept the most lucrative office in the colony, the Prothonotaryship of Baltimore County. After thirteen years of this position he was bequeathed a very valuable estate across the Chesapeake, and moved to the Eastern Shore. Though he lived here most of the rest of his days, he made frequent visits to Annapolis and occupied the old family mansion on such occasions.

With all this wealth and aristocratic mode of living, as well as his membership in the Governor's Council and his incumbency of such offices as Judge of Admiralty, Beale Bordley was  p129 a patriot; when the Stamp Act was passed he gave up his office, stopped raising tobacco, and engaged in the cultivation of wheat, which he felt would do the country greater benefit. Later he even established a brewery on his estate to avoid paying taxes on imported liquors, and during the Revolution he started the manufacture of salt to furnish this necessity. After the Revolution he spent some years in Philadelphia, where his scientific interest in agriculture — an interest he shared with such progressive men as Washington — resulted in his publishing several books on husbandry and in his founding an agricultural society which is said to have been the first in the United States.

Had our Revolutionary visitor looked a little farther along down Northeast Street he would have seen just opposite the imposing Chase mansion another fine brick house laid out in the usual Colonial style, a main building two and a half stories high and a wing of less height placed on each side. Built in 1774 its wings are said to have been due to the desire of Edward Lloyd, owner of the Chase House, for an unobstructed view of the harbor. To secure this he  p130 offered to pay the expense of wings to avoid having a third story placed on the new house, which is usually known as the Harwood House. The fact that the foundation walls are five feet thick lends probability to the tradition that this change came only after the building had been planned for three full stories.

The builder was Matthias Hammond, another Annapolis lawyer who, like Samuel Chase, was a leader of the popular party before the Revolution, and who took a leading part in the agitation for the burning of the Peggy Stewart, the Maryland counterpart of the Boston Tea Party. The tradition is that he erected the house for his prospective bride and furnished it in an elaborate fashion but that the wedding never occurred and Matthias Hammond remained a bachelor all of his days.

The architectural style of the house is ornate but the beautiful gable and cornice across the front and the elaborate woodwork about the front entrance will delight the artist. The interior carvings on the mantelpiece, the window shutters, the door frames, and the doors themselves, all in arabesque, are probably the finest  p131 specimens of that sort of design in Maryland. On the second floor is a spacious ballroom twenty-seven feet long and nineteen feet wide.

The house seems to have had no other distinguished occupants during its early years, though the Hammonds were an old and prominent family. In 1810 the house was bought by Ninian Pinkney, whose son, William Pinkney, a Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Maryland, was born here. In 1811 it was sold to a relative of Samuel Chase, from whom it descended to the Harwood family.

Between the Harwood House and the Severn the sightseer of 1775 would notice the square red brick house of Anthony Stewart, successful merchant and strong Tory, situated on Hanover Street, just beyond the brick rectory of St. Anne's where the rector would find himself in a neighborhood almost entirely Tory, for beyond him and nearer the Severn were the large brick dwellings of the Governor and of the Dulanys. From their residences with their well-kept gardens the eye would wander to the harbor with its numerous ships loading the huge hogsheads of tobacco with the help of many singing negroes,  p132 and from there continue to the shores of Spa Creek. Here besides the Ridout, Carroll, and Scott houses already mentioned would be seen the lofty chimneys of the block of three houses just beyond the first mentioned and built to be used later by the three children of John Ridout.

A little nearer and slightly closer to the water, on Green Street, where the public school buildings now stand, was the home of Charles Carroll, the Barrister, as he is known to distinguish him from the other two of the same name. A distant relative of the Signer's, he was almost as distinguished and achieved in the State a less prominent, but fully as important, place in history. His father had achieved wealth through several lucrative offices in the colony, and his mother's portrait, perhaps by Sir Godfrey Kneller, attests the distinction of his family. He himself had been a student at Eton, Cambridge, and the Middle Temple, and as soon as he returned to Annapolis in 1746 achieved a reputation as a lawyer, speaker and writer. The fact that he was a Protestant and had always connected himself with the party opposed to the Governor  p133 and in favor of the interests of the commercial classes and the smaller land-owners made his career easier. When the Revolution came he assumed a prominent place in all events. He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence, wrote the Declaration of Right issued by the Assembly one day earlier than the Declaration of Independence but breathing the same sentiments, and he was influential in the formation of the new State government. The imposing tomb of the family in St. Anne's churchyard indicates the distinguished place intellectually and socially which he occupied.

Nearer the State House and upon Duke of Gloucester Street would be seen the brick walls of the Assembly Rooms, a distinctive feature of Annapolis, and a characteristic indication of the social life of the town. This had been built in 1764 from the proceeds of a lottery for the accommodation of the society of the city in giving balls, dinners, and other entertainments. Here Washington, as the tablet on the wall attests, danced with the beautiful Mary McCubbin, whose husband was of a family of Annapolis merchants, she the sister of Charles Carroll,  p134 the Barrister. Other survivors from Colonial times which remain in this southern and western section of the town are the low lying house on Charles Street, where Jonas Green had his home and printing office, and the Acton estate across an inlet of Spa Creek, where Philip Hammond had built a brick mansion, named for Richard Acton, one of the very earliest inhabitants of the town.

The vicinity about the State house now demands attention. Close to the building on the east side would be found the square structure of the armory, also used for balls, and on the other side the building for King William's School. In front of the State House would be found a space for a market, while on Church Street, now Main Street, would be seen the principal taverns of the time, the Coffee House and Mann's Tavern, where Washington generally lodged when not entertained by some of his numerous friends.

Behind the State House and in a circle all its own, would have been seen the ruins of St. Anne's. In 1774 the old church, which presented a very dilapidated appearance, had been torn down to erect a better structure, money for  p135 which had been secured from the Assembly. But the coming on of the Revolution and the disorganization of the government that preceded it prevented its completion for eighteen years and obliged the congregation that remained to worship in the theater. But around the church would be seen the graves of the most distinguished dead of the town, Amos Garrett, its first mayor, and of many members of the Carroll, Hammond, and Ridgely families. Beyond the site of the church to the west would appear the brick theater erected in 1771 and McCloud's and Hunter's taverns facing each other across the rude street. To the north of the church and across what is now College Avenue but was then called Tabernacle Street, lay Bloomsbury Square, a section where houses of tradesmen and humbler individuals had been located since the early days of the settlement.

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Page updated: 7 May 13