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Chapter 9

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.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 11
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p154  Chapter X

Opening the Revolution
— A Contest in Courtesy

Just as the affair of the Peggy Stewart shows a higher level of popular action against what the people regarded as oppression than is often emphasized by traditional accounts, in that the action taken was open and deliberate rather than the result of mob psychology, so in the events that preceded the total destruction of British rule in Maryland there is seen a mutual consideration for the personal feelings of both Royalist and patriot which is frequently passed over and forgotten. Vigorous as the action of the patriots of Annapolis and the colony was it did not attempt to precipitate matters but moved ahead in a dignified, deliberate fashion which is evidence of strength and deep conviction of the rightness of its course.

Even before the burning of Anthony Stewart's brig, the Continental Congress had assembled  p155 in Philadelphia, — its first meeting due largely to the suggestion of the Maryland Convention, as the popular assembly was then called, of June 22‑25, 1774. At the first meeting two of the Maryland delegates were from Annapolis, William Paca and Samuel Chase. When these delegates reported to their electors in November, the Convention approved their actions and unanimously agreed to the scheme of non‑importation recommended by Congress. It ordered that all balls be discontinued, that the people should be urged not to kill lambs but to raise them for the wool, to promote the manufacture of wollens, to plant hemp, flax, and cotton, and to export no flax seed. It even voted to organize militia companies, explaining with sly humor "that such a militia will relieve our mother country from any expenses in our protection and defense; will obviate the pretense of a necessity for taxing us on that account, and render it unnecessary to keep any standing army (ever dangerous to liberty) in this province." In Annapolis three such companies were recruited, and, as it was said, "gentlemen of the first fortune are common soldiers."

 p156  By a resolution adopted in January, 1775, at a meeting in Annapolis of the inhabitants of the county, "Every inhabitant who shall refuse to contribute before the 1st day of February next to the purchase of arms and ammunition for the use of this county is, and ought to be, esteemed an enemy to America, and shall have his name published in the Gazette." When the news of the engagement at Lexington reached the city on April 28th, there was great excitement, and the direction of the Continental Congress that it was "night and day to be forwarded, until it had penetrated the farthest recesses of the colonies" was instantly obeyed.

And although the Convention of 1775 had affirmed that a reconciliation with Great Britain was "an event we most ardently wish may soon take place," by June of 1776 popular feeling had so developed, even among the leaders, that the previous instructions to the delegates in Congress were repealed and the delegates allowed to concur with the ideas of the majority. On July 3d the Convention in Annapolis adopted what may well be called Maryland's own Declaration of Independence. Its conclusion reads,  p157 as may be seen from the original copy preserved against further damage in the Senate Chamber of the State House:

"Compelled by dire necessity, either to surrender our properties, liberties, and lives into the hands of a British king and parliament, or to use such means as will probably secure to us and our posterity those invaluable blessings, —

"We, the Delegates of Maryland, in convention assembled, do declare that the king of Great Britain has violated his compact with his people, and that they owe no allegiance to him; we have therefore thought it just and necessary to empower our deputies in Congress to join with a majority of the United Colonies in declaring them free and independent States, in framing such further confederation between them, in making foreign alliances, and in adopting such other measures as shall be judged necessary for the preservation of their liberties: provided the sole and exclusive rights of regulating the internal policy and government of this colony be reserved for the people thereof. We have also thought proper to call a new convention for the  p158 purpose of establishing a government in this colony. No ambitious views, no desire for independence, induced the people of Maryland to form a union with the other colonies. To procure an exemption from parliamentary taxation, and to continue to the legislatures of these colonies the sole and exclusive right of regulating their internal polity, was our original and only motive. To maintain inviolate our liberties, and to transmit them unimpaired to posterity, was our duty and first wish; our next to continue connected with, and dependent on, Great Britain. For the truth of these assertions we appeal to the Almighty Being who is emphatically styled the Searcher of hearts, and from whose omniscience nothing is concealed. Relying on His divine protection and affiance, and trusting to the justice of our cause, we exhort and conjure every virtuous citizen to join cordially in the defense of our common rights, and in maintenance of the freedom of this and her sister colonies."

With this support it was natural for the three Maryland delegates who were present in Philadelphia on July 4th — of whom William Paca from Annapolis was one — to cast the vote of  p159 Maryland in favor of the Declaration of Independence. In Annapolis the Declaration was published in the Maryland Gazette of July 11th, and on August 2d when the members of Congress inscribed their names to the engrossed copy three Annapolitan signatures appeared, those of William Paca, Samuel Chase, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

Vigorous as such steps were in the actual work of achieving independence, the Maryland Convention and the Committee of Correspondence which had its headquarters in Annapolis displayed a rarer quality — a fine sense of courtesy and consideration for the opposite party and especially for Sir Robert Eden, who was placed in a position even more difficult than the patriots themselves. Thoroughly loyal to the British government and never truckling merely to popular feeling or considerations of personal safety or advantage, he nevertheless appreciated the feelings of the colonists and sought in every way to prevent actual violence or bloodshed and secure an eventual reconciliation by mutual understanding and concession. And in the whole course of events the leaders of the patriotic party  p160 and Eden prevented any break in this record of courtesy except when interfered with by outsiders.

During Governor Eden's absence in England in 1774 the control of affairs had gradually drifted into the hands of the Committee of Correspondence, and when he returned he saw that any attempt to reassert his authority would be unsuccessful and result only in further trouble. The arrival of troops would only produce additional disturbance. Therefore in the spring of 1775, when General Gage in Boston and Lord Dunmore in Virginia were creating ill‑feeling by seizing the arms and powder of the colonists, Eden responded favorably to a demand of the Convention that the stores should be given into its charge for fear of an attempt of a ship of war to capture them. But he asked and secured the concession that the colonels of militia to whom these stores should be delivered should be the officers appointed by him before his departure from England in the previous year. And he secured the approval of the British Colonial Office to his action.

The Convention appreciated the moderation  p161 of the Governor and when it voted that all persons should sign the Articles of Association or leave the colony, it exempted the Governor and the members of his household. And it construed this liberally, for we find the Governor inviting Eddis to become a member of his household just for the purpose of saving himself from expulsion. When he considered publishing a proclamation urging the people to avoid any act of rebellion or excess, the Council of Safety, which was authorized to act for the Convention during the intervals between sessions, wrote him in opposition but mentioned sympathetically his delicate situation as one "having duties both to England and to Maryland," and it assured him that they were not seeking independence.

In order to assure the Governor in case a war vessel should anchor in the harbor, a public meeting voted they would supply it with necessities at a reasonable price and would avoid any cause of contention with the officers or crew. And as late as January, 1776, Eddis writes that Governor Eden continued to receive "every external mark of attention and respect; while the steady propriety of his conduct in many trying exigencies  p162 reflects the utmost credit on his moderation and understanding."

Eden's genuine wish for reconciliation and his candor are well illustrated by his inviting the chief patriots to a dinner at his house. Apparently the idea originated with Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, a member of the Governor's Council but a sympathizer with the contentions of the popular party. When the chief leaders of the opposition had to decline an invitation to dinner at Jenifer's house in Southern Maryland, where the Governor was spending Christmas, the Governor himself issued an invitation through Barrister Carroll, but when those invited feared that meeting at the Governor's board might place them in an embarrassing situation, Carroll himself gathered the Governor and the patriots around his own table. Among these were Matthew Tilghman, Thomas Johnson, James Hollyday, Thomas Stone, and Samuel Chase. The candor of both sides showed the respect each had for the other.

This is illustrated by the story that at one point the Governor said, "It is understood in England that the Congress are about forming  p163 a treaty with France." At first no one wished to answer, but finally Thomas Johnson, the Marylander who had nominated Washington for commander-in‑chief and who became the first Governor under independence, replied, "Well, sir, we will candidly acknowledge that overtures have been made to France, but they are not yet accepted." "Now, sir," Johnson continued, "we understand that the King, your master, is about subsidizing a large body of Hessians to join his forces to come over to cut our throats." To this the Governor replied with equal candor that he believed the report was true.

The delicate, almost impossible, situation of having two sovereign powers functioning at the same time in the province was saved only by the most careful management and consideration in the various crises that occurred. One was in March, 1776, when the British armed ship Otter appeared off the mouth of the Severn. The patriots feared an attack on the town, but Eden moved energetically to avert such a result. Applying — a fact that shows his impotence but also his peaceful policy — to the Council of Safety for a flag of truce, he sent his friend William  p164 Eddis to the commander of the sloop to assure him of the moderation of the inhabitants, their aversion to independence, and their decent treatment of the Governor. In reply the British officer stated that he had come only to seize a privateer in Baltimore and to buy flour for the navy, for which he would pay market prices. He also explained the burning of a small patriot vessel off the Severn as the work of a midshipman acting without orders.

A curious turn of events then ensued. The captain of the Otter applied to the Governor for permission to buy provisions and for authority to commandeer the flour and bread on a small New England sloop then lying in the river. Eden turned the letter over to the Council of Safety, which said that it would have granted the favor had the Otter not burned the schooner in the bay. On that account they refused the request and put a guard on the New England sloop to prevent its capture. Yet in refusing, the Council acknowledged the wisdom of Eden's course in the following words: "We are much obliged to your Excellency for the pains you have taken to preserve the peace of this province  p165 and beg that you will still exert your endeavors for the restoration of those happy days that we enjoyed under a constitutional dependence on the mother country."1

The refusal did not bring on hostile action by the commander of the Otter. Instead he had recourse to diplomacy; he sent ashore under a flag of truce some prisoners he had taken, all of whom testified that they had been kindly treated. Immediately the Council of Safety could not bear to be outdone in courtesy. "In return," the record states, "it was thought proper to compliment the officer with two quarters of beef." With this the Otter sailed away without firing a gun. It is even probable that the diplomacy of the ship's captain was suggested to him by Eden himself.

So moderate had been the tone of the Council of Safety, whose member­ship was nearly one‑half made up of inhabitants of Annapolis, that the patriots of Baltimore and the more radical group in Virginia began to suspect their loyalty. Thus when letters from England to Governor Eden were intercepted and when read were  p166 thought to indicate that he had been sending over a list of patriots upon whom extreme punishment should be inflicted, and that he was asking, and was to secure, an armed expedition against the Middle and Southern colonies, the military commander in Virginia, Major-General Charles Lee, sent the letters to the patriot committee in Baltimore and entirely ignored the Council in Annapolis. They were in his words "timorous and inactive" and "afraid to execute the duties of their stations." He therefore urged the patriots of Baltimore to act on their own initiative and order the commander of the troops in the capital city to arrest the Governor.

Instead of doing this, however, Purviance, the Baltimore chairman, sent the letters to the Council, and they, after considering them, sent Charles Carroll, the Barrister, John Hall and William Paca to Eden for an explanation. The Governor assured them that he had said nothing unfriendly to the province, had asked for no troops, and had traduced the characters of no individuals. As, however, the Governor could not produce the original letter, they asked, as they had been instructed, for his parole that he  p167 would not leave the province before the assembling of the Convention on May 27th. When the Governor demurred at this he was given one day in which to consider his answer.

Before this time expired events had moved fast. The Continental Congress had read the letters and had voted to ask the Maryland Council to seize Eden and to send all his papers to Philadelphia. Although the Maryland delegates protested against this interference, it was to no avail. Meantime the Baltimore Committee had fitted out an armed boat and sent it to Annapolis to seize the Governor and bring him to Baltimore without consulting any one. When it arrived the situation was unfavorable and no attempt was made. The Governor's barge did, however, come along and was captured with some bottles of porter and claret which the captors soon consumed as the spoils of war. As the commander of the armed force had not been told the secrecy of the scheme, he ingenuously revealed it to Barrister Carroll, one of the members of the Council, and he at once informed him that no such orders had been issued by the  p168 Council and ordered him to return at once to Baltimore.

By the next noon Eden had returned an answer to the Council in a manly and sensible letter, addressed to the committee which had waited on him. It read as follows:

"Annapolis, 17th April 1776


"However unwelcome might be your errand, your polite behavior to me yesterday merits my acknowledgments. And on mature consideration of the proposal you made to me, I find it incumbent on me to tell you that I will not accord to it, nor can I, whilst I act in any degree as Governor of this province, give my parole to walk about in it a prisoner at large under any obligations whatever. The necessity must be obvious of my ceasing to act as Governor should I become a prisoner, neither will I voluntarily give you any satisfaction on that head further than that I had, and have, no intention during these times of leaving the province whilst my continuing here can in my own opinion tend to preserve its tranquillity.

"My resolution was, as the letters you have of  p169 mine show, to continue here whilst I could serve the province; nor shall the indignity now offered to me alter it. I shall persevere in my line of duty by what I think the rule of right, but not without some chagrin at knowing myself unmeritedly the object of suspicion, although I have the satisfaction to think that a considerable part of the most respectable persons in the province entertain a very different opinion of me than is to be inferred from your proposed arrest.

"May I not challenge you to say to the world if any troops have arrived at, or any hostile measures been proceeded in against, this province from any request of mine or information from me to the Secretary of State? I have above told you my resolution of continuing in my station as long as permitted, or the ostensible form of the established government can contribute to the peace of the province; and I will add one further assurance, in hopes it may be satisfactory to you, that as your Convention is to meet shortly they shall find me here, and willing to continue acting in the same line I have hitherto done, so long as Maryland can reap any peaceful benefits from my service, provided  p170 I can have assurances that my peaceful departure shall not be impeded, whenever I find my remaining any longer here unnecessary or that my private affairs at home indispensably demand my return.

"Consistent with my honor and insulted station I cannot add more but that, if made a prisoner, I shall consider myself treated as an enemy, and such a proceeding as a breach of that confidence I have implicitly reposed in you, which I thought my conduct and the public declaration of the Convention justified. I am, gentlemen, with respect,

"Your obedient and humble servant,

"Robert Eden.

"To Charles Carroll, Esq., Barrister, John Hall, Esq., & William Paca, Esq."​2

The Council answered in a tone that showed they still respected Eden and understood how difficult was his situation. They seemed to apologize for their more radical compatriots in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and they mention again their hope for a speedy reconciliation. They  p171 thank him for assuring them that he will remain as long as he can assist in solving their difficulties or preserving public quiet. If he wishes to leave at any time they promise to do their utmost to remove any obstacle.

The Council then acted on the request of Congress for Eden's arrest. It refused to admit the right of Congress to so order inasmuch as the matter was a domestic one and not subject to outside supervision. They stated that they had known of the intercepted letters before Congress had seen them and that they had taken such action as they considered best. In a letter to the Maryland delegates they go farther and contend that Eden's friendly letters to the British authorities, and the fact that he had not been arrested or the government of the colony formally destroyed, had saved Maryland the horrors of attack and had left open the door of reconciliation. Furthermore, they state that the Convention had given them no authority to overturn the existing government or to arrest the Governor and thus accomplish the same result.3

But the courtesies of the occasion were not  p172 exhausted. On Monday Eden sent for several members of the Council and showed his appreciation of their attitude by giving them his parole not to leave Maryland till the Convention should meet. And this was in spite of the fact that the Council felt obliged to search the Governor's letter files, only to discover there several letters to friends in England in which he had spoken favorably of the colonists.

It is important to notice that when the Convention met on May 6, 1776, it approved the acts of the Council of Safety and severely reprimanded Purviance for his assumption of authority. It even denied the statement of the Continental Congress that it was now time every sort of Royal authority should be suppressed — a demand which plainly meant the expulsion of Eden. But in view of the difficulties of the situation both for themselves and for him, they desire that he shall put the President of the Council in charge of affairs, thus preserving the form of government, and leave the province. In their address to him they almost outdo courtesy in expressing their "favorable sense of his conduct," his efforts to promote the real interests of  p173 both countries, and his true representation of their tempers. They express the hope that "when the unhappy disputes which at present prevail are constitutionally accommodated, he may speedily return and re‑assume the reins of government."

The committee which carried this address to Governor Eden went even further, apparently without authority but in full confidence that they would be sustained. They proposed that he should give his word not to correspond with the British Government at all, and should under those circumstances continue as Governor and remain in the Governor's Mansion. This was because the committee felt that there was still hope of settlement and that his continuing the old forms of government would assist in securing a peaceful solution. And this was less than six weeks before the Declaration of Independence!

The Governor felt, however, that this would be going too far for a servant of the Crown and therefore agreed to leave as soon as he could make arrangements for a British man-of‑war to come for him. The preparations for departure were exceedingly friendly. He called his Council  p174 together, and as their last act they issued writs for the election of a new Legislature. On the evening of the 22d of June the British warship Fowey, Captain George Montague, arrived in the harbor to receive Governor Eden. Before he embarked he took an affectionate farewell of the Council of Safety and they conducted him to his barge with every token of respect. It looked as thorough the relations between Governor and people were to end amicably.

But just then fate interfered. Captain Montague had received on board his ship some indentured servants and a deserter from the militia. These he refused to give up on the strength of his orders to furnish refuge to any person "well affected" to the Crown. Even Eden's representations to the commander, at the request of the Council, were ineffectual. When Montague sent in the next morning to know why the Governor's baggage had not been sent on board, he was informed that it was because he had broken his flag of truce. With such mutual recriminations the Fowey sailed away, leaving behind the baggage of the Governor and with an ill feeling created which both the Governor and the Council  p175 had labored so hard to prevent. It is characteristic of Eden that after the Revolution he returned to Maryland and lived there until his death in 1784. He died in the home of his friend Dr. Upton Scott and was buried beneath the pulpit of St. Margaret's Church on Severn Heights across from Annapolis. The church was burned many years ago and was never rebuilt on the same spot. But in the rough thicket which now covers the site the lines of the foundation may still be traced, though no clear indication of the spot where Eden lies can be discovered.

Though Governor Eden had left and the whole Royal government had been overturned by the Declaration of Independence, many offices continued as if no change had taken place. Eddis, who was one of the Commissioners of the Loan Office, carried on his work in spite of the fact that in June, 1776, he had refused to give bonds not to communicate with the enemy and had been ordered to leave the province by the first of August. Instead, his family having already returned to England, he simply removed to a secluded spot near Baltimore, Hunting Ridge, and visited Annapolis every other week  p176 to supervise his office. Not till April, 1777, was he superseded in his place, and not till June did he leave Annapolis for Hampton Roads, where after much difficulty he reached the British fleet and embarked.

In fact, the Land Office — so gradual was the separation from the old forms of government — still issued patents on the authority of the Lord Proprietary till May 15, 1777, although by that time the colony had been declared independent, a revolutionary Governor and Council elected, and a Constitution framed which recognized neither Lord Baltimore, who made the grant, nor the King from whom the Proprietary derived all his authority. In such gradual, almost halting fashion so characteristic of the practical genius of the English race, as opposed to French logic and Teutonic directness, did Maryland pass from under the British Crown and assume the full manhood of independence.4

The Author's Notes:

1 "Maryland Archives," Vol. XI, p233.

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2 "Maryland Archives," Vol. XI, pp337‑8.

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3 "Maryland Archives," Vol. XI, pp349‑50.

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4 For much of the material of this chapter I am indebted to B. C. Steiner's "Life and Administration of Governor Eden," in Johns Hopkins Historical Studies, Series XVI, Nos. 7‑8‑9.

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