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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces an article in the
American Historical Review
Vol. 31 No. 3 (April 1926), pp596‑597

The text is in the public domain.

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[Book Review]

Annapolis: its Colonial and Naval Story. By Walter B. Norris. (New York, Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1925, pp. xiv, 323. $3.00.)

The history of Annapolis is a picturesque rather than a significant history. In her origin, indeed, Annapolis represented the contest of Protestant settlers against a Catholic proprietor, but from the close of the seventeenth century her connection with the issues of national life has been due mainly to fortuitous circumstances which have thrown her for fleeting periods into the spotlight. Significance — political, economic, social in the larger sense — she lost two hundred years ago and has never regained. Yet she has always had a picturesque life. She had her prominent families, both Patriot and Loyalist. She was the home of three signers of the Declaration of Independence. She entertained Washington, not once but many times, and Lafayette and Rochambeau as well. The houses where they were wined and dined still stand in considerable numbers, and, as Mr. Norris points out, ancient customs like formal calls and genteel tea‑drinking still hold sway.

How should one write the history of such a city? The seven (or is it seventeen?) social sciences — allies of the "new history" — have little to say of her. Perhaps she is a theme for the painter rather than the historian. Indeed, a truly charming part of this book consists in the four drawings by Vernon Howe Bailey and the seven etchings by E. P. Metour. For the rest, Mr. Norris does what is perhaps the only thing possible — tells an anecdotal story, with considerable success in conveying the quaint charm of colonial Annapolis. In style, the first chapter is excellent; those that follow, very uneven. The substance becomes thinner as the narrative progresses, until the last chapter, covering sixty years, trails off into a discussion of hazing at the Naval Academy and an account of the discovery and final entombment of the putative earthly remains of Paul Jones. There is not much to write of Annapolis in those sixty years, but perhaps other sides of Naval Academy life — its educational methods and ideals, for example — might be more worthy of treatment than the pros and cons of hazing.

 p597  For the earlier part of his book Mr. Norris has made use of a wide variety of sources. His synthesis from them is of varying quality.

Julius W. Pratt

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