It is the capital of Maryland, was made the seat of government for that colony in 1688. Originally known as Providence, it received its present name in 1708, in honour of Queen Anne. It is beautifully situated on the Severn River, thirty miles south of Baltimore and forty miles northeast of Washington, commanding a fine view of the Chesapeake Bay. During the colonial period this cheerful little town was one of the most important social centres, ranking with New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Williams-burg, and Charleston in its display of wealth and fashion. Records give abundant evidence of riches and pleasure on the part of the inhabitants. Social entertainments dinners, balls, parties, etc., were numerous, and card playing, gambling, horseracing, cockfighting, and duelling were indulged in with fervour.
Annapolis was one of the earliest towns in this country to build a theatre, and a new one was opened in 1760 by the famous Hallam Company, where such plays and farces as Romeo and Juliet, The Recruiting Officer, Venice Preserved, Richard III., Bold Stroke for a Wife, Lethe, Miss in her Teens, Stage Coach, Lying Valet, and Damon and Phillida, delighted the bewigged and bepainted beaux and belles.
In 1769-1777, Eddis, who held an office under the British Government in Annapolis, said : “The quick importation of fashions from the mother country is really astonishing. I am almost inclined to believe that a new fashion is adopted earlier by the polished and affluent American than by many opulent persons in the great metropolis; nor are opportunities wanting to display superior elegance. We have varied amusements and numerous parties, which afford to the. young, the gay, and the ambitious an extensive field to contend in the race of vain and idle competition. In short, very little difference is, in reality, observable in the manners of the wealthy colonist and the wealthy Briton.”
In 1781, the Abbé Rodin, Count Rochambeau’s chaplain, who travelled extensively through the North and South, wrote: ” There appears to be more wealth and luxury in Annapolis than in any other city which I have visited in this country. The extravagance of the women here surpasses that of our own provinces; a French hairdresser is a man of great importance; one lady here pays to her coiffeur a salary of a thousand crowns. This little city, which is at the mouth of the Severn River, contains several handsome edifices. The State House is the finest in the country; its front is ornamented with columns, and the building surmounted by a dome. There is also a theatre here. Annapolis is a place of considerable shipping. The climate is the most delightful in the world.”
The Duke de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, in his Voyage dans les Etats-Unis, (1795-7), observed : ” In a country which has belonged to England for a long time, of which the most numerous and nearest connections are yet with England, and which carried on with England almost all of its commerce, the manners of the people must necessarily resemble, in a great degree, those of England. As for American manners particularly, those relative to living are the same as in the provinces of England. As to the dress, the English fashions are as faithfully copied as the sending of merchandise from England and the tradition of tailors and mantua-makers will admit of. The distribution of the apartments in their houses is like that of England, the furniture is English, the town and carriages are either English, or in the English taste; and it is no small merit among the fashionable world to have a coach newly arrived from London and of the newest fashion.”
Notwithstanding the strong English flavour of society in Annapolis, the town early caught the flames of the Revolution. The passage of the Stamp Act was received with the greatest indignation here in March, 1766, and three months later the Sons of Liberty from Baltimore, Kent, and Anne Arundel Counties joyfully gathered here upon its repeal. Anti-British sentiment ran high in this old town; and in its harbour an episode occurred in connection with tea that rivals that of the Boston Harbour. The story bears repeating.
On Saturday, the 15th of October, 1774, the brig Peggy Stewart arrived in Annapolis from London. Among the cargo were 2320 pounds of tea consigned to Thomas Charles Williams & Company of Annapolis. On this discovery, the citizens were summoned to a general meeting. It was found that Mr. Anthony Stewart, the proprietor of the vessel, had paid the duties, and the citizens then and there determined to appoint a committee to prevent the landing of the ” detestable plant,” as it was then termed. Some members, however, proposed to land the tea and burn it; but this motion met with scorn. Mr. Stewart prepared and distributed a hand-bill, addressed to the ” Gentlemen of the Committee, the citizens of Annapolis, and the inhabitants of Anne Arundel County,” in which he exonerated himself to the best of his ability. A few days later, he was forced to apologize and acknowledge himself in the wrong. Eddis, who was an eye-witness, says: ” Mr. Stewart was induced by the advice of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Esquire, and from an anxious desire to preserve the public tranquillity, as well as to secure his own personal safety, to propose setting fire himself to the vessel, which being immediately assented to, he instantly repaired on board, accompanied by several gentlemen who thought it necessary to attend him, and having directed her to be run aground, near the windmill point, he made a sacrifice of his valuable property, and in a few hours the brig, with her sails, cordage and every appurtenance, was effectually burnt.”
McMahon, in his history of Maryland, says: ” The tea-burning at Boston has acquired renown, as an act of unexampled daring at that day in the defence of American liberties, but the tea-burning at d Annapolis, which occurred in the ensuing fall, far surpasses it in the apparent deliberation and utter carelessness of concealment attending the bold measures which led to its accomplishment.”
The most noted of the public buildings is the State House, erected in 1772 (Joseph Clarke was the architect), which has been the scene of political and social events. In the Senate Room, Washington surrendered his commission in 1783, and in this room was ratified the treaty of peace with Great Britain in that year, recognizing the independence of the young Republic. Here, also, the first Constitutional Convention met in 1786. The walls of the State House are appropriately hung with historical pictures and portraits, some of them by Charles Wilson Peale, a native of Annapolis.
St. John’s College, built in 1789, is another interesting edifice, and its Green is of historic interest, because it was twice used for the encampment of an armyby the French during the Revolutionary War, and by the Americans in 1812.
The United States Naval Academy, which bears the same relation to the Navy that West Point does to the Army, was founded in 1845. The idea originated with George Ban-croft, Secretary of the Navy in President Polk’s Cabinet.
Annapolis still retains much of its Eighteenth Century appearance. The traveller finds delight in the quiet streets, where low and wide houses of red brick with white facings and columned porticos wreathed with creepers, standing in gardens of blooming flowers and shrubs, have an old-world atmosphere rarely met with in this country.