By George

29 cupolaLinda Burton posting from Annapolis, Maryland – Before you read this post, look at the column to the right. On the dark blue background is a list of capital cities. Count them. You will find 50 capital cities listed now, because at 2:26 PM today, the cats and I arrived in Annapolis, capital city #50 on the Journey Across America. By George, we made it! I parked in front of the Robert Johnson building on the tight little circle street that surrounds the Maryland State House, and jumped out to record the moment with pictures. When I got back Jack was sitting on top of his carrier, 29 car by capitolwatching people walk by on the sidewalks of Annapolis; Alex was perched like a king on his pillow, unimpressed. “Do you think you’re King George?” I laughed. “You don’t want to acknowledge the feisty colonists?” It felt as though King George could be lurking around the corner; if, that is, King George had ever left England, and, if there weren’t so many 21st-century automobiles crowding the narrow brick-paved streets. We were in what is officially named the “Colonial Annapolis Historic District,” where 18th-century buildings remain much as they were when built. To my left the Maryland State House occupies the city’s highest hill; from that point all streets radiate outward; dropping down towards the 29 capitol approachwaterfront; leading in the other direction towards the countryside. One thing is clear; when this city was laid out, it was intended that all roads lead to the focal point of government – the Maryland State House, the “oldest in the nation still in legislative use” as it so proudly claims. And here the presence of our most beloved “George” remains – George Washington, of course. “This is a living history book,” I said to the cats. “It comes together here.”

Every state house, and every capital city, is chock full of stories, and memories; each one a building block in the development of our 50 “united” states. You might point to Tallahassee’s 1970s highrise as the newest capitol building, and it is; you might consider Honolulu as the newest capital city, since Hawaii was the 50th state admitted to the Union. But that’s not the whole of it; I’ll spend the next year writing about the complexities and comparatives of the 50; I’ll share everything I’ve found. This week, my focus is Annapolis.

29 annapolis mapAnnapolis was one of the first planned cities in colonial America. The area was settled in 1649 by Virginia Puritans; in 1695 the city of Annapolis was designed by Sir Francis Nicholson, the second royal governor of Maryland. Sir Francis aimed for a European urban environment in a North American setting; to keep in mind, perhaps, a way of life. The plan is called “modified baroque,” and is the style Christopher Wren used when London was rebuilt after the 1666 fire (he borrowed ideas from the French, and their formal baroque gardens; think Versailles). The “modified baroque” puts the focal point of government in the highest center spot with streets radiating out from there. With only a few modifications, Annapolis developed according to the original plan; by the mid-18th century it was the center of Maryland politics, commerce, and culture. Some streets in the historic area have been widened; a few street names have been altered; otherwise little has changed.

29 sailboats annapolisThe Annapolis of today has 120 National Historic Landmarks and 38,394 residents (US Census 2010). It is the 43rd most populous capital city; Concord, New Hampshire and Dover, Delaware are similar in size. It’s an expensive place to live; the median home value is $408,000; only Honolulu is higher (Boston, Santa Fe, and Juneau make up the top five). But who wouldn’t want to live here – it oozes charm, and offers the amenities of small-town living surrounded by big-city glitz. Washington, DC is just to the west, Baltimore just to the north, and the Severn River, leading 29 christmas circleto Chesapeake Bay, is on its doorstep. It’s a “capital city” in more than one way – it’s also called the Sailing Capital of the World. Boats crowd into spaces at the City Dock; the US Naval Academy is a major presence in town. The Historic District squeezes 45 blocks in one-third of a square mile; so walking is easy. The walkers are out in force today; strolling the brick sidewalks on this Black Friday shopping day; the lampposts are decorated with red-ribboned greens. Time to crank up the Scion and head for our hotel; but first I re-read the Historic Marker posted right beside a tree in the side yard of the State House.

Maryland State House. Built 1772-1778. Capitol of the United States November 16, 1783 – August 13, 1784. In this State House, oldest in the nation still in legislative use, General George Washington resigned his commission before the Continental Congress December 23, 1783. Here, January 14, 1784, Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris to end the 29 s h markerRevolutionary War and, May 7, 1784, appointed Thomas Jefferson Minister Plenipotentiary. From here, September 14, 1786, the Annapolis Convention issued the call to the states that led to the Constitutional Convention.

I wanted to think about the meaning of each of these events that took place in Annapolis. Perhaps the most significant one is this: General George Washington resigned his commission…December 23, 1783. During the Revolutionary War, Congress had granted Washington powers equivalent to those of a dictator. It would have been easy for him to take solitary control of the new nation; in fact, there were those who wanted him as the new “King George.” But he chose a different track. He declined the offer, resigned his military post, and “went home to plow.”

I found this description of the evening of December 23, 1783 on the History, Art & Archives site managed by the US House of Representatives.

29 washington resignsOn this date, in one of the nation’s great acts of statesmanship, General George Washington voluntarily resigned his military commission to the Continental Congress at the State House in Annapolis, Maryland, returning to private life at his Mount Vernon plantation. Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania, the President of the Continental Congress, lauded how Washington “conducted the great military contest with wisdom and fortitude . . . regarding the rights of the civil power [of Congress] through all these disasters and changes.” Delegate David Howell of Rhode Island recalled the occasion as “a most solemn scene . . . The State House was crowded with people of the first fashion who all partook in the occasion. And many testified their affectionate attachment to our illustrious Hero & their gratitude for his Services to his Country by a most copious shedding of tears.” Howell recalled that an “elegant public dinner was ordered . . . by Congress” to celebrate Washington’s service. “The Governor, Senate & House of Delegates (of Maryland) with a sundry of citizens . . . including Congress, about 200 attended & partook of the feast–after which 13 toasts were drank under a discharge of 13 Cannon.”

That was almost 230 years ago. But over the next days, as I explore Annapolis and the State House more thoroughly, I’ll be right there, by George, thanks to those who have kept a historically important place historically intact.

Historic Annapolis

Resignation of George Washington