History of Annapolis

  • Settlement in the Annapolis area began in the late 1640s when Lord Baltimore, Maryland’s proprietor, offered new incentives to rebuild his colony’s population as it recovered from a 1645-46 rebellion against his rule. Newcomers took up waterfront land along the bay from the Patuxent to the Patapsco Rivers and along the banks of the western shore rivers. Thomas Todd became the first settler on Annapolis Neck when he surveyed land in 1651, with Thomas Hall and Richard Acton soon following as his nearest neighbors. These early settlers were planters, men who made their primary living from tobacco. The peninsula remained rural, agricultural, and sparsely settled for forty years, despite efforts by the provincial government to turn it into a port city. Settlement in the wider area grew rapidly enough, however, for Anne Arundel County to be established in 1650.

    In 1694, Governor Francis Nicholson and the General Assembly decided to move Maryland’s capital from St. Mary’s City to the more centrally located Anne Arundel, choosing the latest town effort, Ann Arundell Town, as the new seat of government. In 1695, after the officials and records relocated, Nicholson and his Council renamed their new home “Annapolis,” or “Anne’s city,” to honor England’s future Queen Anne. Nicholson designed the baroque street plan that still marks Annapolis as a 17th-century city. Today’s visitors strolling through the web of streets that encircle and converge on the State House and St. Anne’s Church share the experience with their colonial predecessors.

    Annapolis began to prosper in the 18th century. Maritime tradesmen worked along the waterfront, craftspeople made and sold goods at their shops, and merchants advertised imported products drawn from Britain’s worldwide trade network. Visitors attending to government business found lodging, food, drink, and entertainment at a number of taverns. Theater performances, horse races, dinners, card parties, and balls attracted elite travelers such as George Washington, who recorded his expenses while making the busy social rounds. Some well-to-do families built Georgian townhouses so they could enjoy genteel urban life year-round. These architectural gems still offer modern guests glimpses into the lives of Annapolis’s colonial elite.

    Annapolis patriots led Maryland’s push toward revolution in the 1760s and 1770s. The city had its own protests against British taxes, its own Liberty Tree, and its own tea party. Annapolis is the only place in the country that boasts surviving houses of all of its state’s signers of the Declaration of Independence. The city’s maritime connections and fertile hinterland made it an important hub for gathering and shipping troops and supplies during the Revolutionary War. At the end of the conflict, Washington returned to Annapolis — this time as commander-in-chief of American forces — to resign his general’s commission before Congress, which was then meeting in the State House. A few weeks later, Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris, making Annapolis the first peacetime capital of the independent United States. The building’s Old Senate Chamber, in which these events took place, is newly reopened after being restored to its appearance during those momentous months in 1783-84.

    Thank you to Historic Annapolis for providing this fascinating glimpse into our city’s rich history.  For further information, please visit annapolis.org.

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