Mark Croatti flips open "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the American Presidency" and does not like what he sees.
Nowhere does the book mention the presidents who came before George Washington, the ones who led the nation under the Articles of Confederation — some when Annapolis briefly served as the nation's capital.
"John Hancock was the president of Congress. That's why he signed [the Declaration of Independence] so big. That's the signature the king would be looking for," he said, shaking his head.
Croatti aims to share the seldom-told stories of early American history between the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 that ended the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution in 1787. To that end, he spearheaded the creation of the Treaty of Paris Center at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis, which held its first monthly open house Saturday.
Throughout the day, history buffs streamed through the modest center, a room in the basement of the inn on Main Street that features reproductions of key documents and pictures and biographical information about the pre-Constitution presidents of the Continental Congress.
Croatti, who teaches politics at George Washington University, believes there is a gap in most Americans' knowledge about the founding of the nation, especially during what he's dubbed the "Treaty of Paris Period" from 1783 to 1787.
"The history books just skip it," he said. "The war ends and the next thing, they're writing the Constitution."
Croatti began his mission in 2012 with annual weekend festivals, then worked out an arrangement with the Maryland Inn to put up displays in the inn's Crown and Crab Room. While the center for now is officially open only on the first Saturday of each month, visitors can check out the displays when the room is not being used by the inn.
During the Treaty of Paris Period, Annapolis figured prominently in key events.
Washington resigned his military commission before Congress on Dec. 23, 1783, when members met at the Maryland State House. Washington's resignation helped establish civilian rule of the nation.
Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris on Jan. 14, 1784, again at the State House. And in 1786, a convention held in Annapolis to discuss revising the Articles of Confederation ultimately led to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.
"Annapolis connects the Revolution to the Constitution," Croatti said.
Annapolis resident Mike Dammeyer was among those who checked out the Treaty of Paris Center on Saturday. Now a federal employee, he worked at the Maryland Inn as a busboy when he was young, so he was eager to learn about what was happening around the inn when it opened in 1784.
"I learned some bits and pieces — some of it is coming back," Dammeyer said. At the Treaty of Paris Center he learned about Mann's Tavern, where the 1786 Annapolis convention was held and where Washington wrote his resignation speech. He headed there to check it out.
Located a short walk away behind Main Street's Chick & Ruth's Delly and next to a city parking garage, the Mann's Tavern site is privately owned lot that is undeveloped.
Croatti said he's working with the property's owners to install a sign noting the historic significance of the site, at a cost of $500. Eventually, his dream is to build a replica of Mann's Tavern to house a more expansive history center. His center raises money under the umbrella of the nonprofit Annapolis Community Foundation.
In the meantime, Croatti will run events on the first Saturday of the month, including lectures, walking tours and displays.
"There is a thirst for this history with this kind of detail — especially in Annapolis where this happened," he said.