What was Baltimore like at the time of George III?

The character of Britain's King George III dominates the Morris Mechanic's stage this month.

In the play "The Madness of George III," set in 1788-89 in England, actor Nigel Hawthorne frequently rants about the loss of the American colonies. If the king had come to Baltimore, what would he have seen?


Baltimore in 1788 was a town of about 12,000 residents. Many a merchant was recognized by fancy painted signs that hung over the muddy sidewalks. Gerrard Hopkins, a Gay Street cabinet maker, had a sign with a bureau and coffin on it because furniture makers doubled as undertakers.

James Sloan made shoes. His sign at Baltimore and South streets was a golden boot. Farming implements were available at the Golden Plough, Andrew Buchanan's establishment on Calvert Street. Walter Roe sold dry goods at the Golden Bee Hive on Market Place. A Calvert Street tavern, from where the stage to Philadelphia departed, had a sign that featured Bacchus, the god of drink.


One of the town's fanciest stores belonged to J.A. Honore. An advertisement in a newspaper of the day listed the products he sold -- "Madeira, port and Malaga wines, sherry, muscat wine, West India cordial, French brandy by the hogs head, olives, ketchup, preserved fruit, filberts, almonds, castile soap, nutmegs, cloves, mace, ginger, pepper, allspice, Spanish segars and hair powder by the box."

That newspaper, The Maryland Journal, And Baltimore Advertiser , that was neatly printed and came out twice a week. William Goddard was its editor.

Boats and stage coaches connected Baltimore to other towns. On a January afternoon, "the Annapolis stage waggon, in crossing the Patapsco River, at Hammond's Ferry, on the ice, unfortunately broke in a few yards from the shore; by which casualty the carriage and the two horses were lost," The Maryland Journal reported.

Henry Messonnier advertised a house for rent. "There are on the lot, a stable, chair house, two necessaries, a pump and a garden."

Among the brigs that anchored in the harbor were the St. Peter, Hawke, Friendship, Mary, Dart, Two-Brothers, Pilgrim, Caledonia, Patty and Mary. They sailed to Europe, the West Indies and coastal American ports.

In the news, inventor James Rumsey was experimenting with steam-powered boats. He tested one in the "Patowmac" River.

What about people and the clothes they wore? A 1788 zTC newspaper notice provides a vivid description of a runaway Irish indentured servant named Michael Cunningham: "He is fond of liquor and bad company, and easily intoxicated, plays well on the fiddle, but is a bad scribe, has much of the brogue, a small scar over one of his eyes, had on and took off with him, a London brown broadcloth coat, black waistcoat and breeches, black worsted stockings, round beaver hat with ribbons, large fashionable buckles, several white shirts."

Local industry was represented by a "commodious" brick-making yard at the "southwest corner of the basin," a location that would be on South Charles Street near today's Otterbein neighborhood. Glazier Andrew Keener on Gay Street had American-made window glass, up to 10 by 12 inches, for sale. Marcus McCausland had a soap and candle manufactory. He advertised for fat and tallow. He later became a Holliday Street brewer.


There was crime. Catherine Levely, a widow who lived at Caroline and Bank streets in Fells Point, was robbed of her horse in February. She offered a reward of 30 Spanish dollars. She described the thief as a Frenchman with black curled hair who also made off with 11 silver table spoons.

The biggest news story of the year was Maryland's ratification of the federal Constitution on April 28. This act was wildly celebrated in Baltimore by the naming of Federal Hill, the familiar but nameless land rise at the south side of what was then called the basin.

Representatives of nearly every working profession marched in a parade from Fells Point around the harbor to Federal Hill. The marchers included farmers, foresters, millers, butchers, bakers, brewers, distillers, blacksmiths, nailers, ship and house carpenters, painters, glaziers, masons, stone cutters, plasterers, cabinet makers, coach makers, coopers, tanners, saddlers and harness makers, hatters, tailors, staymakers, comb makers, silversmiths and watch makers, copper smiths, brass founders, tallow chandlers, printers, pilots, sea captains and mariners, merchants, traders, vintners, carvers and gilders, sail makers, block makers, mathematical instrument makers, surgeons, physicians, clergy, the bench and bar and gentlemen.

Once at Federal Hill, there was a banquet. The crowd ate 560 pounds of bacon and ham, drank nearly 10 gallons of peach brandy, 15 1/2 barrels of beer, 199 pounds of cheeses, 240 gallons of hard cider and an undetermined quantity of grog. No one recorded how long or extensive the hangover lasted.