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A brief history lesson offered to mark Washington's birthday


Some notes about presidents on Presidents Day:

We're celebrating George Washington's birthday, as well as the bicentennial of his death. George was a frequent visitor to Annapolis. We think of him as a somber sort, thanks mainly to the portraits painted by Annapolis artist Charles Wilson Peale, but Washington's diaries reveal that he indulged in many of the fun activities enjoyed by the upper crust here in the mid-18th century.

Washington loved to bet on horse races, dance at the balls, play cards, discuss politics, and enjoy the hospitality of many fine townhouses still standing.

His stepson, Jackie Custis, attended boarding school here. Apparently he also liked to indulge in Annapolis' distractions, since Washington writes of having to bail him out of trouble more than once.

Washington ran into trouble here in 1791, when the ship ferrying the president from the Eastern Shore to Annapolis ran aground on the Horn Point Shoal, near present-day Eastport. Washington was stuck out there all night. I've long thought we ought to place a historical plaque on the Horn Point Shoal marker saying, "Washington slept here."

I don't know if Lincoln ever slept in Annapolis, but I do know he wouldn't have been as welcome as Washington.

Annapolis and Anne Arundel County were notoriously pro-Southern. In the presidential election of 1860, Lincoln received two votes in the entire county. By the 1864 election, things had changed dramatically: Lincoln got one vote.

The legislature had high-tailed it to Frederick to avoid such unpleasantness as the Baltimore riots. Many of the Democrats were placed under arrest to keep them from promoting the secessionist cause.

Lincoln sent General Butler to Annapolis, and Maryland's capital remained an occupied city under martial law for the duration of the war. Lincoln couldn't afford to let the state join the South and leave Washington, D.C., surrounded by Confederate territory.

We think of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator, but not many realize that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 didn't free a single slave in Maryland. It applied to slaves in the Confederate states, but not in the Northern border states. It wasn't until the legislature ratified a new state constitution in 1864 that slavery ended here.

Lincoln is counted a great man today, but not many people in Maryland thought so at the time. John Wilkes Booth was from Baltimore.

Mary DeCredico, a professor of history at the U.S. Naval Academy, will be speaking of the Civil War at the Capt. Salem Avery House Museum in Shady Side.

DeCredico's presentation, "Steel Magnolias: Reflection on Some Civil War Women," will take place at a luncheon sponsored by the Shady Side Rural Heritage Society at 11: 30 Wednesday. It's part of a series that is frequently sold out, so call now. Admission is $7. For directions and reservations, call 410-867-2866.

DeCredico is the new president of the Faculty Senate at the Naval Academy, serving as liaison between the Academy's 600 professors and the administration.

And the Academy is where you can catch the delightful musical, "1776." Performed by the USNA Glee Club, the play tells the story behind the birth of the nation.

The Glee Club performs "1776" at Mahan Hall at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and closes Sunday at 3 p.m. Seats are $6 to $8. For reservations, call 410-293-6060, or buy tickets at Ricketts Hall on campus.

It's been a few years since I caught the play performed on a barge at the Charles Carroll House, so I don't recall if there are juicy parts for Annapolis' four signers of the Declaration of Independence. If they don't appear, we should demand a rewrite.

Perhaps that will be a point of discussion when the Maryland Writers' Association composes its Late Winter Literary Ball Feb. 26. Event chairman and poet Chris Mayers says you can come dressed as your favorite literary personality (she's coming as Poe's raven), though costumes are optional.

The literati will be tripping the "write fantastic" at the Wyndham Garden Hotel from 8 p.m. to midnight. It costs $35, including cash bar, buffet and entertainment by Melanie and Rick. Send your check by Saturday to the Maryland Writers' Association, P.O. Box 129, Arnold 21012. Information: 410-280-2131.

Pub Date: 2/15/99

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