Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Robert Eden (1741-1784)
MSA SC 3520-391

Governor of Maryland, 1769-1776 under Restored Proprietary Government

Biographical Profile:
Born:  September  14, 1741 in England1
Father:  Robert Eden2
Mother:  Mary (Davison) Eden3
Education:  received a classical education4
Religious Affiliation:   Anglican5
Marriage:  April 26, 1765 to Caroline Calvert6
Children:  Frederick Morton, William Thomas, Catherine7
Military Service:
            Lieutenant fireworker, Royal Regiment of Artillery, England, 1757;
            Coldstream Guards, England, 1758;
            Promoted to lieutenant and then captain, 1762;
            Commander in chief, provincial forces, Maryland, 1768-768
            Owner and breeder of racehorses
            Governor of Maryland, 1768-76 (commissioned in 1768; arrived in Maryland in 1769);
            Surveyor General of Western Shore, 1771-76;
            Commissioner, sale of proprietary manors and reserved lands, 17719
Died:  September 2, 1784 in Annapolis, Anne Arundel County10
Buried:  Old St. Margaret's churchyard, Anne Arundel County; reinterred in St. Anne's churchyard, Annapolis11

Notes on sources


Born September 14, 1741, the second son of Sir Robert Eden, Bt. of West Auckland, Eden grew up at the family estate in Durham, England. At the age of 16, he joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and a year later the Coldstream Guards with whom he served in Germany in the Seven Years War, earning him a captainship at 21. His early accomplishments and family's prominence assisted him in the courtship and marraige of Caroline Calvert, the favorite sister of the last Lord Baltimore and proprietor of Maryland, Frederick Calvert.

Eden's time in both England and America were marked by his reputation for luxurious tastes and gambling, causing significant debts on both sides of the ocean. Joshua Sharpe wrote of the young proprietary governor to his brother, "Capt Eden that married his Lordship's sister had by extravagant living & gaming run himself into such streights & difficulties that he could not well continue longer [in England], & that they had no other means of providing for him but by appointing him Governor of Maryland."[1] Joshua Johnson reinforced Sharpe's gossip when he wrote of the fate of Eden's interactions with one mercantile company in a 1773 letter to a friend: "I presume it will not be amiss to caution you against running too deep with Governor Eden; he owes very large sums here. They tell me that [his debt to] Perkins, Buchanan & Brown amounts to 5,000. Take the hint and get out as soon as you can for fear of the consequences."[2]

Despite the rumors and reservations of some supporters or proprietary governor, Horatio Sharpe, on June 5, 1769, Eden, his wife, and two young sons arrived in the port of Annapolis to fanfare. His initial task, to significantly remodel and furnish the Eden-Jennings House was one of his most expensive private endeavours under his governorship. In the position, Eden's time as governor was marked with a societal and cultural focus, rather than political. In 1772, he laid the cornerstone of the Maryland State House.

When tensions broke out between the colonies and Britain, Eden's position becames tenuous. His wife and children returned to England in 1772, while he remained in Annapolis. Maryland was operating under two governments, the proprietary and the revolutionary, at the same time. Pressure increased to depose Eden, but Maryland was slow to act. Other states and Congress quickly took notice, and Charles Lee wrote in outrage, "What poor mortals are these Maryland Council men! I hope the Congress will write a letter to the People of that Province at large advising 'em to get rid of their damn'd Government. Their aim is to continue feudal Lords to a Tryant."[3]

After the discovery of correspondence with Virginia royal governor, Lord Dunmore, Robert Eden was finally ordered to peacefully leave Maryland in June 1776. Eden was originally permitted to bring some of his belongings with him to England. However, this order was changed when the ship's captain refused to return some slaves who had escaped onto the ship in the night. Though not belonging to Eden, the state ordered him to return the slaves, and when the captain, who Eden had deferred to as command of the ship refused, Eden's property was confiscated as punishment by the state. Upon his return to England, Eden received the title: 1st Baronet of Maryland in honor of his service.

Even during the war, Eden maintained connections with several of his old friends - including George Washington. Prior to the war, a citizen of Annapolis remembered, "General Washington...always staid with [Eden] when in this city. They resembled in stature. I had seen them walk arm in arm."[4] Even during the war, Eden and Washington maintained limited correspondence passed through Eden's brother, William. Washington, with a note of emotion, wrote to William Eden, "The [letter] from your Brother gave me particular satisfaction, as it not only excited a pleasing remembrance of our past intimacy and friendship, during his residence in this Country, but also served to show that they had not been impaired by an opposition of political sentiments."[5]

In August 1783, Eden returned to Annapolis with his secretary Robert Smith, his creditor John Clapham, and the 6th Lord Baltimore's illegitimate son, Henry Harford, to seek compensation for their confiscated property. Despite the events of the past several years, Harford and Eden attended many public gatherings while in Marlyand, including, most famously, George Washington's resignation as commander-in-chief in the State House's Old Senate Chamber. At a ball thrown by the governor, William Paca, in the residence that had formerly been Eden's home, James McHenry observed:

Sir Robert Eden would have persuaded one by being of the party, that he had lost all remembrance of his having been the owner of the house in which he danced, and late governor of Maryland -- but the thing could not be, where every person he met, and every picture and piece of furniture he saw, served to remind him of the past, or brought up the recollection of pleasures he could no longer repeat. This state has taken away his property, and a libertine life his constitution. He finds himself a dependent on persons he despised, and insignificant on the spot where, but lately he was every thing. He sees his old parasites and companions enjoying places under the present government, and devoted to new interests. He is without a train of followers obedient to his pleasing will. He perceives, that even the hearts he is said to have subdued by his entertainments or warmed by his gallantries have altered by time or submitted to other seducers. If we look for the cause of his return to this place in his pride -- that would not suffer him to sue for favors, from men he so lately considered as rebels. If in his interest, he will be blamed for meanness. If in his poverty, he is certainly to be pitied. So situated and circumstanced I could neither believe him happy or at his ease, unless I had supposed, that, with his estate and constitution he had lost his sensibility.[6]

In her account of Washington's resignation, Molly Ridout suggested, "Sir R[obert] Eden seems in bad health. He does not flirt now."[7] The last proprietary governor died several months later, on September 2, 1784 at the age of 43, in Maryland. He was unsuccessful in recovering any of his property.

Upon his death, Eden had been buried near the alter of the second St. Margaret's Church, which burned down in the first half of the 19th century. For over a hundred years, his grave site had been lost to time, until an archaeological expedition uncovered his bones in 1924. On June 5, 1926, Eden was interred in his final resting place at St. Anne's in Annapolis in a grave designed by J. Appleton Wilson and Howard Still.

[1] Ridout Papers, MSA SCM D373 item 184. Joshua Sharpe to Horatio Sharpe, 6 August 1768.
[2] Price, Jacob M., ed., Joshua Johnson's Letterbook, 1771-1774. London Record Society, 1979, p.93.
[3] Charles Lee Papers, Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1872, p.96.
[4] Mrs. Rebecca Key, "A Notice of Some of the First Buildings with Notes of Some of the Early Residents," Maryland Historical Magazine, XIV (1919), p.270.
[5] George Washington to William Eden, 12 June 1778. John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources. University of Virginia Library, vol. 12 p. 52.
[6] James McHenry to Margaret Caldwell, 21 December 1783. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, vol. 21, p.218.
[7] Mrs. James N. Galloway and Mrs. Frederick G. Richards Collection, 1784, MSA SC 358-1-2. Letter, Mary Ridout to Mrs. Anne Tasker Ogle, 16 January 1784.

Link to New Dictionary of National Biography Entry

Return to Robert Eden's introductory page

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