Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

George Plater (1735-1792)
MSA SC 3520-995
Governor of Maryland, 1791-1792

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of
Records Commission, 1970), 29-31.

"GEORGE PLATER was born at 'Sotterley,' his family’s ancestral estate in St. Mary’s County on November 8, 1735. His father, also named George Plater, was a lawyer, Deputy Secretary of the Province, Naval Officer of Patuxent, and one of the larger landholders in the colony. 'He was able to bestow upon his children a rich patrimony,' commented Marian McKenna, 'and he established the name Plater in Maryland so firmly that it became synonymous with efficient and effective public service as well as with landed aristocracy.'1 His mother, Rebecca (Addison) Bowles Plater was at the time of her marriage a widow of ample means.

"Plater undoubtedly received his education at home. After he had completed it, his father sent him to the College of William and Mary, from which he graduated in 1752. He then commenced the practice of law. In 1757, St. Mary’s County chose him as one of its delegates to the Lower House, where he soon became a leader of the Proprietary Party. He was a member until 1759 and from 1766 to 1771, during which period he also occupied the position of justice of the peace in his home county.

"Plater was twice married. His first wife, whom he married on December 5, 1762, was Hannah Lee. She died in September of the next year, leaving no children. On July 17, 1764, Plater married Elizabeth Rousby of Calvert County, and they had six children.

"In 1767, Plater was appointed to the post of Naval Officer of Patuxent, which his father had held a quarter of a century previously. He held this post until 1777 when, for some unknown reason, he was removed.2

"In the fall of 1771, by then a wealthy man, Plater was chosen a member of the Upper House or Council to begin a public service career encompassing twenty years. During his three year tenure on the Council, he was one of the Proprietary leaders, but in a few years, he would become a Revolutionary leader. During the session of 1773-1774, he was appointed one of the trustees of Charlotte Hall School.

[p. 30] "Plater became a member of the Council of Safety in May of 1776, serving until March 1777. Previous to his appointment, he was selected one of those to collect gold and silver coin in St. Mary’s County. This was to be used in military operations in Canada,3 and he subsequently reported the collection of over £224. The Council also appointed him as one of the Commissioners to erect beacons on the Potomac River in cooperation with Virginia commissioners.4

"In the same month that Plater was appointed to the Council, that body had appointed a committee of five to present resolutions to Robert Eden, the last colonial governor, requesting him to leave Maryland. The Council chose Plater as one of the five.

"On June 21, the Convention of Maryland reassembled. On July 3, it passed a resolution directing the calling of a convention to draw up a new form of government for the State. Plater represented St. Mary’s County in this Convention which framed the first State Constitution.

"In the fall of 1776, the Senatorial Electors met and chose Plater to be a member of the first State Senate. He attended the February, June and October Session of 1777, but in December of the same year, he was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress which caused him to be absent from Senate sessions for the next several years. After his term in Congress expired, Plater resumed his seat in the Senate, being re-elected in 1781 and 1786. He served as President of that body in 1781 and at various times between 1784 and 1790. He also served as a senatorial elector in 1786 and 1791. “Though not a man of large creative ability or marked individuality,” says one of his biographers, “Plater’s value as a lawyer and lawmaker came to be appreciated by his constituents and Colleagues.”5

"Plater’s greatest contribution to Maryland was his service as the President of the Maryland Convention to ratify the Federal Constitution. It is not known just how much Plater contributed to the acceptance of the document, but he undoubtedly exerted a tremendous amount of influence to win the State’s approval. The Maryland Journal for May 2, 1788, describes the victory celebration at Mann’s Tavern in Annapolis in which many toasts were drunk, each accompanied by cannon salutes. The climax of the celebration occurred when Plater proposed a toast to George Washington, at which time a portrait of the general by Charles Willson Peale was unveiled.

"On November 14, 1791, George Plater was elected Governor of Maryland to succeed John Eager Howard. The election was unanimous and he qualified on the same day as his election. His term of office, otherwise too short for it to be adequately appraised, was marked by only one note-worthy event. The State offered and the Federal Government accented, a site for a new national capital, on what had been up to that time Maryland soil. Shortly after he took office, Plater’s health began to fail. On February 10, 1792, just three months after he became governor, he died [p. 31] in Annapolis, following which his body was taken to 'Sotterley' where he was buried in the family vault.

"At his death, the Maryland Gazette eulogized him in these words:  'In his public character, which commenced with his earliest manhood, and terminated only by his death, he was the firm and dedicated advocate of the rights of man, and was distinguished by a warm and zealous adherence to the principles of the late revolution. In private life, he lived an amiable, and died an honest man, exempt from all suspicion of improper actions, warm in his affections, and unbounded in his philanthropy.'6

"Plater’s death marked the first time a governor of Maryland had died in office. The Council’s minutes for February 13, 1792, noted Plater’s death. On that day, James Brice, the acting governor, issued a proclamation in which he called the General Assembly into session to elect a successor to the deceased governor on April 2, 1792:

“'His Excellency George Plater, Esquire, having departed this life on Friday the 10th instant, the Honourable James Brice Esquire President of the Council qualifies as Governor, before Nicholas Carroll Esqr. one of the Associate Justices for Anne Arundel County, in the Council room in presence of the members of this Council, agreeably to the 32nd section of the Constitution and Form of Government.'7

"The minutes of the Council meeting on April 2 are likewise extremely brief.

“'At a Meeting of the General Assembly of Maryland pursuant to a Proclamation issued by his excellency James Brice Esquire for the purpose of appointing a Governor for the residue of the year in the room of the late George Plater Esquire deceased, they proceeded to the said appointment, when the Honourable Thomas Sim Lee was appointed.'8

"After Robert Wright had resigned in 1809, the Constitution was amended to change the procedure for filling the unexpired term. Until that time, the Constitution had provided that 'the first named of the Council, . . . shall act as Governor and qualify and shall immediately call a meeting of the General Assembly to appoint a governor for the residue of the year.'9 After these two experiences, the Legislature decided that it would not be necessary to call a meeting of the Legislature to fill the Governor’s vacancy. After 1809, the first named of the Council would qualify and act as Governor until the next meeting of the Legislature when a successor would be chosen. For that reason, neither James Brice nor James Butcher can be classified as governors of Maryland, since the Constitution specifically conferred only temporary authority upon them.

"Governor Plater left his lands to his sons, George, John and Thomas. To his daughters Rebecca and Anne he left £1,000 each while he devised £50 to the poor of St. Mary’s County."10

Notes on sources

Return to George Plater's introductory page

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