Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Hoskins Stone (1750-1804)
MSA SC 3520-1199
Governor of Maryland, 1794-1797

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of
Records Commission, 1970), 33-36.

"JOHN HOSKINS STONE, who brought a new concept of power, influence and dignity to the office of governor, was born in Charles County about 1750. The exact date of his birth is not known, but at the time of his death in 1804, his obituary notice stated that he was fifty-four years of age. On his paternal side he was a descendant of William Stone, who was Governor of Maryland between 1649 and 1654. His father was David Stone, while his mother, who had been Elizabeth Jenifer, was a daughter of Daniel Jenifer. One of John H. Stone’s brothers was Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

"During his youth, Stone received his education in the private schools of Charles County. He later studied law, so that he gained for himself early in his life, a substantial reputation both in his own county as well as in Annapolis. In 1774, he was appointed a member of the Charles County Committee of Correspondence. In the following year he became a member of the Convention of Maryland and signed the Association of Freemen of Maryland. He offered his services to the Convention, which on January 14, 1776 commissioned him a captain in the First Regiment. Fighting in the battles of Long Island, White Plains, Princeton, and Germantown, he was promoted to the rank of colonel before the end of the year. In October 1777, he was shot through the ankle, a severe wound that plagued him for the rest of his life.

"Stone resigned his commission in 1779, so that he could resume his public service career. In November of that year, he was chosen to the Governor’s Council, serving as its President in 1779 and in 1781, but continuing as a member until 1785 when he resigned to become a Delegate from Charles County.

"On February 15, 1781, John H. Stone secured a license to marry Mary Couden, the daughter of Robert Couden of Annapolis. They had four children of whom one died in infancy. Mrs. Stone died on March 8, 1792.

"In 1785 he became clerk in the office of Robert Livingston, who at that time was the Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the old Articles of Confederation. During his term in the House of Delegates in 1785, he [p. 34] was named one of the members of the committee to prepare instructions for the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention which drafted the Constitution of the United States. He served only one year, retiring to practice law. He did not emerge again until 1791, when he was again elected a member of the Governor’s Council, again serving for one year.

"On November 20, 1794, he was elected governor to succeed the popular Thomas Sim Lee. He was re-elected in 1795 and 1796. Stone apparently desired to broaden the scope of the governor’s office by making its powers more meaningful. He felt that the legislature should periodically receive communications from the executive which would enlarge the influence of that office. He, consequently, initiated the custom of sending a written message to the legislature, on November 16, 1796, even though he was not required to do so. Neither the first State Constitution nor any of its amendments contained any provision for the Governor to 'inform the Legislature of the conditions of the State, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he may judge necessary and expedient.' In this message, he called attention to those duties which he felt confronted the General Assembly. That body seemed to be pleased with the innovation of a Governor’s message. 'Although not sanctioned by precedent, or enjoined by the constitution, such communications have certainly their use; and we wish that future governors may follow the laudable example, whenever they may deem it expedient to submit to the legislature such matters as they shall judge deserving its attention.'2 All his successors have continued to follow his innovation, while each of the later Constitutions now require the Governor to make a report periodically.

"The Legislature, in its reply which was drafted by Charles Carroll of Carrollton, responded to each point made by Stone. With regard to the national government, the legislature expressed its regret that George Washington was about to retire from his office in which 'he has gained the confidence, esteem and love, and has justly merited the gratitude of the American people.' Although understanding his motives in wishing to retire, Carroll asserted that no one could read Washington’s Farewell Address without being 'unmoved, at once admiring the wisdom of its precepts, and revering and loving the memory of the man.'

"Carroll expressed his agreement with Stone’s feelings on the 'making of good roads, and removing obstructions in rivers to navigation.' He hoped that the 'works on the Patowmack' would soon be completed and an application for 'rending the Susquehanna navigable into the bay of Chesapeake would soon be made.'

With regard to Stone’s 'humane attention to persons confined for debt,' Carroll agreed with Stone that such a practice 'so injurious to their health and morals should be discountenanced by the Legislature.' He further emphasized a plan of education which promoted 'morality and knowledge.' This would, agreed Carroll, contribute to the diffusion [p. 35] of knowledge 'which is generally attended by virtue.' This union would then form 'the perfect citizen.' Carroll concluded that Stone had been actuated by the public good, 'the same affection, we perceive, which impelled you to shed your blood, and hazard your life, in defense of your country' which 'glows strongly in your breast and continues to actuate your conduct.'3

"Stone may also be remembered for his efforts to persuade the Legislature to loan the national government sufficient funds to enable it to erect public buildings in the new capital. After unsuccessful attempts to borrow money, George Washington almost in desperation, wrote a personal appeal on December 7, 1796 to Governor Stone for funds. 'If the State has it in its power to lend the money which is solicited, I persuade myself it will be done; and the more especially at this time when a loan is so indispensable, that without it not only very great and many impediments must be induced in the prosecution of the work now in hand, but inevitable loss must be sustained by the funds of the city in consequence of premature sales of public property. I have thought I ought not to omit to state, for the information of the General Assembly, as well the difficulty of obtaining money on loan as the present necessity for it, which I must request the favor of you most respectfully to communicate.'4

"In response to Washington’s appeal, the State initially loaned the federal government the sum of one hundred thousand dollars. Later it increased the amount to a total of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Without that loan, the construction o the public buildings might have been indefinitely delayed.

"Maryland, under Stone, supported his fellow Federalist, George Washington, at a time when the latter’s enemies were making bitter attacks upon him. The Maryland Assembly on November 25, 1795, went on record as supporting Washington’s administration to the fullest. It also indicated its opposition to those who sought to discredit him. In 1796 Washington was again subjected to attack and in December of that year, the Legislature once more expressed its faith in Washington by the passage of a resolution. Governor Stone wrote Washington, on December 16, 1796, that he considered it 'the most agreeable and honorable circumstance of my life that during my administering the government of Maryland I should have been twice gratified in communicating to you the unanimous and unreserved approbation of my countrymen of your public conduct, as well as their gratitude for your eminent services.'5

"Stone surrendered his gubernatorial office on November 13, 1797 to Benjamin Ogle, knowing that as the result of his message to the Legislature, he had broadened the concept of the governor’s office, strengthened it, and began the trend away from making the office a sort of chief clerk of the legislature. He made his home for the rest of his life in Annapolis, [p. 36] dying there on October 5, 1804. The place of his burial is unknown, but it is thought to have been in Annapolis. 'Year after year the grave hides from our view some of the remaining patriots who shed their blood in support of American Independence, and soon they will be seen no more,' commented the Maryland Gazette at his death.'6

Notes on sources

Return to John Hoskins Stone's introductory page

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