John Shaw

John Shaw (1745-1829), the noted Annapolis cabinetmaker, more than any single person was responsible for the appearance of the exterior and interior of the State House from the 1770s to the early of the nineteenth century. He cared for the grounds, illuminated the State House for festive occasions, supplied furnishings, made emergency repairs, and undertook normal maintenance. There was very little he and the people he hired didn't do. When Joseph Clark, the contractor for the dome, needed a carpenter for the shell, Shaw was hired. When Clark left the project, John Shaw took charge of overseeing the interior plasterwork.

John Shaw, or craftsmen he trained including Washington and William Tuck, made most of the earliest furniture for the Senate and House of Delegates' Chambers, although in November 1783 no one in Annapolis had enough time to make sufficient chairs for Congress. Six dozen "Windsor chairs" had to be rush-ordered from Baltimore.

In 1797, the Senate paid John Shaw to make individual desks for its members, but by 1807, the House also contracted with him for "the fitting up and repairing the House of Delegates Room" with the room to be "laid off in circular form, and . . . the [new] desks to be raised one above the other, as nearly like the room occupied by Congress as may be practicable." The desks Shaw provided remained in the State House until about 1835, when they were given to Baltimore cabinetmaker John Needles as partial payment for new furnishings.

His many years as the first superintendent of buildings and grounds did not make John Shaw a wealthy man. When he died in 1829, at the age of 84, he was highly esteemed but not rich. The Maryland Gazette described him as "not only one of the oldest and [most] respectable inhabitants of this city . . . but also] one of the most useful of them. He was gifted by nature with strength, as well as fortitude of mind, and possessed a degree of self-control which [he] rarely permitted . . . to be disturbed. Thus happily constituted, he pursued his way-content. His whole conduct remained free from reproach and he descended into the grave in peace with the human family.[having lived] a life characterized by industry, temperance, strict integrity, and punctual attention to religious duty.."

  • FURNITURE LABEL FROM THE SHOP OF JOHN SHAW engraved by Thomas Sparrow (1744-after 1785), an Annapolis Silversmith who also engraved plates for Maryland paper money and seals for several government offices.
    Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1556-154/157

John Shaw

John Shaw Flag
President's Armchair

Related Links

Article in American Furniture by Sasha Lourie, Curator, Maryland Commission on Artistic Property on Washington and William Tuck