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Governor John Seymour and the Charters of Annapolis

Part 2. The Act of 1696

Table of Contents
Part 1. Preliminary Observations
Part 3. The Charters
Part 4. Reflections


        The charters of 1708 did not establish the first formal government of Annapolis. Rather Governor Francis Nicholson and the assembly established that twelve years earlier with the "An Act for keeping good Rules and Orders in the Port of Annapolis" of 1696.

        After Governor Charles Calvert tried unsuccessfully to establish ports in Maryland with his "Ordinances Edict and Declaracon" of 5 June 1668, his "Ordinance" of 20 April 1669, and his "Ordinance edit and declaration" of 30 June 1671,1 the assembly in 1683 finally passed "An Act for Advancement of Trade" to establish ports and towns.2 The area that ultimately became Annapolis, a settlement on the Severn River in Anne Arundel County, soon came to be called Anne Arundel Town.3

        In October of 1694 Nicholson and the assembly confirmed the status of Anne Arundel Town, as "port and town" and a "place of trade" where ships could enter and clear and where the naval officer and collector of the district, or their deputies, would have to live.4 During that same session the assembly decided that Anne Arundel Town would replace St. Mary's City as the capital of the province,5 and on 28 February 1694/5 the assembly met there for the first time.6 Two days earlier the provincial court had held its first session there.7 When the assembly met on 8 May 1695 the settlement was still known as Anne Arundel Town,8 but during that session the assembly changed its name to Annapolis and ruled that all sessions of the Anne Arundel County court would be held there.9

        For more than a year-and-a-half after Annapolis became the capital of the province it remained an unincorporated settlement.10 On 1 May 1696, after Nicholson proposed that the inhabitants11 of Annapolis be allowed "some Priviledges,"12 the delegates suggested that if he issued a charter for the port he could grant the inhabitants "all reasonable Priviledges and imunityes" that he considered appropriate.13 Nicholson did nothing further, however, and finally during the next session of the assembly the delegates on 8 July 1696 ordered that Nicholson's proposal be drawn up into an ordinance and that a bill be drawn up during the following session.14 During that next session the assembly passed "An Act for keeping good Rules and Orders in the Port of Annapolis," and on 2 October 1696 Nicholson signed it.15

        By this act the assembly established Annapolis as "a Body Corporate in Deed" with eight "Comissioners [sic] and Trustees," any five of whom could act for the town.16 If one of them died, left the province, or became incapacitated the "ffreemen and inhabitants" of the town would elect another freeman who was a resident of the town and who was qualified to serve as a delegate to the lower house to replace him.17 That meant that the prospective commissioner had to have a freehold of at least fifty acres or a visible personal estate of at least forty pounds sterling.18 Freemen, as specified in the act, included Governor Nicholson, the members of the governor's council, all of the present delegates to the lower house, and every other person who had a lot in the town and resided there or had "a Trade in the Town Pasture," and therefore more people were eligible to vote than were eligible to be elected commissioners. All "Merchants, Masters, Mates Guñers [gunners]19 Carpenters and Boatswains" who made Annapolis "their Constant Porte of Trade by Two Voyages" or more would enjoy the full privileges of freemen during their residence in the town.20

        Thus under this act not all free adults, nor even all free adult white males, were freemen. Though the use of the word "person" here might make it appear that a woman or a non-white who had a lot in the town and lived there or had "a Trade in the Town Common" could be a freeman and therefore had the right to vote, the economic, social, and political culture of the period would make this appear unlikely. Until we find specific evidence that women and non-whites could vote we have to assume that they could not.

        While for purposes of voting the assembly carefully defined the word "freemen," it did not define "inhabitant." The definition of "freemen" in the act of 1696 makes it appear that the term "inhabitant" was limited to people who owned a lot in town and resided there and craftsmen who pursued their trades in the town pasture. And the act does make it clear that for political purposes under that act not every adult male "resident," in the common use of that term, could vote and therefore that not every "resident" was considered an "inhabitant" of the city.21

        The commissioners and trustees could make laws, rules, and orders "for the good Government and regulateing of [the] Inhabitants" of the town as long as those laws did not contradict the laws of England.22 Here, then, the word "inhabitants" is used in a broader sense, to include all of the residents in the city. The commissioners could purchase land "adjacent to the Town and for Town Common," by eminent domain if necessary, and pay for it with money raised for that purpose. In order to have the right to use the town common people who owned land in town would have to contribute to the cost of the common in proportion to the amount of land they owned in town.23 If the owners of the land adjacent to the land that was set aside for "Wharfage and building of Keys [quays] and Wharfs and Warehouses" did not build "such necessary Wharfs or Keys or Warehouses" within eighteen months of the publication of this act any other person could take up the land that was designated for the wharfs, keys, and warehouses and, on building a substantial brick warehouse twenty feet square on every forty-foot square of such land, he would receive title in fee simple to every forty-foot square piece of land on which he built such a ware house.24

        By this act the assembly also provided for four "rowling Roads," with their routes specified, for rolling hogsheads of tobacco and for carrying other trade. The commissioners could purchase one acre of land at each end of each road, again by eminent domain if necessary, for building warehouses for common use and for the profit of the town. If the commissioners did not build the warehouses within eighteen months after the laying out of the one-acre lots any person could take up a lot and, by building "a good Substantiall" warehouse on it twenty feet square within eighteen months could, by paying the town the value of the lot, gain ownership of it. He could not live on this land, however, and the wording of this provision makes it appear that he would have to build the warehouse before he paid for the plot and gained possession of it.25

        The commissioners also had judicial powers within the city. Any three or more of them could create officers of the court, such as "Clerk Cryer Attorneys or Sollicitors," and the sheriff of Anne Arundel County would have to attend their sessions. They could hear and determine any dispute between "the Townsmen or freemen" of the town involving no more than five pounds sterling or one thousand pounds of tobacco, and for any misdemeanors or breaches of the peace committed within the town they could impose punishments not extending to life or member. For contempt of court, whether it was committed by officers of or suitors to the court, they could impose fines not exceeding twenty shillings sterling or two hundred pounds of tobacco.26

        A market could be held in Annapolis every week and a fair every year, at times that the commissioners considered appropriate. The commissioners could establish rules and orders for the markets and fairs, and people who came to them would not be subject to arrest for anything less than treason, murder, or felony.27

        Thus by the act of 1696 Francis Nicholson and the assembly provided Annapolis, now a "a Body Corporate in Deed," with the structure for a fully functioning government. The city still did not, however, have its own separate representation in the lower house of the assembly. This absence of representation provided John Seymour an opportunity to issue a charter for the city in which he drastically reduced the participation of Annapolitans in their government while pretending to do them a favor.



        1 Archives of Maryland, hereafter Md. Arch., (72 vols.: Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1883-1972), V, 31-32, 47-48, 92-94. John W. Reps, in Tidewater Towns: City Planning in Colonial Virginia and Maryland (Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1972), p. 117, mentions the first of these three items. I thank Jane McWilliams of Annapolis for suggesting them to me. Return to text

        2 1683, c. 5, Md. Arch., VII, 609-619. John W. Reps mentions this act. Reps, Tidewater Towns, p. 117. I thank Jane McWilliams for reminding me of it.

        For the delegates' resistance to the establishing of towns, and therefore to this act, see C. Ashley Ellefson, William Bladen of Annapolis, 1673?-1718: "the most capable in all Respects" or "Blockhead Booby"?, in Archives of Maryland Online, Volume 747 (2007), pp. 12-13 and Notes 145-146 (p. 32). Return to text

        3 Reps, Tidewater Towns, p. 117. Return to text

        4 1694, c. 8, Md. Arch., XIX, 110-113. Return to text

        5 1694, c. 29, Md. Arch., XXXVIII, 23-25. A new act is 1699, c. 19, Md. Arch., XXII, 494. Return to text

        6Md. Arch., XIX, 119, 127; Edward C. Papenfuse, "Doing Good to Posterity": The Move of the Capital of Maryland from St. Mary's City to Ann Arundell Towne, now called Annapolis (Annapolis: Maryland State Archives, 1995), especially pp. 11-13. Return to text

        7 Provincial Court Judgment Record, Liber T. L., No. 1, p. 209. Return to text

        8Md Arch., XIX, 141, 171. Return to text

        9 1695, c. 2, Md. Arch., XIX, 208-209. Return to text

      10 St. Mary's City had remained an unincorporated capital from the time the assembly first met there in February of 1634/5 (Edward C. Papenfuse, Alan F. Day, David W. Jordan, and Gregory A. Stiverson, A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789, hereafter Biographical Dictionary (2 vols.: Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979, 1985), I, 15) until Charles Calvert, the future third Baron Baltimore, issued a charter for it on 3 November 1668. Md. Arch., LI, 567-570; Donnell M. Owings, His Lordship's Patronage: Offices of Profit in Colonial Maryland (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1953), p. 117. Return to text

      11As will become clear later, for political purposes not every "resident" of the settlement was an "inhabitant." Definitions will be a continuing problem in this paper. Return to text

      12Md. Arch., XIX, 291-292, 341. Return to text

      13Ibid., pp. 303, 341-342. Return to text

      14Ibid., p. 391. This order does not appear in the records of the lower house. Ibid., pp. 412-414. Return to text

      15Ibid., pp. 452, 470, 484, 489, 490, 492, 497; 1696, c. 24, Md. Arch., XIX, 498-504. Return to text

      16 The commissioners and trustees were Governor Francis Nicholson, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Nicholas Greenberry, Thomas Tench, John Hamond, Edward Dorsey, James Sanders, and Richard Hill. Md. Arch., XIX, 498. Return to text

      17 Ibid., pp. 498-499. Return to text

      181692, c. 76, Md. Arch., XIII, 542. Return to text

      19 The published Archives has "Guñers," while the Archives of Maryland Online has "Gufiers," on html but "Guñers" on the pdf version. 1696, c. 24, Md. Arch., XIX, 503. For "Gunners," see the act in Thomas Bacon, Laws of Maryland at Large (Annapolis: Jonas Green, 1765), p. 112. Return to text

      20 Md. Arch., XIX, 502-503. Return to text

      21 At the same time the word "inhabitants" might refer to all residents of the city. See the wording of the act of 1696 in Md. Arch., XIX, 502.

      The same political distinction between "resident" and "inhabitant" occurred under the second charter of the city. See Part 3, "The Charters," at Notes 100-105. For the legal difference between a "resident" and an "inhabitant" see Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary: Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern (6th edition; St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1990), p. 782, under "Inhabitant."

      We also have the problem of the definition of "townsman." While "townsman" might refer to any resident, the wording "Townsmen or Freemen" (Md. Arch., XIX, 502. Emphasis added.) might make it appear that the townsman was distinguished from a "freeman." Return to text

      22 Md. Arch., XIX, 502. Return to text

      23 Ibid., pp. 499-500. Return to text

      24 Ibid., p. 500. The "fee simple" as used here is "conditional fee simple," since the person got ownership of a piece of property on the condition that he do something. Black?s Law Dictionary (6th edition), p. 615. The condition in this case is that he build "a substantial brick warehouse twenty feet square." Return to text

      25Md. Arch., XIX, 500-501. Return to text

      26 Ibid., p. 502. Return to text

      27 Ibid., pp. 503-504. Return to text


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