Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Eager Howard (1752-1827)
MSA SC 3520-692
Governor of Maryland, 1788-1791

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of
Records Commission, 1970), 17-19.

"JOHN EAGER HOWARD, Maryland’s first Federalist Governor, military hero, politician, patriot, and public servant, was born at 'The Forrest,' in Baltimore County on June 4, 1752, the son of Cornelius and Ruth (Eager) Howard. His ancestor, Joshua Howard, had received a grant of land in Baltimore County about 1685, and his family had subsequently added to these holdings. His father was a man of sufficient wealth to enable the future governor to secure a good education under private tutors.

"When the Revolutionary War began, he was commissioned a captain in the 'Flying Camp.' While he was with this organization, he fought at White Plains, following which his term of service expired. Howard then became a major in the Fourth Regiment While he was with that unit, his troops performed superbly at the battle of Germantown in October 1777. In 1778, he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Fifth Regiment and in the following year he transferred to the Second Regiment. Participating in the fighting at Camden, he gained a reputation for his ability, while for heroism at Cowpens, he received a silver medal and the grateful thanks of Congress. At Guilford Court House and Hobkirk’s Hill, he distinguished himself as an outstanding officer, and at Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781, he was severely wounded, after which he resigned his commission and returned home, leaving his mark as an outstanding military leader.

"Howard, in the meantime, had begun courting Peggy Oswald Chew, the daughter of Chief Justice Benjamin Chew of Pennsylvania. They were married on May 18, 1787. The couple had a large family, all of whom distinguished themselves in Maryland affairs. One of these was the future governor, George Howard, who was born in the Government House in Annapolis during his father’s term of office.

"After the war, John Eager Howard entered politics. In 1785, he became a justice of the Baltimore County Court, holding the post for three years. In the following year, he was a senatorial elector from Baltimore County as well as a justice of the Baltimore County Orphans’ Court. During 1787 and 1788, he represented Maryland in the Continental Congress.

[p.26] "On November 21, 1788, he was elected Governor succeeding William Smallwood. Up to that time, no state governor had ever belonged to a political party, so Howard became a member of the Federalist party, and for the rest of his life, he would be a firm and staunch supporter of its principles. During his first term, the U. S. Constitution became operative and Maryland’s presidential electors cast their ballots for George Washington. During the session of November, 1788, the State ceded a ten-mile square tract of land to the newly formed national government for the site of a national capital. Another act of the same session provided for the granting of bounty lands to the west of Fort Cumberland to the former officers and soldiers who had served during the Revolution.

"Howard was re-elected to his second term on November 16, 1789. During his second year in office, Maryland ratified the Bill of Rights. In addition, Allegany County was erected out of Washington County, while another piece of legislation provided for the payment of the State debt within six years.

"He was re-elected to his third and last term on November 8, 1790, during which the General Assembly passed several important acts. One of these provided for Samuel Smith and others to establish the Bank of Maryland. Another granted Charles Ridgely Carnan permission to change his name to Charles Ridgely in accordance with Capt. Charles Ridgely’s will. A third act directed the time, place and manner of holding congressional elections and the choosing of presidential electors. A final act granted commissions to the justices of the county courts in each district. As the result, when George Plater succeeded Howard as governor on November 14, 1791, he saw the State government firmly in operation under the new Federal Constitution.

"Howard, however, did not end his political career when he vacated the gubernatorial office. In September 1791, just as his term was about to expire, he was chosen a member of the State Senate, and was re-elected in 1796. During this period, he was chosen a presidential elector casting his vote for George Washington and John Adams in 1792. In the following year, he became a Commissioner of the City of Baltimore, a position which involved the planning of the city stockyards and the purchasing of lands for a marketplace. In 1795, George Washington offered him the post of Secretary of War, but Howard felt it his duty to decline.

"In 1796, Richard Potts resigned his seat in the United States Senate, following which the General Assembly selected Howard to fill Potts’ unexpired term. In the following year, he was elected for a full term, continuing to serve until 1803, during which time he faithfully supported the policies and programs of the Federalist Party. During the difficulties with France in 1798, Howard was offered a commission as Brigadier General, but since the crisis had passed, he felt it unnecessary to accept the commission.

"After his senatorial term ended, he preferred retirement to private life. Yet, he continued to be active in public life. In 1804, he was appointed Commissioner of the State Penitentiary, a post which included the prepara- [p. 27] tion of a new prison. He was nominated three additional times for terms as governor, but the Legislature failed to elect him. He served on Baltimore’s Committee of Supply during the War of 1812, assisting in the raising of money and supplies for defense. Howard remained a force in the Federalist Party politics until 1816, when that party named him as its vice presidential candidate on the ticket with Rufus King. Both were soundly defeated following which the Federalists ceased to be a force in State politics.

"After his last unsuccessful political campaign, Howard retired to his home at 'Belvedere' which he had built in 1786, making it a center of hospitality, elegance, and grandeur. He spent his last years as a retired elder statesman, contributing land to the City of Baltimore for public purposes. Howard lived until 1827. However, his health had been failing for some time. Early in October of that year, he caught a severe cold and died on the twelfth. Many prominent leaders attended his funeral including President John Quincy Adams, all of whom accompanied his body to its burial in Old St. Paul’s Cemetery. In compliance with his will, no inventory was made of his estate.1 He further desired that his personal and real estate should be sold by his executors at a public or private sale, but he bequeathed his real property to his sons.

1.  Baltimore County Wills 12, ff. 408-409.

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