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Maryland – The Birth of the State, Threatened by an Epidemic

Item: 22189
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[MARYLAND.] WILLIAM CRAIK. (1761-1807). American lawyer and politician. ALS. (“William Craik”). 10½pp. Small 4to. Annapolis, November 13, 1789. To “My dear Wat” (possibly a relative of recently deceased Declaration of Independence signer, Thomas Stone of Maryland). A letter discussing the business of the November-December session of the Maryland legislature, the state’s first under the new U. S. Constitution, at which the Bill of Rights was ratified.

Historical map of Maryland

Maryland circa 1775

“We have yet no Senate and the attention of our house has been pretty much engaged in attending to Petitions of a private nature — Our Committees are busy in preparing Business of much importance to the State — Being one of a Committee appointed to bring in a Bill for a reform and Change to the Judiciary of this State and particularly in our County Courts I feel some what alarmed at the difficulty of the Business. It is a subject which embraces a variety of objects, a complicated Machine which required much tenderness and caution in the management — We are this evening to have a meeting in Committee in the proposed Bill for the alteration of the Manner of electing Delegates to Congress — There will be powerful opposition in point of … to our intended proposition but I believe a considerable majority of Votes in its favor — Pinkney and myself I imagine will hold the labouring Oar in this business opposed to McHenry, William Tilghman, James Tilghman & all speakers and well acquainted with the Subject as being in the last Assembly where it was so fully debated — I think I am right and shall generally think so when I am with so great a majority of the People of Maryland — It is imagined the Senate will object to any alteration in the present Law — You may remember I always told you I feared they would — Had a former Senate been against me, I should have doubted to the present there is no reason I should sacrifice my opinion — The Inspection Law is under the Consideration of a Committee and I fear by attempting amendments they will very much retard its progress—There appears to be a great difficulty with the Committee how to prevent the exportation trash [?] without such regulations and restrictions as will be oppressive to the People—The plan … is to oblige every man  to carry [?] his tobacco to the nearest warehouse — This I think will meet with considerable opposition — I should be glad to hear from you and the Cot [Commmittee?] or any other Gentlemen on the Subject – The year ninety and the numerous applications from the Public Debtors for indulgences open to our view a very difficult and interesting subject on the one hand individual district claims our commiseration, on the other hand public faith & public honor struggle to silence the voice of complaint – I hope we may be able to attend to both. I believe there never was at a Session before so many Private Petitions and Memorials as at the present – This with the Public Business which must necessarily be done will I fear make my stay here of considerable length – I say fear for really Wat, the business of Legislation to a man who takes an earnest concern therein and is active in the prosecution of what he thinks is right is both perplexing and distressing – The man who … to the house as many do to Church and there lounging in listless indifference during the hours of Sitting, who upon the prospect of his two dollars returns to the tavern to good dinner and cheerful Glass of Wine who forgets the Business of the Morning in the gay variety of a tea party from whence he retires to his peaceful bed, sleeps undisturbed by dreams of Judicial Systems, Inspection Laws – Elections, Public Debtor or Public Creditor and rises in the morning pleased with the prospect of the same … I say a man of such a temper of man, etc., who has once experienced the Pleasure of a seat in the Legislature may again wish for the honorable promotion; with me it is a situation which as an object of pleasure or amusement I shall never court – I believe there will be two … Masters for Baltimore Town. I think Swann and Barney will be the … They say Barney is a brave man fought hard and that he is very poor and should be provided for – We have not yet chosen our Governor and Council – Lattimer, young Dick Sprigg, Shaw, David Harris and some other candidates for appointments as Councillors (sic.) besides the old Councill [sic.] – I have just received Colo. Stones letter the object of which shall be attended to immediately – There is nothing new in the Belle Monde if you should not think it strange that Mrs. Rutland appeared last night [a]t  Posture Masters exhibition in … [f]ull suit of Black – She took that … [oppo]rtunity of giving public evidence of her sincere grief for her loss of her dear Tommy – I am sorry to hear our friends are still fatigued with the Influenza [an early use of the word] in Charles[town?] – I am afraid of the Second attack – It is said to prove generally fatal – But seriously a number of People die with it on the Eastern Shore. Matthew Ridley it is expected will fall a victim to it – Remember me to the Ladies of Haberdeventure – May you all escape the Second visit of the barking fiend is the sincere wish of your friend, William Craik…”

Founded in 1632 as a haven for persecuted Catholics, Maryland’s colonial economy centered around growing tobacco, which was shipped to Europe through the Port of Baltimore. In 1776, Maryland declared its independence from Great Britain and adopted its own state constitution, which established a House of Delegates and General Assembly. Maryland’s constitution “did not make clear how it was to be interpreted or enforced—by the people, the legislature, the courts, or otherwise,” resulting in several decades of interpretation by Maryland’s legislature and court system.

Our letter discusses the state’s first legislative session under the U. S. Constitution, which ran from November 2-December 25, 1789, in Annapolis, during which business included the building of roads and court houses, the collection of debts and establishment of pensions for the disabled – possibly the “Petitions of a private nature” of our letter – as well as an act for enlarging the powers of the high court of chancery and an act to regulate the inspection of tobacco (“The Inspection Law”), passed on December 21, 1789 requiring that “no person shall carry out of the county where it was made, either by land or water, any tobacco, either in casks or parcels of any kind, until it has been inspected at some public warehouse in the said county,” (The Laws of Maryland: 1785-1799, Chapter XXVI, ed. Kilty). Most importantly, on a national level, Maryland’s legislature unanimously ratified the Bill of Rights on December 19, 1789.

Craik was a lawyer and planter in Charles County, Maryland. After relocating to Baltimore, he served as a district court judge and represented Maryland in Congress from 1796-1801, after which he returned to the bench. Craik was also a Masonic grandmaster in Port Tobacco’s Columbia Lodge No. 11.

A number of Maryland political figures are mentioned in our letter including, possibly, Randolph Brandt Latimer (?-1805); Richard Sprigg who served as the first chancellor of Maryland, the highest judicial office, from April 21, 1777-March 20, 1778; possibly James Shaw (c.1747-c.1795), a Scottish emigree and merchant who served a number of terms in the state legislature; possibly David Harris (c. 1752-1809), a prominent merchant and banker of Baltimore; John Hoskins Stone (1750-1804), a merchant who was politically active in the Revolution and who led the Charles County militia during the war, attaining the rank of colonel and fighting in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. In 1789, Stone, by then a wealthy land speculator, petitioned the legislature to appoint him agent for selling confiscated British property. In 1794, Stone became the Governor of Maryland and helped establish the national capital along the Potomac River, enriching himself by selling land at an inflated price. English-born merchant Matthew Ridley (1746-1789) acted as Maryland’s agent in Europe in 1781, secured large loans from France and Holland and became acquainted with Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. As our letter predicted, Ridley died in Baltimore on November 13, 1789, the date of our letter, after a long illness.

The reference to the “Posture Masters exhibition” near the end of our letter, likely refers to a performance by a contortionist. “Haberdeventure” was the Port Tobacco, Maryland home of Thomas Stone (1743-1787), a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Foxed and age toned with wear and some small separation along the vertical fold. On 4½ sheets of paper, some of which have been separated or are weak at the folds, with the final page trimmed. In fair condition. Please inquire should the letter’s condition be of particular importance to you.

A fine, early example, of Maryland’s political history as an original member of the United States.

Maryland – The Birth of the State, Threatened by an Epidemic

$1500 • item #22189

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