Maryland Part II

Continued from April 28th, Part I.

Pictures are from our homeschooling block, Local History and Geography.



Despite Maryland’s absence of gold, colonists benefited from another resource: tobacco, which grew well and had a ready market in England. It quickly became Maryland’s principal cash crop. (In rural areas tobacco was used to pay bills even into the 20th century.) Some planters made large fortunes and imported their style of living from England, spending their time at hunting meets, dances, card parties, horse races, and similarly useful pursuits.

Tobacco rapidly depleted the soil, however, requiring continual acquisition of acreage and labor, both hired and slave, and pushing Native Americans further from their homelands. In the first half of the 18th century, England helpfully sent 10,000 convicts, mainly petty thieves and other troublesome folk, to Maryland as indentured servants. But while they worked off their indentures and freed themselves, the slave population, permanently trapped, increased. (And that’s another story.)


Maryland’s coastlines were settled first, so when German and Scotch-Irish immigrants began to arrive in the 1740s, they moved into western Maryland, creating small farms like those in Europe and New England, raising animals, growing grains (rather than tobacco) on manured fields, rotating their crops, and feeling exasperated that large wasteful eastern plantation-holders had more say in land and trade policy than they did themselves. Iron was discovered in western Maryland, and its mining and forging, mostly by slaves, accelerated rapidly. The port of Baltimore grew as grain and iron passed through for the French and Indian Wars, warfare being ever a boon to industry. Annapolis very slowly became a center of society, acquiring the attendant accoutrements of high culture: a theater, newspaper, bookshop, and jail.

 In 1763-67 the final, and very peculiar, shape of Maryland was determined when astronomer Charles Mason and surveyor Jeremiah Dixon were hired to resolve an old boundary dispute between Maryland and Pennsylvania due to overlapping land grants made in the 17th century. They marked the border with 230 stones, some of which remain today, little knowing that their boundary would come to be regarded—inaccurately—as the division between slave and free territory.

By the 1770s, the now-numerous settlers (Maryland’s population was about 150,000, which included tens of thousands of African slaves and a few hundred remaining Native Americans) were inevitably, due to time, distance, and differences, less connected to Great Britain. In 1713 the currently reigning Calvert had converted to Protestantism. But Marylanders didn’t want ANY Proprietor, of any religion whatsoever. Parliament’s taxes and trading practices favoring Great Britain infuriated them, as it did colonists elsewhere. Although some were at first unsure about complete independence, Maryland sent delegates to the First Continental Congress in 1774. Four signers of the Declaration of Independence were from Maryland, including the only Catholic. Maryland militiamen fought with George Washington in the Revolutionary War (the state’s sole Tory regiment was chased across the border and later departed for Canada).

After the war finally ended in 1783—people forget how LONG it dragged on—and after the delegates to the Constitutional Convention spent the summer of 1787 heatedly wrangling over the creation of the Constitution (which story reads like a thriller in itself), Maryland ratified it the following spring, becoming the seventh of the new United States. Not only that, but Maryland provided two of the nation’s seven temporary capitals (Baltimore and Annapolis) throughout its formative years, and finally the permanent one in 1790: Washington, District of Columbia, carved from a 10-mile square on the Potomac. (Virginia took back its section in 1846.)

So, party down, Marylanders! and celebrate your stateliness by singing the Official State Song (to the tune of “O Tannenbaum”). Here are the first two verses. Just in case you don’t already know them by heart.

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Hark to an exiled son’s appeal,
My mother State! to thee I kneel,
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland! My Maryland!

* Although the words as written, and as adopted by statute, contain only one instance of “Maryland” in the second and fourth line of each stanza, common practice is to sing “Maryland, my Maryland” each time to keep with the meter of the tune.



Bean Sprout

It’s lovely to go outside each morning in this season and see what new surprise (dogwood? dandelion?) awaits us. But if you have never put a bean into a jar of damp cotton balls and watched to see what happens over the next few days, I recommend it as an annual springtime activity. To watch the magical unfolding in your own kitchen does renew respect for what’s happening in the larger world. This is a sketch from our homeschooling Botany block.


Wild About Harry

This picture is from our Local History and Geography lesson block.


If you lived in Washington, DC in 1938, ONE out of every TEN of your neighbors was living in a house or apartment built by Harry Wardman (1872-1938), whose birthday it is today. Not bad for a guy born in Bradford, England who came to the United States at age 17 and started out as a department store floorwalker in New York. He moved on to a store in Philadelphia, then to Washington, DC in 1893, where he found carpentry work and learned to build staircases.

Wardman wasn’t satisfied with staircases, however. Washington suffered from housing shortages both after the Civil War and after World War I, and Wardman was poised and eager to fill the need. He moved on from staircases to building entire houses, and then larger structures: buying land, building on it and selling, then buying new land for another project. He built apartment buildings, office buildings, hotels, clubs, and whole neighborhoods of row houses renowned for the quality of their construction and materials.

Wardman built many of Washington’s grandest apartment buildings, the Hay-Adams Hotel, and the British Embassy, but his best-known project is probably the Wardman Park Hotel in Woodley Park. Wardman and his wife already had an impressive mansion in the neighborhood, at the intersection of the newly-extended Connecticut Avenue and Woodley Road. An iron bridge had only just been built in 1891 allowing easier travel across the ravine of Rock Creek Valley, and Wardman decided that Woodley Park would be a fine location for a hotel.

So in 1916, while his wife was overseeing their daughter’s schooling in Paris, Wardman ordered a crew to empty their house of its furnishings, and then he had the place torn down, to be replaced by the Wardman Park Hotel (now the Marriott Wardman Park). People called it “Wardman’s Folly.” Why, you ask? Supposedly because no one in his right mind would ever want to stay in a hotel soooo far away from downtown. But I’m trying to imagine returning from a trip to Paris and discovering that my husband has knocked down our house and replaced it with a hotel. “Folly” is certainly one word that would come to mind. Many other words, too, probably.

Wardman made a fortune. By 1929 he had amassed $30 million (which I understand was a lot of money in those days). Most of it was lost in the stock market crash, but he retained enough to continue some of his building projects and was on his way to a second fortune when he died, having spent years putting roofs of one sort or another over the heads of Washingtonians. Our family lives today in a Wardman neighborhood (our house turns 100 years old this year), and I definitely plan to put some candles in the dessert tonight and sing Happy Birthday to Harry.


Let My People Go

Passover begins at sunset today. In celebration I post here a page of my daughter’s Main Lesson book from our Stories of the Hebrew People block.

And after the sun goes down, in Jewish households all over the world a child will ask the first of the Four Questions: Why is this night different from all other nights?


Not THAT Grover


Now be honest. How often have you celebrated the birthday of Grover Cleveland? I thought so. Well, this is a first for me too. But it’s about time, because THIS Grover used to live in our neighborhood, as we learned during a Local History and Geography homeschooling lesson.

Cleveland (1837-1908), our 22nd AND 24th President, was born on this day in Caldwell, New Jersey, one of the nine children of a Presbyterian minister. When he was 16, his father died, and Cleveland left school to help support the family. From that point his career followed such an uneventful path that one would not imagine it arriving at the White House: assistant teacher… scribe… secretary.

Then a position as law clerk in Buffalo led to his admission to the bar without his ever actually having attended law school. Or any university. Or finishing high school. Yet he launched what turned out to be a prosperous law career. (Aren’t you just kicking yourself, you lawyers, for frittering away all that money on your education?) Well, what else was there to do after that but… run successfully for sheriff, and then Mayor? And Mayor Cleveland’s refusal to award city contracts based on political connections was remarkable and unusual enough to establish his reputation for honesty, and propelled him next into the Governor’s seat.

As the Presidential primaries loomed in 1884, the Democrats, who had not won a Presidential election since before the Civil War, eyed the blunt outspoken Cleveland as a possible challenge to the series of weak and corrupt Republican administrations with which the public was disgusted. Reformist Republican voters (“Mugwumps”) deserted their party to help put Cleveland in the White House. That’s what this country needs. More Mugwumps.

Cleveland sent shock waves through his supporters when he announced that his appointments would be based on ability rather than loyalty or party affiliation. What a concept. He also used the Presidential veto freely, especially when a bill called for profligate or potentially fraudulent spending. The most contentious issues of his Presidency were protective tariffs (he was skeptical) and the gold standard (he supported it). Ongoing disputes and enemies made over these issues led to his supposed defeat by Benjamin Harrison in the 1888 election. (Acknowledged fraud achieved Cleveland’s loss of electoral votes in key states, although he won the popular vote.) The ruinous policies of the Harrison administration, however, led to Cleveland’s re-election in 1892, leaving him to deal with the resulting crises of bank failures, economic depression and unemployment. (Hmm, where have I heard that before?)

When he entered the White House, Cleveland was a bachelor, but he had the responsibility to supervise the upbringing and education of Frances Folsom, the daughter of an old friend who had passed away and named Cleveland as executor of his estate. Cleveland must have thought she turned out pretty well because in 1885 he asked her to become the First Lady. She was 21, beautiful, and charming—he was 49—the media and the country went wild. The wedding took place in the White House with John Philip Sousa conducting the Marine Band. Frances, the youngest-ever First Lady, was extremely popular, and the activities of their growing family were followed eagerly. Baby Ruth had a candy bar named after her.

Which brings me back at last to the neighborhood. In his first term, the Clevelands modernized Oak View, a country farmhouse in northwest Washington, to use as a retreat, and Cleveland commuted downtown by buggy. Unfortunately the house has since been razed, but his presence gave the name Cleveland Park to the neighborhood. In his second term, the Clevelands, now a family, rented Woodley, the mansion built in 1801 for Philip Barton Key (Francis Scott Key’s uncle), as a summer home, where the children could enjoy peace and quiet and country air far from the bustle of the White House. This house still stands and is currently Maret School. Now, whenever I stroll by, I imagine the little Clevelands cavorting on the lawn.

George Washington’s City


Today is the birthday of George Washington (1732-1799). Washington was a man of many gifts and a genuine 18th-century celebrity: a hero of the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars, intelligent, courageous, honorable, hard-working, serious, strong and muscular, modest yet dignified, an enthusiastic dancer, a fine dresser, and, according to a friend, “the best horseman of his age.” He was also unusually tall, which always seems to impress one’s fellow citizens mightily even if one is a prize dunce. The fact that he was pretty much universally admired made it possible for the wobbly, newly-unified country to survive its first few years. He brought people together. Without him we might not have remained the United States.

In fact Washington was, like so many of the Founding Fathers, an impressive fellow in so many ways that I cannot attempt to cover them in a single blog-post. So I offer here only one of his accomplishments, from our homeschool Local History and Geography lesson on The Founding of Washington, DC. And what a story it is, full of intrigue, scandal, and spurious investment opportunities. Plus ça change…

Once the squabbling Thirteen Colonies agreed to band together, shove the British aside, and govern themselves, they had to select a capital for the new nation. Several different cities had temporarily housed delegates and/or the Declaration of Independence itself throughout the Revolutionary years, and others put forward what they considered justifiable claims for their own beloved towns. Philadelphia was the largest city in the colonies and so would have been a natural choice if it hadn’t been a hotbed of Quakers, free blacks, abolitionists, and other Yankee troublemakers. The southern states said, If you-all choose Philadelphia, so long USA, we are out of here.

A deal was finally made to carve out a brand-new capital in more southerly location somewhere on the Potomac, and who ought to be allowed to choose the spot? None but the universally trusted and unanimously elected First President. So Washington made an exploratory journey and selected a 10-mile by 10-mile piece of land that included the little ports of Georgetown and Alexandria, situated between the Chesapeake Bay/Atlantic highway and the tempting lands to the west.

No one was really delighted with the decision except perhaps Washington himself, who worked hard both during and after his Presidency to keep interest alive and oversee the exceedingly slow construction of the new Capitol and President’s House (see the young Congress’ unwillingness to pay for anything, Each Day post 2/21). Washington, DC slowly developed from a small muddy provincial village into an interesting city that is at last worthy of its namesake. (I believe a recognizable shift took place sometime during the Kennedy administration.) Happy Birthday, dear George Washington! Our debt to you is incalculable.

Now I am going to go bake a cherry pie.

(For those interested in this subject, I recommend the excellent Washington: The Making of the American Capital, by Fergus Bordewich.)

“Boss” Shepherd


Today is the birthday of Alexander Robey Shepherd (1835–1902). Do you know who that is? Well, if not, now you will. My daughter and I are finishing up a lesson block on Local History and Geography, which has ranged from visiting and mapping our little neighborhood creeks (to follow how they connect to the Potomac River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic) to learning about the prehistory and history of the bit of land upon which we now perch, grow strawberries, and walk the dog.

Among the colorful characters we have studied is the above-named Shepherd, nicknamed “Boss” Shepherd, who served on the Bureau of Public Works, and as governor, in the days when Washington, DC had governors. Shepherd was a powerful and controversial fellow who didn’t sit around waiting for something to be approved by some old committee or the U.S. Congress, and he took it upon himself to make huge improvements in the city’s infrastructure. He was also progressive for his day, promoting universal suffrage and school integration. Shepherd was eventually removed from office, and his statue was put in storage as an embarrassing reminder of the political corruption from which our fair city has henceforth been free… Anyway. Shepherd’s reputation has recently been rehabilitated and his statue is back in front of DC’s Wilson Building, where you can stand today and eat a cupcake in his honor.