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Governor John Seymour and the Charters of Annapolis


The Perplexities of Trying to Understand
the Charter of Annapolis of 22 November 1708

Table of Contents
Part 1. Preliminary Observations
Part 2. The Act of 1696
Part 3. The Charters
Part 4. Reflections


        We know of four separate existing manuscript copies of the charter of Annapolis of 22 November 1708. These are, first, the copy that Governor John Seymour sent to England with his letter of 10 March 1708/91 and that is in The National Archives of England.2 A photocopy of this copy is available in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress in Washington.3 The second copy, which is called the Historic Annapolis/Maryland State Archives copy, is at the State Archives in Annapolis.4 The third copy is included in the Chancery Record 2 at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis,5 and a fourth copy, which is referred to as the vellum/parchment copy, is also at the Maryland State Archives6 but is a copy from a much later date than the others.7 Elihu S. Riley's copy in The Ancient City8 need not be considered here.

        None of these copies appears to be the original copy of the second charter, and where that original copy is, if it still exists, nobody appears to know.

        No two of the manuscript copies of the second charter are exactly the same but have literally dozens of variations. Anyone who has tried to transcribe a hand-written document will know how difficult it is to make the copy exactly as the original.

        Most of the variations in the copies of the second charter are either differences in spelling or the leaving out of words that are obvious. Neither of these types of differences changes the meanings of the passages in which they occur and therefore should create no problem for anybody. They appear to be the result of the distractions of the clerks in the tedious and boring job of copying the documents or of their own preferences in spellings and abbreviations. In other instances, however, important words are left out and, in the vellum/parchment copy, an entire important passage is missing.

        Aside from the variations in the copies, there are two other problems in trying to understand the second charter. The first is that it is very boring, and it requires considerable effort to concentrate on it. Second, sometimes the wording is very obtuse, and therefore nobody can be sure exactly what these passages mean. We should be suspicious of anyone who claims that he knows their exact meanings. On the meaning of these passages serious people might sometimes have to agree respectfully to disagree.

        One disagreement, for example, might arise over whether under the second charter women and free blacks could vote. Because by using the word "persons" the second charter does not explicitly exclude women and free blacks from voting,9 one person might argue that women and free blacks with sufficient property could vote, while another might argue that, even though the second charter does not exclude these persons from voting, until we have some specific evidence that women and free blacks did vote we must assume that the economic, social, and political ethic of the period made it unnecessary for white men even to think of having specifically to exclude them from the franchise.

        Another disagreement might be over just when the freed apprentice could start voting. One person might hold that he could vote three months after being freed, while another might argue that he not only had to have been free for at least three months but also had to have become a freeholder or to have acquired an estate of at least twenty pounds sterling.10

        And, of course, there might be other disagreements.

        Probably a person who is only beginning his research on the charters would be well advised to use the copy from the National Archives in England together with the copy in Chancery Record 2 11 at the Maryland State Archives. It turns out, however, that in writing this article we did not follow what is now our own advice. Since the copy in Chancery Record 2 is the first copy to which we had access, this is the one we used. When later we got copies first from the Library of Congress and then from The National Archives of England we found that we had not included any information from the passages that have what appear to be significant variations, and therefore we have not had to change anything in our text or in our notes from the copy in Chancery Record 2.

        Since as appendices to this article we are including all four of the manuscript copies of the second charter, with transcriptions, readers can compare them and judge our work for themselves.



        1The National Archives (PRO), Calendar of State Papers: Colonial Series (40 vols.; Vaduz: Kraus Reprint Ltd., 1964), XXIV, Nos 410,. 410.i. Return to text

        2The National Archives (PRO), Colonial Office 5, Vol. 716, No. 69.i. Return to text

        3Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Colonial Office 5, Vol. 716, No. 69.i. Return to text

        4Maryland State Archives Special Collections MSA SC 5793. Return to text

        5Chancery Record 2, pp. 596-602. Return to text

        6Maryland State Archives, 1708 Charter of Annapolis, MSA SC 5339-187-1. Return to text

        7Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist and Commissioner of Land Patents, e-mail message of 20 March 2008. Return to text

        8Elihu S. Riley, "The Ancient City." A History of Annapolis, in Maryland, 1649-1887 (Annapolis: Record Printing Office, 1887), pp. 87-91. Return to text

        9Second charter of Annapolis, in Chancery Record 2, p. 600; Riley, The Ancient City, p. 89. Return to text

      10Second charter of Annapolis, in Chancery Record 2, p. 600; Riley, The Ancient City, p. 89. Return to text

      11The Historic Annapolis/Maryland State Archives copy of the second charter was discovered too late for us to consider it in this article. We know about the variations from Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse's analysis of the charters. Return to text

Cortland, NY 13045
25 March 2008

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