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[Detail] Illustration of the shield of Virginia, from the eighteenth century

Collection Overview

The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region, 1600-1925 provides information on the history of the Chesapeake Bay and the surrounding region. The collection includes first person narratives, historical biographies and early histories.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection, although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Colonial Settlement, 1492-1763
  • The American Revolution, 1763-1783
  • The New Nation, 1780-1815
  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection.

To find items in this collection, search by Keyword or browse by Subject, Contributor or Title.

For help with general search strategies, go to Finding Items in American Memory.


U.S. History


The Capital and the Bay: Narratives of Washington and the Chesapeake Bay Region ca. 1600-1925 includes 141 books presenting varied types of sources: diaries, articles, speeches, poems, sermons, letters, photographs, promotional brochures, personal narratives, and histories. Authors of the documents include such notables as John Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, and William Howard Taft as well as lesser known public officials, journalists, and private citizens. Topics especially well covered in the collection are the colonization of Virginia and Maryland; the new nation, particularly the role of prominent Virginians in the politics of the early national period; slavery; the Civil War and Reconstruction; the development of Washington, D.C., as the nation's capital; and urbanization.

About the Collection describes the geographic area considered to be the Chesapeake Bay region:

In addition to the bay itself, the Chesapeake Bay region is defined for the purposes of this collection as encompassing the portions of Maryland and Virginia from the Atlantic coast to the fall line where the region's west-to-east-flowing rivers 'fall' from the rolling piedmont to the flat coastal plain…These places share similarities in geography, economic life, and history because of the presence and influence of the bay and its tributaries. They have also shared the historical influence of Washington, D.C., which as the nation's capital has had a powerful effect upon the whole of the region surrounding it.

Locating the region on a map, identifying its common geographic features, and finding communities that fall within it would be a useful introductory step before examining documents in the collection.

Colonization of Virginia and Maryland

The Capital and the Bay has a strong collection of documents on the founding of the colonies of Maryland and Virginia. The earliest work, which dates to 1607, is "A Discourse of Virginia," by Edward Maria Wingfield, first president of that colony. Wingfield deals with relations with the Indians, illness in the colony, his ouster as president due to disputes with the colonists, and the story of Pocahontas. Interestingly, Charles Deane, who edited the volume when it was published in 1859, argues that the story of Pocahontas was not true (see note 8 on page 32). Some of Smith's own writings, including his recounting of the rescue by Pocahontas (see page 101), are provided in the document "The Generall Historie of Virginia."

  • What reasons does Deane give for not believing the story of Smith's rescue by Pocahontas? Does Wingfield's account support or refute Deane’s claim?
  • What is Deane's general opinion of Smith? What language in the note conveys that opinion?
  • Read Smith's account of his rescue. Does the story seem "awkward" to you? Why or why not? Can you think of another explanation for why the story was omitted from Smith's earlier accounts? (The Virginia Company did not want frightening stories about Virginia Indians to scare potential colonists so badly that they would decide not to migrate to Virginia.)
  • Much of what we know about the early years of the Virginia colony comes from Smith's writing. How might that fact affect our understanding of the period? Read Smith's account of events in 1609 (pages 180-182 of Chapter XI of the history). What accomplishments does Smith mention? What problems faced the colony? What did Smith do to try to solve the problems? Imagine that you are one of the colonists. How might you have reported on "the Presidents order for the drones"? (Note that while the record is slanted in Smith's favor, historians believe that his efforts in the difficult early years did save the Virginia colony.)

Use the Subject Index or search by keyword to find other sources on early relations between the Virginia settlers and the Indians in the area. Drawing information from at least two sources, create a timeline depicting important events in settler-Indian relations in Virginia. Expand your analysis by looking at sources that focus on Indians in Maryland.

Information about the founding of Maryland can be found in "The Calvert Papers" and "A Relation of the Successefull Beginnings of the Lord Baltemore's Plantation in Mary-land." Comparing and contrasting the early years of the colonies in Maryland with those in Virginia will demonstrate the varying reasons people had for coming to the New World and the different relationships between the colonies and the mother country.

Foreign visitors to the United States have been an interesting source for historians, providing a fresh perspective on Americans and their culture but also bringing their own biases to their observations. The Capital and the Bay includes the account of a 1686 visit to the colonies in "A Frenchman in Virginia," a document that provides insights not only on how life in the colonies had evolved by the latter part of the 17th century but also on how a European viewed those developments, a view that was not always positive, as the following quotation suggests:

THE place where we landed was in the county of Gloucester, outwardly one of the most charming in all Virginia, but neither the most healthy nor socially the most agreeable; there are, indeed, no gentlemen living there. My compatriot came on board daily to take me off in his canoe; but after seven or eight days of that experience, being weary of it, I thought of renting lodgings on shore, where I might stay until the ship was refitted. They demanded sixteen shillings a month for a single mean room.

(Page 13, "The North River Neighbourhood in Gloucester," in "A Frenchman in Virginia")

The observations in this document, particularly those in "Chapter XI: The Present State of Virginia in 1686," might be compared with those in "A Letter from Mr. John Clayton," who traveled to Virginia to serve as the rector at Wakefield in Yorkshire and was asked by the Royal Society to report on his observations.

  • What aspects of Virginia does Mr. Durand praise? What aspects of Virginia does he criticize?
  • The editor of "A Frenchman in Virginia" notes that "Durand is more accurate in recording what he saw than what he heard" (note 27, page 137, "Notes"). Identify three passages in which Durand is reporting something he heard rather than something he saw. How might you check the accuracy of these reports?
  • How is Mr. Clayton's account of Virginia different from Mr. Durand's? How are their accounts similar?
  • Imagine that you are living in England in 1690. You are thinking about setting out for Virginia. You read Mr. Clayton's and Mr. Durand's descriptions of the colony. Would you go? Why or why not?


Many settlers, including those who founded Maryland, came to the colonies to find freedom from religious persecution, but some believed they did not truly find it until after the revolution. A booklet marking the 1790 consecration of the first bishop of Baltimore celebrates religious freedom, saying that "The very term of toleration is exploded, because it imports a power in one predominant sect to indulge that religious liberty to others, which all claim as an inherent right," an interesting idea for consideration during study of the Bill of Rights. Also of note in the same document is a series of extracts from bills of rights enacted in the constitutions of individual states. A comparison of these statements with the First Amendment (enacted by the First Congress in 1789 and ratified in 1791) would be a useful exercise. Which statement do you prefer? Why?

Among the nation's leaders in its early years were many Virginians, on whom this collection provides interesting personal reflections. For example, the following descriptions of Thomas Jefferson can be found among the documents in The Capital and the Bay; the documents quoted below also contain rich information about political events in the new nation. As you read the quotations, answer the following questions:

  • Make a list of positive words and phrases used to describe Thomas Jefferson. Also make a list of negative words and phrases used. In what areas did Jefferson seem to excel? In what areas was he criticized?
  • What evidence can you find in these quotations or other sources in the collection that party politics existed during Jefferson's administration?
  • What do these sources tell you about Jefferson's family life? According to these sources, how did his family situation affect his presidency?
  • How does William Wirt define eloquence? Do you agree with this definition? Why or why not?

"And is this," said I, after my first interview with Mr. Jefferson, "the violent democrat, the vulgar demagogue, the bold atheist and profligate man I have so often heard denounced by the federalists? Can this man so meek and mild, yet dignified in his manners, with a voice so soft and low, with a countenance so benignant and intelligent, can he be that daring leader of a faction, that disturber of the peace, that enemy of all rank and order?" Mr. Smith, indeed, (himself a democrat) had given me a very different description of this celebrated individual; but his favourable opinion I attributed in a great measure to his political feelings, which led him zealously to support and exalt the party to which he belonged, especially its popular and almost idolized leader. Thus the virulence of party-spirit was somewhat neutralized, nay, I even entertained towards him the most kindly dispositions, knowing him to be not only politically but personally friendly to my husband; yet I did believe that he was an ambitious and violent demagogue, coarse and vulgar in his manners, awkward and rude in his appearance, for such had the public journals and private conversations of the federal party represented him to be.

(Pages 5 and 6, "The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Portrayed by the Family Letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith")

The . . . . . . . . . . . . of the United States is, in his person, tall, meager, emaciated; his muscles relaxed, and his joints so loosely connected, as not only to disqualify him, apparently, for any vigorous exertion of body, but to destroy every thing like elegance and harmony in his air and movements… his head and face are small in proportion to his height; his complexion swarthy; the muscles of his face, being relaxed, give him the appearance of a man of fifty years of age, nor can he be much younger; his countenance has a faithful expression of great good humour and hilarity; while his black eyes—that unerring index—possess an irradiating spirit, which proclaims the imperial powers of the mind that sits enthroned within. This extraordinary man, without the aid of fancy, without the advantages of person, voice, attitude, gesture, or any of the ornaments of an orator, deserves to be considered as one of the most eloquent men in the world; if eloquence may be said to consist in the power of seizing the attention with irresistible force, and never permitting it to elude the grasp, until the hearer received the conviction which the speaker intends. As to his person, it has already been described. His voice is dry, and hard; his attitude, in his most effective orations, was often extremely awkward… As to fancy, if she hold a seat in his mind at all, which I very much doubt, his gigantic genius tramples with disdain, on all her flower-decked plats and blooming parterres. How then, you will ask, with a look of incredulous curiosity, how is it possible that such a man can hold the attention of an audience enchained, through a speech of even ordinary length? I will tell you. He possesses one original, and, almost, supernatural faculty; the faculty of developing a subject by a single glance of his mind, and detecting at once, the very point on which every controversy depends, No matter what the question: though ten times more knotty than "the gnarled oak," the lightning of heaven is not more rapid nor more resistless, than his astonishing penetration. Nor does the exercise of it seem to cost him an effort. On the contrary, it is as easy as vision. I am persuaded that his eyes do not fly over a landscape and take in its various objects with more promptitude and facility, than his mind embraces and analyzes the most complex subject.

(Pages 178, 179, and 180, "Letter V" of "The Letters of the British Spy. By William Wirt")

. . . The weekly levee was abolished by Mr. Jefferson, and no receptions were held except on New Year's Day and the Fourth of July. Whatever visions of gayety in the White House may have been cherished by the maids and matrons of the capital, they were doomed to disappointment. Mr. Parton tells of an effort made by some persistent dames to cajole Mr. Jefferson into resuming the customary levees; but, with his habitual courtesy and gallantry of address in the presence of women, he was the last man in the republic to yield to cajolery or flattery when he had decided upon any given course of conduct. Consequently, when a number of ladies donned their bravest attire and appeared at the White House to do honor to the new President, the reception accorded them, although quite within the bounds of civility, was so wanting in cordiality as to prevent a repetition of the experiment. The lack of gayety in the Executive Mansion was due not only to the simplicity of Mr. Jefferson's tastes and his conscientious scruples against anything approaching the formality of a court, but also to the fact that no woman presided over the President's household during this administration… Mr. Jefferson's friends said that he never recovered from the shock and grief of his daughter's death. It is difficult to believe that the man who viewed with apparent stoicism the sufferings of the royal family and noblesse of France, which drew tears from the eyes of Edmund Burke and Gouverneur Morris, was the same Thomas Jefferson who in his domestic relations and in his friendships manifested the most extreme sensibility.

(Pages 108, 109, 112, "Jeffersonian Simplicity" in "Social Life in the Early Republic")


Some of Jefferson's writings from the period can be found in "Notes on the State of Virginia." Search the collection for more information by and about Jefferson (or other noted Virginians of the era, such as George Washington or James Madison) and write a character sketch or biography based on the information gathered.

The Capital and the Bay includes one of the best-known and influential pieces of writing on slavery, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave / Written by Himself." While this document is worthy of extended study, the collection also includes several other slave narratives that could be used to broaden and deepen students' understanding; these narratives include the following:

The introduction to the American Memory WPA Slave Narratives collection by Norman Yetman is a critical resource for understanding the strengths and limitations of these sources. According to Yetman, slave narratives were intended to counteract the view put forth by supporters of slavery that slaves were happy and their lives secure. Stories from people who had become free and were then able to describe life in slavery were therefore powerful tools for abolitionists in the decades before the Civil War. Read several of the narratives and consider the following questions:

  • What kinds of work do the writers describe?
  • What difficulties did the writers' families face in slavery?
  • What similar experiences did the writers have? How were the writers' lives as slaves different? What do you think accounts for the similarities and differences?
  • How did the writers become free? What were their experiences as free African Americans?
  • When were most of the narratives published? Can you explain why such narratives might have been published in the 1840s and 1850s?
  • Imagine you are an abolitionist in the 1850s. You have read several of the slave narratives. Create a broadside using quotes from the narratives to support your position against slavery.

Excellent materials for teaching about slave narratives are also available on the National Endowment for the Humanities web site, including the essay "An Introduction to the Slave Narrative," by William Andrews, and a lesson plan, "Perspective on the Slave Narrative."

The slaveowner's perspective is also represented in the collection. For example, in "Chapter II" of his "Memories of Three Score Years and Ten," southerner Richard McIlwaine described in the early 1900s why he still believed slavery was "perfectly natural and proper and right":

It will, perhaps, seem strange to persons not acquainted with the benign influence of African slavery as it existed in Virginia during my early life, that many of the most vivid and tender memories of my childhood are connected with the household servants of my father, and of other families to which I had intimate access. The trouble with these persons is that they know nothing of the institution as it really was, as I knew it, and of the relations between master and servant. To me and others similarly situated it appears perfectly natural and proper and right, and we look back on those days without misgiving or regret, but with thanksgiving for what we experienced and learned under those conditions,—for the love and kindness we cherished for our colored friends and received from them, and for the relations we sustained to them and they to us. We have no antipathy to negroes as negroes. We were nursed and nurtured by the older of them, played with the younger and a mutual esteem and affection grew up between us. No institution has been more grossly misrepresented and maligned. Those were good old days for white and black,—better, far better, for multitudes of both races than these degenerate times of insincerity, lust, pelf, mammon-worship, strife, and murder.

(Page 19, "Chapter II," in "Memories of Three Score Years and Ten")

Other documents present debates about the institution. These include the following:

Close analysis of these documents and others located via searches of the collection can help develop deeper understanding of slavery and its role in 19th-century America. Questions such as the following can guide that analysis:

  • What arguments are made for slavery in these documents?
  • What arguments against slavery are made?
  • Examine your lists and sort the arguments into categories (e.g., moral arguments, economic arguments)? Do the pro and con arguments tend to fall into the same or different categories? Which categories of arguments do you think were most persuasive?


Civil War and Reconstruction

The Capital and the Bay contains a number of intriguing documents about the Civil War and Reconstruction. A particularly interesting case study might be made of Maryland, a border state where opinion was bitterly divided. "The Inaugural Address of Thomas H. Hicks, Governor of Maryland," delivered in 1858, identified many issues facing the state and the union and put forth the following position regarding secession:

The people of Maryland have never listened to suggestions of disunion from southern States, and have denied all appeals to her sympathies from them, as steadily as they have refused all sectional association with States in the north, whose misguided councils have forgotten their allegiance to the Union, or attempted to deny the constitutional rights of their equals. The people of this State yet know of no grievances for which disunion is a remedy, and they have always, in the words of Washington, discountenanced whatever might suggest even the slightest suspicion that Union can, in any event, be abandoned. Her people will hearken to no suggestion inimical to the slaveholding States, for she herself is one of them. They will listen to no suggestion inimical to union with the non-slaveholding States, for she also has interests identical with theirs; and more than any other State, by reason of her position and the variety of her interests, is deeply concerned in the preservation of the Federal Union.

(Page 7,"The Inaugural Address of Thomas H. Hicks, Governor of Maryland")

Read the speech and then search the collection for arguments supporting secession, preparing a "response" to the inaugural address arguing that Maryland should consider secession.

The bitter divisions of opinion in Maryland are revealed in a number of documents in the collection, from such humorous poems as "A.D. 1862, or the Volunteer Zouave in Baltimore" to an account of a rumored assassination plot against Lincoln in 1861 ("Baltimore and the 19th of April 1861"). The division of opinion also affected families, not only in the South but the North, as recounted by New Yorker Marian Campbell Gouverneur, who nonetheless saw in Maryland extraordinary divisions:

. . . The spirit of toleration was so utterly lacking in both the North and the South that even those allied by ties of blood were estranged, and a spirit of bitter resentment and crimination everywhere prevailed. This state of feeling, under the circumstances, was doubtless inevitable, but it emphasized better than almost anything else, except bloodshed itself, the truth of General Sherman's declaration that "War is Hell!" The animosities engendered by the war ruptured family ties and familiar associations in Maryland much more completely than in the North.

(Pages 313 and 314, "Chapter XIII The Civil War and Life in Maryland" from "As I Remember")


The case study of Maryland could continue with examination of "Address of Hon. Christopher C. Cox, Lieutenant Governor, Delivered in the Senate Chamber, Annapolis, January 10, 1866," in which the lieutenant governor congratulates the Senate for abolishing slavery in Maryland, saying in part:

Accept, then, my salutations, Senators, upon the new attitude taken by our dear old Commonwealth. Other States have gradually emancipated their slaves, and thus relieved themselves of the disadvantages of the institution, but Maryland has accomplished the whole work at once. She has struck down, with one blow, the collossal evil in her midst, and advanced, untrammelled, upon the open path to honor and success. Let us reflect that we have entered into a field of labor demanding all our wisdom, energy and perseverance. If we would act with patriotism, philosophy and statemanship, we must meet the difficulties before us promptly, comprehensively, honestly. In this march of freedom there must be no step backward. To recede would be worse than ignominy. Order, prosperity and progress will succeed to patient perseverance in the right course—anarchy, adversity and continued strife, as certainly to a policy of compromise and vacillation. We have wiped from our escutcheon the defacing blot of slavery—the incubus which has paralyzed our members and stifled our resources, has been lifted off. We have taken a brave, manly, open stand for human liberty, and we must not cease the struggle until we have laid deep in the soil of our State the foundations, strong and broad, of enduring tranquillity and ever-expanding prosperity.

(Page 4, “Address of Hon. Christopher C. Cox, Lieutenant Governor, Delivered in the Senate Chamber, Annapolis, January 10, 1866”)

Issues related to Reconstruction also affected Maryland, as evidenced by two speeches given just two weeks later by Montgomery Blair. Blair, president of a group of Marylanders opposing registration laws, argued:

I say there can be no motive in proscribing the white race of this country but to put up the blacks. And when it is attempted to do so; when there is no other question but whether the South shall be ruled by the power at the North through the negroes, and a despotism established as fierce and formidable as that of Napoleon's, through universal suffrage—his was established that way—by degrading suffrage; by making it contemptable; by clothing persons with it who are the very tools of despotism, who have never known what it is to exercise an independent thought—what other object can these aristocrats have but to supersede our form of government, in proscribing the men who made it, and whose civilization they seek to supersede. No, my friends, that is the only question…

(Pages 7 and 8, “Proscription in Maryland”)

  • Can you infer from Blair's speeches what law or laws he is opposing?
  • What are his arguments against the laws? What do you think the arguments for the laws were?
  • How do Blair's speeches help you understand the popularity of the Democratic Party in the Southern states following the Civil War?

The study of Maryland throughout the Civil War and Reconstruction period could be concluded by examining the "Address Delivered at Philadelphia on the 19th of October, 1876," extolling the state's history as part of the Centennial Exposition held that year.

  • What has the speaker, John Van Lear Findlay, chosen to emphasize?
  • Ten years after the Civil War, what is said about Maryland's role in that recent conflict?
  • Why do you think the speaker made the choices that he did?


The Development of Washington, D.C.

Another topic that emerges as a theme in the collection is the development of Washington, D.C. An interesting place to begin an investigation of the capital’s history is with "Washington, Outside and Inside," a book written in 1873 by George Alfred Townsend, the Washington correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. While he is primarily concerned with corruption following the Civil War, he also gives a history of the capital's early days, beginning with these words:

The American Capital is the only seat of government of a first-class power which was a thought and performance of the Government itself. It used to be called, in the Madisonian era, "the only virgin Capital in the world."…

Washington City was designed to be not merely a window, but a whole inhabitancy in fee simple for the deliberations of Congress, and they were to exercise exclusive legislation over it. So the Constitutional Convention ordained; and, in less than seven weeks after the thirteenth state ratified the Constitution, the place of the Capital was designated by Congress to the Potomac River. In six months more, the precise territory On the Potomac was defined, under the personal eye of Washington.

(Page 25, "Washington, Outside and Inside")

Use the collection’s Subject Index to locate other information about Washington's development during the first half of the 19th century.

  • Why did the leaders of the new nation decide to build an entirely new city as the nation's capital?
  • How did the capital come to be located between Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac River? Was this a good location in the late 1700s? Is it still a good location today?
  • What were some of the problems in Washington in the first half of the 1800s? What were the causes of these problems? How might they have been solved?

The theme of Washington’s development as the nation's capital can be picked up in the latter half of the 19th century by examining "Frederick Douglass: A Lecture on Our National Capital." Douglass delivered this speech in Washington in 1875 and again in 1877 in Baltimore, when it created a storm of controversy and criticism. The following excerpt from the speech may give some insight into the cause of the controversy:

Looking at the influence exerted by simple local surroundings, I have no hesitation in saying that the selection of Washington as the National Capital was one of the greatest mistakes made by the fathers of the Republic. The seat of government ought never to have been planted there. This, however, is not to be spoken so much in censure as in sorrow…

There was not, at the time when it was chosen; there is not now and probably never will be, entire satisfaction with the location. The arguments against it were political, moral, and social, as well as geographical. Time has in large measure proved the wisdom and soundness of all these objections.

Seemingly a small matter in itself at the time, experience has shown that it contained the seeds of civil war and disunion.

Sandwiched between two of the oldest slave states, each of which was a nursery and a hot-bed of slavery; surrounded by a people accustomed to look upon the youthful members of a colored man's family as a part of the annual crop for the market; pervaded by the manners, morals, politics, and religion peculiar to a slaveholding community, the inhabitants of the National Capital were, from first to last, frantically and fanatically sectional. It was southern in all its sympathies and national only in name.

Until the war, it neither tolerated freedom of speech nor of the press. Slavery was its idol, and, like all idol worshippers, its people howled with rage when this ugly idol was called in question.

(Pages 21 and 22, "Frederick Douglass: A Lecture on Our National Capital")

Read the speech and the reactions included with the document, answering the following:

  • List the arguments made by Douglass, identifying exaggerations and language Douglass may have used to provoke his listeners.
  • Why would Douglass want to stimulate debate about the city of Washington?
  • Given Douglass's criticisms, would it be possible for Washington to become a great city?


The accounts of the social life and rules of protocol that evolved as the city developed also make interesting reading. Again, the Subject Index can guide students to appropriate sources. One such source, "Etiquette of Social Life in Washington" (published in its fifth edition in 1881), is of note because it includes an 1819 letter from John Quincy Adams (then Secretary of State) to the Vice President (pages 64-69), explaining why he has not followed the custom of visiting each Senator at the beginning of the Senate’s annual session. While the social protocols described in some documents may seem foolish, this letter provides evidence that these customs were taken seriously.

  • Why did members of the Senate feel insulted by Adams?
  • What reasons does Adams give for acting as he did?
  • Do you think that Adams really felt these matters of protocol were "of very little importance"? If so, why do you think he wrote the letter?
  • In your opinion, are social protocols important? Why or why not?

The examination of Washington's development both socially and politically can be traced into the early 20th century. For example, the observations of Frances Parkinson Keyes in "Letters from a Senator's Wife," published in 1924, and Isabel Anderson in "Presidents and Pies; Life in Washington 1897-1919" can be compared with earlier observations of women in Washington society.

"Addresses at the Dinner to the President of the United States by the Citizens of Washington" discusses issues related to the District's government and representation in the national government; unfortunately for those pleading for the franchise for Washingtonians, President Taft was deaf to their pleas:

Now, I am opposed to the franchise in the District; I am opposed, and not because I yield to anyone in my support and belief in the principles of self-government; but principles are applicable generally, and, then, unless you make exceptions to the application of these principles, you will find that they will carry you to very illogical and absurd results. This was taken out of the application of the principle of self-government in the very Constitution that was intended to put that in force in every other part of the country, and it was done because it was intended to have the representatives of all the people in the country control this one city, and to prevent its being controlled by the parochial spirit that would necessarily govern men who did not look beyond the city to the grandeur of the nation, and this as the representative of that nation.

(Page 30, "Addresses at the Dinner to the President of the United States by the Citizens of Washington")

Read the speeches and conduct a debate on whether Washington should be self-governing and whether Washington's residents should have the vote. Find out how this issue has developed since 1909 when the speeches were made.


Urbanization and the Problems of Cities

Studying the development of Washington, D.C., could easily lead to analysis of problems that other urban areas faced at the turn of the 20th century. "Work of the Colored Law and Order League" describes conditions in which African Americans in Baltimore were living and working in 1908 and outlines actions this group recommends for improving conditions (focused largely on prohibiting the sale of liquor in particular neighborhoods).

  • List at least five problems that confronted African Americans living in Baltimore in 1908. Which problem seems the most serious to you?
  • Why do you think the committee was so focused on the problem of alcohol? What course of action did they decide to take? Do you think their plan was a good one?
  • What were the common questions the committee faced when they met with "leading white men"? What kind of evidence did they use to answer these questions? Do you think their use of census data was effective?

The last half of the 18th century saw the development of urban police forces, another type of organization that sought to address urban problems. In Reminiscences of Baltimore, former Marshal Jacob Frey reflects on the role of the police in a city, including their role in providing charity:

In another direction the police have accomplished a great deal; that is in the way of organized charity. There are not only funds which are intended for the especial benefit of members of the force and their families, but charity is bestowed through the police upon outsiders, who are suffering from cold or hunger and of whose condition the work of an officer often gives him a chance to know, and to relieve such is considered a point of honor. It need not be said that the policeman is far from being wealthy. His pay is small and what he gives he denies himself to bestow, yet not only by contributing his work as a collecter and distributer of funds, but by actually putting his hand in his own pocket he does much.

(Page 326, “Chapter XXII,” in “Reminiscences of Baltimore”)

Read Frey’s discussion of the Baltimore police and consider the following questions:

  • Why did Frey think the police were especially well qualified to provide charity to needy families? Do you think his argument is convincing? Why or why not?
  • What kinds of crimes did Frey describe as particularly difficult? Are these kinds of crimes still problems today?
  • What did Frey mean when he said "A great deal of the most effectual work which we have to do must be done before attempting an arrest"?
  • Identify two innovations in police work that Frey put in place in Baltimore. Why did such practices become necessary as cities grew? Try to find out how city police today are developing new ways to deal with urban problems.

Fires in urban areas were a problem in the early 20th century, and Baltimore suffered a serious fire in 1904. Search the collection using the keywords Baltimore fire and use the numerous documents to develop an account of the fire, its causes, and its effects. The fire could be compared with the more famous conflagrations in Chicago and San Francisco to determine whether a common set of remedies might have prevented such fires or whether the three fires resulted from unique sets of problems.


Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking: Constructing Timelines

Timelines are useful tools for teaching chronological thinking, but timelines can also be misleading. Students too often fail to consider that the events on the timeline were selected by someone; instead, they conclude that the events listed were indeed the most important events—or perhaps the only significant events—of the period. Creating a timeline of local events related to larger national events can not only reinforce chronological thinking but broaden students' understanding of timelines as constructed documents.

Using a timeline of the American Revolution from your textbook, enlarged so there is ample room to add events, identify events on the timeline that involved Baltimore. Speculate on whether other events related to the colonies’ efforts to gain independence from Britain might have occurred in Baltimore during the Revolution. Then use the "Narrative of Events Which Occurred in Baltimore Town During the Revolutionary War," particularly the primary source documents in the "Appendix," to identify such events. Develop criteria for adding a limited number of these events (10 or 15) to the timeline, apply the criteria to choose events, and add the events to the timeline. This process simulates how all timelines in textbooks, encyclopedias, and other references are constructed.

Historical Comprehension: Using Poems as Historical Documents

Because literature reflects the values and interests of an era and because it can influence events, learning to interpret literary works as historical documents is an element of historical comprehension. The Capital and the Bay contains a collection of poetry by residents of Cecil County, Maryland, published in 1887. Choose an individual poet or poem from "The Poets and Poetry of Cecil County, Maryland." Discuss the following questions:

  • What topics does this poem or poet examine?
  • What values are reflected in the poem(s)?
  • Does this poetry collection tell us anything about the concerns of the period? The values of the poets?
  • Might the interests and values reflected be different if the poets were from diverse geographic regions? Why or why not?

If feasible, conduct a similar study of a recently published poetry collection. What interests and values are reflected in the contemporary poems?

Historical Comprehension: Reading Imaginatively

The "Memoir of Lieut. Col Tench Tilghman: Secretary and Aid to Washington: Together with an Appendix, Containing Revolutionary Journals and Letters, Hitherto Unpublished" includes letters between Tilghman and George Washington, as well as letters Tilghman wrote to his father following noted Revolutionary War battles. The letters to his father are interesting not only for the information they provide about the war but because his father was a Loyalist. Read the letters, tracing the movements of Washington's troops that can be inferred from the letters and looking for evidence of the political disagreement between father and son. In the last letter to his father presented (pages 170 and 171, June 12, 1778), Tilghman urges his father to declare his loyalty to the new country. Imagine that you are Tilghman, opening the return letter from your father. What do you think he will say? How will you respond?


Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Views on the Richmond Theater Fire

A local event that is covered in a number of documents in the collection is a theater fire in Richmond in 1811. Documents include accounts of the fire as well as responses to it. The following excerpt is from a document titled "A Voice from Richmond." Read this excerpt and consider the questions that follow:

I have a message from God unto you. Shun the theatre: avoid the haunts of Satan, the destroyer of your souls. Seek for real pleasure. Do not pursue the phantom of imaginary happiness, which will at last deceive you. It may seem to be delightful, it appeared the same to me, but I now find that I have been fatally mistaken. My sun went down while it was yet day. How awful the change! From the meridian splendour of a noonday sun, to be suddenly enveloped in midnight darkness! Yes, with the blackness of darkness forever! Five weeks ago, I was in life, blooming, healthy and gay. I thought, like many others, that there was no harm in attending on the amusements of the theatre, and from persuasion and example I was confirmed in my opinion. That very afternoon, I laughed at a young lady for saying that 'the theatre was a very improper place; that many had been ruined, body and soul, by attending at such places of amusement.' Ah, my young friends, I wish I had felt the force of her observation. I went. I expected pleasure, and for a short time I joined the laugh of those around me, and mingled my smiles with their shouts of applause. The whole scene was before us; all around was mirth and pleasure; but in two minutes after, I was surrounded with cries of anguish and despair. Suffocated with smoke, I fainted and fell, blazing, into the pit, and was crushed and covered with the burning ruins. I was unprepared for death, and hurried unexpectedly into eternity. My state is now unalterably fixed forever.

(Pages 16 and 17, "LECTURE I. A Voice from Richmond," in "A Voice from Richmond, and Other Addresses to Children and Youth." By the Late Rev. Robert May)

  • What kind of event is being described?
  • Since the person was killed in the fire, he/she is obviously not really speaking. Who is speaking in the voice of someone killed in the fire? Why?

Conduct a search to find as many documents as possible about the fire. Using the documents, attempt to compile as many verifiable facts about the fire as you can, as well as a list of responses to the fire. What do the responses indicate about the social climate of the time?

Historical Research: Using Photographs to Develop Research Questions

Historical research begins with questions, but formulating good historical questions often does not come easily. Print out the pictures from "Photographic Views and Description of the Great Baltimore Fire." Examine the photos and generate two lists: (1) things we can determine from the photos and (2) questions we have about what is shown in the photographs. From this analysis, develop a list of research questions about the fire. Search The Capital and the Bay for answers to the questions generated. Pool the results of your work and determine what questions remain unanswered. Develop a strategy for finding answers to the remaining questions.


Historical Research: Interrogating Memoirs and Recollections

Many of the documents in The Capital and the Bay are memoirs, recollections, or autobiographies—accounts of past events as seen through the lens of someone’s personal experience. Using these documents illustrates that specific kinds of sources may require that particular questions be asked in interrogating those sources. For example, in using memoirs, recollections, or autobiographies, we should consider the following:

  • Who published the work and why?
  • Do persons of all social classes and ethnic and racial groups have access to these publishing resources? What does that suggest about such sources?
  • What are the writer’s qualifications to comment on particular topics? Was he/she directly involved in the events covered? Is he/she well connected socially and politically? Is he/she an able observer? Does he/she have a class bias?
  • When were the recollections written—near the time the events covered in the recollection actually occurred or much later? How were they written—based on notes, journals, and letters or based on memory?

In responding to the first question, you may note that white women and men and African American men are represented in the memoirs and autobiographies, but African American women and Native Americans are not represented. Develop a hypothesis about why this might be the case and how it biases the historical record.

Historical Issues Analysis and Decision Making: Analyzing Value-Laden Decisions

The Revolutionary War and Civil War periods afford numerous opportunities to examine value-laden historical decisions. The committees of correspondence that were formed in the years leading up to the Revolution considered numerous ways of dealing with the colonists’ problems with Britain. Many letters sent by various colonies' committees can be found in the Appendix to "Narrative of Events Which Occurred in Baltimore Town During the Revolutionary War," the body of which is a paper read before the Historical Society of Maryland in 1847 by Robert Purviance. A number of letters relate to the colonies' response to the British blockade of Boston Harbor in 1774 in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party. The town clerk of Boston, William Cooper, wrote to Mr. William Lux of Baltimore:

At a meeting of the freeholders and other inhabitants of the town of Boston, legally qualified and named in publick town meeting, assembled at Fanueil hall, on Friday, the 13th day of May, 1774. Voted, that it is the opinion of this town, that if the other colonies come into a joint resolution to stop all importations from Great Britain, and exportations to Great Britain, and every part of the West Indies, till the act for blocking up this harbor be repealed, the same will prove the salvation of North America and her liberties. On the other hand, if they continue their exports and imports, there is high reason to fear, that fraud, power, and the most odious oppression, will rise triumphant over right, justice, social happiness and freedom. And moreover; that this vote be forthwith transmitted by the moderator to all our sister colonies, in the name and behalf of this town.

(Page 111, "Appendix" to "Narrative of Events Which Occurred in Baltimore Town During the Revolutionary War")

After reading and discussing this and other letters from Boston, assume the roles of the "gentlemen of Baltimore" to debate whether they should agree to stop importing goods from and exporting goods to Great Britain, as requested by Boston. Following the debate, look for the document that presents the results of the meeting in Baltimore (document no. 17, pages 130, 131 and 132).

Virginia's decision to secede is another prime example of a value-laden decision. Examine this decision using documents from The Capital and the Bay. The viewpoint of those who supported secession is laid out in "Chapter IV" of "Recollections of a Lifetime" by John Goode.

  • What were the alternatives to secession?
  • What circumstances led to the decision to secede?
  • What were the short- and long-term consequences of this decision?


Arts & Humanities

Descriptive Writing

The natural world provides the subject matter for much descriptive writing. Consider the following descriptions of Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp from various documents in The Capital and the Bay:

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Immigration thinks that the swamp may properly be accounted a natural wonder. It is an extensive region lying mostly in Virginia, but partly in North Carolina, and covered with dense forests of cypress, juniper, cedar and gum. It is a remote, weird region formerly inhabited by many wild animals. Its silence is broken by resounding echoes of the woodman's ax in hewing its trees that are of great value, for the manufacture of buckets, tubs, and other varieties of wooden-ware, for shingles, staves, and ship-timber. In the middle of the swamp is Lake Drummond (lying entirely on the Virginia side), a round body of water, being the largest lake in the state. It is noted for the purity of its amber colored water, the hue being derived from the roots of cypress and juniper. This water will remain for years without becoming stale or stagnant and is used by ships and vessels going on long sea voyages.

(page 19, "In Spring," in "The Lake of the Great Dismal, by Charles Frederick Stansbury")

The Dismal is a very large swamp or bogg, extending from north to south near 30 miles in length, and in breadth, from east to west, at a medium about ten miles. It lyes partly in Virginia, and partly in North Carolina. No less than 5 navigable rivers, besides creeks, rise out of it, whereof 2 run into Virginia, viz. the South Branch of Elizabeth, and the South Branch of Nansimond Rivers—and 3 into North Carolina, namely, North River, North-west River, and Perquimonds. All these hide their heads, properly speaking, in the Dismal, there being no signs of them above ground. For this reason there must be plentiful subterranean stores of water to feed so many rivers or else the soil is so replete with this element, draind from the higher land that surrounds it, that it can abundantly afford these supplys. This is most probable—because the ground of this swamp is a meer quagmire, trembling under the feet of those that walk upon it, and every impression is instantly filled with water. We could run a long stick up to the head without resistance—and wherever a fire was made, so soon as the crust of leaves and trash burnt through, the coals sunk down into a hole, and were extinguisht. The skirts of the Dismal towards the east were overgrown with reeds ten or 12 feet high, interlaced everywhere with strong bamboe-bryers, in which the men's feet were perpetually intangled. Among these, grows here and there a cypress, or a white cedar, which last is commonly mistaken for the juniper. Towards the south end of it, is a very large tract of reeds, without any trees at all growing amongst them, which being constantly green, and waving in the wind, is called the Green Sea. In many parts, especially on the borders, grows an evergreen shrub very plentifully, that goes by the name of a gall-bush. It bears a berry which dyes a black colour, like the gall of an oak, from whence it borrows its name. Near the middle of the Dismal the trees grow much thicker—the cypresses as well as the cedars. These being always green, and loaded with very large tops, are much exposed to the winds, and easily blown down in this boggy place where the soil is soft, and consequently affords but slender hold for the roots, that shoot into it. By these the passage is in most places interrupted, they lying piled in heaps, and horsing on one another; nor is this all, for the snags left upon them point every way, and require the utmost caution to clamber over them.

(Page 17, "A Description of the Dismal," in "A Description of the Dismal Swamp and a Proposal to Drain the Swamp," by William Byrd)

Search for more descriptions of the swamp in these two documents and in other documents in the collection.

  • What descriptive words or phrases are used by several authors?
  • What unique descriptions can you find?
  • What descriptions are most helpful in creating a mental image of the swamp? Why?

Search the collection for descriptions of other natural features, such as the Chesapeake Bay or James River, and analyze those descriptions. Write descriptions of a natural feature near the school and analyze class members’ writing using the questions above.



Letters and journals provide some of the best sources of information about women's lives in earlier periods of history. According to Margo Culley, editor of A Day at a Time: The Diary Literature of American Women from 1764 to the Present (New York: The Feminist Press, 1985), diaries or journals in the 18th and 19th centuries served as family and community histories and were often intended to be read by others. At the end of the 19th century, according to Culley, "diary keeping in America had become associated with gentility, and keeping a life-record among a 'lady's' accomplishments." In the 20th century, the diary came to be seen as a "'secret record of an inner life…the life of personal reflection and emotion." Not coincidentally, men in the 20th century became less likely to keep journals than in previous generations.

The Capital and the Bay presents a number of journals, letter collections, or reminisces written by women. Browse the collection's author index (seeing the relatively small proportion of female authors will be instructive in itself), looking for evidence that diary keeping in the late 19th century was associated with gentility (a substantial portion of the works by women could be classified as reminisces published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries).

Focus on the earlier work, "The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Portrayed by the Family Letters of Mrs. Samuel Harrison Smith," which contains letters written by Mrs. Smith, a prominent Washingtonian, as well as excerpts from her notebook. Compare the letters and notebook excerpts.

  • Are the content and style of Mrs. Smith's letters and notebook similar or different? Give evidence to support your answer.
  • What do these sources tell us about the lives of women in the educated classes?
  • What do these sources tell us about the relationships between men and women?
  • What can we learn about women's involvement in the new nation's political life from these sources?

Investigate whether women's diaries or reminisces are still published today. Cite examples and suggest reasons why the genre might remain popular today.

Humorous Poetry

Humorous poetry, also dubbed light verse, is often equated with bad poetry. While humorous poetry generally has the poetic characteristics of rhyme and meter, it frequently lacks other characteristics that critics demand of good poetry, characteristics that are often unstated but nonetheless real. The Capital and the Bay contains some humorous poetry that might be used to begin gaining skill in determining whether poetry is "good" or "bad." The following questions might be used to begin the process:

  • What is the poet's purpose? Does the poet achieve that purpose? Was a poem a suitable genre for achieving that purpose?
  • Are the words carefully selected to convey exact meanings? Are there excess words?
  • Are the words ordered to best express the author's meaning?
  • Are the language, images, and figures of speech fresh?
  • Do the sound of the poem and its form and meaning clash or work well together?
  • Is the poem overly sentimental?
  • Does the poem sacrifice meaning for rhyme or meter?

Apply these questions to the following poems from The Capital and the Bay. Both poems are about how Zouaves, New York infantrymen dressed in the style of the famous French units, were treated when stationed in Baltimore during the Civil War. The poems reveal attitudes in Maryland, which did not secede but was sharply divided over the issue of secession, but are they good poetry?

After analyzing these poems, search the collection using poetry as a keyword and then analyze other poems in the collection as well as other poems available at poetry sites online or in poetry collections available in the classroom. How might the starter list of questions above be refined to reflect other views on what makes a poem "good"?


Myths and Legends

According to Donna Rosenberg, author of Folklore, Myth and Legends: A World Perspective (New York: McGraw Hill, 1996), "A legend is a story from the past about a subject that was, or is believed to have been, historical. Legends concern people, places, and events. Usually, the subject is a saint, a king, a hero, a famous person, or a war. A legend is always associated with a particular place and a particular time in history."

The Capital and the Bay presents a collection of legends related to a specific location, "The Rocks of Deer Creek, Harford County, Maryland."

  • Is it possible to identify the elements of these stories that could be verified and those that could not?
  • What do the legends tell readers about the place on which they focus? About the people who tell these stories?
  • Does your community have such legends? Do they focus on people, places, and/or events? What do they tell readers about the area? About its people?

Public Speaking

In "Letter III" of "The Letters of the British Spy," prominent Virginia attorney William Wirt reflects humorously on oratory in the colonies, specifically in Virginia. He opens with the following condemnation:

In the national and state legislatures, as well as at the various bars in the United States, I have heard great volubility, much good sense, and some random touches of the pathetic; but in the same bodies, I have heard a far greater proportin of puerile rant, or tedious and disgusting inanity. Three remarks are true as to almost all their orators.

First, They have not a sufficient fund of general knowledge.

Secondly, They have not the habit of close and solid thinking.

Thirdly, They do not aspire at original ornaments.

(Page 132 and 133, "Letter III" of "The Letters of the British Spy")

Read Wirt's letter, making a list of strengths and weaknesses of orations according to Wirt. Then search The Capital and the Bay for examples of speeches (using speech, remarks, and lecture as keywords will produce a number of examples) to which you can apply Wirt's standards. Wirt's standards could also be applied to speeches delivered by contemporary speakers.


Literary Reviews

As early as the 1870s, brief quotations from reviews extolling the virtues of a book were being extracted and printed in a book's front matter (today these quotations would be referred to as "blurbs"). When J. Thomas Scharf published "The Chronicles of Baltimore," he culled several "Recommendations as Extracted from the Baltimore Newspaper Press" to print in his book, including such statements as:

Baltimore American— "His exhaustive researches leave but little for the writers who come after him to do, except to copy that which he has gleaned from ancient manuscripts."

Baltimorean— "It will be, by large odds, the most perfect, thorough and complete history of the city ever published. No Baltimorean, or son or daughter of a Baltimorean, will content themselves without a book which promises to be so valuable."

("Recommendations as Extracted from the Baltimore Newspaper Press" in "The Chronicles of Baltimore")

Read the entire set of quotations and write a brief description of what you expect this work to be like based on the quotations. Then examine the chronicles.

  • Does the work meet the expectations created by the quotations? Why or why not?
  • What would you say about the work if you were reviewing it?
  • What might account for the work not meeting your expectations based on the quotations—Differing views of what history books should be like in 1876 and the early 2000s? Selective quoting from reviews? Varying levels of interest in the subject matter?

Pick a contemporary history book on a topic of interest to you and examine any quotations on or in the book. How are they similar to or different from the quotations provided with "The Chronicles of Baltimore"? Do they more accurately reflect the book? Why or why not?


Although its visuals are not The Capital and the Bay’s greatest strength, various documents do present portraits by the well-known artist Gilbert Stuart. Stuart, known as the "Father of American Portraiture," painted more than 1,000 portraits. His subjects included the first five American presidents, as well as many other prominent citizens. Stuart chose to emphasis the subject's face by eliminating busy details and using plain, dark-colored backgrounds. Most of his portraits did not show the full body, focusing on the head and torso.

That Stuart had a sense of humor can be seen in the portrait he painted of Mrs. Richard Cutts. In the background of the portrait is Stuart's own profile. Anne Hollingsworth Wharton explains this somewhat strange painting in the following excerpt from "Social Life in the Early Republic":

Gilbert Stuart was in Georgetown while Mr. Madison was Secretary of State, and at this time painted a portrait of Mrs. Madison and a companion picture of her husband. Among numerous other portraits executed by Stuart were those of Colonel and Mrs. John Tayloe of the Octagon, and of Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Cutts. In the background of this latter portrait, for which Mrs. Cutts sat a short time before her marriage, is to be found an exaggerated outline of the artist's own features. The story runs, that while Anna Payne's portrait was being painted that lively young woman entered into an animated discussion with the artist as to which feature of the face is the most expressive. Mr. Stuart gave his verdict in favor of the nose, while Miss Payne contended for the superior claims of the eyes and mouth. Stuart, who greatly relished a joke, even at his own expense, presented to his sitter the next morning a canvas upon which his own profile, the long nose somewhat exaggerated, occupied the place of the usual drapery in the background, inquiring, with a triumphant smile, whether he had not proved to her satisfaction that the nose was the most expressive feature of the face. Although the laugh was against her, Miss Payne was so much pleased to have secured a profile of her old friend, that she insisted that the very odd background should remain a part of the portrait.

(Pages 143 and 144, "Social Life in the Early Republic")

Use the lists of illustrations from such collections as "Social Life in the Early Republic" and "The First Forty Years of Washington Society" to locate several portraits painted by Stuart. Look carefully at the portraits.

  • Who is the person in the portrait?
  • What features of the person's face are most expressive?
  • Do details in the picture give you any clues about the person's life, such as when he or she lived, whether he/she was wealthy or poor, and so on?
  • Does the portrait suggest a mood? For example, does the subject look happy? Sad? Thoughtful?
  • Do you find the portrait interesting? Why or why not?

Use the same lists of illustrations to locate several portraits by other artists of the same period and compare them with the works by Stuart. Which do you prefer? Why? Compare the works of these early American portraitists with that of more contemporary artists; portraits of all the Presidents and First Ladies that can be used for this analysis are available in the American Memory collection "Portraits of the Presidents and First Ladies, 1789-Present." Try to identify how styles in portraiture have changed. Develop a list of characteristics of a good portrait in 1800 and in 2000.