“Memoirs of a Main Street Boy” an Annapolis reflection, Part 8

| July 1, 2017
Rams Head
Peale’s painting of Washington with Lafayette and Tilghman.

Peale’s painting of Washington with Lafayette and Tilghman. (Collection of the Maryland State Archives.)

On a recent trip to the Maryland State House, my memory was jogged to my childhood by a painting in the room next to the Old Senate Chamber.

The painting, by Charles Willson Peale, depicts George Washington in the aftermath of his victory over General Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, the victory that effectively ended the Revolutionary War.

In the painting, Washington is shown with the Marquis de Lafayette and Lt. Col. Tench Tilghman, Washington’s aide-de-camp, who holds the British Articles of Capitulation. As I discuss in my book about growing up in Annapolis, “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy,” when I was a young boy visiting the State House I would gaze at that painting, which then hung in the Old Senate Chamber, where Washington resigned his commission as commander in chief of the Continental Army, and let my imagination soar.

Tench Tilghman was a Marylander, born on the Eastern Shore not far from what is now Easton. Because of his patriot loyalties, his saddle-making shop was burned down by British loyalists at the start of the Revolution.

Tilghman joined the Continental Army in 1776 and became Washington’s aide, which turned into a lifelong friendship. Washington gave Tilghman the honor of carrying the British surrender papers to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. On his way, Tilghman stopped in Annapolis with the official news, creating a wild celebration by Annapolitans.

The famous painting has another connection to Annapolis. Its renowned painter, Charles Willson Peale, set up a saddle shop and sign painting business on Annapolis’ Main Street (then called Church Street) in 1762. His interest in portraiture led him to trade his best saddle for painting lessons from a well-known portraitist. Showing some talent, he persuaded a group of affluent men, most from Annapolis, to put up the money to send him to England to study painting.

Returning to Annapolis after two years, Peale began his illustrious career. His involvement with revolutionary patriots not only led to numerous paintings of Washington, one when the then Virginia colonel visited Annapolis for race week, but also of Ben Franklin, John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Tench Tilghman remained Washington’s friend and advisor after the war, though Tilghman died at age 42 from illness contracted during the Revolution. In fact, Tilghman was ill during his ride from Yorktown through Annapolis to Philadelphia. He retired from the army in 1783 because of failing health and died in 1786.

In a letter to Tench Tilghman’s brother, Washington wrote of his former aide-de-camp “none could have felt his death with more regard than I did, because no one entertained a higher opinion of his worth.”

Of the three men in Peale’s painting, the Marquis de Lafayette survived the longest and in December of 1824 returned once more to Annapolis from France. Invited by the Maryland legislature to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Lafayette, accompanied by his son, George Washington Lafayette, was met with much fanfare, including a 21-gun salute. On a visit to the State House, the then 67-year-old Marquis addressed the crowd in the Old Senate Chamber, recalling with deep sentiment his deceased friend and commander’s resignation in that room.

It seems fitting that Peale’s painting of these three Patriots, all with close ties to Annapolis, hung in the Old Senate Chamber for many years and still graces the walls of the State House.

Severn Bank

 

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About the Author ()

A native Annapolitan, Mr. Crosby is founder and chairman of Crosby Marketing, a national advertising/public relations firm headquartered in Annapolis.

Mr. Crosby’s book, “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy: Growing Up in America’s Ancient City,” is available at local bookstores (Annapolis Bookstore, Back Creek Books and Old Fox Books) or online at Amazon.com.

Ralph Crosby will teach a four-session, noncredit course at Anne Arundel Community College this fall. The course, “Exploring Annapolis in the Mid-20th Century,” is based on his book “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy.” The first class is October 2. The last, on October 11, features a walking tour of downtown Annapolis. Registration for the course is available at www.aacc.edu/historyheritage.