To be sure, early Americans in previous centuries weren’t shopping online or pinning their favorite interiors and furnishings to their Pinterest boards. And of course, back in the time of the American Revolution and beyond, there was no Wayfair or Apartment Therapy for fashionable home furnishings to spruce up the colonial hearth and home. Well, in their own way, many early Americans did have access to the treasures of global commerce. You can learn about their shopping habits and their unique finds through a new exhibit at the Hammond-Harwood House on Maryland Avenue in Annapolis.
The Global Marketplace is Centuries Old
Titled, “Decadent Décor: Global Imports in an Early American Port City,” the display is a time traveler’s look at goods and furnishings in wealthier 16th and 17th century Annapolis homes.
The exhibit includes imported British art, a French-made George Washington clock, Chinese porcelain, Spanish silver, Caribbean goods, and a variety of other international items imported to America. Some of the objects are from the Hammond-Harwood House collection, and others are on loan from other museums and historic sites.
For historic perspective, there is also a permanent exhibition entitled, Slavery at Hammond-Harwood House, which brings the service wing of the house to life with archaeological finds and kitchen collections that tell the stories of the enslaved women who lived and worked here. The Hammond-Harwood House of the early 1800s was probably home to about one to five enslaved persons at any given time, most likely women with domestic duties. It is also likely that much of the house was constructed through the labors of enslaved people and indentured servants. These events will be highlighted this September as part of Underground Railroad Heritage Month.
Hammond-Harwood House Preserves Annapolis History
A significant feature of Annapolis history, Hammond-Harwood is a large Anglo-Palladian residence designed by English architect William Buckland. The brick house was built beginning in 1774 for 25-year-old tobacco planter Matthias Hammond, who desired to showcase his life as an Annapolis patriot. The house stands today as a museum and historic building operated by an independent nonprofit organization as a premier example of stylish British colonial period residences.
Early Americans Shopped, too
People have always looked for utility and novelty in their housewares, seeking out the handcrafted, vintage, or exotic treasure—or perhaps the natural weave of fibers or the smooth synthetic form. They’ve chosen colors and textures for their surroundings to suit their emotions and selected pieces to jog their memories and heighten their senses. They’ve shopped and created and curated to make their home environments their own.
Early Annapolis consumers in the 1700s and 1800s—at least those with some means—were no different as they sought out home furnishings from around the globe. They did shop in a worldwide web kind of way. They searched for just the right pieces with the best reviews from the most reliable vendors, all to bring personality and warmth to their homes. As for the shipping costs and taxes—well, let’s not even go there! That’s how wars begin.
Back in the day, the Annapolis urban life was a huge draw for merchants, service workers, and politicians alike. In-town real estate attracted wealthy planters and lawmakers from the outlying countryside who were in search of the sophisticated society, architecture, and influence offered by city living.
Sure, the ordering process for home goods was a bit more cumbersome in those days, but the need for style and culture then were as strong as the desires that drive our online wish lists today. Every historic period has its unique stresses, so it’s not surprising that the Revolutionary War and other worries of early American life didn’t eliminate the desire to shop for house and home.
See the Exhibits and Take a History Tour
The exhibited objects are priceless, but the Hammond-Harwood House exhibition is free and open to the public through December 2021. The museum curates a new exhibition every year to highlight historical figures and events and continues to follow appropriate Covid-19 measures to protect guests.
The 30 or 60 minute tour of the house, limited to five guests per tour, describes the home’s history and architecture. You will also hear about the families who lived here, as well as the museum’s collections.
This year’s spotlight tours feature many notables. One such tour highlights the famous cabinetmaker John Shaw while another focuses on the architect William Buckland. No matter the tour, you will be sure to delight in the 18th century wonder of the historic Hammond-Harwood House.