Historian throws cold water on Annapolis anniversary

Historians in the News

Historians are supposed to bring us the truth, as they see it, about the past - and not necessarily the version of events that justifies a historical commemoration into which their listeners have poured time, effort and money.

So even if you don't want to accept the conclusions Dr. C. Ashley Ellefson gave at a recent two-day symposium organized by Annapolis Alive!, you have to respect his professional integrity.

Dr. Ellefson, an expert on Colonial-era legal history, is described by state archivist Dr. Edward Papenfuse as "a historian's historian." In essence, he told Annapolitans that the rationale for their celebration of the 300th anniversary of the city's charter - namely, that the 1708 document was instrumental in creating the city, and was a milestone of self-government - isn't valid.

The charter, he said, was actually "a reactionary document" - a power grab by Colonial governor John Seymour, and a step backward from the self-government enjoyed under a 1696 law. Also, although the two versions of the charter were issued in Queen Anne's name, she appears to have had virtually nothing to do with them; these were locally generated documents.

That's not exactly what those busy celebrating the charter's anniversary wanted to hear. But it's healthy to get a reminder that there's usually a gap between real history and the romanticized version.
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