Portrait of William Buckland by Charles Willson Peale (Yale University). (Image provided by Hammond-Harwood House)

Imagine that it’s the year 1774 in Annapolis. Revolution is in the air; merchants are having trouble filling their shelves because of blockades in the city’s busy harbor. Imported goods like tea and sugar can be scarce. Imported china table sets, clocks, silver, and other decorative niceties are still the rage though. Artisans in the city are establishing their own shops – John Shaw is making furniture, for example. The social season overlaps with the General Assembly session and is filled with parties, tavern nights rife with political talk, horse races, concerts, and other entertainments. 

 Matthias Hammond, a young, wealthy planter from what is now Gambrills, is elected to the colony’s General Assembly. He’s against British oppression and participates in local revolutionary activities. He knows that other successful men in town are building grand houses – John Ridout, Charles Carroll, William Paca, Samuel Chase, James Brice. Even his brother Phillip built a large brick home on the water at Acton’s Landing. He’s eager to fit in with other emerging leaders of the Maryland colony; after all, he’s inherited enough money to invest in many properties, then sell them at a profit. So he requires a house in town, one worthy of note by his peers, one where he can carry on his own level of entertaining. In 1772 he had already purchased two lots on the corner of Northeast Street, now Maryland Avenue, and King George Street. He buys two more in early 1774 – his property spanning four acres from what is now Prince George Street to King George Street and back from Maryland Avenue to William Paca’s property behind. Hammond takes note of the work being done on the house under construction across from his new property. Begun by Samuel Chase in 1769, the unfinished house was sold to Edward Lloyd when Chase ran out of funds. Lloyd hired a new architect, William Buckland, to finish the work and to design the interior décor. 

The garden view at Hammond-Harwood House. (Image provided by Hammond-Harwood House)

Buckland is an up-and-coming star. Born in Oxford, England in 1734, he was apprenticed at age 14 to his uncle James, a London joiner, or high-end carpenter. By 1755 he completed his apprenticeship and decided to take his skills to America. He signed an indenture agreement with Thomson Mason, George Mason’s brother, to travel to Virginia and work on George’s house, Gunston Hall. Indentured artisans like Buckland brought enormous talent and ambition to the new world. After completing his spectacular interior decorative work at Gunston in 1759, Buckland was free to begin his own projects. His impressive Gunston interiors won him commissions in Virginia and soon he was being sought out by the Annapolis gentry. 

Following the model of the English workshops, Buckland put together a group of artisans and enslaved workers for his Virginia projects. Among them was Oxford, an enslaved man who came to Buckland as part of his purchase of a farm. Lloyd hired Buckland to finish his Annapolis house, now called Chase Home at 22 Maryland Avenue, in 1771 and by 1772 Buckland had moved to Annapolis with his wife and children as well as some of his workshop artisans including Oxford and his family.

From his vacant property across the street, Matthias Hammond, ambitious and eager to be recognized, must have watched Buckland’s progress. The work on Lloyd’s home was impressive. It was the height of fashion. It was expensive and imposing. It was what Matthias Hammond wanted – the hot new architect in town would build him a worthy house.

So Hammond hires Buckland to build a town house for his stays in Annapolis. He’s not married so it’s not a family house, it’s to be a house for impressing and entertaining. This is Buckland’s first and only commission to design an entire building. His other work had been completing projects already begun, and attending to the elaborate interior decorations – carved mantelpieces, intricate cornices, and other features.

Buckland has amassed a library of design and architecture books, a luxury in 18th century America. Studying the 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio’s tome, The Four Books of Architecture, Buckland lights on a design he’d like to use for Hammond’s house. It will be an unusual design for the colonies but was established in England – the five-part Anglo-Palladian villa. Buckland models Hammond’s house on the Villa Pisani, a Palladian building in Montagnana, Italy. Hammond approved this unusual design for it would set his house apart from the others in Annapolis. 

In 1774, 250 years ago, Buckland began work on Hammond’s house. It is beautifully designed, with perfect symmetry and elegant proportions. The bricks are laid in Flemish bond, an expensive but lasting pattern. He employs the best artisans he can find, including an indentured carver named Thomas Hall who makes elaborate wood carved moldings and features. Oxford also plays an important role in Buckland’s workshop. There are no records of the work he did, but when Buckland dies unexpectedly in December 1774, Oxford is listed as his most valuable asset at 60 pounds sterling. 

While Buckland was not able to complete work on the house, his apprentices and others followed his beautiful design. Matthias Hammond never lived in the house; no one knows why. But eventually a family moved in and descendants stayed for 125 years. In 1938, the house was bought by the Hammond-Harwood House Association, which continues to operate the house as a museum. This year celebrates the 250-year anniversary. The work of hot architect William Buckland for the ambitious young revolutionary Matthias Hammond retains its elegant and graceful lines and its splendid interior decoration. The Hammond-Harwood House, located at 19 Maryland Avenue in Annapolis, is open to the public for tours, events, and programs. Check the website for information: www.hammondharwoodhouse.org.

Barbara Goyette is Executive Director of Hammond-Harwood House.

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