Annapolis Cityscape, November 1861

This is the sixth in a series of posts about Oliver Case and the 8th Connecticut during their time in Annapolis, Maryland during the period November 1861 to January 1862.  A recent visit to Annapolis revealed some details along with some photos of the places mentioned by Oliver in his letters.


Throughout his letters, Oliver Case proved over and over again that he was an astute observer of people and places. In particular, he enjoyed describing the homes, churches and other buildings in areas he visited during his service with the 8th Connecticut. Annapolis was a city ripe for his critical eye. Soon after his arrival in early November 1861, Oliver began to write to his sister Abbie about the buildings in the capital city of Maryland.

He began the evaluation in his first letter from the city written on November 11, 1861 where he described the Old Ballroom.

In the next paragraph, Oliver gives a scathing assessment of the capital city:

This city in the north would hardly get the attention of a village; there is not a name to a street or number on a door in the city; the streets are overgrown with grass and overrun with rubbish except the ones that lead to the camp, those are traveled by army wagons.[1]

As he begins to turn his attention away from the streets and to the structures, the evaluation doesn’t seem to improve.

The houses are one and two stories high but are all old, some were very good ones in their day but that was long ago. I do not think there is twenty signs in the city and doubt whether there is a store that does as much business as Mr. Wilcox’s in the place. There are no three houses in a row in the streets and many look like hogpens. I do not believe there has been ten houses built in as many years, in fact, it looks like a city one hundred years old without any improvements having been made.[2]

This stands in stark contrast to the official Annapolis city government website that touts, “From its earliest days as a colonial capital city, Annapolis was known as the ‘Athens of America.’”[3] In the middle 1600s, settlers from the colony of Virginia founded a new settlement on the northern shore of the Severn River across from the site of present-day Annapolis. They later decided to relocate to the southern shore which offered better protection for the harbor and gave their settlement the name “Town at Proctor’s.” The name would later change to “Town at the Severn” followed by Anne Arundel’s Town” in honor of Lord Baltimore’s wife. In 1694, the town became the capital of the colony of Maryland and was renamed Annapolis for the future Queen of England, Princess Anne of Denmark and Norway.

The designation as the “Athens of America” came during a period of growth and culture prior to the American Revolution. The city was known for entertainment, literature and commerce but began to enter a period of decline after Baltimore was designated a primary port of entry in 1780. Most of the business activity became blue collar in nature related to the industries of the ocean. Building of homes and businesses slowed to a halt. This is consistent with Oliver Case’s description as “it looks like a city one hundred years old without any improvements…”[4]

Oliver gives his first comments on the houses of worship in Annapolis beginning in his letter of November 11, 1861.

There are a few churches that are nice in the inside and they are the only nice looking buildings there are here, except the Capital, but more of this another time.[5]

He continues with a more detailed description of the churches and other building in his November 13th letter. After describing his memorable visit to a black church in the city, Oliver precedes to evaluate the other churches of the city.

There are four churches besides the colored one in the place, one Catholic, one Methodist, and one Presbyterian.[6]

Oliver is a bit confusing on the numbers and dominations, but his descriptions are clear enough to determine the actual church he is describing. There are five Annapolis churches mentioned in Oliver’s letter.

Asbury United Methodist Church (aka “colored church”)

This is the church Oliver describes attending on November 10, 1862. At the time, it was Annapolis’ oldest African-American congregation dating back to the original meeting house built in 1804 when it operated as the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. The congregation would later change the name of the church to the Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church in 1838 as a new building replaced the previous meeting house. It is likely that this is the church Oliver attended since he describes the churches in the city in the paragraph following his description of the church service.

During the time period Oliver would have attended the service, the Presiding Elder and possible preacher that day would have been the Reverend Henry Price. The Rev. Price was obviously a highly respected man in the city of Annapolis as evidenced by his 1863 obituary.

In the city of Annapolis, on the 20th instant, the Rev. Henry Price, in the 71st year of his age. He departed this life in great peace and joy; he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church at the early age of seventeen years, and for forty-five years has been an acceptable minister in this place, and has borne the greatest and best character. On Sunday afternoon, the 22d instant, his remains were moved from his late residence on Main street to the Church, where his funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. J. H. Brice, (from the 14th chapter of Job, 14th verse: “If a man die shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait tiil my change come;”) assisted by the Rev. J. F. Gane and G. Pinkney, and at 5 o’clock he was moved to his grave, where he now sleeps and rests in peace. Not withstanding the inclemency of the weather, and the snow falling fast, the Church was utterly crowded with both white and colored to witness the last of our beloved brother in the Gospel of Christ.[7]

Asbury AMC Annapolis

Asbury United Methodist Church in Annapolis. Built in 1888, this building replaced the church Oliver would have attended on November 10, 1861.


St. Mary’s Catholic Church

The Catholic is a new church commenced two years since. It is splendid upon the inside, the roof being composed of three arches each one being supported by many pillars. Around the altar it is furnished in extravagant style, but the body of the church is not yet finished. It has a chime of bells, the first I ever heard.[8]

St. Mary’s was a relatively new structure in 1861 when Oliver laid eyes on it. The Parish was established in 1853 on property donated by the granddaughters of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. Interestingly, Carroll’s birthplace and home are also located on the church grounds. Work on the church began in 1858 with the dedication coming two years later although, as noted by Oliver, worked continued on the interior for many years afterward.[9]

St Marys Church Annapolis street view

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Annapolis.

St Marys Church Annapolis inside

Inside view of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Annapolis.

First Church (Methodist)

The Methodist is a nice church commenced two years since but is not done off upon the inside.[10]

The Methodist church in Annapolis began as a missionary effort during the time of the American Revolution. After the war, the Methodists began to meet for services in a building near the area of the present-day Naval Academy. In 1818, the congregation bought a parcel of land on State Circle and built what was described as a “neat brick church.” Just prior to the Civil War in 1859, the Methodists erected a larger structure that included an organ, choir loft and bell tower. This is the church that Oliver writes about in his letter to his sister.

First Methodist Church Annapolis 1859 (2)

Historical photo of the First Methodist Church on State Circle in Annapolis.[11]


St. Anne’s Church (Episcopal)

The Episcopal looks like an old one with a new wing, but looks very neat and pretty upon the inside.[12]

The Episcopal church that Oliver Case viewed on Church Circle in Annapolis may have appeared old, but in fact it was completed just three years earlier and the steeple construction had been interrupted by the war. The original St. Anne’s Church was completed in the same location about 1704 and served a growing congregation through the onset of the American Revolution when it was demolished to make room for a larger building. The war prohibited the completion of the construction of the new church until 1792. This second St. Anne’s church building had the interior gutted by a furnace fire on Valentine’s Day in 1858. This could explain the reason Oliver thought the building to be “old” with a new addition.

Today, St. Anne’s Church parishioners continue to worship in the same building that Oliver Case described in his 1861 letter. The long and interesting history of the church includes the attendance of Francis Scott Key during his matriculation at nearby St. John’s College. There are also six veterans on the War of 1812 buried in the small adjacent cemetery.[13]


St Annes Church Annapolis

 St. Anne’s Church (Episcopal) in Annapolis


First Presbyterian Church

The fifth church mentioned but not described in detail by Oliver Case is the First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis. The Presbyterians had the earliest presence in Annapolis of all the dominations with services beginning in the 1650’s. The formal founding of the church took place in 1846 with the congregation moving into the former Hallam Theater the following year. This is the location and building that Oliver observed during his stay in the capital city. Remarkably, the Presbyterians were considered to hold strong Union sympathies in a city that was pro-Confederacy during the war.[14]


 First Presbyterian Church Annapolis

 First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis


In addition to the churches of the city, Oliver also writes to Abbie about some of the government buildings, chiefly the imposing Maryland State House.

The Court House is furnished in fine style upon the inside but is rather of an ancient looking building upon the outside. Every principal street (if any call be called principal) centers at the state house and it is nothing uncommon for a soldier or officer to inquire the way of the patrols saying wherever the[y] go they always come to the state house.[15]

 Annapolis courthouse

The Anne Arundel County Courthouse in Annapolis[16]

Today, the courthouse that Oliver observed is the third oldest courthouse building in the state of Maryland. Construction was started in 1821 with the building being completed and ready to occupy in 1824.


Historical view of Maryland State House

The Maryland State House in Annapolis as it would have appeared to Oliver Case.[17]


The State House of Maryland is the oldest state capital in the United States in continuous use for a legislative body dating back to 1772. Its architecture is noted by having the largest wooden dome in the country constructed without the use of nails. From November 26, 1783 to August 13, 1784, the State House took on an additional role as the national legislative meeting place while Annapolis was serving as the temporary capital of the United States.[18]

 Statehouse Annapolis

A modern view of the Maryland State House in Annapolis

[1] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (11 November 1861)

[2] IBID

[3] The City of Annapolis, Maryland website,

[4] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (11 November 1861)

[5] IBID

[6] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (13 November 1861)

[8] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (13 November 1861)

[9] St. Mary’s Parish of Annapolis website,

[10] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (13 November 1861)

[11] Image from Calvary United Methodist Church history site,

[12] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (13 November 1861)

[13] St. Anne’s Church of Annapolis website,

[14] First Presbyterian Church of Annapolis website,

[15] Case Letters, 1861-1862. (13 November 1861)

[16] The Anne Arundel County Circuit Court website,

[17] Maryland State Archives, Special Collections MSA SC 985-012, accessed from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s