Confiscating the castle: the construction of Loyalist identity in Governor Robert Eden's Annapolis house

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Delaware
The last proprietary governor of Maryland, Sir Robert Eden (1741-1784), boarded the H.M.S. Fowey and left Annapolis on June 26, 1776, with every expectation that the Maryland Council of Safety would honor their promise that Eden would maintain ownership of his colonial property. However, when Eden returned after the war in 1783, he found his former house and possessions owned by the state and occupied by the acting governor, as it would continue to be for nearly one hundred years. Even after his death, Eden’s memory and reputation were inextricably tied to objects, and memories of the moment on the Annapolis pier in 1776 when he parted from his belongings became part of the American Revolutionary War’s origin story in Maryland. ☐ This thesis examines Robert Eden’s world prior to and after his confiscation case to suggest a more nuanced understanding of the so-called “Loyalist experience” during the American Revolution. Previous scholarship has oversimplified both the circumstances of confiscation and what it meant to be a Loyalist. Eden, like many others, has long been grouped as a Loyalist, and his belongings have been interpreted as nothing more than commodities confiscated for their financial value. Instead, his objects were enmeshed in the complex personal networks that transcended political values and strict designations of Patriot and Loyalist. Robert Eden’s objects and material world were more than commodities, they were active agents in Revolutionary Annapolis that shaped experiences of Eden, his wife and family, enslaved people, servants, politicians, and other individuals in America, England, and beyond. ☐ Robert Eden’s experience is a relevant case study because it exemplifies some of the key issues of the Revolutionary War and Loyalist identity that need to be addressed in contemporary scholarship. For Eden, the confiscation of his Annapolis estate was catastrophic to the identity he sought to build. He was an active participant in the colonial material world and relentlessly socially aspirational; however, his inability to appropriately perform as the social and political head of Annapolis marked him as an outsider from colonial genteel society even prior to the war. His branding as a Loyalist by his contemporaries has further clouded his actual experience for modern audiences, as it is often insinuated that all people defined by the tenuous criteria of “Loyalism” experienced confiscation in the same way. So intense are the relationships between humans and their narratives of wartime loss that historians have had a tendency to incorrectly build myths and accept misattributions around them without critical examination. This is certainly the case for Robert Eden and his material world.
Social sciences, Communication and the arts, American Revolution, Annapolis, Confiscation, Eden, Robert, Loyalist, Maryland