Benjamin Harwood (1751-1826)

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Benjamin Harwood (1751-1826), Annapolis, Maryland c. 1798
Artist: James Peale, American, (1749-1831)
Medium: Tempera on Ivory
Donated by Margaret Harwood Hill in 1985

In the current economy many are seeking loans for their businesses and personal finances. If you lived in late 18th century Annapolis, you may have appealed for a personal loan from Benjamin Harwood. Benjamin Harwood was financially secure when, at age 47, he commissioned James Peale to paint his likeness in both a miniature and also a half-length portrait. Given that both pieces depict him as cross-eyed, chances are high it was a conscious decision for Harwood to instruct Peale to paint him as he was.

Benjamin Harwood began his career early when he established an import business with his brother, Thomas, that operated from 1773 to 1788. During the Revolution he served as first lieutenant of an independent militia company in Annapolis and rose to captain on October 6, 1777. He served as Treasurer of St. John’s College in the 1780’s and managed the funds to build St. Anne’s Church in 1790. In 1792 Benjamin was appointed commissioner of loans in Maryland in a document signed by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. This document was donated to Hammond-Harwood House along with the miniature in 1985. Harwood was deputy treasurer for the Western Shore under his brother, Thomas, for over twenty years. Upon his brother’s death, he was appointed Treasurer of the Western Shore on September 27, 1804. He held that office until his death in 1826.

We know a little bit about his personal life. Benjamin Harwood was the youngest son of Capt. Richard Harwood and Ann Watkins and the great uncle of William Harwood, who lived in the Hammond-Harwood House. He is mentioned in the diary of William Faris (Annapolis silversmith and tavern owner) on May 20, 1804, as giving Faris Walnutt [sic] Bark pills for a physical ailment, so he may have had some general knowledge of medicine. Privately, he lent a great deal of money. At his death in 1826, $88,000 was still outstanding, a hefty sum for the period. He owned his house in Annapolis, 500 acres in Anne Arundel County, and personal property worth $57,000, which was divided among his siblings as he was unmarried. When he was buried January 27, 1826 at St. Anne’s Cemetery, the obituary in the Maryland Gazette eulogized him: “To say he had no enemy would leave half unsaid, for every man who knew him, loved and admired him.”

The story behind the discovery of the miniature is a curious one. The late historian George Forbes believes the miniature was found in Harwood’s former office, the Little Treasury building on State Circle in Annapolis, in a secret chamber. According to Forbes,“This miniature was discovered under most unusual circumstances. When the late Barnes Compton was treasurer of Maryland (1874-1885), he concluded to put a window in the vault which was the north wing of the treasury, and without artificial light. The mason, digging through what he thought was the outer wall, was surprised to find a secret vault or chamber, on the floor of which was an iron box, wherein he found the sum of $50,000 in bonds, the original seals of the state…and this miniature, and with it a lot of bracelets, and other ladies jewelry.” Harwood died a bachelor and it is unknown why the items were there or what they were used for. It is a history mystery.

By Rachel Lovett, Curator

Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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