One of the stories surrounding the building of the Hammond-Harwood House in 1774 suggests that its original owner, Matthias Hammond, wanted such a large house because he was engaged to be married. But, the story has it, he spent too much time thinking about the design of his house and not enough wooing his fiancée, so she called off the wedding and ran away with another man.
Until yesterday, I was mystified as to the origins of this story. Matthias Hammond never married and there is no documentary evidence to suggest that he was ever engaged. Thanks to two sources I happened to be consulting for other reasons, I now know the answer! Annapolis historian Jean Russo wrote a monograph about Hammond in 1992, and in it says that “there does exist correspondence describing a similar episode in the life of a different member of the family” and that “the incongruity of a bachelor building such a large and elegant home led to the attachment of the story of the broken Hammond engagement to Mathias Hammond as a way of explaining that incongruity.”
The book John Shaw: Cabinetmaker of Annapolis provides the name of the Hammond family member who was actually jilted, and manages to bust another Hammond-Harwood House myth at the same time. That myth is that James Nourse rented Hammond-Harwood House for a time in the 18th century. Actually, Nourse rented Acton, the home belonging to Philip Hammond. So, when he wrote in his diary that Hammond’s fiancée ran away with another man while Hammond was buying furniture in Philadelphia, he was talking about Philip, NOT Matthias.
I don’t know if it’s possible to counteract two hundred years of Annapolis gossip, but I’m sure Matthias Hammond would feel better knowing that the truth is out there!
Jean Russo, “Mathias Hammond: 1748-1786.” The Hammond-Harwood House Association, 1992.
William Voss Elder III and Lu Bartlett, John Shaw Cabinetmaker of Annapolis. Baltimore: The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1983.