Two hundred years ago today, England acceded to the demands for freedom by 13 colonies when a British commissioner and three self-declared Americans signed the Treaty of Paris in France. Three-and-a-half months later, the treaty was ratified by the Confederation Congress sitting in this seaport town.

Holding to its heritage as the site of the ratification and the United States' first peacetime capital, Annapolis plans to celebrate the treaty's bicentennial tonight with rousing music from the U.S. Naval Academy Band, a 21-gun salute normally reserved for presidents "to honor the nation" and a good old Fourth of July-style fireworks display.

The band will begin playing at 7:45 p.m. at Farragut Field on the academy grounds, followed by the 21-gun salute at 8:30. After that will come a 17-minute display of fireworks set off along the Severn River.

For the rest of the evening until 1 a.m., a "Treaty of Paris Ball" featuring a swing band will be held at the Annapolis City Dock. Admission is $5.

The events, sponsored by the Maryland Heritage Committee, kick off a string of celebrations, ending with a year-long observance of Maryland's 350th birthday next year.

In December, the state will display the Treaty of Paris under the Statehouse dome near where Gen. George Washington resigned his commission from the Continental Army. The treaty document currently is preserved at the National Archives in Washington.

The treaty was ratified by the Confederation Congress on Jan. 14, 1784, assuring the United States a place in the "family of nations," says Orwin Talbott, chairman of the Maryland Heritage Committee.

"The Revolution ended in Annapolis when the democracy ratified the treaty," said Edward C. Papenfuse, state archivist.

"What the treaty did was provide this fledgling nation a period of much needed peace . . . to write the Constitution."

"From 1776 to this time, they were a bunch of rebellious colonies. The treaty brought us into the family of nations," said Talbott.

Rumor of the treaty's signing in the summer of 1783 preceded confirmation that the newly formed United States had actually reached agreement with King George III after seven years of war.

The battle of Yorktown, which occurred nearly two years earlier, was the last major fighting in the war. The colonies had won a decisive victory, and a preliminary treaty was signed in November 1782 between Britain and American emissaries Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Henry Laurens and John Jay.

Little celebration is known to have occurred when the final version of the treaty was signed by Franklin, Adams, Jay and British emissary David Hartley on Sept. 3, 1783.