Is Baltimore really “A NEST OF PIRATES” ?

The origins of the often used phrase “a nest of pirates” is not new to the War of 1812. Its origins go back to the days of the American Revolution (1782), to the Dey of Algiers (1804) of the Barbary Coast, to Tortola of the West Indies, and to Jean Lafitte of New Orleans (1814). In  past years the term “nest of pirates” has been used to describe Baltimore.

Maryland historian John Thomas Scharf (1843-1898) has come the closest with a lecture he gave at Schuztzen Park in October 1880:

“…Great Britain’s power in defense of State autonomy and in defense of seamen’s rights, and transformed this busy little seaport into a “nest of pirates,” which sent out its wasps to sting British commerce on every sea…” The Sun, October 12, 1880

Here are a few examples of that popular term that in its usuage has become synonymous with “privateers”.

 “In the Revolutionary war the English government regarded the Chesapeake Bay as a nest of pirates.” History of Baltimore City and County, Maryland…by John Thomas Scharf (Philadelphia, 1881),112.

 “The land of our father, whence is derived the ‘best blood of our nation, the country to which we are chiefly indebted for our laws and knowledge, is stigmatized as a nest of pirates, plunderers and assassins.Extract from a Fast Day sermon by F.S.F. Gardiner of Boston in 1808. Boston Courier, April 21, 1808.

 Webster’s New World Thesaurus (1985) “pirate, n. – Syn. thief, freebooter, plunderer, pillager, marauder, privateer, soldier of fortune, corsair, buccaneer, ranger, sea rover, sea-robber, Barbary pirate, plagiarist…”

 In July 1806 Admiral Alexander Cochrane, the one and the same at Baltimore in 1814, whose orders from the admiralty was to sail for Tortola, West Indies “To destroy the shipping and burn the town, in order to root out that nest of pirates, and privateersmen.” New York Spectator, July 30, 1806.


Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm  Comments Off on Is Baltimore really “A NEST OF PIRATES” ?  

Division Orders, Third Division, M.M., August 19, 1814.

On August 19, 1814 British naval and military forces landed at Benedict, Maryland on the Patuxent River and began their march towars Upper Marlboro and finally Washington. D.C.

The enemy have appeared in great force off the mouth of the Potomac, their movements appear to be up the bay. Orders have been issued from the President of the United States directing the third brigade to be called into federal service. Therefore ordered, that the whole brigade be held in readiness for actual service, that they parade at 4 o’clock this day, completely armed and equipped.

The quarter masters of the respective regiments, will draw their cartridges, and every box will be filled upon the ground. The men for the present will quarter at their respective homes. The reveille will beat at gun firing every morning when the regiments will assemble and train by regiment until 8 o’clock; they will again assemble at 4 o’clock, and train until seven o’clock.

On the alarm guns being fired, the regiments will meet on their respective parade grounds, and await further orders. The Third Brigade is now in the pay of the United States, in service subject to the articles of war.

By ordered. MAJ. GEN. SMITH

Isaac McKim, First Aid de Camp, 3rd division, M.M.

Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 8:42 pm  Comments Off on Division Orders, Third Division, M.M., August 19, 1814.  

Mendes I.Cohen – Defender of Fort McHenry

On May 7, 1879 Mendes I. Cohen, one of the Old Defenders of  Baltimore in 1814  died at the age of 83 years in Baltimore. He was the younger of two other brothers, Jacob I. and Philip Cohen all of whom served in the War of 1812 in the defense of Baltimore. He served as a private in Captain Joseph H. Nicholson’s U.S. Volunteer artillery company, the Baltimore Fencibles. He was one of the original stockholders in the Holiday Street Theatre where soon after the bombardment of Fort McHenry, “The Star-Spangled Banner ” was first sung in public.

One of his , if not most important contributions to the State of Maryland was to have the 1825 Jew Bill approved and passed by the Mayland Legislature to allow Jews to hold public office as well as in the Maryland Militia where he was elected captain of the Maron Rifles, a city volunteer company. He served as vice-president of the Hebrew Benevolent Association and director of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum and the Firemen’s Insurance Company.

In later years he visited Europe on three ocassions visit the sites of the Middle East. In September 1873 at the age of seventy-nine  made his last visit to Fort McHenry being one of the last surviving members of the Baltimore Fencibles and defenders of Fort McHenry.

Source: “The Late Mendes I. Cohen,” The Sun, May 8, 1878.

Published in: on July 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm  Comments Off on Mendes I.Cohen – Defender of Fort McHenry  

HMS Volcano and the Carcasses Red Glare: September 1814

The bombs and rockets that are commemorated in our national anthem were not the creation of Francis Scott Key’s imagination, in 1814, the bomb was the most potent weapon and the rocket the most spectacular in Britain’s naval arsenal. Another weapon used against Fort McHenry, which is not mentioned in Mr. Key’s song was the carcass shell. It was the fireball of Captain David Price’s bomb ship, HMS Volcano, one of five bomb ships employed by the British during the naval bombardment of Fort McHenry on September 13-14,1814.

Like the 13-inch bomb shell, the carcass was a hollow cast iron spherical shell weighing 190 pounds. It differed from the exploding “bomb bursting in air” in that it was intended to set buildings on fire. It also proved useful at night, as the projectile while burning, assisted in aiming other shells. Instead of one vent hole for a single fuse, the carcass had three openings, each two inches in diameter, filled with an incendiary composition that upon firing burned for eleven minutes after being launched from the bomb ship two miles distance from Fort McHenry. Its trajectory a mile into the sky, then on its downward plunge over the Fort would on impact upon a building and set it on fire.

In the late evening hours of September 13th, the final entry of HMS Volcano’s log for that day indicated the number of shells expended since 12 Noon:

 “10 [p.m.] heavy rain with squalls, furled sails, firing at intervals. Midnight rain. Fired 72 13-inch & 70 10-inch shells & 4 carcasses”

With a total of 146 shells thrown in a twelve hour period, HMS Volcano alone had expended shells of 10 and 13-inch caliber, at intervals of one every five minutes. A survey of the other bomb vessels showed no entries of carcasses being fired. If the British had captured Fort McHenry and sailed past the Fort, the carcass would have been used to set many of Baltimore’s wooden structures on fire. During the centennial observance in 1914, one of the carcasses was mounted on a granite pedestal which may be seen today in the parks Visitor Center, serving as a reminder of what may have happened if the events of September 1814 had turned in favor of the British.

Published in: on June 28, 2011 at 12:08 am  Comments Off on HMS Volcano and the Carcasses Red Glare: September 1814  

Major General Samuel Smith (1752-1839)

On April 22, 1839 Major General Samuel Smith, veteran of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 in which he commanded the Third Dividion of Maryland Militia during the Battle ofor Baltimore in September 12-14, 1814. Of the many obituaries this one from the Baltimore Sun is sufficient to draw attention to his many public services to the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore. 

Death of General Smith. General Samuel Smith, died at his residence [Montebello] yesterday afternoon, at 5 o’clock, in the 88th year of his age. He was a man of whom Baltimore was justly proud. A brave soldier, a sound statesman, and an honorable high-minded patriot; he ever obeyed the call of his country, and in two wars fought her battles, and in peace aided her in the legislature councils. Elected as mayor of the city, for his services in having restored the city from a state of anarchy in good order and respect for the laws, he labored by every means that a debilitated frame would permit, to perform the duties of his office.

It was the last public honor conferred upon him, and it was one springing from the reverence of his fellow citizens for his virtue and integrity. He has lived to see the country for whose freedom he battled, a great and powerful nation, and the city he defended from the pollution of a foreign foe [during the War of 1812], rising to the height of opulence and prosperity. His long life has been well spent, and his name will be inscribed among the greatest of the American patriots – his memory revered, and his services remembered with gratitude. As a mark of respect, it is suggested that the flags of the public buildings and shipping be displayed at  half-mast today, and until his corpse is consigned to the tomb [in Westminster Cemetery in downtown Baltimore].”

Source: The Sun (Baltimore), April 23, 1839.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 6:23 pm  Comments Off on Major General Samuel Smith (1752-1839)  

Hampstead Hill: The Bulwark of Baltimore’s Defense, September 1814.

In late August 1814, soon after the capture of Washington by the British expeditioanry forces, Baltimoreans began to erect a line of earthen entrenchments to protect the expected advance of the British army from the Philadelphia Road (Rt. 40). The length of the entrenchments and redoubts upon Hampstead or Londenslager’s Hill (today Patterson Park), stretched from the waterfront Sugar House in Fell’s Point near Harris Creek, northward to the Belair Road (Rt. 1), a distance of one mile.

The arrival of Commodore John Rodgers naval brigade from Philadelphia on August 26 of 350 U.S. Marines and sailors from the frigate Guerriere gave the city hope of a defense. Around this corps of veteran naval veterans, Major General Samuel Smith gathered the  15,000 arriving  militia from Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland. These troops gave support to the train of thrity-four field guns that crested the defense lines upon Hampstead Hill.

In 1857, forty-three years after the War of 1812, a Baltimore Sun correspondent remembered:

“The length of the breastworks…were arranged several efffective semi-cirular batteries, well mounted with cannon and ably manned, some of them by volunteer artillery companies of Baltimore, and others by sailors and men of war’s men, whilst the spaces which intervened between the batteries were occupied by the county militia and portions of the militia from adjacent states, who had patriotically hastened to the assistance of their beleaguered fellow-citizens of Baltimore. And, in addition to the forces already mentioned, nearly all of the Baltimore [3rd]brigade, composed of cavalry, artillery, riflemen and infantry, to the number of more than three thousand men, were assigned positions in and about these entrenchments.”

The only surviving trace of these entrenchments is a horseshoe shaped earthen redoubt immediately to the eastern front of the 1890 Japanese pogoda that occupied the site of the center of the American lines in 1814.

Source: The Sun (Baltimore), September 15, 1857. Report of Major General Samuel Smith, September 9, 1814. Samuel Smith Papers, Library of Congress.

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 12:44 am  Comments Off on Hampstead Hill: The Bulwark of Baltimore’s Defense, September 1814.  

Quartering the Militia at Baltimore, September 1814

On August 19, 1814 when the British expeditionary forces landed at Benedict, Maryland General Orders were sent out by Major General Samuel Smith and consequently to those neighboring states of Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania to come to Washington and Baltimore’s defense. With the capture of Washington on August 24, it became apparent the next tarket was Baltimore, thus many of the arriving militia halted at Baltimore and camps were established within a ten mile radius of the city. In Baltimore it soon became a logistical problem to find quarters for the militia, including those from outlying Maryland counties. Major Paul Bentalouu, Quartermaster General stated that “fifteen thousand have assembled and many more are coming in daily.”  

The Third Division Quartermaster of Baltimore Major Jeremiah Sullivan, obtained the shelter of  numerous ropewalks whose protective sheds, some 1,000 feet long could accomodate 500 troops  each. Every available building including fifty-one storied warehouses and dwellings were utilized along the docks, even within the unfinished granite walls of the catholic cathedral rising up on Howard’s Hill (now the Basilica of the Assumption). Here are a few examples: 60th Virginia Regiment – Hadsgis Ropewalk; 56th Virginia Regiment – Piper’s Ropewalk; Pennsylvania Militia – Oliver’s Ropewalk; companies of the 36th, 38th and 14th U.S. Infantry were in tents on Hampstead Hill.

In addition the troops needed food, canteens, knapsacks, cooking kettles, musket cartridges all had to be procured locally. Many companies, some independently arriving from as faraway as Hagerstown, MD., Hanover, PA., and Wilmington, DE., were without muskets or adequte equipage. Within weeks after the Battle for Baltimore, militia companies continued to arrive who had to be accomodated. Such was the scene in Baltimore during the perilous days of September 1814. 

Sources: Samuel Smith Papers, Library of Congress, MSS18794, Reel 4, Cont. 5-6.




Published in: on June 21, 2011 at 12:59 am  Comments Off on Quartering the Militia at Baltimore, September 1814  

Levi Claggett & John Clemm: Fallen Soldiers of Fort McHenry

In the aftermath of the bombardment of Fort McHenry, September 13-14, 1814, the Baltimore Patriot printed a obituary notice on two of the four defenders who had fallen during “the perilous fight.” The eloquence of the notice is an example of the words and expressions of those who had fallen during the conflict in the War of 1812.


This afternoon, at 4 o’clock, the Baltimore Artillery Company of Fencibles, under the command of Captain [Joseph Hopper] NICHOLSON, will parade for the purpose of rendering the last tribuite of respect to Lieutenant LEVI CLAGGETT, & Sergeant JOHN CLEMM, who fell in defence of this city and their country’s rights, at Fort M’Henry, during the bombardment of that fortress by the enemy.

To have fallen in such a cause, would have, of itself, entitled the memory of the dead to respect and sympathy. But, they needed no such adventitious circumstance to excite the most poignant regret at thier untimely departure. They formed a prominent part of the rich price, which was paid for victory and safety. In civil life, they were men of the most amiable manners, honorable principles, and respectable standing in society. In the hour of danger, they evinced ardent and collected courage. Their friends lament their loss, with sorrow not loud but deep. May the reflection, that they died in a cause and at a time, when every tonque was eloquent in their praise; that they departed in the path of honor; that the gratitude of their countrymen will embalm their names in every heart, afford to the bereaved of their connections and friends, the only alleviation for such a loss.

Their brethren in arms will cherish their memory, with affectionate care. They sleep on the soldier’s bed, the bed of honor; and while their loss may call forth the manly tear of fraternal regret, their example will animate to deeds, such, as living, they would have approved and aided.

SOURCE: Baltimore Patriot, September 21, 1814.

Published in: on May 31, 2011 at 3:16 pm  Comments Off on Levi Claggett & John Clemm: Fallen Soldiers of Fort McHenry  

Henry Lightner (1798-1883): The Drummer Boy of Fort McHenry

On the morning of Sunday, September 11, 1814, drummer Henry Lightner as well as other militia volunteers at Fort McHenry sounded the alarm at the approach of the British invasion fleet.  At sixteen years, Henry served in Captain John Berry’s Washington Artillery of the 1st Regiment, Maryland Volunteer Artillery. Captain Berry commanded the shore batteries along with two other militia companies.

Earlier, the company had marched from Baltimore to Fort McHenry earlier to the tune of Henry Lightner’s drum accompanied by fifes. It may well be that he played a favorite tune of his “The Girl I Left Behind.” As a member of the Association of Old Defenders’ of 1814  his presence was well known as he played the tune in the years to follow in many parades every Defenders’ Day in September. A tinner by trade in his adult years he was a member of the Methodist church. In the latter years of the 19th century as each of the participants in the defense of Baltimore past away, akin to the passing of the minute men of the days of the American Revolution, newspapers printed their passing – mutual respect for the citizen-soldiers of 1812.

Henry Lightner died in Baltimore on January 24, 1883 and was buried in Baltimore Cemetery.  

“The Drummer Boy’s Funeral.- The funeral of Mr. Henry Lightner, the drummer-boy of 1812, who died on Thursday in the 85th year of his age, took place yesterday afternoon, from the residence of his son-in-law, Mr. Richard McCullough, No. 49 East Eager street. Rev. Luther T. Widerman, pastor of Monument-Street M.E. Church, conducted the funeral services, and was assisted by Revs. A.M.Courtney, and A.S. Hank. The pallbearers were selected from the congregations of Monument-Street, Greenmount-Avenue and Madison-Square M.E. Churches and from Harmonia Lodge, I.O.O.F., a delegation from which also attended. Mr. W.H. Daneker, secretary of the Old Defenders’ Association, was present.” 

 The Sun, January 27, 1883. 

Sources: The Sun (Baltimore), January 25, 1883 and September 9, 1882.

Published in: on May 8, 2011 at 9:35 pm  Comments Off on Henry Lightner (1798-1883): The Drummer Boy of Fort McHenry  

Fell’s Point: Prize of the Chesapeake

A Baltimore Privateer, c. 1812 (Maryland Historical Society)

Fell’s Point, founded in 1730 by William Fell attracted by its deep water proximity to agricultural mills and abundant forests, became an influential commercial and shipbuilding seaport. In 1797 the Point was incorporated with Baltimore Town and Jones Town to the west to form the City of Baltimore. The port grew wealthly from its exports and imports of flour, tobacco and coffee and the trades of early 19th century seafarers, maritime artisians, sea captains and merchants.

Letters of Marque and Reprisal – On July 26, 1812, the U.S. State Department issued official Letters of Marque and Reprisal “to destroy and hender the mercantile trade of Great Britain.” Such letters authorized shipowners to convert their schooner rigged vessels into legalized privateers under the auspices of the U.S. During the war 126 private armed vessels sailed out of Baltimore, the largest number from any US port.

The Chasseur The most famous was the Chasseur that in 1814 sailed off the coast of England declaring by proclamation the entire coast of the British Isles under “a strict naval blockade.” The audacity of this single ship brought the indignation of the renown insurance firm of Lloyd’s of London, the merchants of Glasgow, Liverpool and London upon the Royal Navy to subdue these Baltimore privateers that weaked economic havoc on their mercantile trade. The Chasseur returned unscathed to Baltimore on March 15,1815 and as she sailed into the harbor she was greeted as “the pride of Baltimore.”  Today a replica design of The Pride of Baltimore II sails once more.

Merchant’s Coffee House – Throughout Fell’s Point there were numerous coffee houses. Here citizens, sea captains and politicians gathered for the latest news, foreign and domestic. Adjacent to one was the office’s of Hezekiah Niles’ Weekly Register the nation’s foremost influential weekly news magazine of its day, chronicleing the political, agricutural, war corresponce and events around the world. It remains an indispensable resource chronicle for historians for the War of 1812.

Today, Fell’s Point National Historic District is a vibrant working waterfront community of 18th and 19th century residential and commercial stores along its cobblestone streets and alleys.

Sources: The Fell’s Point Story by Norman G. Rukert (Baltimore: Bodine & Associates., 1976);

Published in: on April 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm  Comments Off on Fell’s Point: Prize of the Chesapeake