Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874)

Alfred Jacob Miller

Alfred Jacob Miller

In the War of 1812 galleries of the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, artist Alfred Jacob Miller’s famous panorama oil painting entitled “The Bombardment of Fort McHenry, September 13-14, 1814.” This unique painting, circa 1829, remains the quintessential War of 1812 image complete with “the rockets red glare and bomb bursting in air.”

Miller was born on January 2, 1810, to a successful sugar merchant and grocer, George Washington and Harriet Jacobs Miller. During the bombardment of Fort McHenry, George Miller, served as a private in Captain John Berry’s Washington Artillerist, 1st Regt. Maryland Artillery. He would later share his experiences for his son’s painting. Young Miller, while not a veteran of the war, but as an artist, captured the imagination of the events for history.

In the spring of 1829, eighteen year old Alfred Jacob Miller set up his easel and sketch book upon a promontory in South Baltimore, and sketched out the view of Fort McHenry in the distance. The site was old Camp Look-Out (Riverside Park), a circular earthen redoubt that took an active role in the city’s defense. Later at his studio/residence his canvas revealed the colorful events of what had occurred during September 13-14, 1814. The Baltimore Gazette gave notice of the young painter’s talents: “It is the production of a young gentleman of Baltimore…His painting is marked by a beautiful richness of colouring, and a graphic faithfulness in the delineation of the shores of the bay, the British fleet, the smoke of the cannon, and the bombs “bursting in air” over the Fort. With attention instruction commensurate with his genius, he will most assuredly attain a high rank as an historical painter.”

Alfred Jacob Miller is best remembered for his famous paintings and watercolor sketches of his 1837 travels to the American West, capturing the scenes of the American native Indians and early western plains culture. He died on June 26, 1874 at the age of seventy-four and was buried, it is believed, with his parents in the Old Glendy Burying Ground (est. 1807) of the 2nd Presbyterian Church at Broadway and Gay, near Baltimore’s Fell’s Point.

Sources: “Alfred Jacob Miller and ‘The Bombardment of Fort McHenry, Sept. 13-14, 1814.” by Scott S. Sheads (New Discoveries and Interpretations: The War of 1812 in Maryland, (unpublished, No. 14); “On the Trail of Alfred Jacob Miller,” Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 97, Fall, 2002); Baltimore American, July 23, 27, 1874; Six Months in America, by Godfrey T. Vigne (London: 1831).

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 8:30 pm  Comments Off on Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874)  

James McHenry (1753-1816)

James McHenry

James McHenry by DeNyse Turner. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-1029

James McHenry was born in Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland, on November 16, 1753. He immigrated to America in 1771 and received a medical education at the Newark Academy (Delaware) under the tutorship of Dr. Benjamin Rush.

In 1776 he served as a physician during the Revolutionary War and then as an aide to General Lafayette. In 1781, having obtained the rank of major, he left the military and served in the Maryland Senate (1781-1783) and as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1783-1786) and delegate in 1787 to the federal Constitutional Convention. Following the convention he served in the Maryland State assembly (1787-1796).

In 1796, President George Washington offered McHenry a position in his cabinet as secretary of war until 1800 when he resigned under the John Adams administration. In 1798 Fort McHenry in Baltimore was named in his honor.Following his resignation, McHenry retired to Baltimore where he died on May 3, 1816 and is buried in Westminster Burying Ground.

Sources: The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry, by Bernard C. Steiner and James McHenry, (Cleveland: Burrows Brothers Co., 1907).

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 1:30 pm  Comments Off on James McHenry (1753-1816)  

Joseph Hopper Nicholson (1770-1817)

Joseph Hopper Nicholson, MSA SC 3520-1893

Joseph Hopper Nicholson was from one of the most influential and oldest families on Maryland’s Eastern Shore at Centreville, whose linelage dates back to 17th century Maryland. Born on May 15, 1770 in Chestertown, Queen Annes County, Maryland he graduated from Chestertown [Washington] College in 1787 and served in the Maryland House of Delgates (1796-1798), U.S. House of Representatives(1799-1806). In 1804 he conducted the impeachment hearings of Associated Chief Justice 0f the U.S. Supreme Court, Samuel Chase of Maryland. Two years later he introduced a House bill that became known as the “Nicholson Resolution” that became the first of several Non-Importation Acts that resulted in the unpopular Embargo Act of 1807. He resigned in 1806 to become the Chief Judge of the Maryland’s Court of Appeals in Baltimore, holding this post until his death.

On May 16, 1812 at Baltimore’s Old Fountain Inn, fifty delegates of the Democratic-Republican Party, with Judge Nicholson presiding as chairman, met to present several resolutions in a memorial to the President James Madison on the momentous decision that the nation was now affixed upon – a declaration of war with England. Foremost of the delegates was Hezekiah Niles, the influential editor of the Niles’ Weekly Register, who reported the evening’s proceedings arguing that England “… forcibly impresses our seamen, and detains them inhumanely in an odorous servitude – she obstructs our commerce in every channel…she had murdered our citizens within our own waters…” Such were the sentiments of the delegates many of whom were connected by livelihood to the popular “free trade and sailor’ rights” issues, one of several that led the U.S. to declare war upon England on June 18, 1812.

Judge Nicholson was a well known and eloquent orator rose to address the gathering:

“…We have assembled here to-night, for the purpose of determining whether we will give it our support in the might struggle into which [our country ] is about to enter …Is there an American sword that will not leap from its scabbard to avenge the wrongs and contumely treatment under which we have suffered? No, my countrymen, it is impossible. Let us act with one heart, and with one hand; let us show to an admiring world, that however we may differ among ourselves about some of our internal concerns, yet in the great cause of our country, the American people are animated by one soul and by one spirit…”

In May 1814, he organized a U.S. Volunteer militia artillery company known as the Baltimore Fencibles, whose muster rolls included mercantile merchants, ship-owners and bankers. In May 1814 with an invasion of the Chesapeake eminent, Nicholson informed the U.S. Naval Secretary “We should have to fight hereafter, not for ‘free trade and sailors’ rights,’ not for the conquest of the Canadas, but for our national existence.” During the bombardment of Fort McHenry they manned the guns within Fort McHenry. After the war he conbtinued on the judicial bench until his death in Baltimore on March 4, 1817. He was buried at Wye House, home of the Lloyds of Maryland in Talbot County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Source: “Joseph Hopper Nicholson: Citizen-Soldier of Maryland,” by Scott S. Sheads (Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 98, No. 2, 2003).

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 10:05 am  Comments Off on Joseph Hopper Nicholson (1770-1817)  

Lt. Colonel George Armistead, (1780-1818)

“The President promptly sent my promotion with a very handsome compliment. So you see me dear wife, all is well, at least your husband has got a name and standing that nothing but divine providence could have given him, and I pray to our Heavenly Father we may live long to enjoy.” Armistead to his wife Louisa Armistead, Sept. 1814.

George Armistead

George Armistead was born on April 10, 1780, in Caroline County, Virginia, to John and Lucinda (Baylor) Armistead, one of five brothers, three of whom later served in the War of 1812. Armistead enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1799, rising steadily through the ranks until March 3, 1813 when he received his majority and subsequently distinguished himself on May 18th while serving as an artillery officer at Fort Niagara, New York, in the capture of Fort George across the Niagara River in Upper Canada. He was accorded the honor of delivering the captured British flags to President Madison.

On his taking command of Fort McHenry in June 1813, Armistead requested a flag for his new garrison flag measuring 42’ x 30’, a standard size for the period. The flag and his victory over a British naval bombardment on Sept. 13-14, 1814 earned his enduring place in American history under that flag at Fort McHenry whose stalwart defense of Baltimore against the British attack in 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner. Armistead would remained in command of the fort until his untimely death at age 38 on April 25, 1818.

In 1810, then Captain Armistead married at the Otterbein Church, Baltimore, Louisa Hughes (1789-1861), daughter of Baltimore silversmith Christopher Hughes, Sr. Colonel Armistead is buried along with his wife and nephew Brig. Gen. Lewis Addison Armistead, CSA (1817-1863) in Old St. Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore.

Source: Sheads, Scott S., Guardian of the Star-Spangled Banner: Lt. Col. George Armistead and The Fort McHenry Flag (Baltimore: Toomey Press, 1999)

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 9:43 pm  Comments Off on Lt. Colonel George Armistead, (1780-1818)  

“Guardians of Annapolis”: Harbor Defenses

Rough plan of the defences of the harbour of Annapolis in Maryland

Rough plan of the defences of the harbour of Annapolis in Maryland / taken from a penciled sketch made by Brig. General Wm. Winder, 1814.

As early as 1776 the Annapolis Council of Safety petitioned for the erection of several earth fortifications at four strategic points to protect Annapolis harbor. These were at Horn Point, Greenbury Point, Beaman’s Point and Windmill Point. By the late 18th century the bay had become a crucial transportation route for the Continental army, supplies and communications. To protect the colonial capitol, in 1808 these four points of land became the foundations of the following U.S. fortifications.

Spring 1813 – With the arrival of British naval forces in the Chesapeake, Governor Winder reported to the legislature that “due to the defenseless situation of the forts”  he ordered a detachment of 1500 militia to Annapolis for the city’s protection and to supplement the small detachments of U.S troops at the forts.

Fort Severn (1808-1904) – On November 1808 the land was ceded to the U.S. War Department. In January 1809 President Jefferson reported to Congress: ” A circular battery of mason-work at Windmill Point, for the protection and defense of Annapolis is nearly completed – the cannon are mounted. Another battery [Fort Madison]on the bank of the Severn, below the town, is also nearly finished.”

It was described as a circular 14′ high stone masonry work, mounting twelve guns at Windmill Point. During the war it was intermittently garrisoned by Captain Samuel Sterett’s Co. 5th U.S. Infantry, Aug – Dec 1812; Lieutenant Satterley Clark, 1st Regiment, U.S. Artillery, June 1813. In 1845 Fort Severn was transferred to the U.S. Navy for the U.S. Naval Academy and in 1909 was demolished. Today the site is occupied by Bancroft Hall.

Fort Madison (1809-1909) – Located on Carr Point, Fort Madison, was described by U.S. Secretary of War Wm. Eustis in Dec. 19, 1809: “Fort Madison, an enclosed work of masonry, comprehending a semi-elliptical face, with circular flanks, calculated for thirteen guns: with a brick magazine, and barracks for one company.” On April 19, 1813, Fort Madison fired her alarm guns when several Maryland privateers sought shelter from being chased by British warships. The fort remained garrisoned until transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1845. It was removed in 1909. The site is the U.S. Yard Patrol boats across the river from Bancroft Hall. Among the troops who garrisoned the fort were Capt. George C. Collin’s Baltimore Union Artillery, 1st Regt. Md Artillery, Aug 1812.

It was demolished in 1909 by the U.S.Navy, the site to be used for the U..S. Naval Academy.

Fort Nonsense (c. 1808- c. 1815) – Very little is known of the site other than it was located on Carr Point and may have been used during the Revolutionary War as a lookout post through the War of 1812. Located below Fort Madison on a high prominence it appears to have been a small circular earthen redoubt of 2 acres. Remnants of the redoubt have survived of the three forts that had defended Annapolis during the war. Today it is located on U.S. Navy property and is off limits to civilians.

Sources: “Fort Severn, Forerunner of U.S. Naval Academy,” by Ruby R. Duval, Shipmate, Oct. 1958; Correspondence between Gov. Levin Winder and U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong, March – April 1813, Baltimore Patriot, May 22, 1813.

Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 9:17 pm  Comments Off on “Guardians of Annapolis”: Harbor Defenses  

His Britannic Majesty’s Brig Bloodhound, July 1812

On July 18, a month after the declaration of war, HM Brig Bloodhound (10 guns), Capt. Charles Rubridge (1787-1873) commanding, entered the Chesapeake having left Plymouth, England on June 28.  On board was a Mr. Shaw, the King’s messenger with dispatches for the England’s Minister Plenipotentiary to the United States in Washington, Mr. Augustus J. Foster (1780-1848).

At anchor in the harbor was the Letter of Marque Cora of  Baltimore, Actg. 1st Officer Richard Weathers, cmdg. He was awaiting the arrival of Captain Joseph Gold and ships owner to board from the city. Arriving in port on July 21, HMB Bloodhound was unaware of the U.S. declaration of war of June 18 having been at sea. As they approached Annapolis under the guidance of a black pilot, she was boarded by the crew of the Cora and placed her under the guns of Fort Madison.

While lying under the guns of Fort Madison, her crew were sequestered in the forts barracks and kept under guard for protection. Mr. Shaw having delivered his dispatches to Washington returned with an order for the Bloodhound and her crew for their immediate release. The U.S. government held the capture and any prize of the Cora to be improper as Capt. Rubridge was unaware of the war declaration. She was released and returned with dispatches to Plymouth. She was the second  British national vessel to be taken in the Chesapeake. The first was on July 10, at Hampton Roads, Va., of  HBM schooner Whiting, Capt. Carroway by the Baltimore privateer Dash, under similar events. HMS Bloodhound was restored to her colors.

Sources: An Autobiographical Sketch by Captain Charles Rubidge, R.N. 1870, pp 4-5; Daily National Intelligence, July 11, 21, 28, 1812.

Published in: on March 12, 2011 at 11:25 am  Comments Off on His Britannic Majesty’s Brig Bloodhound, July 1812