British at the Gates: Three Country Estates East of Baltimore:

Following the Battle of North Point and the death of Maj. General Robert Ross, the British army under Col. Arthur Brooke advanced on the morning of September 13 towards the outskirts of Baltimore west on the Philadelphia Road (Rt.40) along Herring Run. It was within this area three miles east of the American main defenses on Hampstead Hill (Patterson Park) that Col. Arthur Brooke and Rear Admiral George Cockburn reconnoitered the American lines, finding themselves at the gates of Baltimore of three country estates. They halted on the highland heights (present site Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital).

Joseph R. Foard (1765-1869). The British immediately began to reconnoiter and visit the farms in the area. The heights offered Colonel Brooke and Admiral Cockburn an unobstructed view of the American lines before them. First they visited the 245 acre farm of Joseph R. and Mary Foard’s farm fronting on the north of the Philadelphia Road. Foard served as second lieutenant in Capt. Jehu Bouldin’s Independent Light Dragoons. Along with neighbor and fellow dragoon Thomas Kell,  Foard had barely escape the day before near North Point by the British advance guard sending his servant to warn his family to leave and go north to safety with relatives. No sooner had the household departed than a house servant, having tarried too long, barely escaped as the British approached the farm firing at him. The British advanced guard took procession of the farm shooting the cattle in the field. Finding a militia uniform in the house, the British cut it into pieces and began to destroy the household furniture.

Within two weeks of the battle Foard posted a newspaper notice declaring “Having sustained very heavy losses and damage in my Household Property, from the depredations committee upon it by the British army…” he asked any citizens if any of his property had been found to return it. The British continued next to the country estate of Lt. Thomas Kell whose family also had departed for safety.

Judge Thomas Kell (1772-1846). Lieutenant Kell’s estate of “Orangeville” was situated on a high knoll with a commanding view of Hampstead Hill situated at the present intersection of North Point Boulevard and Pulaski Highway. Here Colonel Brooke and Admiral Cockburn and their officer’s staff made temporary headquarters. Admiral Cockburn related “I not know what kind of a hole Baltimore is in, for I can see the very eyes of the people and yet cannot do execution.”

Lt. Colonel Joseph Sterett (1773-1821)- Lt. Colonel Joseph Sterett and his wife Molly Harris’s  260 acre estate of “Mount Deposit”  lay to the north of Judge Kell’s estate along the Philadelphia Road, two miles east from Baltimore, overlooking Fell’s Point and the harbor. At midnight on September 12, Colonel Sterett having returned with his regiment from the North Point battlefield made arrangements to remove his family. He then took post on Hampstead Hill within sight of his estate along with the gathering militia and federal forces.  As Col. Brooke and Admiral Cockburn surveyed the American defenses before them, their commissioned officers and accompanying soldiers took leisure on Sterett’s estate. A British subaltern and four fellow officers decided to venture forth.

 “About a couple of hundred yards in front of videttes, stood a mansion of considerable size, and genteel exterior … That a place so neat in all its arrangements, and so well supplied with out-houses of every description…When a crowd of stragglers, artillerymen, sappers, sailors and soldiers of the line, rushed into the hall. In a moment, the walls of the building re-echoed with oaths and exclamations, and tables, chairs, windows, and even the doors, were dashed to pieces, in revenge for the absence of food… through a chasm in a brick wall under ground, the interior of a wine cellar, set round in magnificent array, with bottles of all shapes and dimensions. In five minutes, the cellar was crowed with men, filling in the first place, their own haversacks, bosoms …In less than a quarter of a hour, not a single pint, either of wine of spirits, remained…”

 Col. Sterett’s daughter, Louisa remembered vividly:  from the family narratives the events that took place at “Surrey” on September 12-13, 1814: “Fearing that the outrages and atrocities perpetrated by Cockburn and his men might be repeated… the family coach and large farm wagon made their exit by the west road as the British entered on the east by [Judge] Kell’s woods.”

A colored woman Ellen Smith and her children seized what family valuables and secreted them to their slave quarters when British officers denied any soldiers to enter the negro quarters. On a sideboard three officers, Captain Brown, Wilcox and McNamara of the Royal Marines left an inscription on the parlor mantel; “Captains Brown, Wilcox and McNamara, of the Light Brigade, Royal Marines, met with everything they could wish for at this house. They returned their thanks, notwithstanding it was received through the hands of the butler in the absence of the Colonel.”

Today the structural two story remains of “Surrey” still survives in northeast Baltimore, boarded up once used as a community center.

 Sources: The Sun, October 18, 1866; April 10, 1869; Sept. 12, 1903; Sept. 12, 1888; Baltimore American & Commercial Daily Adv., September 29, 1814; Baltimore Gazette , November 26, 1831; Judge Thomas Kell (1772-1846) was a Judge Circuit Court  and later Maryland Attorney General (1824-1831); The Torch Light and Public Adv., (Hagers-Town, Md.), October 25, 1827; A Subaltern in America; Comprizing His Narrative of the Campaign of the British Army, at Baltimore, Washington, &c.,.by George Robert Gleig (Baltimore: E.L. Carey & a. Hart, 1833), 153-154; The Sun, September 12, 1888.

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 12:05 pm  Comments Off on British at the Gates: Three Country Estates East of Baltimore:  

Battle of “Slippery Hill,” Queen Anne’s County, August 13, 1813

On August 13, 1813 British land and naval landing forces attacked Queenstown, Maryland in Queen Annes County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The attack was launched from Kent Island, a temporary naval base that would also launched two attacks on nearby St. Michaels (Aug. 10, 26) in Talbot County. Here the 38th Maryland Regiment under the command of Major William Hopper Nicholson skirmished with approximately 300 British troops under the command of Col. Sir Thomas Sidney Beckwith as they advanced on Queenstown along the Kent Island Road (Route 50 ). Fearful of being cut off by a second British amphibious force, Major Nicholson’s forces withdrew to Centreville. It has popularly being called the Battle of “Slippery Hill” for the low rise of ground on the site intersection of Route 18 and Bennett Point Road half-way between Grasonville and Queenstown.

Following is his official account of the battle.


Having laid before you my letter of the 13th inst. to Brig Gen. Chambers stating the enemy’s movements on Queen’s Town, and my retreat in consequence thereof, it remains for me to give you a detailed statement of the affair, together with the reasons which influenced and determined me to retreat without engaging the enemy.

Previous to entering on this detail, it may not be irrelevant for the information of those who have minds enough to comprehend the subject, to give a slight sketch of the geographic position of the country, laying between the enemy’s force on Kent Island, and my little charge at Queens Town – Kent Island, of which the enemy were in possession, and which was completely surrounded by their vessels of war, in the southern extremity of Queen Anne’s county; the greatest breath about 6 miles; is watered on its western side by the Chesapeake Bay, on its eastern margin by the Eastern Bay, and is separated from the Main by what is usually termed the Narrows, which is in fact a strait from the Eastern Bay to Chester River, and runs nearly north and south, is navigable on full common tides for small shallops; and its breath caries from about 100 yards, to half a mile or more.

This narrows or strait, is skirted on both sides by extensive marshes, intersected with cripples, which are frequently dangerous, more especially to the marsh connected with the main. To approach the Island from the Main you must traverse a narrow causeway upwards of a mile in length across the marsh. Piney Neck, or the district of country which extends from Queenstown to the Narrows, is watered on the N.W. by Chester River, navigable for ships of large size for an extent of about six miles to the mouth of Queen’s Town Creek, which forms its best gead about ¼ mile from the main road, near to which stands the little village in which my force was quartered. The same district of [the] country is watered on the S. and E. by the Eastern Bay, and that branch of Wye River called Back Wye, for an extant of about 20 miles, navigable in its whole course for craft and barges to within a short distance of Queenstown.

Into this tract of country, nearly surrounded by water, I was destined to defend with the following force, viz., 6 companies of infantry, amounting to 273 men, of whom 25 were sick, and three absent on furlough, leaving 214 effectives – two light six pounders, commanded by Capt. [Thomas] Wright, about 35 strong; and 100 Cavalry, commanded by Major [Thomas] Emory.

To this force I had strong reasons to believe the enemy could oppose a land force of 3000 men, and of course all the barges and men belonging to the shipping by water. In this position I could not but be sensible of the extreme danger of my situation, and felt that there was but little for me to do, but use great caution and vigilance to avoid a surprise. To prevent all intercourse with the island, which was so great as to be highly criminal.

On the morning of the 12th, I determined to push the two companies amounting to 62 men, (and a part of the 244 effectives) commanded by Capts. [Charles] Hobbs and [John D.] Taylor, into the [Piney] neck, if they should be willing to engage is so hazardous an enterprise; and accordingly communicated my wishes to them.

They, without a moments hesitation, accepted my wishes, and with great alacrity paraded their companies, and entered on a perilous duty, which they, equally with myself, tho essential to the safety of our whole force. They had my written permission to occupy such grounds as to them might seem most advantageous for the duty assigned them. They were by no means to invite an attack, to communicate with me at least once in 12 hours, for which purpose they had four troopers sent on with them, to be entirely subject to their orders.

They were not to occupy the same ground any two nights successively. With these instructions, the very intimate knowledge which the officers & men professed of the country, added to the great zeal & activity of the officers, I was satisfied that if they should be attacked by a superior force, they would effect a safe retreat, if by an equal force, I had no fears for the result. In the course of the afternoon of the 12th, a variety of circumstances combined to induce me to believe that I should be attacked the next morning, & that chiefly, if not altogether on the land side.

I therefore took my officers separately & pointed out to each of them the positions their men were to occupy on the land side, in the event of an attack by land, and the same if attacked by water. We were unanimously of opinion, that the posts selected were of such strength, as to enable us to do great execution to a much larger force than their own; and against any thing like an equal force, we felt confident of success.

Against an attack from 2 or 3 points, I felt the insufficiency of my force to provide, and did not attempt it. Having dispatched Adjutant [John] Tilghman, and one or two officers into the neck, about 11 o’clock, and having finished visiting my guards, about 1-2 past 12, [midnight], I retired to my room. At 1-2 past 1 o’clock the Adjutant returned from reconnoitering, without having gained any information of the enemy’s intentions.

At 10 minutes before 3 o’clock of the 13th, I was aroused by the quick approach of horsemen, and found them to be my cavalry videttes of the out posts, with the intelligence that the enemy was approaching in great force on the main road from Kent Narrows to Queens Town. I immediately called up my officers, and at 15 minutes past 3, my force paraded in order of battle, with the exception of the cavalry. The want of accommodations for the men and horses, compelled me to quarter them about 1½ miles from the village, but this occasioned no delay; for in the course of 10 or 15 minutes Major [Thomas] Emory in person, (much to the honor of this body) reported his cavalry as formed on the ground I had directed, and ready for action.

A few minutes only had elapsed, when an express arrived to me from Captains [Charles] Hobbs and [John D.] Taylor, with the information that the enemy was advancing in such force, as to make it impossible that I could oppose them with mine; and that they expected to effect a safe retreat. This intelligence created great anxiety for the fate of my picquet guard, which was stationed about 2 miles in advance of Queens Town, on the road by which the enemy was approaching. I immediately mounted my horse, and pressed forward towards my picquet.

When I had advanced within ½ a mile of the post, the firing commenced between them and the enemy, and the vollies of musketry left me without hope that an individual of them was alive. I returned immediately to my main body, and found them at their posts, all cheerful and anxious for the onset of the enemy, notwithstanding his numbers, a fresh volley of musketry created feelings which I can never forget, it assured me that my picquet was not annihilated as I supposed, but (to their immortal honor) that they had abused my orders of the night before, rallied, and a second time attacked the enemy. I instantly sent the Adjutant on to meet them, and they arrived safe at our line, about 400 yards in advance of the enemy, without the loss of a man, and only one very slightly wounded.

If anything I could say, would add to the reputation of those gentlemen, how freely would I say it, in giving their names to the public, I do all that I can. It shall be known, that a picquet guard composed of the following gentlemen, stood firm at their posts, received the attack, and returned the fire of a column of British troops 2000 strong, supported by 4 field pieces, retreated, formed again, and gave the enemy their second fire.

Picquet Guard

 Capts. James Massey,  J.H. Nicholson, Jr.  Privates, John D. Emory, John Green, Solomon E. Wright, Dennis Sullivan, James Chairs, John Hassett, Samuel Gleen, ames Jackson, W. Seward (slightly wounded), Jacob Price, Thomas Deroachbroome, John Dodd, Jeremiah Vincent, Thomas Cox, Peter Ross, William Emerson, Samuel McBosh [and] Archibald Roe

About 4 o’clock, my cavalry videts, stationed on Chester River came in, bringing the painful intelligence that a large number of barges were entering Queens Town creek. In a few minutes after a signal rocket from the barges told me the news too true; at the same moment one of my guards stationed on the creek came with the information that they had formed their line across the mouth of Queens Town creek. The signal rocket was answered from the land side, and I instantly called in all my guards except three, out of twenty, stationed at Mr. Hall’s landing [Bowlingly Plantation] on the creek, who I left for the purpose of conveying intelligence to me of the enemy’s approach; for I was firmly resolved to engage the enemy in my front, if it could be done without subjecting the force I commanded to certain capture. I had sent major Blake to take a view of the enemy on the water, who returned with the information that they had landed, & that he was fired on by them.

The force in my front was about 150 yards from us, and was plainly seen from both my left and right flanks. In this situation I concluded, that noting but a silent retreat could effect my escape this I ordered, and dispatched the surgeon of the regiment to major Emory of the cavalry with the order; but from some misconception of the surgeon, major Emory did not consider the order as official; and of course, did not commence his retreat with that promptness of movement, for which his command is remarkable. I discovered the delay, and as soon as possible sent on the adjutant, with orders for the cavalry to press their retreat; this was done under a heavy fire of rockets, round and grape shot, equally upon the cavalry, infantry and artillery, from the enemy’s land force, and from a fire of rockets, round and grape shot, upon the infantry and artillery, from the forces on the water side.

There was no confusion among any of the troops; all retreated in perfect order, and the column was well formed (for militia) during the whole retreat; indeed it became absolutely necessary to give a positive order to quicken their pace before I could effect it; early on the retreat I discovered that my column occupied more ground that was necessary for it; and apprehensive that some irregularity existed in the advance, I rode up to the front to discover the cause, and found captains Massey and Nicholson’s commands in single file. This order if companies had been necessary in the first instance in consequence of the original retreat of the companies being intercepted by the enemy’s force on the water side. I therefore found it necessary to change the disposition of their retreat, and immediately upon my giving the order for the formation of a column by those two companies, it was executed on the march, with a neatness and promptness that does equal honor to the officers and men.

During the whole of the time that we waited in order of battle the enemy’s approach, the most perfect order and submission pervaded my little command, frequently enlivened with observations and with, that bespoke minds perfectly at ease, and determined to do their duty to their country. Capt. [G.W.T.] Wright of artillery, in particular, addressed his command in a very spirited and handsome style; exhorting by every thing that was sacred and dear to them as freemen, to discharge their duty, which was received with the most cordial assurances of support from the whole force.

Having thus detailed the objects of my first retreat, it becomes necessary that I should account for my continuing to this place. The head of the column having reached the appointed place of rendezvous, about one and a half miles from the town, I was riding very leisurely along in the rear with the adjutant, and had just ordered him to ride forward and halt the column, when information was sent to me, by a person who had been on the water’s edge during the whole time, that the enemy were landing a large force from twenty barges on a point of Mr. Wright’s [Blakeford Plantation]. I was well aware, that the landing a force at that place could have no other object in view, but the intercepting my retreat, and I instantly ordered the head of the column to advance, and continue the retreat to this place; where every man arrived in safety.

The firing of my picket guard killed two of the enemy, and wounded five; and their commander in chief Sir Sidney Beckwith, had his horse killed. The deserters, who were with the land force, state their numbers to have been, one company of marine artillery (4 pieces) 100 strong, the 102nd regiment of foot, 300 strong; 2 battalions of marines 1600, and one rocket company 50 strong. This was the force in my front to which I had determined to give battle, but the appearance of the enemy attacking my rear, compelled me to give up my attention. His numbers by water not known; but was contained in 45 barges, and by those who had the best opportunity of examining, is stated to have been at least 1350.

It affords me the great pleasure to add, that captains [Charles] Hobbs and [John D.] Taylor made good their retreat across Wye River in batteaux and canoes; and the troopers who were under their command effected theirs by swimming their horses across. I will only observe, that not a breath of censure can in any way attach to a single individual of my command. The ready and cheerful obedience which I experienced from every officer, and private, gave me full confidence that I could rely on the execution of my orders; and I was not disappointed; on me alone therefore must rest the responsibility of the retreat. May I again, sir, solicit, that a Court of Inquiry be directed to site on me.”

I am sir,

WILLIAM H. NICHOLSON, Major 38th Regt. Md. Militia, Centreville, 16th, Aug. 1813

 Source: Major William Nicholson, 38th Regiment, Maryland Militia, to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Wright of the 38th Regiment, Maryland Militia, Centreville, Md., August 16, 1813; Easton Republican Star, August 24, 1813.

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm  Comments Off on Battle of “Slippery Hill,” Queen Anne’s County, August 13, 1813  

Battle of North Point – American Prisoners of War, September 12, 1814

In the aftermath of the Battle of North Point, fifty-three American militia found themselves prisoners of war and were conveyed to the British fleet via Bear Creek to His Britannic Majesty’s frigates Havanna, Severn and Surprise. In a collective letter upon which their names were listed they described their confinement;

“We had the misfortune to be captured in the affair of Monday last at Bear Creek and were on Tuesday brought on board this ship where we are detained as prisoners of war…we are in captivity & distressed (not one of us having a change of raiment, a blanket, or cent of money – some have no coats, others no vests or shoes). Should not an immediate arrangement be made for our benefit, we expect to be sent to England…We pray an immediate attention may be paid to our situation by a flag of truce…Several of us being already very unwell, we fear confinement by fever which will be certain death in our situation…”

 Independent Company, 5th Maryland Regt.; Thomas Bailey, Talbot Jones, Edward Murray, Frederick Seyler, and William Jenkins.

Independent Blues – 5th  Maryland Regt.; Francis M. Wills, George Heidelbach, William Levely, Richard Lawson, John Huzza.

First Baltimore Sharp Shooters – 1st Battalion Maryland Riflemen; Thomas G. Prettyman, and John Howard.

Patriot Company, 5th Maryland Regt.; Benjamin Meredith.

United Volunteers, 5th Maryland Regt.; Henry W. Gray, and John G. Poug.

Union Volunteers, 5th Maryland Regt.; George Collins, and Henry Suter

1st Mechanical Volunteers, 5th Maryland Regt.; John Redgrave.  

51st Maryland Regt.; Andrew Miller, John Kepler, Morgan Carson, Adam Miller, Andrew Cole, Peter Stedman, Patrick B. Powell, John Kesler, and Adam Miller.

27th Maryland Regt.; John Fordyce, Ephraim Nash.

39th Maryland Regt; William Baltzell, Lewis Baltzell.

Non-combatants – Daniel Wells, Joseph G. Whitney

Two other British warships also held American prisoners of war from North Point.

 Onboard HM frigate Surprise – William B. Buchanan, Ezekiel Partett, Peter Abraham, James Gettings, Edward H. Dorsey, John Lowleas, William Balson, John Griffin, Thomas Herring, George Boyle, Richard Polkinhorn, Thomas Norris, Andrew Kaufman, and George T. Hersey.

 Onboard HM frigate SevernJohn Chesley, John Baxley, Nicholas Wilson, Joseph Chaoman, and John Dougherty.

 In October they were released under the efforts of Colonel John S. Skinner, prisoner of war exchange agent for the U.S. State Department, who only recently had been with attorney Francis Scott Key on board a flag-of-truce vessel and had witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Sources: Letter dated September 17, 1814, onboard HBM frigate Havanna. Samuel Smith Papers, Reel 2, Container 2-3., Library of Congress; Baltimore American & Commercial Daily Adv., September 26, 1814.

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm  Comments Off on Battle of North Point – American Prisoners of War, September 12, 1814  

Isaac Monroe: U.S. Volunteers: “…and Yankee Doodle played…”

Among the celebrated Old Defenders’ of Baltimore was Isaac Munroe.  He was born near Boston in 1774, learned the printer’s trade and eventually in his maturity founded the Boston Patriot. In 1812 he removed to Baltimore and in 1813 founded the Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser newspaper that chronicled the Battle for Baltimore in 1814.

September 17, 1814. Three days after the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Isaac Munore, editor of the Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser wrote a letter to a fellow editor of The [Boston] Yankee. As a private in Captain Joseph H. Nicholson’s U.S. Volunteers, the Baltimore Fencibles at Fort McHenry he had personally witnessed the preparations and bombardment. His letter provides crucial evidence of those moments that gave birth to a new national song. Here are extracts from the letter:

“I will give you an account of the approach of the enemy before this place, so far as it came under my observation…while we were marching to town, the enemy tacked about, and just at dusk were seen under press of sail, with a fair wind, approaching the town. There movements were closely watched at the fort…We were all immediately rallied, and arrived at the Fort before 12, although the rain poured down in torrents. On our arrival we found the matches burning, the furnaces heated and vomiting red hot shot, and everything ready for a gallant defense..Tuesday morning, at which time they had advanced to within two and a halfmile of the Fort, arranged in most elegant order, all at anchor, forming a half circle, with four bomb vessels and a rocket ship…

…two of their headmost frigates opened upon us, but finding their shot not reaching us, they ceased and advanced upa little nearer. The moment they had taken their position, Major Armistead mounted the parapet and ordered a battery of 24 pounders to be opened upon them; immediately after a battery of 42’s followed, whe the whole fort let drive at them. We could see the shot strike the frigates in several instances, when every heart was gladdened, and we gave three cheers, the music playing Yankee Doodle….

…The bomb vessels advanced a little, and commenced a tremendous bombardment, which lasted all day and all night…the most tremendous bombardment ever known in this cuntry, without means of resisting it, upwards of 1500 bombs having fallen in and around the Fort…”

“…till dawn of day [on September 14], when they appeared to be disposed the to decline the unprofitable contes. At this time, our morning gun was fired, the flag hoisted, Yankee Doodle played, and we all appeared in full view [upon the ramparts] of a formidable and mortified enemy, who calculated upon our surender in 20 minutes after the commencement of the action.”

 He died on December 28, 1859 and “was respected for his integrity and general uprightness of character.” His final resting place is unknown.

Sources:  The Yankee (Boston), September 30, 1814; “An Yankee Doodle played: A Letter from Baltimore, 1814” by Scott S. Sheads, (Maryland Historical Magazine, No.76. Fall 1981), 380-382; Civilian & Telegraph (Cumberland, MD), December 29, 1859.


Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 9:24 pm  Comments Off on Isaac Monroe: U.S. Volunteers: “…and Yankee Doodle played…”  

British Prisoners at North Point, Sept. 1814

In the early hours of September 14, 1814, the British began their withdraw from Baltimore down the North Point Road towards their awaqiting transports at North Point.  Captain James Bird’s U.S. Light Dragoons engaged the rear guard and captured the following prisoners.

William Corndoff……Corporal…..21st Royal Scots Fusileers

Hugh Brown………….Private……..21st Royal Scots Fusileers

Michael Boyle……….private……..21st Royal Scots Fusileers

George Hood………..private……..21st Royal Scots Fusileers

William Armor……..private……..21st Royal Scots Fusileers

Archibald Cotz……..private……..21st Royal Scots Fusileers

Charles Scoffin……..private………21st Royal Scots Fusileers

Joseph Davenport..private……….44th Regiment

William Matthews…private…………4th Regiment

William Riley……….private…………4th Regiment

William Hochreday.private…………4th Regiment

Edward Allison…….private………….4th Regiment

These British prisoners were taken under guard by Ensign Presley Cordell, 57th Virginia Militia to Frederick Town, Maryland arriving September 17 where District Marshall & Agent for Prisoners Capt. Morris Jones took charge of them. Thier final deposition is unknown.

Source: William H. Winder Papers, Maryland Historical Society.

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 7:50 pm  Comments Off on British Prisoners at North Point, Sept. 1814  

“The Alarm Guns Have Just Fired – Every Man Is In Arms!” September 10, 1814

On September 7, following the capture of Washington on August 24, the British consolidated their naval and military forces at Tangier Island, Va. The British fleet, consisting of ships-of-the-line, frigates, sloops, schooners, troop transports, and bomb ships sailed up the Chesapeake – an armada of fifty warships.

At 1:30 p.m. on September 10th the alarms guns at Forts Madison and Severn were fired and church bells tolled as the British fleet, stretching to the horizon made their passage past Annapolis. “They could be distinctly ascertained from the haziness of the weather.” Panic overtook the city as residents gathered their belongings in wagons, militia companies assembled on the town greens, as express riders carried the news to Baltimore and Washington. The offices of the Maryland Gazette have all been called out for the city’s defense. Militia look-out posts on the Patapsco River ten miles northward raised their signal flags to like flags in Baltimore. The broad pennants of three British Admirals – Cochrane, Cockburn and Malcolm flew from the mastheads of His Majesty’s Ships Marlborough, Albion and Tonnant. Two weeks before in a letter to President Madison, Vice Admiral Cochrane declared his intention “to destroy and lay waste such towns and districts upon the coasts as may be found assailable.” Annapolis would be spared as the British sailed northward towards Baltimore.

Maryland and Virginia militia companies began to march to Annapolis, then to Baltimore. Seven days later, with defeat at Baltimore and the last major campaign in the Chesapeake, Annapolis for the last time witnessed the passing of the Royal Navy.

Sources: Maj. Barney to Samuel Smith, September 10, 1814, Maine Portland Gazette, September 19, 1814.

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 7:21 am  Comments Off on “The Alarm Guns Have Just Fired – Every Man Is In Arms!” September 10, 1814  

A Congreve Rocket Burns Henry Waller’s Kent County Farmhouse, August 28, 1814

In late August 1814, HM frigate Menalaus, Captain Peter Parker, was ordered north of Baltimore to the Upper Chesapeake Bay as a diversion during the Baltimore campaign.

On Sunday, August 28 just before dawn, British Royal Marines and sailors landed on the shore of Fairlee Creek, Kent County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. At 10 a.m. the British encountered a militia troop of horse gathered around the 308 acre bayside farm of Henry Waller (b.1774), described as “among the best on the Eastern Shore, both for prospect and convenience.” consisting of a two-story farmhouse with extensive outbuildings for meat, grain, corn and milk, and an extensive apple orchard. To dislodge the militia, The British officer, Lt. Henry Crease ordered Congreve rockets and 18-pounder carronades be fired upon the shore, one of which failed to launch and burned furiously onboard the ship and was thrown overboard. Crease’s shore detachment returned to the Menelaus.

Later that afternoon a second British landing was made upon Waller’s Farm setting on fire the farm house and cornfields, while the Royal Marines fired musket volleys at the militia troop of horse “smashingly dress’d in Blue and long white feathers in their hats.” Royal Marine Benjamin Benyon admirably noted in his journal that the Waller house was, “by far the finest part that I have seen in America, the house was elegant.” The next morning, Lt. Benyon noted onboard H.M. frigate Menelaus that the Waller house “was burning most furiously & all the out houses and corn stalks.”

Seventeen years later, in 1829, the Federal Government began to receive claims for war damages of private property, one of whom was Henry Waller for the destruction of his property. He retained a Georgetown attorney named Francis Scott Key to represent his case. Mr. Waller did receive compensation for his home. One of the Congreve rockets that set his farmhouse ablaze is on display at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (NPS) in Baltimore. It is one of the rare Maryland War of 1812 artifacts known to have survived the war with a provenance with it.

Sources: The Waller farm was formerly owned by Colonel James Lloyd (1745-1820), member of the U.S. Congress and Maryland Legislature. In 1807 he sold the farm to Henry Waller. After Waller house was destroyed, Henry sold the farm to Richard Frisby. Michael Owen Bourne, Historic Houses of Kent County: An Architectural History: 1642-1860, (Chestertown, Maryland: The Historical Society of Kent County, Inc., 1998), 295, 405-407; Baltimore Federal Gazette & Evening Advertiser, August 8, 1814; Captain Parker to Vice Admiral Cochrane, August 29, 1814. HMS Menelaus off Pooles Island. (Alexander Cochrane Papers, Library of Congress, MS 2329); Benyon Journal, August 28, 1814;

Published in: on March 31, 2011 at 9:00 pm  Comments Off on A Congreve Rocket Burns Henry Waller’s Kent County Farmhouse, August 28, 1814  

Chesapeake Bay under Blockade: February 5, 1813

On October 1812 the London Times published the following:

“The American navy must be annihilated – her arsenals and dockyards must be consumed; and the turbulent inhabitants of Baltimore must be tamed with the weapons [bombs and rockets] which shook the wooden turrets of Copenhagen…All the prating about maritime rights, with which the Americans have recently nauseated the ears of every cabinet minister in Europe must be silenced by the strong and manly voice of reason- America must be BEATEN INTO SUBMISSION!”

Following the declaration of war against England on June 18, 1812, the effect of Maryland privateers on British trade, the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty issued a directive on December 26, 1812 for a blockade of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. To enforce the blockade fifty-six year old Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren was appointed to command the North American Station, consisting of five naval districts; Newfoundland, Halifax, Leeward Islands, Jamaica, and Bermuda, with one hundred and forty-two warships under his command.

The blockade of the Chesapeake was effected by His Majesty’s frigates Junon, Belvidera, Statira, and the schooner Sophie all under Captain George Burdett onboard H.M. frigate Maidstone. They were to destroy the naval resources and arsenals of tidewater Virginia and Maryland. Burdett’s squadron was smaller than anticipated and was restricted to blockading duties. On Feb. 4, accompanying the squadron was Admiral Warren onboard H.M. ship-of-the-line San Domingo, flying his broad blue pennant from the main mast. On February 5, 1813 the following notice of the enforcement of the blockade proclamation of December 26 was issued:

I do hereby certify to all of whom it may concern, that the ports and harbors of the Bay of the Chesapeake are this day put in a state of strict and rigorous blockade. Given under my hand, on board the San Domingo, in Lynnhaven Bay in the Chesapeake, this 5th day of February, 1813, Captain George Burdett, R.N.”

Private armed vessels (privateers) who had been leaving the bay since last July 1812 to scour the seas for British merchantmen and achieving their prizes, were now forced to wait for the cover of night or a snowstorm. American merchant vessels, if detected were either captured or, if lucky turned about and returned to their port of origin. For the next twenty-five months the great estuary of the Chesapeake was blockaded by the Royal Navy.

Sources: Daily National Intelligencer, April 2, 1813; Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to Admiral John Warren, December 26, 1812. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, vol.1, (Washington: GPO, 1985), 633-634; Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, February 13, 1813 and Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser, February 11, 12, 1813.

Published in: on March 31, 2011 at 8:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Midshipman Robert J.Barrett (1799-1828), H.M.frigate Hebrus: Sept. 14. 1814

Robert John Barrett entered the Royal Mavy on December 11, 1813 and was asigned to HM frigate Hebrus of 44 guns.

September 14, 1814. Onboard His Majesty’s frigate Hebrus, Midshipman Robert Barrett recorded in his dairy as the British navy departed Baltimore harbor: “..thus, after bombarding the forts and harbor of Baltimore for twenty-four hours, the squadron of frigates weighed, without firing a shot, upon the forenoon of the 14th, and were immediately followed by the bombs [ships] and sloops of war. In truth, as the last vessel spread her canvas to the wind, the Americans hoisted a most superb and splendid ensign on their battery, and fired at the same time a gun of defiance…”

The “gun of defiance” was actually the morning gun being fired from Fort McHenry, during the changing of the guard and the U.S. flag being raised as per U.S. Army regulations and the national song “Yankee Doodle” played by the fifes and drums of the garrison.

In 1843 he wrote an article entitled “Naval Recollections of the Late American War,” in which he gave a detailed account of his services in the Chesapeake campaigns of 1814.

Sources: “Naval Recollections of the Late American War,” United Service Journal (London, April 1843), 464-465; “A Letter from Baltimore, 1814: Yankee Doodle played,” by Scott S. Sheads (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Magazine, 1982); A Navl Biographical Dictionay…by William R. O’Byrne (London: John Murray, 1849), 50.;

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 11:20 pm  Comments Off on Midshipman Robert J.Barrett (1799-1828), H.M.frigate Hebrus: Sept. 14. 1814  

Benedict, Maryland: A Secret Letter, July 17, 1814

The river port of Benedict on the Patuxent River in southern Maryland was founded in 1683 and named for Benedict Leonard Calvert (1700-1731) the Proprietory Governor of Maryland. The former tobacco port still retains its small hamlet look and the fields where the British encamped are still to be seen along the river. Several British incursions had taken place along the river with the lucrative prize lure of  “Upper Patuxent tobacco” numbering in the thousands of hogsheads either taken, burnt or sent adrift down the river. Such raids created a substantial loss of export revenue to Maryland and the destruction of farms.

Since June of 1814 the Patuxent River had become a constant tarket for British raiding parties. They landed at Benedict  where some heavy skirmishing took place. It would appear intelligence was gained and taken to Rear-Admiral Cockburn.  One resident wrote, “I found the whole country in a state of alarm..” Once the British had left, Maryland militia arrived in town to counter any threat and established Camp Benedict.

On July 17, 1814, a month before the main invasion fleet with Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane arrived in the Patuxent River from Bermuda, Rear-Admiral George Cockburn sent a secret letter to Admiral Cochrane:, The letter is dated: “HMS Albion off Jerome Point, Chesapeake, 17 July 1814.”

“…I feel no hesitation in stating to you that I consider the Town of Benedict in the Patuzent River to offer us advantages for this purpose beyond any other spot within the United States. It is, I am infoirmed, only 44 or 45 miles from Washington and there is a high road between the two places, which tho hilly is good…I therefore firmly beleive that within 48 hours after the arrival in the Patuxent of such force as you expect, the City of Washington might be possessed without difficulty or opposition of any kind…The army on their arrival would be sure of good quarters in the Town of Benedict, and a rich country around it to afford the necessary immediate supplies….”

On August 19th the main invasion force accompanying Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane arrived landed troops along a three mile shoreline of the Patuxent. The view must have been magnificant, the great sails of 46 ships, colorful pennants from the top masts, barges and small craft carrying the troops ashore, columns forming on the beach, and camp being place.  Tw0 days later the British army set off for Washington D.C., and as Admiral George Cockburn had predicted there was little “opposition of any kind” from the Americans.

Source: George Cockburn Papers, MSS18794, Reels 1-9, Library of Congress; Baltimore Patriot, June 25, 1814.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 9:55 pm  Comments Off on Benedict, Maryland: A Secret Letter, July 17, 1814