Battle Acre: A Deed of Land by Dr. Jacob Houck (1792-1850) “for the purpose of erecting a Monument thereon….”

On the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the Battle of North Point, a prominent physician of medicine and purveyor of his famous “Houck’s Remedies” gave to the State of Maryland an acre of land on the battlefield for the princely sum of One Dollar. His gift today is known as Battle Acre along the North Point Road in Baltimore County.

He was born in Frederick County, the son of a prominent merchant, and came to be a graduate of the Maryland University School of Medicine. In December 1839 he purchased the land called “Swan Harbour” and soon thereafter built “one of the most splendid hotels in the vicinity,” that became known as “Houck’s Pavilion” that for years thereafter served as a prominent annual commemorative gathering site for the Old Defenders’ of Baltimore. 

The following is an extract of the deed of land to the State of Maryland.

“Know all men by these presents, that I Jacob Houck of the city and county of Baltimore in the State of Maryland am held and firmly bound unto the State of Maryland in the full and just sum of one Dollar lawful money to be paid to the said state, or to its attorney to the payment whereof. I bind myself, my heirs Executors and Administrators firmly by these presents, sealed with my seal, and dated this eleventh day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty nine.

Whereas the said Jacob Houck in consideration of the sum of one dollar to him paid at or before the sealing and delivery hereof, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged and also delivered good causes and valuable considerations herein thereunto moving, hath contracted to give grant and convey or to cause and procure to be granted and conveyed unto the said state this or part of a tract, piece or parcel of herein after described the same constituting a part of the North Point Battle Ground “for the purpose of erecting a Monument thereon.” Now the Condition of the foregoing obligation is such, that the said Jacob Houck, or his heirs do and shall within six months next ensuing the date hereof, grant and convey, or cause and procure to be granted and conveyed to the State of Maryland aforesaid, to be held by the said State for ever, for the use and purpose aforesaid. All that Lot or parcel of Land situated and lying in Baltimore County aforesaid being part of a tract called “Swan Harbour” which is contained  within the meter and bounds, courses and distances following, that is to say; Beginning for the same part at a stone standing in the ground on the southwestern most side of the road leaving from the City of Baltimore to North Point…” [the remainder of document shows survey points of distances.]

For 75 years no monument was erected, despite the elaborated ceremonies held on September 12, 1839. A granite monument was finally dedicated in 1914 on the centennial of the battle.

Jacob Wever Houck was the father of Mrs. Ella Virginia Houck (Mrs. Reuben Ross Holloway/1862-1940) who often was described as the “number one patriot in Baltimore” who consistently advocated for the making The Star-Spangled Banner” the official national anthem and other patriotic causes. Dr. Jacob Houck, Sr. died in 1850 and is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in West Baltimore.

Source: Baltimore County Court (Land Records) TK 292, pp. 246-247 Jacob Houck, “Swan Harbor,” 11 September 1839 [MSA CE 66-342]. His son, not to be confused with his father, was Dr. Jacob Wever Houck, Jr. (1822-1888); The Sun, May 23, 1888.

Published in: on May 17, 2011 at 10:55 pm  Comments Off on Battle Acre: A Deed of Land by Dr. Jacob Houck (1792-1850) “for the purpose of erecting a Monument thereon….”  

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:  

North Point Battlegrounds – Old Methodist Meeting House (c. 1808-1921)

Sunday, 11th September 1814. This has been a day of great alarm, and to some of terror and dismay. I feel a confidence that God will mercifully spare the city and save the inhabitants from destruction.” Journal of the Reverend John Baxley.

 Though situated .038 miles to the north of the battlegrounds, the Old Methodist Meeting House along Bread and Cheese Creek, witnessed the aftermath of the battle. Here the wounded and dying, British and American, lay as the British encamped that evening upon the site. The next morning as the British pushed forward towards Baltimore, Dr. James H. McCulloh, U.S. Army Garrison Surgeon visited the site to care for the fallen remarked “I was shewn the meeting house in which some of our wounded men lay – along with a few British…”

Admiral George Cockburn who accompanied the army reported that [The Americans] gave way in every Direction, and was chased by us in a considerable distance with great Slaughter, abandoning his Post of the Meeting House situated in this Wood, and leaving all his Wounded and Two of his field Guns on our possession…”  It appears the British army had ventured near the Meeting House in the declining remnants of the  battle as the Americans had retreated to Perego’s Hill .032 miles where the 6th Maryland Regiment was posted, as ordered to receive their comrades as they fell back towards Baltimore. The Meeting House was reported to still have the leaden balls embedded in the wood frames, presumably fired upon the militia upon their withdrawal form the battle.

 His aide-de-camp, Lieutenant James Scott, remembered in his memoirs that “The meeting-house, a place of worship, the only building near the scene of battle, was converted into a temporary refuge for friends and foes. The temple of God – of peace and goodwill towards men – vibrated with the groans of the wounded and the dying. The accents of human woe floated upon the ear, and told a melancholy tale of ebbing tide of human life…”

In 1914 during the centennial of the battle the Patriotic Order of Sons of America in Maryland commemorated the site with a granite monument. It is situated at 2440 Old North Point Road near Bread and Cheese Creek.

Sources: “Patapsco Neck Church,” Baltimore American, August 30, 1897; Admiral George Cockburn to Admiral Alexander F.I. Cochrane, September 15, 1814. Printed in The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, vol. 3, Ed. Michael  J. Crawford, (Washington: Naval Historical Center, 2002), 279-282; Recollections of a Naval Life by Captain James Scott, R.N. (London: Richard Bentley,  1834), 342.

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 1:08 am  Comments Off on North Point Battlegrounds – Old Methodist Meeting House (c. 1808-1921)  

Myths & Legends: The Thomas Shaw House, North Point: September 12, 1814

Like many historical events, myths and legends have their own unique place in the documented stories providing a time line of events along with the documented main events. The Battle of North Point has too it’s own share of stories that have made their way into the historic lore as the British marched along the old North Point Road towards Baltimore.

Thomas Shaw House (also known as the Foulkes Farmhouse, circa1800). On the morning of Sept. 12 as the British army began their march along the Old North Point Road, British Major General Robert Ross’s staff took possession of the house on the ground floor, while ordering the family upstairs.

Eleanor Shaw, the daughter of Mr. Shaw (1745-1829), was forced to climb out of a second story window, to avoid the unwanted advances of a British lieutenant. Ever the disciplinarian, Major Gen. Robert Ross, RA ordered the officer back to the fleet for later punishment. The lore does not record the name of the young lieutenant nor any records that may substantiate the claim – but the story remains. The origin of the story appeared in The Sun on September 8, 1907.

Thomas’s son Joshua Shaw (1791-1832) served in Captain Joel Green’s company, 46th Maryland Regiment of Baltimore County. Today the site of the house is located on Foulkes’ Farm Road off the North Point Road. It survived until 1967 when it was torn down. A private family graveyard is nearby.

Source: “Battle of North Point in Legend and Tradition,” The Sun, September 8, 1907; Baltimore Gazette and Daily Adv., January 16, 1830 and December 1, 1832.

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm  Comments Off on Myths & Legends: The Thomas Shaw House, North Point: September 12, 1814  

Tripoli Monument, U.S. Naval Academy

Naval Monument. From Lossing's Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812.

Naval Monument. From Lossing's Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812.

The ornate, allegorical Tripoli Monument, as it is better known today, is one the oldest military monuments in the U.S. that honors the heroes of the First Barbary War (1801-1805) against the North African Barbary pirates; Captain Richard Somers, Lieutenant James Caldwell, James Decatur Henry Wadsworth, Joseph Israel and John Dorsey. Commodore David Porter (father of David Porter, Jr. of 1812 fame) initiated the project to create a memorial for the six U.S. naval officers who perished.

In 1804, to protect our Mediterranean trade, President Thomas Jefferson ordered the nation’s tiny naval force to protect U.S. trade against the pirates, who demanded ransom for safe passage of merchant ships. “Millions for defense, but not on cent for tribute” had became the rallying cry for this war. Jefferson’s action established the doctrine of extension of power overseas and created a permanent United States Navy.
The monument was carved in 1806 in Italy by Giovanni Charles Micali, of Leghorn, Italy, who designed and executed the Tripoli Naval Monument, with marble from Carrara. The disassembled monument arrived in New York in November 1807 onboard the US frigate Constitution and was soon on its way to the U.S. Naval Yard at Washington..

The monument suffered damage during the British occupation of the yard during the War of 1812, whether it was due to the British or the firing of the yard remains still unclear. The monument remained at the Navy Yard until 1831, when Congress ordered it placed in the center of the reflecting pool at the base of the steps on the west side of the Capitol. In 1860 it was moved to the U.S. Naval Academy.


Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 7:00 am  Comments Off on Tripoli Monument, U.S. Naval Academy  

Baltimore Bellona Gunpowder Manufactory (1801-1856)

“Baltimore Bellona Gunpowder Manufactory. The proprietors have commenced manufacturing and offer for sale Gunpowder of a superior quality, and refined Saltpetre. NATHAN LEVERING.” Federal Gazette, December 5, 1801.

The Bellona Gunpowder Manufactory was Maryland’s most extensive powder works established seven miles north of Baltimore along the Jones Falls west of Towson, Baltimore County, Maryland, receiving its name from the Roman Goddess of War – Bellona. It was one of four known Baltimore powder mills, all competing with the famous Eleuthere Irenee du Pont de Nemours & Company along the Brandywine River in Delaware. All delivered gunpowder to Maryland during the War of 1812. The manufactory in 1810 was capable of making thirty-two quarter casks per day. It was governed by several leading citizens, one of whom was James Beatty, U.S. Naval Agent in Baltimore who later had the company incorporated by an act of the General Assembly on April 16, 1815.

 The company’s agent, Aaron Righter Levering (1784-1852) of German descent, served during the war as captain of the Baltimore Independent Blues, 5th Maryland Regiment at the Battle of North Point, Sept. 12, 1814. Subsequent explosions at the mill in 1812, 1820-21, and 1833 did not diminish its production until 1856 when the site was sold to the City of Baltimore as a water works and soon found itself submerged below the waters of Lake Roland, Baltimore County.

 Sources: “An Act to Incorporate the Bellona Gunpowder Company of Maryland,” Archives of Maryland, Vol. 192, pp. 1625-1626, Maryland State Archives; Maryland Gazette, June 13, 1810; The Sun, June 28, 1852.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 8:30 pm  Comments Off on Baltimore Bellona Gunpowder Manufactory (1801-1856)  

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)  

Sir Captain Peter Parker, R.N. (1785-1814)

Sir Peter Parker

Sir Peter Parker. From Lossing’s Field Book to the War of 1812

In October 1902, eighty-eight years after the War of 1812, a monument was dedicated on Caulk’s Field battlegrounds on Maryland’s Eastern Shore of Kent County. It commemorates both the British and American militia midnight encounter here on August 31, 1814. Sir Capt. Peter Parker was a descendant of several Royal Navy flag officers, he receiving command of H.M. frigate Menelaus in 1810. A popular often told story has been that Capt Parker, having received a mortal wound, was carried from the field to the Thomas Mitchell House (Maryland Pkwy. off Rt. 21) where he died in the kitchen, the soldiers having “got a blanket and sheet to wrap Sir Peter in.” The legend became interwoven into the popular culture of the War of 1812 and has become an integral myth of Kent County’s history. The house today is a popular bed and breakfast inn. Captain Parker’s remains however were never carried to the Mitchell House, but directly to his command, H.M. frigate Menelaus lying off today’s Parker Point. The origin of the story first appeared in the Daily National Intelligencer (D.C) soon afterward the battle.

Lieutenant Henry Crease, R.N., who assumed command upon Capt. Parker’s death, stated in his report: “It was at this time, while animating his men in the most heroic manner that Sir Peter Parker received his mortal wound which obliged him to quit the field and he expired in a few minutes.” After been taken onboard his remains were “placed into a coffin filled with whiskey.” The morning after, Captain Peter Parker’s right shoe exhibited a great deal of blood inside was found with the inscription found inside: “No. 20169 Parker, Capt. Sir Peter. Bt.” On September 3, the British made another raid in Kent County at the bay-shore farm of the same Thomas Mitchell who served as Commissary of Supplies for the Kent County militia, thus the story became linked to his death at the Mitchell house.

On September 7, the HM frigate Menelaus sailed down the bay “with her pennant half-mast high, a sign indicative of the death of Sir Peter Parker.” The Menelaus anchored with the ships in Baltimore harbor during the Battle for Baltimore. Afterwards his remains were transferred to H.M. frigate Hebrus for conveyance to Bermuda and buried at St. George’s Church, Bermuda. In the Spring of 1815 his remains were conveyed to St. Margaret’s Church at Westminster, London where he was buried.

Sources: Baltimore Federal Gazette, September 7, 1814; Baltimore Patriot, September 5, 1814; The Bermuda Historical Quarterly, Winter, 1944), 189-195; Logbook, HMS Tonnant, September 12, 1814 (Public Records Office, Admiralty Records 53/1385); Lt. Henry Crease, RN, HMS Menelaus to Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, September 1, 1814 (Alexander Cochrane Papers, Library of Scotland with copies at the Library of Congress, MS2329).

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 7:15 pm  Comments Off on Sir Captain Peter Parker, R.N. (1785-1814)  

Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860): Relics & Paintings of the War of 1812

Rembrandt Peale Self Portrait

On August 15, 1814 artist Rembrandt Peale opened his Museum and Gallery of Fine Arts at North Holiday Street in Baltimore, America’s first designed public museum. The museum, designed by Robert Cary Long, was advertised predominately as an arts and sciences museum, displaying only works of art and manufactured products.

In the weeks after the Battle for Baltimore Peale displayed the “Rockets, Bomb Shells, &c., of every description thrown into Baltimore during the bombardment.” Peale’s museum became the first to display the relics of Britain’s naval arsenal for the curiosity for those who had heard, but not seen a British shell or Congreve rocket, so eloquently noted in “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Captain Joseph Hook of the 36th U.S. Infantry at Fort McHenry donated a 190 lb. cast iron British mortar shell for exhibition at the museum. On September 28, Peale placed on exhibition the first engraving entitled “Battle of Patapsco Neck” by artist Andrew Dulac, a rifleman in the Baltimore Yagers. Such relics and paintings became a regular museum features within months after the bombardment.

On September 13, 1830 during the sixteenth anniversary of the Battle of North Point, Louisa Armistead, the widow of Lt. Colonel George Armistead, graciously loaned to the museum the original bombardment flag that had flown during the bombardment with a Mr. Mercer singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

That same year, the museum was sold to the City of Baltimore and used as the first City Hall until the present City Hall was built in 1875. In 1931, the building reopened as a museum, serving as the repository for the city’s historic collections as well as a venue for local artists. At its closure in 1977, the remaining artifacts were transferred to the Maryland Historical Society.

Today as we approach the 200th anniversary, the tradition of displaying relics and remembrances of the Battle for Baltimore continues at Fort McHenry and the Maryland Historical Society. Several of the “bomb bursting in air” and other relics made famous in “The Star-Spangled Banner” may be found at these sites carrying on the tradition of America’s first designed public museum.

Sources: The Peale Museum, National Historic Landmark, National Park Service; American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, August 3, 1815, July 4, 1815; Baltimore Patriot, January 11, 1815; Bernard B. Perlman, “The City Hall, Baltimore,” Maryland Historical Magazine 47 (March 1952): 40-54; Sun October 19, 1997.

Published in: on March 18, 2011 at 10:35 pm  Comments Off on Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860): Relics & Paintings of the War of 1812