Maryland’s War of 1812 destinations
offer varied perspectives of the war
Bicentennial commemoration propels 1812 exhibitions, events
BALTIMORE (June 12) – On June 13, more than 40 tall ships and naval vessels arrive in Baltimore as Maryland launches its three-year War of 1812 bicentennial commemoration with Star-Spangled Sailabration, the largest maritime festival Baltimore has ever hosted. The ships leave and Sailabration ends on June 19, yet tributes to the bicentennial continue.
“Our War of 1812 commemoration period has two spectacular bookend events,” says Bill Pencek, executive director of the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission and assistant secretary for the Maryland Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts. “Sailabration is the opening act. Then, in September 2014, Maryland celebrates the 200-year anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the National Anthem.”
“Beyond Sailabration, Maryland’s residents and visitors have plenty of options for experiencing the War of 1812 legacy at great attractions and destinations throughout the state,” says Margot Amelia, executive director of the Maryland Office of Tourism. “St. Michaels, Solomons, Havre de Grace and Fell’s Point, for instance, are four lively, scenic dockside communities – with a number of galleries, shops and restaurants – that have strong connections to the 1812 era and The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Both St. Michaels and Fell’s Point were ship-building centers during the war. Many of the topsail schooners, which became privateer vessels, were built there. (See the Pride of Baltimore II entry below.) Fell’s Point is also about a mile from the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House – where Mary Pickersgill lived and made the over-sized U.S. flag that was raised above Fort McHenry following the Battle of Baltimore.
All of these locations are along the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail – water and land routes that trace the British invasion of the Chesapeake region during the War of 1812. Because the British sailed up the Chesapeake Bay, and the Potomac and Patuxent rivers, much of the trail is tied to those waterways. One of the land routes traces the British advance from the upper Patuxent River to Bladensburg and then to Washington, D.C., where the invaders burned the Capitol and White House. A second land route recalls the British attack on Baltimore, from North Point to Fort McHenry.
The trail also includes the Star-Spangled Geotrail – a string of 35 sites in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. – that tells the story of the War of 1812 through a series of hidden caches or containers. When geocachers find these caches, using hand-held GPS devices, they have arrived at sites that relate to events, places and historical figures of the war. It’s much like a high-tech treasure hunt. This multi-state program is supported by Chesapeake Conservancy, Maryland Geocaching Society and the National Park Service (NPS).
As manager of the Star-Spangled Banner Trail, NPS encourages preservation and development projects that provide visitors with ways to learn about the war, while affording recreational outlets. Trail visitors can find five National Historic Landmarks, 37 National Register properties and 39 Chesapeake Bay Gateways sites. Chesapeake Gateways and Water Trails Network, also administered by NPS, is a collection of recreational water trails, parks, museums and wildlife refuges across the Chesapeake Bay region that intersects points along the Star-Spangled Banner Trail.
Here is a sampling of places in Maryland’s five regions that reveal the War of 1812’s legacy in the state. Many offer related exhibitions and events. Numerous local organizations are also planning exhibitions and activities to commemorate War of 1812 events that occurred in their areas.
- Miller House, Hagerstown (Washington County) – A War of 1812 Maryland militia cavalry jacket – owned by Sgt. Jacob Huyett – is one of the items on display at this Washington County Historical Society museum. Sgt. Huyett was a member of Hagerstown Blues, a cavalry unit that was part of the Maryland Light Dragoons. The Dragoons under Lt. Col. Frisby Tilghman saw action at the Battle of North Point during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814.
- Mount Aetna Furnace Site, Mount Aetna (Washington County) – Also called Antietam Furnace, this 15,000-acre site was the location of two iron furnaces. During the war, Mount Aetna Furnace produced artillery for the Chesapeake Flotilla. At least five cannons made here survive. One is at the Boonsboro Museum, another is at Shafer Park in Boonsboro and a third is on loan at the Hager Museum. Two others are on property next to the furnace site.
- Bladensburg Waterfront Park (Prince George’s County) – On Aug. 24, 1814, British forces crossed the Anacostia River (near the present site of the park) – en route to Washington, D.C. – and attacked the first line of American defenses during the Battle of Bladensburg. The park is part of an 1812 walking tour. To honor the American forces in that battle, current plans call for a monument with sculpted figures (one is a wounded Commodore Joshua Barney, an American war hero) cast in bronze to be installed in nearby Bladensburg Balloon Park. On a limestone base, will be the words: “Undaunted in Battle.”
- Francis Scott Key Monument, Frederick (Frederick County) – Located by the main entrance of Mount Olivet Cemetery, the monument – a cylindrical granite pedestal with a bronze statue of Key atop it – stands over the gravesites of The Star-Spangled Banner composer and his wife, Mary Tayloe Lloyd Key. It was dedicated in 1898. The $25,000 cost of the monument was paid for by contributions from school children and others around the country, and $5,000 from the state of Maryland.
- Riversdale House Museum, Riverdale Park (Prince George’s County) – Henri Joseph Stier, a Flemish aristocrat, began building this brick mansion in 1801. His daughter Rosalie and her husband George Calvert completed it in 1807. Calvert and some of those enslaved on the property’s plantation helped to bury casualties of the Battle of Bladensburg. The Calverts also became friendly with some of the wounded British officers left at Bladensburg. Restoration of the house to its appearance during the 1812 era began in 1988 after Rosalie’s detailed letters to her family in Belgium were discovered.
- Concord Point Lighthouse, Havre de Grace (Harford County) – In 1827, John O’Neill was appointed the first keeper of a new lighthouse at the juncture of the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, largely in recognition of his record as a War of 1812 hero. O’Neill had single-handedly manned his militia unit’s artillery at Potato Gun Battery in an attempt to save Havre de Grace from the British navy on May 3, 1813. He was captured and detained on a British ship until his eventual release. Meanwhile, the British looted the town and left it in flames.
- Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore – On Sept. 13, 1814, a British fleet began a 25-hour bombardment of the star-shaped fort that guarded Baltimore’s harbor. The Royal Navy ships – just beyond the reach of the fort’s artillery – launched an estimated 1,800 bombs at the fort before withdrawing the next morning. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and poet who was aboard a truce ship in the harbor, witnessed the attack. Upon seeing the fort’s huge garrison flag (30 feet high by 42 feet long) raised that morning, he wrote the words to Defence of Fort McHenry, which later became lyrics for the National Anthem.
- Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore – The oldest-known surviving manuscript of Francis Scott Key’s verse is here in the Star-Spangled Banner Gallery, along with paintings and artifacts that depict the Battle of Baltimore. Items from the H. Furlong Baldwin Library’s Star-Spangled Banner sheet music collection rotate on display. The Society also exhibits 200 paintings and miniatures among the world’s largest collection of paintings by members of the Peale family. In Full Glory Reflected, Maryland’s largest War of 1812 display, is now open.
- Pride of Baltimore II – Commissioned in 1988, Pride II sails around the world as a symbol of the Chesapeake Bay region and America’s maritime heritage. It is operated by Pride of Baltimore, Inc., a nonprofit. The original Pride sank in a storm near Puerto Rico in 1986. Both ships were built as replicas of 1812-era topsail schooners. During the War of 1812, privateers sailing out the Chesapeake Bay in these ships supplemented the range of the small-sized U.S. Navy. They captured or sank 1,700 British merchant vessels, and broke through British-imposed naval blockades.
- U.S. Naval Academy and Museum, Annapolis (Anne Arundel County) – The museum has collections of prints, paintings and artifacts relating to naval action during the War of 1812. A replica of the battle flag of Lake Erie – inscribed: Dont Give Up the Ship – hangs in Bancroft Hall, a short distance from the museum. The phrase is what the mortally wounded Capt. James Lawrence said during the pivotal Battle of Lake Erie, June 1, 1813. The original flag, displayed at the Naval Academy since 1849, is at the museum.
- Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons (Calvert County) – Artifacts recovered from one of the vessels of the Chesapeake Flotilla – scuttled by Commodore Joshua Barney on Aug. 22, 1814, to avoid capture by the British – are on display here. Also, a fiber-optic map illustrates the British invasion of Southern Maryland. The museum has 29,000 square feet of exhibition space. Solomons is a waterfront village on the Patuxent River, known for its fishing, restaurants and galleries.
- Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (JPPM), St. Leonard (Calvert County) – Commodore Barney, in June 1814, led his Chesapeake Flotilla against British forces in The Battles of St. Leonard Creek – the largest naval conflict in Maryland history – just off the shore of JPPM’s 560-acre property, in this tributary of the Patuxent River. Farmers, Patriots and Traitors: Southern Maryland and the War of 1812 is a permanent exhibit at the museum. JPPM is also home of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, which has more than 8 million artifacts.
- Sotterley Plantation, Hollywood (St. Mary’s County) – British naval blockades and raids along the Patuxent River shoreline created economic hardships for Sotterley and other nearby properties. American militia used Sotterley as a mustering point during the Battles of St. Leonard. Sotterley plans performances this summer of The Choice, a living-history event that presents the perspectives of African-Americans enslaved on the plantation during the war. At least 39 of them opted to join the British in return for their freedom.
- Caulk’s Field, near Chestertown (Kent County) – Under a full moon, Aug. 30, 1814, about 260 British naval forces attempted a surprise attack on Maryland militia. Aware of the British advance, Col. Phillip Reed and his Maryland regiment (about 200 men) met the British at this location. The British suffered more than 40 casualties and withdrew. Their commander, Capt. Sir Peter Parker – a rising star in the British military – was mortally wounded. Caulk’s Field is located on a private farm, seven miles west of Chestertown, north of Rock Hall. It looks much like it did in 1814.
- St. Michaels (Talbot County) – British barges sailed up the Miles River during the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 10, 1813, with the intention of firing on the town and the militia that defended it. St. Michaels ship builders produced schooners that could outrun and evade British blockade vessels. Aware of a pending attack, the town evacuated its women, children and livestock to Onion Hill. Then, according to local legend, citizens placed lanterns in treetops just outside of town and extinguished all lights in town. The British subsequently overshot St. Michaels with their canons and St. Michaels became “the town that fooled the British.”
- The Kitty Knight House Inn & Restaurant, Georgetown (Kent County) – Overlooking the Sassafras River harbor, this is one of the houses that survived a British assault in Georgetown. The British torched communities close to the shoreline to protect their ships and troops. In one instance, as the British approached a hill in Georgetown where two houses stood, Kitty Knight (according to local reports) convinced Admiral George Cockburn not to burn the houses. She told him that an elderly woman resided in one of them.
About Maryland tourism
The Maryland Office of Tourism is an agency of the Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts within the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Recently reported visitor data shows that the state welcomed more than 32.2 million visitors in 2010. Those visitors spent nearly $13.1 billion on travel-related expenses – generating close to $1.9 billion in state and local taxes and providing 130,000 jobs to Maryland residents.