Wednesday, November 28, 2018

1814: Defending Baltimore

1814: Defending Baltimore

Over the past few years my research assistants and I have focused on citizen participation in the defense of Baltimore in the summer and fall of 1814. What follows is an essay on the blockading of the entrance to Baltimore Harbor that I asked Charles Weisenberger to write as he came to the end of his internship with me in 2012.

The best overall book on the defense of Baltimore in 1814 is The Rockets' Red Glare, the Maritime Defense of Baltimore in 1814 by Scott S. Sheads with a foreword by Walter Lord (Centreville, Md: Tidewater Publishers, 1986). Scott assisted Charles in identifying the vessels sunk across the mouth of the harbor and our objective in the forthcoming study of Baltimore in 1814 is to document the lives of those merchants and owners whose ships were sunk in the City's defense. The image used below is taken from another excellent illustrated resource on the history of the war of 1812 in the Chesapeake, In Full Glory Reflected, Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake by Ralph E. Eshelman and Burton K. Kummerow (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society Press, 2012): p. 141. No one interested in the history of the War of 1812 as it affected Maryland and the nation should be without either book.

1814: Defending the Harbor of Baltimore:

Gun Barges, Sunken Vessels and Booms

by Charles Weisenberger and Ed Papenfuse

11/08/2012 (revised 07/04/2014)


“…it was evident to all that the obstruction of the Channel was the greatest,

if not the only real preservation of the City of Baltimore…”

(Maryland Historical Society)

Within the War of 1812 collections of the Maryland Historical Society is a most revealing and interesting view of the bombardment of Fort McHenry showing the sunken vessels, U.S. gunboats and the Lazaretto Battery. In the near distance the British bombardment squadron is seen along with the flagships of Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane (HMS Surprise) and Rear-Admiral George Cockburn (HMS Severn). In tow astern of the Surprise is the American flag-of-truce sloop-packet the President, Captain Grey.

In September 9, 1901 a Baltimore Sun reporter visited the home of Mr. Robert W. MacCubbin, Sr. (1812-1904) and was shown a watercolor of the bombardment of Fort McHenry. The sheet measured approximately 20” x 24” with a view taken from Federal Hill looking down river towards Fort McHenry. It was painted by a Lieutenant Henry Fisher who served in Captain Daniel Schwartzauer’s company of the 27th Maryland Regiment that had fought at North Point. Lt. Fisher painted it one month after the battle and presented it to Moses Maccubbin a private in Captain Joseph Hopper Nicholson’s U.S. Volunteers, the Baltimore Fencibles who were in the Star Fort during the bombardment. Beneath the picture is found the following inscription:

“A view of bombardment of Fort McHenry by “the British fleet under the commands of admirals Cochrane and Cockburn on the morning of 13th September, 1814, which lasted 24 hours. Thrown from 1500 to 1800 shells. In the night attempted to land by forcing a passage up the Ferry Branch, but were repulsed with great loss.”

Amidst the “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air…” over Fort McHenry this October 1814 watercolor vividly provides the only known contemporary visual account of the gun barges, sunken vessels and a chain-mast boom defending the harbor entrance. It captures the moment at 9:00 a.m. on the morning of September 14, 1814, as the morning gun was fired, the forts garrison flag raised, Yankee Doodle played and the British squadron unfurling their sails down the Patapsco River. How these shore defenses and additional obstructions came to be and their role during the bombardment are stories that have been left untold of the “perilous fight.”

On February 5, 1813, nineteen months before the British established a naval blockade of the Delaware and Chesapeake bays that would be enforced for the remainder of the war. In the aftermath of the British naval depredations on the upper bay at Havre-de-Grace, Elkton, Georgetown and Frenchtown, a bill was presented to the Maryland General Assembly entitled “An Act for the building of barges for the defense of the Chesapeake Bay.It failed to be passed with a vote of 15-49. on May 28, 1813 and “so the barges were sunk.” On July 16 a similar bill, introduced by U.S. Senator Samuel Smith, was passed by Congress “An Act, providing for the further defense of the ports and harbors of the United States” authorizing the President

“…to cause to be hired or purchased, hulks, or other means of impediment to the entrance of the ships or vessels of the enemy, to be sunk, with the consent of the proper authority of the state…to defray any expense incurred a sum of $250,000 was appropriated to be paid out of any monies in the [U.S.] treasury...”

Additionally barges were to be armed, equipped and manned of a size not less than forty-five feet long and to carry heavy guns.

In August 1813, the British established a brief strategic naval base on Kent Island directly across the bay from the Patapsco River. With eighteen British warships within striking distance, General Smith caused a number of merchant vessels to be prepared for sinking, head to stern, from Fort McHenry to the Lazaretto Point to be held ready at a moments notice by their owners.

In March 1814, a city ordinance was passed empowering the port warden to remove all vessels that may be sunk for the harbor defense. On August 25 in the aftermath of the capture of Washington, Baltimore’s Committee of Vigilance and Safety ordered the vessels moved below Harris’s Creek for the security of the harbor entrance. The arrival of Commodore John Rodgers naval brigade of 350 U.S. Marines and seamen from Philadelphia’s frigate Guerriere, thereupon fell the responsibility for sinking the merchant vessels. Smith instructed Rodgers to sink the vessels to be enacted by the senior officer of the U.S. Chesapeake Flotilla Lieutenant Solomon Rutter. Sailing Master Beverly Diggs commander of Barge No. 7 of the flotilla received orders on September 12th to blockade the channel. In a deposition Diggs stated he

“…took three vessels, towed them down, and sunk them agreeable to orders; such was the haste in which they were required to perform this duty, that no time was taken or any attempts made to save the Articles that might have been on board, or even to ascertain to whom the vessels belong, that at the time of Sinking the third vessel by the Crew of the Deponents Barge it was deemed proper to take an Ax & after careening the vessel cut a hole in her Bottom, let her right & sink. The Enemy having their Bomb Ships moored & Commencing the Bombardment…as it was evident to all that the obstruction of the Channels was the greatest, if not the only real preservation of the City of Baltimore…”

Captain of the fleet Rear-Admiral Edward Codrington informed Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane: “We cannot pass the fort, because I find the enemy have sunk hulks between the fort and Gorsuch’s [Lazaretto] Point. So that the channel is completely closed…” It would be these barges and the sunken vessels that ultimately would be Cochrane’s decision to forego the continuance of any strategy to force a passage past the Star Fort.

U.S. Gun Barges & Steamboat Chesapeake

In the left foreground one may see Captain Edward Trippe’s steamboat Chesapeake, to move forward or astern to allow U.S. gunboats to move through the blockade. The Chesapeakepresented her white starboard wheelhouse with the inscription CHESAPEAKE UNION LINE towards the British fleet. Each barge was numbered with a corresponding numeral white flag under the American flag. Thomas Galloway, a professional painter was paid $2.50 each for the task.

Chain-Masts Boom

Another effective defense measure was the placement of a chain-mast boom across the northwest channel. On May 4, 1813, Captain Solomon Rutter was ordered

“…to lay booms of old or new masts connected by strong iron chains and bolts riveted through the ends of each mast from the shore of Gorsuch [Lazaretto] Point to the shore on Whetstone Point, supported by anchors or poles at each end, and [to extend] in front of the Marine Battery, at a distance of 150 yards from the shore, to extend to the steep bank [on the Ferry Branch]…”

The boom consisted of 70-feet long and 24-inches thick ships’ masts and logs and spars stretched from the Lazaretto Point, across the channel to Fort McHenry and around the western shore to the Ferry Point.

Post War Epilogue

In the aftermath of the British unsuccessful on Baltimore, General Smith realizing the injury the vessels had incurred during the winter asked that the flotilla men raise the vessels. Due to the flotilla having not been paid the work was delayed and the vessels remained in their sunken position through the winter of 1814-15. Smith then asked for appraisers to determine the damage sustained by the vessels in their present state and the vessels returned to their owners.

In March 1815, Colonel Paul Bentalou, Baltimore’s Quarter-Master General and John Barney, Deputy Quarter Master was given the duty of raising the vessels and delivery to their owners. He found many of the vessels “fifthly in the extreme, being covered and partly loaded with mud…and unfit to go to sea again.” To assist him in raising eleven of the twenty-four were Captains Geohegan, George Stiles, Master Riggers William Bartscher, John Tillard and Rene Le Moaitre and the men under their command.

After the remaining vessels were raised ship builders William Price and Eli Despeaux were chosen to provide an estimate of the vessels damages gave depositions the vessels sunk “were depreciated to the amount of one-third there actual value.” The vessels “all of them were more or less swelled, strained, or burst in the hull, and their masts and upper works were much cut and broken by ice …by their settling in the mud at the bottom of the river. Several of the vessels were not raised for a period six to nine months being immersed in the muddy waters and when examined at their shipyards were found un-repairable.” Soon thereafter applications were made for Congressional compensation for damages incurred with other depositions by ship-chandler Thorndick Chase, ship joiner John Snyder and ship carpenter James Cordery.

In 1820, General Sam Smith expressed his hope that the owners would be reimbursed by the U.S. Government Committee of Claims. It would not be for another seventeen years, however, before the owners would be reimbursed for their losses as detailed in the following assessment submitted to the U. S. Treasury for reimbursement:.

“Length, Breath and Depth of Vessels Sunk in defense of the Harbor Baltimore, July 16, 1830” to Peter Hager, Esq., Auditor’s Office, Treasury. Third Auditors Report….

Twenty-Four Vessels Sunk for the Defense of Baltimore

Vessel Damages Built Owner

Schooner Enterprise 413.00 unknown

Schooner Columbia 140.00 “

Brig Ann 155.00 “ George Stiles

Ship Rosanna 200.00 “

Ship Nancy 1000.00 “

Schooner Packet 200.00 “

Brig Aid 520.00 Baltimore, Md., / 1811 George Stiles

Ship Thomas Wilson 1450.00 East River, Va., / 1804

Brig Sally 675.00 Salsburg, Mass., / 1807

Ship Adriana 300.00 New York City / 1804

Ship Scioto 755.00 Queen Anne’s County / 1806 George Stiles

Brig Swallow 715.00 Foreign Built

Ship Fabius 350.00 Philadelphia, Pa., / 1791 George Stiles

Schooner Ann 165.00 unknown

Ship Temperance 880.00 Marietta, Ohio / 1804

Brig Blanche 547.00 Sussex Co., Va., /1806

Ship Chesapeake 640.00 Baltimore, Md., 1805

Brig Betsy and Mary 150.00 unknown

Ship India Packet 1553.00 Baltimore, Md., / ----

Ship Mars 649.00 Baltimore, Md., / ----

Brig George 247.00 Matthews County, Va., /1801

Brig Father & Son 250.00 unknown

Schooner Scudder 2750.00 “

Brig Eliza 529.00 Middletown, Ct., / 1803

Total $15,188.50

The actual reimbursements to the owners or those who claimed for them by 1837 were considerably more than what was listed in 1830 as appears from the records of claims in the the National Archives, RG217, 742-3-1070-1087. Ultimately patriotism paid handsomely for the use of the ships in the harbor blockade:

Ship Scioto: $6,379.35, Sam Smith, James A. Buchanan, James Deale

Ship Adriana(o): $5,733.41, James A. Buchanan, Sam Smith, John S. Collins, John Hollins, Michael McBlair, and Lemuel Taylor

Ship Mars: $3,325.15, Henry Payson, Obed Mitchell, and Obed Fitch

Ship India Packet: $6,131.23, Levi Hollingsworth and Andrew Clopper

Ship Nancy: $6,243.65, Robert Barry and Washington Hall

Ship Temperance: $2,875.62, Charles F. Kalkman who also owned Bona, Caroline, Express, Fairy, Revenge, Tom, and Von Hollen

Ship Chesapeake

Ship Thomas Wilson: together $18, 185.22, John Donnell who also owned Eleanor, and Sabine,

Ship Fabius

Brig Aid

Schooner Ann: together $17,154.98, George Stiles who also owned Climax, Moro,Nonsuch, and Siro

Brig Swallow: $3,268.95, Peter Roscamine and M. Pascall and Others

Brig Father & Sons: $1,721.14, John Craig and Edward Wynne

Brig Sally: $2,893.18, James H. Caustin

Brig Eliza: $3,153.27, Thomas Chase

Brig Betsy: $1,389.95, Samuel Sterritt and Henry Newport

Brig George: $3,412.44, William Patterson & Sons

Brig Blanche ($1,309.25)

Schooner Scudder ($1,562.30): together $8,138.17, Elie Clagett

Brig Anne ($875.00)

Schooner Packet ($325.00): together $3,148.19, Thomas and Samuel Hollingsworth

Schooner Columbia: $1,046.40, Timothy Baker, Jos. Crowell, and Thomas Shevenik Jr.

Schooner Enterprise: $1,283.11, Besley, Clark, Voss & Worthington

Schooner Rosanna: $1,238.03, Alexander S. Smith and William Thornton

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Urban Archaeology: Baltimore below and above ground

Baltimore Underground and Above Ground

Once upon a time Baltimore had an official Archaeologist for the City. Elizabeth Anderson Comer’s notes and copies of her reports are now at the Baltimore City Archives (BCA BRG 79). Archaeology is still of interest in Baltimore City, even though it is no longer a function of City Government.

One of the most current and best historically documented archaeological sites in the city is along Herring Run, which can be followed on the web site

Eutaw Farm, Property of the late B. W. Hall, 1851. Maryland State Archives, Judicial Record WMI 65, p. 265

Eutaw Farm along Herring Run, property of the late B. W. Hall, 1851, Judicial Record WMI 65, p. 265, 1851/06/17 MSA C2853-4, p. 1.

The original 1826 patent for this property is to be found on at

Portrait of William Smith and His Grandson, Charles Wilson Peale, 1788. Courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Portrait of William Smith and His Grandson, Charles Wilson Peale, 1788.

Courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts,

with Eutaw Farm in the background

The study of the lives of the owners of the land along Herring Run is particularly thorough and well written. A good example of the care that has gone into searching for the above ground evidence is the narrative of William Smith and Eutaw Farm. The author(s) there, and on the Baltimore Heritage web site have made good use of the probate, land, equity, and tax records at the Maryland State Archives, although in calculating the value of at least one transaction in today’s dollars (the acquisition of what became Eutaw Farm), they were not aware that in 1779 inflation was rampant, and that the cost of the farm to Smith was in vastly inflated dollars.

William Smith is of particular importance to the history of the built city at the time of the War of 1812. When he died in 1814, he owned and rented out many buildings in town, had invested extensively in stocks and bonds, and had considerable small debts outstanding that were collected by his administrators. His probate records provide a wealth of information about his investments. Between 1815 and 1826 his administrators disbursed $373,986.97 and as late as 1885 there was enough interest in the remaining debts owed the estate that a new administrator was appointed to collect them. When one of his heirs, B. W. Hall, surrendered the titles to all the lands that made up Eutaw Farm along Herring Creek for a new patent that would take up any vacant land, the original 170 acres had grown to 292.5. A piece of the farm was sold to the Baltimore Water Board in 1851 in anticipation of securing a better water supply for the City, something that did not happen until the 20th century when attention turned to the Gunpowder Watershed, leaving Herring Run to feed Back River and to help (without much success ) to dilute and flush out the effluent of the Back River Sewage Treatment plant (built between 1907 and 1911).

Available from Amazon

Another interest in underground Baltimore centers on the water and sewer infrastructure of the city, which to most accounts is now suffering from age. Ronald Parks’ new book provides insight and a catalog of the extensive archive relating to Baltimore’s Water Supply and should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in how Baltimore came to have some of the best water in the world (at least according to some rating systems). Without Ron Park’s devotion to preserving the records relating to the development of the water supply they would have long ago been consigned to the incinerator.

Baltimore Above Ground: The City Sensible movement


One of the Scholars most familiar with William Smith’s early 19th century generation of Baltimore entrepreneurs and townhouse builders is Dr. Lance Humphries, whose remarks at William Elder’s memorial symposium at the Maryland Historical Society in November 2014, whetted appetites for more with his “Architectural Salvage: Piecing together Baltimore’s Early Townhouse Architecture from Fragments.” More recently Dr. Humphries has turned his attention to the City Sensible movement in a talk he gave on March 23, 2016, at the Engineer’s club, sponsored by the Baltimore Architecture Foundation and the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy. According to the announcement, the theme was City Planning and Landscape Architecture in Baltimore: The City Beautiful Contributions of Carrère & Hastings. Dr. Humphries pointed out that while the Olmsted's’ role in Baltimore landscape and planning history is well known—Carrère and Hastings’ early 20th century role is less known—and was significant. Carrère was brought into town in 1902 to speak to the Municipal Art Society on civic planning and park extension—his talk essentially launched the MAS’s support of the 1904 Olmsted park plan…the MAS’s interest in civic planning was stalled because of the fire—but they continued to push—brought Carrere back with Brunner (and in name Olmsted)—which resulted in the Partial Report on “City Plan” 1909 [published in 1910]—then Hastings was brought in in 1917 by Preston to realize the Civic Center idea, redesign Mount Vernon Place to accommodate the Lafayette statue (groundbreaking weeks after US entered WWI), and design Preston Gardens.

Carrère, Hastings, and Brunner’s plan for a Tuileries like park in front of City Hall, 1910

Carrère, Hastings, and Brunner would have preferred using the term City Sensible instead of the City Beautiful which by the time of the preliminary report to the city (1910) was a movement under fire for being impractical and too expensive for American municipalities. They advocated collecting government buildings on the edges of landscaped parks, such as the one they suggested in front of City Hall which never materialized. Even Mayor Preston, who at first championed the plan, succumbed to the war memorial and paved plaza of the 1920s that was adopted in place of the Carrère and Hastings plan for a tree-lined open space leading to a fountain. Out of office in 1920, the former Mayor wrote in a personal and not for publication letter that a paved over space was a much better idea:

I was first under the impression that a park with grass and trees would be the most advantageous treatment of the open square bounded by Holliday, Lexington, Gay and Fayette Streets, but when I began to consider it a little bit more carefully I came to the conclusion that an open paved square was the most advantageous and most attractive treatment and would have the greatest influence on development around it.

My reasons for this were these. It would be the only paved open public square that I know of in the United States and Baltimore would be unique in having such improvement. It would be advantageous in assembly troops and in reviewing from the Mayor’s office and the City Hall large assemblages or parades. It would give a beautiful view from all parts of the eastern section of the open square to the City Hall … Park squares with grass and trees are the common treatment for public squares. We have them all over Baltimore. … If grass, plants or trees are elements of the treatment, it interferes with the access of both pedestrians and vehicular traffic ….[1]

Preston’s revised views prevailed then, but fortunately today more attention is being given to preserving the trees and parks of the City. Herring and Stony Runs for example, are but two of several ‘urban forest’ areas in the city that are getting the attention they deserve in an effort to preserve and maintain the ‘urban canopy’ so essential to the well being of the city environment. One web site that is designed to tell their stories and to promote their proper care is, and a project is underway to document the history of the neighborhoods in which these forest patches are are located.

[1] Former BCHS president Judy Arnold, a volunteer at the Baltimore City Archives, found this letter among the files of the City Law Department, BCA BRG13-974, case file 81978. The Law Department files are a largely untapped treasure trove of Baltimore City History which Judy has been cataloguing and describing in the Baltimore City Archives guide to its records. For more information see the Baltimore City Archives web site.