Friday, April 1, 2022

Research Strategies: Baltimore and the War of 1812

Research Strategies: Baltimore and the War of 1812

Edward C. Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist, retired

Detail of the defenses on the approach to Baltimore from James Kearney “Sketch of the Military Topography of Baltimore and Its vicinity and of Patapsco Neck to North Point,” 1814, National Archives

For an overview of the British invasion of the Chesapeake see Scott Sheads, Chesapeake Campaigns of 1813-1815. Scott Sheads' The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Reference Guide to Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010) and the Maryland Center for History and Culture's Guide to Sources provide an excellent starting point for exploring the military aspect of the war. They should be supplemented by recourse to the records at the Baltimore City Archives, especially record group BRG22, and to the records at the Maryland State Archives, especially record series MdSA S931. Both are introduced here with links to the records online, some of which are only available from, the research wiki related to[1]

Future blog entries will explore the records at the British National Archives, especially those related to sailors from the Chesapeake Bay region who were incarcerated in British Prisons such as Dartmoor during the War of 1812.




(War of 1812 Records)



Series Descriptions

Baltimore's preparations for defense in this war centered around efforts to repair, strengthen, and renovate Fort McHenry on Whetstone Point. Smaller redoubts such as Fort Covington and Babcock were built further up the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River to support Fort McHenry. Hampstead Hill (now Patterson Park) also was fortified. The Committee of Vigilance and Safety, headed by Mayor Edward Johnson, was the coordinating and planning unit for the defense of Baltimore, including the equipping and supporting of the militia. Major General Samuel Smith, the commanding officer of the Maryland Militia, worked closely with this committee in coordinating and planning the defense of the city.

In August 1814 Washington, D.C. was invaded and burned by British troops and on September 12th the British landed at North Point at the mouth of the Patapsco River. An American force, made up of Maryland and Pennsylvania militia, sailed from Baltimore and under General John Strieker engaged the British force in a two hour stalemate and retreated to Baltimore. On September 13th the British advanced on Baltimore and shelled Fort McHenry with cannon fire, bombs, and rockets in an attempt to weaken the city's defences for a land attack. A night landing was attempted below Fort McHenry but was repelled by heavy fire. The harbor was shallow (ships were also deliberately sunk in the harbor of the city) and the larger British ships were unable to maneuver close to the city to cover a land assault. After the attack Baltimore continued strengthening its defenses, repairing damage to Fort McHenry and other fortifications.

A helpful study concerning the municipal government's involvement is Frank A. Cassel's "Response to Crisis: Baltimore in 1814," Maryland Historical Magazine 66 (Fall, 1971): 261-87.

BRG 22-1


War of 1812 Records

This series contains a wide variety of records relating to Baltimore's involvement in the war originally indexed by the Historical Records Survey (HRS). The numbers on stickers on the backs of documents correspond to the HRS inventory numbers. The original HRS inventory is to be found online at the Maryland State Archives, series CE40, explained in the introduction to the series.[2] The HRS inventory volume covering the Baltimore City records relating to the War of 1812 is on line as a searchable pdf.[3]

For a discussion of the role of the HRS in inventorying public records see Edward C. Papenfuse, "A Modicum of Commitment: The Present and Future Importance of the Historical Records Survey." The American Archivist, April 1974.

The 1813 documents in series one (HRS nos. 549-940) include correspondence relating to the defense of Baltimore; miscellaneous bills, receipts, and vouchers for arms, repairs, construction, and labor; muster rolls for the months of April and May for the Baltimore Mechanical Volunteers, Fifth Regiment Maryland Cavalry and Maryland Militia, First Baltimore Maryland Riflemen, First Regiment Artillery, Sixth Regiment Maryland Militia, payrolls for the months of April and May for the Fifth Regiment Maryland Cavalry and Maryland Militia; First Regiment Artillery, Fifty-first Regiment Maryland Militia, First Baltimore Maryland Riflemen, and Sixth Regiment Maryland Militia; and subsistence accounts for the months of April and May for the Baltimore Mechanical Volunteers, Fifth Regiment Maryland Cavalry and Maryland Militia, First Baltimore Maryland Riflemen, First Regiment Artillery, Sixth Regiment Maryland Militia, and Thirty-ninth Regiment Maryland Regiment.

The 1814 documents (HRS nos. 462-1732) are of a different nature and substance. Correspondence to the Committee of Vigilance and Safety for the defense of the city for the period February to December concern construction, military equipment, laborers, and pay, as well as some letters from Major General Samuel Smith. Correspondence from the committee for the period April to December concern construction and loans.

Subsequent documents include a list of the members of the committee, receipts, and bills of sale and licenses for some ships; vouchers relating to music, labor, arms, construction, repair work, iron work, and coffins; daily morning reports for the Twenty-seventh Regiment, Maryland Militia, cover its individual companies; daily and weekly reports of the regiment; and correspondence with abstracts of disbursements to officers and men of the militia.

BRG 22-2



Two letters from Louis Gassaway to Thomas Rogers, notary public, regarding pension monies due Gassaway's sister. One document transmits the sister's affidavit required in the investigation of her claim; the affidavit is not present. Gassaway explains the circumstances surrounding the claim in the other document and questions Rogers as to how to have this pension continued.

BRG 22-2 online

BRG 22-3


War Loan Interest Correspondence

Correspondence relative to the settling of Baltimore's claim for interest due the city on monies loaned to the federal government for purposes of defense during the War of 1812. The majority of the letters are addressed to Mayor John Montgomery and concern a memorial passed in Congress to authorize payment of the funds owed.

BRG 22-3 online




(War of 1812 Papers)



Series Descriptions

This series consists of miscellaneous documents pertaining to the War of 1812. It includes requests for arms, names of volunteers, applications for commissions, orders on the treasury, returns of arms and equipment, accounts, payrolls, settlements of claims, vouchers, and blank forms. In a partially successful attempt to recover from the Federal treasury Maryland's and Baltimore's expenditures on defense, Maryland submitted the account book of the State Armorer, John Shaw, as proof of the arms it supplied during the War of 1812. The account book was discovered and analyzed by Scott Sheads who has supplied a copy, linked here as a pdf, which he cites as John Shaw's armory account, Records of the War Department. Post Revolutionary War Records, Office of the Adjutant General, National Archives (NA RWD AGO MAK 1813-1820). As Scott Sheads explains in his blog, "the 351 [account book entries] in all concern the defenses and State House of Annapolis from 1813 – 1820. John Shaw (1745-1829) was the superintendent of the State House and grounds as well as the Annapolis Armorer and well known cabinetmaker. His Armory Ledger Book (74 pages) lists company commanders and the disbursements of war materials obtained for their companies during the War of 1812.

John Shaw's armory account, Records of the War Department. Post Revolutionary War Records, Office of the Adjutant General, National Archives (NA RWD AGO MAK 1813-1820)

MdSA 931-1


Includes returns of volunteers and draftees, 1812; commission applications, 1813; letters and accounts to Governor and Council from Brigade Quartermaster, Baltimore, 1813-1818. Consists of old Box 55, part of old Box 455, and old Boxes 66 and 68


MdSA 931-2


Includes papers on settlement of Maryland claims against U.S., consists of old Box 67.

MdSA 931-3


Report of The Treasury of the United States on the claims of Baltimore for reimbursement for money and supplies expended during the War of 1812. Electronic only.

[1] This review of the records was initiated by Professor Glenn T. Johnston whose students were responsible for the transcriptions of Baltimore City Archives, BRG 22 now available at

[2] The email address for Dr. Papenfuse has not been corrected on this website. He can be reached at The transcription programs alluded to are no longer available from the Maryland State Archives.

[3] The searchable pdf is useful for finding the last name of captains and their morning reports for 1814, HRS numbers 922-1723. While it is awkward to find the HRS numbers in the online e-book they do appear as numbered labels on the documents which are in the e-book in HRS sequence. Unfortunately when the e-book was compiled neither the index information in the HRS inventory nor complete transcriptions were included as was originally intended. Resources were not made available to do so and the staff involved in the project moved on.

[4] Note that the page jump cgi script no longer works on any of the e-books because it was removed from the Maryland State Archives server.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Johns Hopkins and Slavery: The Slave Census of 1850 and the Gardens at Clifton


Johns Hopkins Guilty of “Crimes Against Humanity,” or

an Orthodox Friend who Ultimately Tended

to His Own Garden without Slave Labor?

In December of 2020 a professor at Johns Hopkins University offered a scathing opinion of the University’s founder in an opinion piece published in the Washington Post. At the same time, the University repeated the allegations on its various web sites where, for the most part, they have remained despite research to the contrary.[1]

In this condemnation which appeared opposite the editorial page, the author accused Johns Hopkins of “crimes against humanity,” and of holding slaves in bondage for his personal comfort without compensation, and for accepting slaves as collateral for debts owed him in the conduct of his grocery business. To conclude, the professor writes:

Research reveals that the story long told about Hopkins as a Quaker and abolitionist, descended from men who freed their slaves, was adopted just after the university celebrated its semicentennial in 1926. In 1929, an admiring grandniece published a set of reminiscences that erased her uncle’s role in slaveholding. Fifty years later, in time for our 1976 centennial, the university’s magazine published a short biography of Hopkins that repeated the same half-truths. This is the story we’ve told ever since, until now.

Going forward, my work will involve investigating our founder’s relationship to slaveholding and, as much as possible, understanding the lives of those he held enslaved. Solemnity is tempering my school spirit. It is time to retire my sweatshirt, however comfortable it was. It is also time to retire old myths about Johns Hopkins and the sense of ease they have given our university community. Only with that can our reckoning begin.[2]

The problem with myths and institutional propaganda about founders, is sorting out facts from fictions. Does Johns Hopkins deserve the scathing comments of one of the University’s widely published and acclaimed scholars that have been endorsed by the University's web sites and observations by its current president?

There is no simple answer. There is no question that the accusations in the Post and on the University web sites are extreme and unwarranted, but what can be learned about Johns Hopkins’s relationship to slaves and slavery? In the first place, as his filiopietistic grand niece (Helen Hopkins Thom) pointed out in 1929, no large body of financial or personal papers of Johns Hopkins have survived. While some have alleged that the loss was deliberate because Johns Hopkins wanted to cover his tracks, the likely reason is that they were destroyed in the great Baltimore fire of 1904 when much of his warehouse property and his bank were destroyed. Instead, probing the question of Johns Hopkins views and actions with regard to slavery rests mainly on the public record, although a few fragments of his correspondence have surfaced and are reproduced on the library website of the University.[3]

The surviving evidence does not paint as severe a portrait of Johns Hopkins as the op-ed alleges, and in fact offers no definite proof that Johns Hopkins ever owned or abused slaves. Indeed it suggests that he came to adopt the teachings of his Quaker mother with regard to the abolition of slavery, and rejected the acceptance of slaves in return for payment of debts that had been incurred with his firm, Hopkins Brothers.[4]

Slave schedule for Baltimore County in 1850 indicating Johns Hopkins with 4 slaves

and slaves attributed to his closest neighbors, James Lester and Solomon Hillen[5]

The questions that arise with regard to Johns Hopkins and Slavery must first address the direct evidence that appears to confirm that he did own slaves in 1850, which is the single piece of evidence on which the most egregious assertions of the op-ed were based. In the summer of 2020 one scholar teaching at Hopkins relayed a census record to the writer of the op-ed that appeared to confirm Johns Hopkins as a slave owner. Is there any collaborating evidence that these four individuals were John’s Hopkins slaves? Does the Census record even itself prove that the four men were Johns Hopkins’ slaves? Based on what is now known about the compilation of the 1850 Slave Schedules they could easily have been term slaves (slaves who had been promised their freedom) hired by William Waddell, a Scottish immigrant gardener who laid out and began the once internationally known 60 acres of gardens at Clifton.[6]

The park at Clifton in 1874 with the greenhouse in the upper right

courtesy of S.J. Martenet & Co.

The Gardens at Clifton were the main focus of Hopkins at his estate from the late 1840s until his death in 1873 when his estate inventory reveals the nature and extent of his botanical interests.[7] By 1860 William Waddell and the slaves are gone replaced by another Scottish horticulturalist who remains with the estate after Hopkins’s death when it becomes the property of Johns Hopkins University.[8] Only after emancipation do Black laborers return as wage earners to tend the Gardens at Clifton under William Fowler who was at work at Clifton by 1857.[9]

Secondly the Quaker context in which Johns Hopkins was raised and the influence of both Hannah Janney Hopkins and Elizabeth Janney on Johns Hopkins’s actions with regard to slaves and slavery deserves closer scrutiny. This includes what appears to be a crisis of conscience that came with the death of two brother partners in Hopkins Brothers in the midst of a deep economic depression (1837-1841) that led to the dissolution of the firm in 1846 and placed Johns Hopkins firmly on the road to abolition, if qualified by a belief in compensation to the slave owners, much as Abraham Lincoln advocated in his last months as President.[10] In extracts from surviving letters from his sister in 1831-2, and an 1840 letter from Johns Hopkins to his mother, Johns Hopkins’s troubled conscience is made clear. His mother Hannah (1774-1846) came to Baltimore to be with him in 1841 and was known for her anti-slavery views in the context of Orthodox Quaker doctrine that read members out of meeting if they continued to own slaves. It is likely she had more influence on Johns who remained single, than she did with Samuel who chose to be married an Episcopalian and was read out of meeting for owning slaves.[11]


In studying slavery and those who advocated slavery in the United States, it is imperative to fully evaluate the surviving evidence, especially if the intent is to learn from and correct past mistakes and evil perceptions of race that continue long after the institution of slavery is abolished. In the context of a well-entrenched institution of slavery well-intentioned individuals including Johns Hopkins fought slavery from many different perspectives, ranging from William Lloyd Garrison who would reject the constitutional government of the United States altogether, to Johns Hopkins who used his fortune before and after the Civil War to benefit people of color and supported the successful war effort to abolish slavery as an evil institution. Both were rightfully called abolitionists.

As the people of color from Baltimore and beyond declaimed on the announcement of the dispersal of Johns Hopkins’s fortune in April 1873, nine months before he died, Johns Hopkins was a firm supporter of the Black community:

Whereas Johns Hopkins, Esq., has recently added his name to the list of those who by their lives have sought success only that it might enable their warm-hearted philanthropy the more to serve the great cause of a common humanity; and whereas for the first time in the history of Maryland a generous impulse, throbbing in the noble breast of one of its best citizens, who, regarding not the clamor of the hour, but realizing the demands of the times, at the dictation of statesmanlike views, unbiassed [sic] by popular prejudice, has elevated himself above all other men in Maryland, in the mode and manner of the distribution of his charity, and out of his private means donated to the public good, without distinction of race or color, more than four millions of dollars to endow a free hospital and a home for colored orphans in Baltimore. Therefore be it

Resolved by the Colored Citizens of Baltimore City, in Mass Meeting Assembled, That Johns Hopkins, Esq., heartily receives our warmest expression of heartfelt thanks for his generosity in regarding and recognizing our race in his great act of munificence.

Resolved, That Johns Hopkins, Esq., will ever be regarded as the friend of the colored race, and that we will teach our children to do honor to his memory when we shall have passed away, because of his noble liberality of spirit, and the comprehensiveness of mind characterizing his conduct in recognizing our race as being entitled to equal consideration and treatment with all others.

Resolved. That a copy of these resolutions be presented to Johns Hopkins, Esq., signed by the officers of this meeting.[12]

Only further division is accomplished by a misinterpretation of facts, and ignoring the good men and women do with their accumulated wealth before and after their death.

Ed Papenfuse,

Maryland State Archivist, Retired

[1] Note that the citations for most of the references made in this essay are to be found in this collaborative assessment of Johns Hopkins and Slavery. Otherwise the citations will be found here.

[4] It is likely that the acquisition of slaves as collateral for unpaid debts by Hopkins Brothers precipitated Johns Hopkins resistance to acquiring slaves as his share of the profits of the firm in accord with Quaker discipline. His brother Samuel and his Pittsburg partner, James Ross, are another matter. Johns Hopkins was a partner in the 1830s until dissolution in 1846, and does bear some responsibility for the other members of the firm accepting slaves as compensation for their shares in the business. It is clear however that the collection of debts however obtained was delegated to other members of the firm. An example is provided by the securities James Ross, the firm’s managing partner, lost on his way to collect them. See the Baltimore Sun for August 8, 1840.

[5]composite made from It is most likely that the four men were hired by Johns Hopkins’s gardener who may have hired them from James Lester, Clifton’s nearest neighbor who did own slaves. By 1860 the labor force at Clifton did not include slaves, hired or otherwise, and the gardener, William Waddell, who worked with hired slaves when he was employed as gardener for John Ridgely of Hampton, was gone.

[7] Baltimore County Register of Wills (Inventories), OPM 11, 1873-1874. The inventory of the Clifton greenhouse plants is three pages which provides an excellent indication of what is needed to reconstruct the horticulture of the estate.

[9] . Fowler was internationally known as a horticulturist. First mention of him nationally is in The Horticulturalist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste, 1857, but his 1896 obituary in the Baltimore Sun, July 24, 1897, p. 10, and the Journal of the Kew Guild, 1898 and 1896, provide the details of his travel and employment, from Kew Gardens to Tasmania, and then to work for Johns Hopkins at Clifton in 1856. Apparently the plants in the greenhouse in 1873 that he collected for Johns Hopkins were intended for a botanical garden that was never planted, He did plant many rare trees and conifers, but some were cut down and grubbed out by the City of Baltimore when they purchased Clifton from the University. The Gardeners’ Chronicle, August 21, 1897, p.136.

[10] “The Economics of Lincoln's Proposal for Compensated Emancipation,” Andrew Weintraub, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology , Apr., 1973, Vol. 32, No. 2

(Apr., 1973), pp. 171-177

[11] See images of Johns Hopkins letter to his mother, Hannah Hopkins, April 25, 1840, Correspondence of Johns Hopkins, Johns Hopkins Collection, The Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives,