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.

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