Monday, October 22, 2012


Join us and explore War of 1812 Archaeology!

The Maryland State Highway Administration's archaeologists are joining in the state's commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and we want to share our latest finds with you - so follow us here as we excavate War of 1812 battlefields, encampments, and even a shipwreck! In addition to sharing details of the sites we've found along Maryland's highways, we'll be featuring guest posts by archaeologists who are doing their own work on 1812-related sites, in Maryland and anywhere else such sites might be found. 

We hope you’ll stop by often to read about our efforts to uncover new and fascinating stories about this remarkable time in our nation’s history.

About the War of 1812

Look, it’s no secret that the War of 1812, sandwiched between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, is basically the neglected middle child of significant early American wars. But we have arrived at the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and it is time to start paying a little more attention to this obscure, but nonetheless significant, conflict. Here’s a short synopsis for those of you who are not completely conversant with the history:

In the early 19th century, the British and the French were fighting the Napoleonic Wars, and the Americans were getting hassled all the time. The United States, fresh from the Revolution, was neutral during the Napoleonic conflicts, but American ships were caught in blockades, had their goods confiscated by the British or French, or had their crews impressed into the Royal Navy. Very exasperating. On top of all that, the British were encouraging Indian groups in the west to attack frontier settlements, and supplying the Indians with weapons. They were probably a little worried about American threats to invade and annex parts of Canada. There was a lot going on, is what I’m saying. 

Sick of getting pushed around by the British, President James Madison signed a declaration of war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812. America wasn't really ready for a war. We didn't have much of a navy. So President Madison issued Letters of Marque and Reprisal to private ship owners. We might have been unprepared for war, but DANG were Marylanders ready to privateer the heck out of the British Navy. If you've ever heard of a Baltimore Clipper, this is probably why. The clipper ships enjoyed tremendous glory and usefulness as privateers during the conflict. A clipper called the Chasseur, commanded by Captain Thomas Boyle, was especially brash, impertinent, and therefore awesome. Go read the Wikipedia page if you have time. 

In 1814, feeling pretty good about themselves after sorting out Napoleon, the British initiated a three-part strategy for a war with the United States. First, they sought control of the Hudson River.  American incursions into Canada had initiated conflict along the northern border in 1812, and the British counter in this area had the potential for catastrophic consequences to the United States.  Second, the British launched an attack on the Chesapeake region and the Nation’s Capital as a political statement.  In part, this campaign was retribution for the burning of Fort York (Toronto) by American forces in 1812.  The British were also getting seriously annoyed about all those privateers from the Chesapeake, so another major focus was "that nest of pirates" in Baltimore. Finally, a western attack directed at New Orleans sought to control the Mississippi River, halt America’s westward expansion, and isolate the young democracy. 

In the past, the War of 1812 was considered a sidelight of American history…some even say the “forgotten war.”  Happily, as a result of the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812, the public is beginning to recognize the significance of the War in the evolution of the newly independent United States and its fledgling experiment in democratic rule.  Today many historians view the War of 1812 as a decisive crossroads that profoundly affected the nation’s development, a second war for independence. It wasn’t a blip, it wasn’t a hiccup, it was a seriously big deal and it is packed with fascinating stories. Like plucky underdogs? You’re going to LOVE the War of 1812. 

Here in Maryland, it is well-remembered - and for good reason. Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay were national centers of settlement, commerce, and government. The British Chesapeake Campaign was a reflection of the region’s strategic importance, and placed Maryland at the core of national events.  Maryland saw more military actions during the War of 1812 than any other state.  The War of 1812 tested the young democracy and its diverse population including slaves and freemen, forged a national identity, and created a new international political framework.  On a local level, Maryland’s contributions to the defense and heritage of the nation include the pivotal clash at Fort McHenry, which may have ensured the nation’s survival, and inspired our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. 

The United States’ successful, solitary stand against the British Empire greatly enhanced the country’s international prestige and forced Great Britain to acknowledge the full economic and political sovereignty of their former colony. The war consolidated the emerging democracy and forged the nation into a unified whole with a new national outlook.  For the first time, citizens began to perceive themselves as a distinct, American people.

Archaeology of the War of 1812

We’ll have details and highlights of excavations all over Maryland and anywhere else the War of 1812 left traces behind -- so follow along and make new discoveries with us. 

Working on a War of 1812-related site? We want to hear from you! Contact us at or in the comments section. 

10/22/2013 by Lisa Kraus