Friday, December 20, 2013

Archaeology Takes Back Loser's Day

The town of Essex, Connecticut has something in common with Bladensburg, Maryland: both were invaded by the British in 1814, and neither town came out of the engagement covered in glory.

Late one April night 1814, a British raiding party rowed six miles up the Connecticut River to burn the privateers of Essex, then known as Pettipaug. Within six hours, they had torched 27 ships and taken or destroyed thousands of dollars’ worth of rigging materials and had, according to history, met little to no resistance. The raid resulted in the single greatest loss to American shipping of the entire war.

Detail from the map Connecticut, from actual survey, Hartford, CT: Hudson & Goodwin, 1811 – University of Connecticut Libraries’, Map and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC) -  Via.
You can read a more in-depth account of the attack on Pettipaug/Essex here at

Essex has a sense of humor about the event now known as The Great Attack. Every second Saturday in May, there is a parade down Main Street. It is led by the Sailing Masters of 1812, dressed in period U.S. naval uniforms, and they march to the waterfront at the Connecticut River Museum (site of the British landing), accompanied by fifes and drums, to raise the flag in commemoration of an event now known as "Loser's Day." Maybe now it can be "At Least We Tried" Day?

But now, an archaeological project is bringing new evidence to light - evidence that suggests the British met more resistance at Pettipaug than originally thought. This story about 1812 Archaeology in the news by Eric Hesselberg comes from The Hartford Courant, and was printed September 30, 2013:
OLD SAYBOOK — Archaeologists have found evidence of a shipwreck in the Connecticut River that could be linked to a 200-year-old battle in which the British set fire to 25 ships in Essex harbor, the largest maritime loss of the War of 1812.
The wreck lies in several feet of water off Watrous Point, a mile south of Essex harbor, and is indicated by a "ballast pile," an oblong mound of stones that were once in the ship's hold for stability. The stones remained after the hull disintegrated. 
Under gray skies Friday, archaeologists from the University of Connecticut and the Mashantucket Pequot Research Center stood waist deep in the chilly river water removing hundreds of pounds of the ballast stone to the reach the hull beneath. Waves from passing boats jostled the crews as they struggled to keep their footing. 
Two hours in the water yielded only some fragments of charred wood and a rusty nail, which were bagged for further examination. The team plans to return with a suction dredge in coming days to remove more mud and debris, believed to be covering the ship's timbers. 
"With archaeology, what you don't find can be just as important as what you do find," said UConn archaeologist Kevin McBride, who is leading the project along with battlefield historian Jerry Roberts, former executive director of the Connecticut River Museum. 
Roberts and McBride, who is also Research Director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, are working to identify battlefields linked to the Essex Raid, which took place April 8, 1814, two years into the War of 1812. The project is funded by a grant to the Connecticut River Museum in Essex from the Battlefield Protection Program of the National Parks Service. It seeks to have an area on both sides of the Connecticut River between Essex and Saybrook Point designated as a battle site on the National Register of Historic Places. 
Roberts is also writing a book on the subject for Wesleyan University Press, which is due out next spring. 
In Old Saybrook, the researchers are trying to determine whether the wreck is the long-lost privateer, Young Anaconda, which was captured by the British and later sunk. The 300-ton brig had run aground while British marines were attempting to tow her downriver as a prize. It was later set ablaze. 
"This fits the location for our ship really well," said Roberts, adding that if some of the hull can be recovered, construction details can be used to determine whether it was a privateer. "Privateers were built quickly and cheaply, so we should be able to find evidence of that," Roberts said. 
UConn marine archaeologist Kroum Batchvarov, a leading authority on shipwrecks, is assisting with the investigation. 
"My firm belief is that you have a shipwreck with a ballast pile like this," Batchvarov said. "There is a ship here. I don't know where it is, but it's here." 
Digging on a nearby lawn has turned up more than 20 musket balls, fueling speculation that the wreck is the American privateer. "There was some major action here," McBride said. 
Roberts learned of the shipwreck several months ago from the property's owner, Andrew Carr, who spotted the ballast pile years ago while building a dock. A boater, himself, he said the location of the stones made it unlikely that they were anything else by a shipwreck. 
"I heard Jerry talk about the Essex Raid and how the British captured a ship and then burned it right about here, and I thought this just might be the one," Carr said. 
The British Raid on Essex was prompted by the harassing of British ships by American privateers during the War of 1812, some sailing out of Essex, then a center of shipbuilding and trade. Connecticut skippers had turned to privateering to recoup their losses from the British blockade of Long Island Sound. 
In this government-sanctioned piracy, captains were issued "letters of marque," allowing them to seize enemy ships as prizes that were then sold at auction, with the profits divided among ship owners, captain, crew and the government. 
The success of Essex privateers drove the British to respond with a bold attack on the night of April 8, 1814, when 136 Royal Marines stormed ashore and proceeded to set fire to the town's fleet, some vessels still on the stocks being built. 
The traditional view was that Essex, then known as Pettipaug, gave up without a fight, and the town for years has marked the day with a parade and celebration locals refer to as Loser's Day. 
Roberts and McBride are helping to change that view. Both the Americans and the British, they believe, fought valiantly. 
"I'm an historian – I'm about story," Roberts said. "But in order to verify this battle site, you need archaeology. Kevin will tell you that without artifacts you can't prove that a story really happened. So we make a good team."
Check out some photos of the shipwreck exploration over here at the Hartford Courant

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Madisons' Missed Connections

Continued from the last post (Dolley's Difficult Run), Architectural Historian Matt Manning concludes this tour of Dolley & James Madison's travels through Washington, Maryland and Virginia in the aftermath of the British attack on the U.S. capital. 

Wednesday, August 24, 1814

In the morning, James Madison receives a plea from General William Winder, commander of the American forces in defense of Washington, requesting the president’s urgent counsel. Madison first rides to Winder’s camp southeast of the President’s House where he meets with members of his cabinet, including Secretary of State James Monroe, Secretary of the Navy William Jones, Attorney General Richard Rush, Secretary of the Treasury George Campbell, and Secretary of War John Armstrong. From there, Madison continues to Bladensburg to meet with General Winder as British troops approach the town from the southeast. Before departing Washington, he gives instructions to his wife, Dolley, to abandon the President’s House should the imminent battle turn for the worse.

In the intense afternoon heat, Madison watches above Bladensburg as the battle unfolds. He moves back as the fighting intensifies, and turns to retreat when British forces disrupt the American lines and the poorly trained American militia is unable to regroup and turn back the battle-hardened British regulars.

The battle lost and the American army in disarray, Madison makes his way back to Washington. He stops briefly at the President’s House around four o’clock to find his wife has already left for Bellevue. In Washington, Madison is joined by Brigadier General John T. Mason, Richard Rush, and other aides. Madison’s initial plan called for the group to reconvene in Frederick, Maryland, in the event that Washington would fall, but he at some point reconsidered. (Missing from the rendezvous are Armstrong and Campbell, who were apparently not advised of the change in plans; both traveled to Frederick.) Without time to reach Dolley at Bellevue, Madison sends word for the First Lady to meet him at Foxall Foundry; however, when he finds the road crowded with refugees, he again changes plans, calling for the parties to regroup at Wiley’s Tavern in Virginia.

Unable to continue northwest beyond Georgetown, Madison travels to Virginia via Mason’s Ferry, which crosses the Potomac River at present-day Theodore Roosevelt Island.

A map of Mason’s Ferry as it appeared in 1818, just a few years after James Madison’s flight from Washington. The ferry was established by George Mason IV in 1748 when he was granted a charter by the state of Virginia. The ferry, which crossed from Georgetown to the Virginia shore, incorporated the northern tip of a large island Mason’s father had purchased in 1717. In the 1790s, John Mason, who would later travel with James Madison from Washington following the Battle of Bladensburg, constructed a Neoclassical-style summer estate on the island. The estate incorporated landscaped terraces south of the house, planting fields to the north, and an allee of trees along the road between the ferry and the house. The ferry itself included boats or flat-bottomed scows powered at different times by cable or livestock. In 1807, a causeway replaced the boat crossing that originally linked the island with Virginia. The island was occupied by Union Troops during the Civil War and was afterward used for a variety of recreational purposes before it was transformed as a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt in the 1930s. Robert King's 1818 map, courtesy of The C&O Canal Companion, JHU Press
Arriving in Virginia shortly before sunset, Madison confers with his aides about the next appropriate course of action. Accounts of the President’s movements at this stage are few, provided primarily by Paul Jennings, Madison’s teenaged slave, who is left to follow on foot, and by others who later claimed to have seen him at various points along his route.

Madison, seeking information regarding British troop movements and the location of the American forces, travels first to Wren’s Tavern in Falls Church.

Wren’s Tavern is no longer standing, but during the early 1800s, it was an important stopping point for those traveling between Virginia and Washington, D.C. The tavern was constructed by Colonel James Wren (1728-1815), who served in the Revloutionary War. Wren was also the architect of several churches, including Falls Church, for which the City of Falls Church was later named. Thomas Jefferson mentioned the inn in letters to both his daughter and James Madison, calling it a “very decent house” with “respectable people” and suggesting that Madison breakfast there on his route from Washington to Monticello. The tavern functioned as an unofficial headquarters for the Virginia militia during the War of 1812; Colonel Minor, of Minor’s Hill, received his orders at the tavern and reported there with his militia before traveling to the defense of Washington. Photo courtesy of the Historic Marker Database.
After a brief stop, Madison’s entourage continues north, stopping at Minor’s Hill but finding the estate full of other refugees. Perhaps hoping to intercept his wife on her route from Georgetown to Wiley’s Tavern, Madison pushes on to Salona, the home of William and Ann Carter Maffit, friends of the Madisons.

Salona is a Federal-style brick dwelling south of Dolley Madison Boulevard in northeast McLean, Virginia. The house, with a unique T-shaped entrance hall, may have been constructed by Rev. William Moffitt when he purchased the 466-acre tract in 1812. Moffitt was a Presbyterian minister and schoolteacher in Maryland and Virginia. According to legend, Maffitt’s ghost can still be seen riding around Salona on the white horse he frequently used while making pastoral visits to the homes surrounding his farm. During the Civil War, the grounds were occupied by the Union Army as Camp Griffin, and the house served as headquarters for General William “Baldy” Smith. The house still stands today, although residential development has replaced the farmland that formerly surrounded the estate. Photo by Shamus Ian Fatzinger for the Fairfax County Times.
Thursday, August 25

Madison awakes at Salona without news of his wife and unaware that she has just passed the night barely more than a mile away at Rokeby. The President returns to Wren’s Tavern hoping for new information about the status of the capital and the location of British and American forces. At the tavern, he finds Captain George Graham, who provides the President with an armed guard. Madison, perhaps growing desperate for news about Dolley, once more turns toward Salona. Upon arriving back at the Maffitt estate, he discovers he has just missed his wife. William Jones, travelling with the First Lady, has left word that the group has continued to Wiley’s Tavern.

Some reports state that the Madisons had planned to meet at Salona, and not Wiley’s Tavern. This may explain why Madison travels north to Salona and does not continue on a direct route to Wiley’s from Wren’s Tavern and why he later returns to the estate to look for his wife. Although Dolley stops only a mile from Salona, the route from Rokeby may have been judged too dark and crowded to travel any farther.

Following Dolley’s route, but now several hours behind, Madison, Rush, and their armed escort are caught in a violent storm and forced to take shelter at a crossroads. Back in Washington, the same storm reportedly lifts British artillery from the ground and tears roofs from public buildings and residences; even as it extinguishes the fires, the drenching rain fractures the walls of the fledgling capital’s stone buildings.

When the storm abates, the President continues to Wiley’s Tavern, finally arriving around seven o’ clock. Drenched and tired, his reunion with Dolley is fleeting; it is believed that the British have followed Madison into Virginia, and the President leaves sometime after midnight to join the American forces at Montgomery Courthouse in Maryland. 

Friday, August 26th

Madison, now accompanied by Rush, Jones, Mason, and others, travels north to cross the Potomac River at Conn’s Ferry. Upon arriving, they discover the river is swollen from the storm, and the ferryman will not provide passage until the relative safety of morning light. Stuck in Virginia, the party finds shelter nearby and waits for first light.

In the morning, the group crosses the Potomac and continues eight miles to Montgomery Courthouse (present-day Rockville, Maryland). They arrive to discover that General Winder and the American troops have already broken camp and are en route to Baltimore. The presidential party travels eleven more miles but is unable to catch up to Winder before reaching Brookeville, Maryland, late Friday evening.

The residents of Brookeville, a small Quaker community, are opposed to the war, and the President supposedly has trouble finding a place to rest before being taken in by Caleb and Henrietta Bentley. Madison reportedly spends the night at a desk, receiving messages and writing dispatches into the early morning, getting little sleep. 

The Brookeville home of Caleb and Henrietta Bentley as it appears today. The Federal-style Madison House, as it came to be called, was probably constructed between 1798 and 1804 by Caleb Bentley. A wealthy silversmith, merchant, and landowner, Bentley was commissioned in 1793 to create one of the four cornerstones of the U.S. Capitol. He was later appointed by Thomas Jefferson as Brookeville’s first postmaster in 1802. Bentley opened a store the same year, said to be in a wing of the Madison House and to include the post office. Dolley Madison, who was born a Quaker, may have been acquainted with Henrietta Bentley, prompting Madison to seek her out when he arrived in Brookeville. The Bentleys sold the property in 1819, and it was occupied by a long succession of different owners. The house still stands in its original location along Market Street and was the winner of the Washington Post’s Historic Home Contest in October 2012.  Photo courtesy of David O. Stewart

Saturday, August 27th

During the night, Madison receives word that the British have retreated from the capital and it is safe to return to Washington. He writes to James Monroe, who arrives in Brookeville Saturday morning. That afternoon, Madison prepares to travel the 18 miles south back to Washington. Over the last three days, he has travelled approximately 70 miles through stifling heat, a violent storm, and sleepless nights. It is an impressive journey for a 5 ½ foot tall, 63 year old man frequently described as “feeble,” “pale,” or “sickly” throughout his life. With the young nation in disarray, Madison’s greatest challenge was perhaps still ahead.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dolley's Difficult Run

Today's excellent entry in our ongoing discussion of all things War of 1812 comes from Matt Manning, Architectural Historian at the Maryland State Highway Administration. This essay takes us on an architectural and historical tour of early 19th-century Washington, D.C. and its immediate environs. It also demonstrates that getting out of D.C. has always been a trying endeavor.

In April, we tracked down the hiding place of the now-famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington after Dolley Madison saved it from the clutches of the invading British. But where did Dolley Madison herself take refuge from the advancing enemy army?

As the Madisons fled Washington, confusion and disorder reigned. This is reflected in the limited and often conflicting accounts of their retreat from the city. The following is an approximation of the First Lady’s travels, based on her own letters, the writings of others involved, and the work of really dedicated researchers who have spent a lot of time sorting through historical documents.

Dolley Madison’s Route from Washington 
Wednesday, August 24, 1814

Sometime after three o’clock, Dolley receives word that the American troops have failed to stop the British at Bladensburg; the First Lady sets to work securing irreplaceable Cabinet papers, George Washington’s portrait, and the crimson velvet curtains at the President’s House. Concerned for Dolley’s safety, Charles Carroll, a friend of the Madisons and a frequent visitor at the President’s House, arrives to retrieve Dolley from her home and hasten her departure. Along with her servant, Sukey, her sister, Anna Payne Cutts, and Anna’s three children, Dolley makes her way to Bellevue, the Georgetown home of Charles and Anne Sprigg Carroll.

Bellevue, located at 2715 Q Street NW in Washington, DC, is a Federal-style brick dwelling with a five-part compound plan. The house was constructed in 1799 by Samuel Jackson, a Philadelphia merchant. Charles Carroll, a cousin of the signer of the Declaration of Independence, purchased the house in 1813, naming it Bellevue. Carroll moved to New York following the War of 1812, and Commodore John Rodgers became one of the house’s first tenants in 1815 before building his own house on Lafayette Square. The Carroll heirs sold the house in 1841. In 1915, the house was moved 100 feet to the north to accommodate an extension of Q Street into Georgetown via the Dumbarton Bridge. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America purchased and restored the property in 1928; it was renamed and opened to the public as the Dumbarton House in 1932.
At Bellevue, Dolley is joined by US Navy Clerk Edward Duvall and Secretary of the Navy William Jones and his wife. The group soon receives word to meet the President at Foxall Foundry along the Potomac River northwest of Georgetown. Shortly after five o’clock, Dolley sets off with her family and those of Jones and Carroll. En route, the party discovers that James Madison, unable to pass through the throngs of refugees on the roads leading from Washington, has already crossed into Virginia at Mason’s Ferry to the south. Instead, the President suggests the groups reconvene at Wiley’s Tavern in Virginia. 

Dolley and her companions continue northwest out of Georgetown, but travel along the crowded road is slow. Four miles north of Georgetown, the party crosses the Chain Bridge over the Potomac River and into Virginia.

The Chain Bridge as it appeared in 1839. The original bridge was a chain link suspension bridge constructed by the Georgetown-Potomac Bridge Company between 1805 and 1808. It was based on designs by Judge James Finley, an Irish-born engineer responsible for designing and building the first modern suspension bridge in 1801 in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The Chain Bridge supported a 16-foot wide oak plank roadway that spanned 128.5 feet. The bridge was damaged and repaired numerous times before it was finally replaced by a wood truss bridge in 1852. The location continues to be used as a Potomac River crossing today; it is still known as the Chain Bridge. Image courtesy of Ghosts of DC.
Once in Virginia, Dolley Madison continues northwest. As darkness closes in, she reaches Rokeby Farm, the home of Richard and Matilda Lee Love. The Madisons had often received the Loves in Washington, and Matilda Lee Love was related to James Madison through her stepmother. Only ten miles from the city, Rokeby is brimming with other refugees of Washington. That evening, Dolley watches from a window in Rokeby as fires cast a red glow over the capital. Unbeknownst to her, James Madison passes the night little more than a mile away at Salona, the Virginia estate of Rev. William Maffitt, Jr.

The original house at Rokeby Farm was reportedly constructed in 1813 and would have been the house that sheltered Dolley Madison. However, this building was lost to fire and was rebuilt in 1820. The site where Rokeby once stood is located near Dolley Madison Boulevard and Seville Lane, adjacent to the CIA headquarters in Fairfax County. The rebuilt house is no longer standing.
Thursday, August 25

Dolley and her entourage depart Rokeby Farm, continuing west toward the Alexandria and Leesburg Road (present-day Leesburg Pike), passing and possibly making a brief stop at Salona on the way (James Madison has already departed). They follow the Alexandria and Leesburg Road northwest to Wiley’s Tavern near Difficult Run, arriving just ahead of an intense storm moving in from the northwest. Upon entering the tavern, however, Dolley encounters a storm of a different kind. She is soon recognized by the tavern keeper’s wife, who reportedly exclaims,

“Miss Madison! If that’s you, come down and go out! Your husband has got mine out fighting, and damn you, you shan’t stay in my house, so get out!”

Despite the irate innkeeper objections, Dolley’s companions are able to convince the woman to allow the First Lady to stay. (Although some reports state that Dolley acquiesced to the woman’s demands and found shelter in another tavern nearby.)

Dolley’s cold reception at Wiley’s Tavern (no longer extant) would not have been unusual. The Madisons were not particularly popular with a large segment of the population which felt that James Madison had been cavalier in his decision to declare war and subsequently bungled the country’s defense. Emboldened by recent events and with the capital aflame, some chose to express their displeasure directly to the First Lady. At Rokeby, even Mrs. Love’s cook had been unable to hide her scorn. She refused to quickly make a cup of coffee for the First Lady, grumbling that she would not hurry, “for I done heerd Mr. Madison and [Secretary of War] Mr. Armstrong done sold the country to the British.” Image courtesy of the Smithsonian
Just before evening, after the worst of the storm has passed, Dolley Madison finally reunites with her husband at Wiley’s Tavern. However, the President stays only briefly; amid a swirl of rumors, it is believed the British are moving west into Virginia. The President departs around midnight in hopes of rejoining the American army in Maryland.

Friday, August 26

With hostility brewing at the tavern and the British possibly on the way, Dolley sets off Friday morning with her sister and nieces, this time retracing her steps southeast. They make their way north of Falls Church to Minor’s Hill, the home of George Minor, Jr., and his stepmother, Mildred Heale Minor. The group reaches Minor’s Hill without incident, and Dolley spends the next two nights at the estate. 

This house may have been where Dolley Madison stayed for two nights before returning to Washington. Located at the intersection of Virginia Avenue and North Nottingham Street in McLean, Virginia, the original house was reportedly constructed of logs as early as 1730. In 1770, George Minor, Sr., purchased the property and added a wing to the existing house. George Minor and his first wife, Ann, had seven children. The eldest, George Minor, Jr., inherited the house and occupied it during the War of 1812. George Jr. served as Lieutenant Colonel of the Virginia Militia 60th Regiment and was called to the defense of the capital; however, administrative delays prevented him from reaching Bladensburg in time for the battle. During the Civil War, the high ground south of the house hosted a Union Army encampment, complete with an observation tower. The house still stands, now surrounded by later suburban development. Photo courtesy of Ralph Eshelman.
Sunday, August 28

Dolley receives a letter from James Madison confirming the British have withdrawn from Washington. The First Lady departs for the capital, not knowing what she will find when she arrives...

To be continued...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Revel in the Relentless Naval Glory of Commodore John Rodgers

Apologies for another long hiatus - we're wrangling several submissions right now and will soon be back to our regular biweekly schedule.

One of the intriguing things about the War of 1812 was the nature of the American military leadership. Many military-minded fellows who were just starting their careers during the Revolution (or who were too young to fight in that conflict) were only too happy to chip in during the War of 1812, and since many of them were fairly well seasoned by that time, they brought both valuable experience and powerful personalities to the fray.

One of these singular individuals was Commodore John Rodgers. A vivid characterization of the Commodore was written by Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton shortly after Rodgers’ death. It’s rapturous:

“My idea of the perfect naval commander had been formed from history and from the study of such characters as the Von Tromps and De Ruyters of Holland the Blakes of England and the De Tourvilles of France, men modest and virtuous, frank and sincere, brave and patriotic, gentle in peace, terrible in war- formed for high command by nature, and raising themselves to their proper sphere by their own exertions from low beginnings. When I first saw Commodore Rodgers, which was after I had reached senatorial age and station, he recalled to me the idea of those modern admirals, and subsequent acquaintance confirmed the impression then made.

He was to me the complete impersonation of my idea of the perfect naval commander; person, mind and manners with the qualities of command grafted on the groundwork of a good citizen and good father of a family and all lodged in a frame to bespeak the seaman and officer. His very figure and face were those of the naval hero such as we conceive from naval songs and ballads and from the course of life which the sea officer leads exposed to the double peril of waves and war, contending with the storms of the elements as well as with the storm of battle. We associate the idea of bodily power with such a life, and when we find them united the heroic qualities in a frame of powerful muscular development, we experience a grateful feeling of completeness which fulfils a natural expectation and leaves nothing to be desired.

And when the same great qualities are found, as they often are, in the man of slight and slender frame, it requires some effort of reason to conquer a feeling of surprise at a combination which is a contrast and which presents so much power in a frame so little promising it, and hence all poets and orators, all painters and sculptors, all the dealers in imaginary perfections give a corresponding figure of strength and force to the heroes they create. Commodore Rodgers needed no help from the creative imagination to endow him with the form which naval heroism might require. His person was of the middle height, stout, square, solid, compact, well proportioned and combined in the perfect degree the idea of strength and endurance with the reality of manly comeliness- the statue of Mars in the rough state before the conscious chisel had lent the last polish.”

I think you all have to admit that this is basically the most flattering eulogy of all time. I'm not even making it up, it's all real! Thomas Hart Benton obviously lurved John Rodgers to the max, but why was he so great? What was all the fuss about?

Portrait of John Rodgers (date unknown) by Gilbert Stuart, courtesy of Naval War College Museum

John Rodgers was born in Havre de Grace, Maryland in 1772 and was probably ready to go fight the British during the Revolution, if only his parents would have allowed it. Havre de Grace is a waterfront town, and by his early teens, Rodgers had developed a bad case of Passion For The Sea. He pined for square-rigged ships and so hared off to Baltimore in 1788. His dad rode after him and tried to persuade him to come home, but he refused, and so his father arranged an apprenticeship for him with a master shipbuilder in Fells Point. Rodgers' career at sea was begun.

Rodgers set himself apart from the average sailor by handling every adverse situation like a total boss. One notable example from his first command was discussed by Charles Oscar Paullin in his book about the Commodore:

THAT is how you handle pusillanimity!

Unsurprisingly, Rodgers began a career in the Navy and served in the Quasi-War and the Barbary Wars. In 1807, he took charge of the New York Flotilla and was charged with enforcing the Embargo Act along the Atlantic Coast. That was when things started to get really interesting.

As has been mentioned in numerous earlier posts, the Americans were sick of the British impressing American citizens all the time. So in 1811, when Rodgers was charged with "protecting American commerce," he may also have been told to stick it to the British if he had the chance. And Rodgers was the kind of guy who liked to make his own opportunities, if you're picking up what I'm putting down.

On May 16, 1811, Rodgers (in command of the ship President) sighted and followed the British sloop Little Belt off the coast of North Carolina. There may have been some confusion about Little Belt's true identity, since Rodgers thought it might actually be the HMS Guerriere, which had recently impressed an American sailor off the coast of New Jersey. After some hailing and counterhailing, of which very different versions are given on either side, a gun was fired.

Whoever fired first, pretty soon it was an all-out battle, with a foregone conclusion. The President bore 44 guns, the Little Belt, only 20. The smaller vessel was was ripped to shreds and thirteen men were killed, while the President incurred only one wounded. The incident came to be known as the Little Belt Affair, and was one of the incidents that eventually led the U.S. to declare war against the British in 1812.

There are several artistic representations of the battle between the Little Belt and the President. This one was engraved by Edward Orme in 1811, and is titled The Little Belt, Sloop of War, Captn. Bingham nobly supporting the Honor of the British Flag, against the President, United States Frigate, Commodore Rogers, May 15th, 1811. I expect you have probably sussed out that Orme was British? Well he was. Here's his take:

The Little Belt nobly standing up to the big American bullies on the President
The disagreement about who started the Little Belt Affair continued for months, and it was clearly very upsetting to the British (although, let's be fair, impressing American citizens into the British navy all the time was also very annoying). In a saucy little riposte to the whole kerfuffle, the crew painted the foretopsail of the Guerriere (the real Guerriere) to read "NOT THE LITTLE BELT" before they sailed to their battle against the USS Constitution. That is a nice example of that dry British humor we've all heard so much about. 

Rodgers was still in command of the New York Flotilla after the U.S. declared war against the British in 1812. He sailed directly into action, not even waiting for the powers that be in Washington to dither about it! His enthusiasm for confrontations with the British inspired this amusing little cartoon:

The title of this cartoon is "Hieroglyphics of John Bull’s Overthrow," with “John Bull’s Overthrow” being what both the Americans and Napoleon sought in the early 19th century, albeit for very different reasons. The bit of verse below “John Rogers” (sic) in this cartoon reads, “My fleet to John Bull no true homage will pay…he had better be silent and send me no threat/Lest I catch his fish in my old Yankee net.”

Rodgers’ speech balloon reads, “Let me at him, Bona, and I’ll blow him to atoms.” You can examine the entire document more thoroughly at the Brown University Library

The British didn't find this sort of thing at all funny, and decided that it was time to get personal.

Rodgers' family home outside Havre de Grace is called Sion Hill, and today it's listed on the National Register and is a National Historic Landmark (but it's privately owned, so you can't go there unless you are invited). Rodgers' awesomely-named wife, Minerva, and some other members of his family were all at Sion Hill in the spring of 1813, when Admiral Cockburn launched his campaign of terror and destruction in the Chesapeake, which you might remember from this post about Fort Hollingsworth? Anyway, there they were when Cockburn showed up to burn the town, and although they begged and pleaded with him to spare the town, he was unmoved. According to some sources, Rodgers' sister begged him not to burn their mother's house, and Cockburn did it anyway. That's right. He dissed John Rodgers' MOM. 

Then, he looted Sion Hill, reportedly stealing a sofa to sit on while he enjoyed all his plundered Maryland produce, and the desk from Rodgers' office. I am happy to report that when Rodgers later took a British vessel as a prize in 1814, he got his desk back. Also, the Rodgers family was in good company, when it comes to  British aristocrats burning down houses. 

Rodgers led the almost hilariously outclassed U.S. Navy against the British for the remainder of the war, and successfully drove the British out of the Potomac and prevented a second attempt against Baltimore after all the to-do at Fort McHenry

After the war, Rodgers kept things energetic and navylike. He began the Navy's support system of hospitals, established what became the Naval Observatory in Washington, and constructed the Navy's first steam-powered battleship. Rodgers was the first to see the need for a Naval Academy. He planned its initial curriculum and continuously lobbied for its establishment at Annapolis. Although Commodore Rodgers died before the Naval Academy could be officially opened in 1845, his nephew Christopher Rodgers served as the Academy's president in the 1870s. 

After Commodore Rodgers' death, four generations of his direct descendants maintained the family's illustrious Naval tradition. Commodore John Rodgers II (1812-1892) was honored by Lincoln during the Civil War, was president of both the United States Naval Institute and the first Naval Advisory Board and superintendent of Naval Observatory, which his father, the first Commodore, had founded. Admiral John Rodgers (1848-1933) brought wireless telegraphy to the Navy. Commander John Rodgers (1881-1926) was a pioneer in Naval aviation and was first commandant of the air base at Pearl Harbor.

This Gilbert Stuart portrait of Rodgers (at the beginning of this post) is fine, but give me this one any day. It's by John Wesley Jarvis and you can visit it at the National Gallery of Art.
AND, just in case you have any lingering doubts about whether or not Commodore Rodgers deserves to be your War of 1812 boyfriend (or brofriend?), his letters to his wife, Minerva Denison Rodgers, are widely rumored to be some of the greatest love letters of all time. The problem is, the people who keep mentioning this extremely tantalizing information are military historians who do not actually share any of the letters. There is one letter to be found in print in this book, so if anyone has (or buys) it, please let me know if this correspondence lives up to the hype?

If you have a project involving the War of 1812, you should share it with us! Hopefully we'll be back in two weeks with more art, history, architecture, and archaeology of the War of 1812.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Saga of the Scorpion, Part I: The Patuxent's Lost Flotilla

Today's post is the first of two concerning the wreck of the U.S.S. Scorpion and the Chesapeake Flotilla in the Patuxent River near Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Thanks to Heather Brown of the Naval History & Heritage Command's Underwater Archaeology Branch for this article! 

On August 21, 1814, a flotilla of American gunboats under the command of Joshua Barney was scuttled in the Patuxent River near Upper Marlboro, Maryland, to prevent capture by the British. To anyone familiar with this area, the natural question is how a passel of cannon-laden Navy vessels managed to reach this shallow, winding, marsh-clogged section of river. A likely follow-up question is: Why were they there at all?
Detail of an 1840 nautical chart showing the stretch of Patuxent River between Pig Point and Queen Anne, where the flotilla was destroyed.
The story of Joshua Barney’s flotilla begins in the summer of 1813. The Royal Navy blockade of the Chesapeake was well underway, cutting off trade out of the rich farmlands of Virginia and Maryland, as well as preventing American forces from Norfolk, Washington, and Baltimore from effectively engaging the British.  In addition to intercepting merchant shipping, the British sent troops ashore to conduct brief raids, destroying strategic buildings, burning crops, and making off with goods.  The U.S Navy had few vessels in the region and those were no match for the world-renowned Royal Navy at the height of its power, honed to a well-oiled machine by its decades-long conflicts with France.

During the presidency of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), the country’s policy was to limit naval development, focusing on coastal defenses rather than sea-going vessels, in order to preserve American neutrality abroad. Therefore, the government invested heavily in gunboats, relatively small vessels, usually between 45 and 65 feet long, that could be rowed or sailed, with a shallow draft for use in coastal waters, and armed with from one to four guns.  Nearly two hundred of these ships were built prior to the outbreak of the war by different shipwrights in different cities, using a variety of plans. The result was a somewhat motley collection of vessels consisting of galleys, cutters, sloops and schooners.

February 1813, as the blockade commenced, found the bulk of U.S. Naval resources in the Chesapeake  bottled up by the British in the Elizabeth River at Norfolk. This left at large 3 gunboats (Nos. 70, 71, and 137), the schooner Asp and frigate Adams still being fitted out in Washington; the cutter Scorpion (former gunboat No. 59) on its way north from Norfolk; and 1 gunboat (No. 138) at Baltimore.  In April, Secretary of the Navy William Jones authorized the lease of four armed schooners (Patapsco, Comet, Revenge and Wasp) from among the privateers of Baltimore for the defense of that city.  These resources proved insufficient in preventing the growing depredations of the British.

Baltimore was the center of shipping in Maryland and the home base for a fleet of bold privateers that had had a profitable season preying upon British shipping the previous summer. Among these was Joshua Barney, who had served with distinction in the Continental Navy and served as a Commodore with French navy from 1796 to 1802.  A man of action, he could not sit placidly by while the British raided the Chesapeake coastline.  On July 4, 1813 he wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Navy outlining a plan to defend the Bay by building a squadron made up of “a Kind of Barge or Row-galley, so constructed, as to draw a small draft of water, to carry Oars, light sails, and One heavy long gun.”  He believed 20 such vessels would be enough and proposed that Jones “form them into a flying Squadron, have them continually watching & annoying the enemy in our water, where we have the advantage of shoals & flats” and man them with merchant sailors from Baltimore, many of whom were available as the blockade strangled the normal volume of shipping in the port.

With few other options to hand, Secretary Jones formally agreed to the plan on August 20th, and placed Barney in command of the whole endeavor, a force designated the Chesapeake Flotilla, answerable directly to Jones and separate from the regular navy.  His command would “consist of the Barges, now building by contract at Baltimore for this Department, such of the City Barges, as may be purchased, or taken into the service of the U. States and such other Barges, Gun Boats, or vessels as may, from time to time, be attached thereto, by order of this Department.”

The naval constructor at Washington, William Doughty, had indeed been hard at work developing plans for several classes of barges and begun construction both at Washington and Baltimore.  Initially, contracts were let for eight vessels for the flotilla, with such Baltimore shipbuilders as William Parsons (24 July 1813), Thomas Hall and Benjamin White (23 July 1813), and William Flannigan (24 July 1813).  In December another 10 of the smaller barges were to be built by Perry Spencer of St. Michaels, a town renowned for its shipbuilding, and that had in fact been attacked unsuccessfully by the British back in August in hopes of destroying its shipyards.
This excerpt from a contract between Navy Agent James Beatty and Baltimore shipbuilders Thomas Hall and William White lays down the price of $2000 for one “Row Galley.”
The barges were described by Jones in a letter to Commodore Thomas McDonough at Lake Champlain as follows:

“The first Class, 75 feet long and 15 wide, to carry a long 24 and a 42 pound Carronade, row 40 oars, and drawing but 22 inches water, with all on board.

“Second class, 50 feet long and 12 feet wide, to carry a long 18 and 32 pd. Carronade, and row 26 oars; they have been tried, and are the most perfect of their kind.”

Copies of Doughty’s plans survive, though the liberties taken by the shipbuilders to amend the vessels and subsequent repairs can only be truly documented archaeologically, such as has been done by Eric Emery for Allen, a Lake Champlain vessel also built on Doughty’s plans.
William Doughty’s plan for a first-class barge or row galley demonstrates the very shallow draft of these vessels.  
Barney’s flotilla was augmented by two Jeffersonian-era gunboats (Nos. 137 and 138), a small row galley, the schooner Asp, and Scorpion, which served as the flagship.  The two gunboats were not not as light and maneuverable as the barges and caused Barney much difficulty under his command.  He described them as “too heavy to Row, and too clumsy to sail, and are only fit to lay moor’d, to protect a pass, or Assist a Fort.”
These small vessels, from an engraving of McDonough’s Victory on Lake Champlain, may resemble Barney’s barges, as they were built from the same plans, designed by William Doughty.  
We know comparatively little about Scorpion.  It began life as Gunboat No. 59, built ca. 1806 by George Hope of Hampton, Virginia.   In 1812, it was rebuilt at the Washington Navy Yard, and rechristened Scorpion.  Based on its description as a cutter or a sloop, it was likely a single-masted, fore-and-aft rigged vessel.  One witness reports it had six gunports per side, though an 1814 inventory indicates it was carrying only 5 guns.  Given how vociferously Barney complained about the failings of his flotilla vessels, his silence on the subject of Scorpion suggests it performed to his satisfaction.

A preliminary cruise took place in mid-April of 1814, disproving Jones’s statement that the barges were perfect, at least those of the second class, which took on much water and, in three cases, sustained damage to their rudder heads. Barney attempted to lighten their load by swapping out the 18 pounders for 12 pounders, and reducing the amount of provisions they carried, but they still were susceptible to high seas.  He further reduced their load by relocating all shot but 15 rounds per vessel to the larger barges. This still did not stop the problem and he finally had 8-inch high washboards installed, for, he reported, “the men are very unwilling to remain on them in their present state.” There were still problems with space, as there was not adequate room aboard for the sick or wounded, the two gunboats were crammed full and prone to leakage, and the smaller barges had to remain as light as possible. In early June, Barney was able to strike a deal with William O’Neale and Robert Taylor of Georgetown for use of their schooner Islet as a supply ship.

By the end of May, with the most serious problems ironed out and concerned by reports of British activity at Tangier Island, Barney headed toward the Potomac with thirteen barges, the two gunboats, a row galley, a lookout boat, and Scorpion.  On the June 1st they encountered Royal Navy schooner St. Lawrence and its various boats.  The flotilla gave chase, but Captain Barrie of St. Lawrence summoned aid from the nearby 74-gun HMS Dragon, putting Barney on the defensive.  A sudden squall from the southwest cut off Barney’s approach to the Potomac, and he ordered a retreat to the Patuxent, with the British in pursuit.  Shots were exchanged off Cedar Point, but Dragon was unable to stem the tide, and Barrie did not want to risk St. Lawrence and its small boats against the full force of the flotilla.

Thus the flotilla found itself hemmed in the Patuxent, where it would remain until its ultimate destruction in August.  As the summer progressed, the British gradually brought in ships with shallower draft, and were able to pursue them further up the river.  Finally, as the British landed troops on shore, it became clear that Barney’s men would be needed on land to help defend Washington, and he was ordered to destroy the flotilla rather than leave it behind for the enemy to capture.  Thus, somewhere above Pig Point, near Upper Marlboro, a skeleton crew set fire to the ships, which, according to British testimony, were subsequently “in quick Succession blown to atoms.”  Islet too was scuttled by its captain, and several merchant vessels harboring with the flotilla were captured and burned by the British.

The remains of all of these vessels settled into the riverbed.  The guns were salvaged later in the year, along with other important equipment and ballast.  In the years following the war, as population increased and agriculture intensified, the upper reaches of the Patuxent River began to silt in.  The area where once these lengthy vessels traveled is now limited to small fishing boats and canoes.  At least one wreck associated with the flotilla has been located, buried under approximately three feet of sediment and beautifully preserved in its oxygen-free environment.  No doubt there are others that await discovery.  A detailed study of these wrecks could answer many lingering questions about how these ships were designed, how they handled, and what life aboard was like for the intrepid Maryland sailors who manned them.
The Patuxent River north of Pig Point is now very narrow and shallow, accessible mainly to small motor boats and canoes

Monday, July 15, 2013

Samuel Smith of Baltimore

Sorry for the long hiatus! Summer is a busy time for archaeologists and it's sometimes hard to keep up with blogging and fieldwork at the same time. But never fear, we have several weeks of interesting history, archaeology, and other stuff coming your way. Today: getting to know Samuel Smith, hero of two wars and exceptional Marylander.

Portrait of Samuel Smith by Rembrandt Peale
The people who stepped up to fight the British during the War of 1812 were, sometimes, the same people who had already done so once before. Their names may not be widely celebrated for their service during the Revolution - after all, George Washington was basically the Michael Jordan of Revolutions, and his star power was pretty intense. No offense to GW, I'm sure he didn't mean to, but he tends to overshadow a lot of his contemporaries. Happily, he had several young officers who possessed a flinty brand of military resourcefulness that came in really handy when the British invaded Maryland again in 1814.

One of these rugged veterans was Samuel Smith, and man, this guy was a seriously tough customer.

On September 23, 1777, at the tender age of 24, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith of Maryland was given his marching orders by General Washington. Washington told Smith to take command of Fort Mifflin, between Mud and Hog Islands, on the Delaware River below Philadelphia.

"The keeping of this fort is of very great importance, and I rely on your prudence, spirit and bravery for a vigorous and persevering defense,'' Washington explained.

Forts Mifflin and Mercer, both located along the Delaware River, were of huge importance to Washington's plan to starve the British army out of newly captured Philadelphia. It’s a bit of a long story, but suffice it to say that although Smith did not ultimately succeed in defending the fort, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Even when it became apparent that the fight was lost, Smith stubbornly refused to abandon the fort. He was struck by a cannonball and grievously injured, and he STILL didn’t give up. Five days after Smith was hit with the cannonball, the fort was set on fire and finally, Smith was forcibly evacuated to New Jersey. This was a guy who understood the meaning of “a vigorous and persevering defense.”

In 1779, Smith resigned and went home to Baltimore to make a fortune as a privateer and take part in politics, but his civilian service was short-lived. In the War of 1812, he took charge of the defenses of Baltimore. The British once again fired cannons at him, and Smith was, once again, totally unfazed by that nonsense.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, British forces landed in Maryland, routed the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814, and burned Washington, D.C. The British command then decided to advance on Baltimore. Smith immediately began preparations, mobilized the militia of Baltimore, and ordered additional fortifications built. By early September, Smith had 15,000 men under his command.

The British, led by Major General Robert Ross (until his death; more on this in a later post), landed on North Point on September 12, 1814 with 4,000 soldiers and encountered a delaying force led by Brigadier General John Stricker. It would have been nice if they had been a decisively victorious force, but delaying was enough. Stricker retreated to Hampstead Hill, a fortified position east of Baltimore, where Smith had stationed thousands of militiamen. Smith foiled British attempts to execute a flanking maneuver, and then positioned his troops so that a British frontal assault would be exposed to crossfire. The British retreated on September 14th.

The British were simultaneously attempting a naval assault. Admiral Cochrane bombarded Fort McHenry throughout the day on September 13th (you’ve probably heard about this before), but McHenry and its covering forts (Covington and Babcock) resisted ably. The following day, Cochrane rejoined the troop transports holding the unsuccessful British army and left for the West Indies.

You can visit Samuel Smith’s statue today in Federal Hill. This monument was dedicated on July 4, 1918 and was created by sculptor Hans Schuler. From 1918 to 1953 the statue was located in Wyman Park at Charles and 29th Streets. It was moved in 1953 to Pratt Street and Light Street, and finally moved again in 1970 to its current location.
Do not mess with General Sam Smith
Smith is also remembered on the city’s Battle Monument, located on North Calvert Street between East Fayette and East Lexington Streets.

So, after he finished defending Baltimore, and America, from the British, Sam Smith retired to his country home, Montebello, where he pottered around and dabbled in beekeeping for the rest of his days.

Just kidding. Smith liked to stay busy. According to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, this is a rundown of his activities before, during, and after the War of 1812:
 attended a private academy; engaged in mercantile pursuits; served in the Revolutionary War as captain, major, and lieutenant colonel; engaged in the shipping business; member, State house of delegates 1790-1792; at the time of the threatened war with France in 1794 was appointed brigadier general of militia and commanded Maryland’s quota during the Whisky Rebellion; during the War of 1812 served as major general of militia in the defense of Baltimore; elected to the Third and to the four succeeding Congresses (March 4, 1793-March 3, 1803); did not seek renomination in 1802, having become a candidate for Senator; chairman, Committee on Commerce and Manufactures (Fifth through Seventh Congresses); elected as a Democratic Republican to the United States Senate in 1802; reelected in 1808 and served from March 4, 1803, to March 3, 1815; served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Ninth and Tenth Congresses; elected to the Fourteenth Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Nicholas R. Moore; reelected to the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Congresses and served from January 31, 1816, to December 17, 1822, when he resigned, having been elected Senator; chairman, Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Treasury (Fourteenth Congress), Committee on Ways and Means (Fifteenth through Seventeenth Congresses); elected in 1822 as a Democratic Republican (later Crawford Republican and Jacksonian) to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of William Pinkney; reelected in 1826 and served from December 17, 1822, to March 3, 1833; served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Twentieth and Twenty-first Congresses; chairman, Committee on Finance (Eighteenth through Twenty-second Congresses); mayor of Baltimore, Md., 1835-1838; retired from public life; died in Baltimore, April 22, 1839; interment in the Old Westminster Burying Ground.
Even this fairly exhaustive summary of Smith's exploits fails to do him justice. What they don't mention here is Smith organized yet another militia effort in 1835, to help stop the Baltimore Bank Riots. He was 83 years old at the time, and he still did not put up with nonsense. He marched out of his house and took over as Mayor before the entire city government could succumb to an angry mob. After all, how can a simple mob intimidate you when you've been hit with a cannonball and survived?  

Samuel Smith always strikes me as someone who ought to be better known, and more appreciated, than he is. So, spread the word and maybe Samuel Smith's legacy will one day equal his contributions to the country in general and the State of Maryland in particular. 

BEFORE YOU GO: We invite your contributions and questions! Know anyone who's doing 1812-ish archaeology? Let them know that we'd love to have a post about their work. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rediscovering the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace

Today's post is brought to us by Dr. John Kille. John is the Assistant Director of Anne Arundel County's Lost Towns Project where he has worked as an historical archaeologist for 15 years. With a background in history, he earned advanced degrees from the University of Maryland and the George Washington University specializing in Material Culture, Cultural Landscape Studies, and Museum Studies. He also recently curated "Discover London Town!," an award-winning permanent museum exhibit at Historic London Town and Gardens.

Hope you all enjoy learning about the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace!

Rediscovering Anne Arundel County’s Curtis Creek Iron Furnace

As coordinated efforts to commemorate Maryland’s involvement in the War of 1812 proceed across our state, archaeologists with Anne Arundel County’s Lost Towns Project have partnered with the Maryland State Highway Administration to assess, document, and preserve the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace (c. 1759) in Glen Burnie. This investigation is being directed by Julie Schablitsky and complements a laudable effort spearheaded by the Ann Arrundell Historical Society* to preserve portions of the site prior to the construction of Route 10 nearly a half century ago.

The Curtis Creek Iron Furnace once stood on the southern shore of Furnace Creek, where over the course of almost a century it smelted local iron ore and charcoal into pig iron.  This manufacturing operation was among a growing number of enterprises that arose after the Maryland General Assembly passed an act in 1719 to provide various economic incentives to encourage iron manufacture.  The furnace and a later foundry also reportedly produced large castings such as cannons, cannon balls, and shot that equipped American forces against British invasion.

The site chosen for the furnace was advantageous for several reasons.  The location ensured access to local iron ore deposits, wood from surrounding forests necessary for the production of charcoal in kilns, a constant source of water power from a one-mile mill race fed by nearby Saw Mill Creek, and water transportation for exporting iron production.
Abandoned Curtis Creek Iron Furnace, circa 1911
This type of furnace was of a blast design, constructed of stone and brick and 30 feet tall.  A water wheel positioned next to the furnace powered a mechanized bellows which pumped blasts of air through pipes to achieve an intense heat during the smelting process.  A ramp leading up to the rear of the furnace would have been used to feed iron ore and charcoal into an opening located toward the top of the structure.  The furnace and several associated operations were positioned alongside high drop offs, to which water was channeled from a one-mile long mill race supplied by nearby Saw Mill Creek.  The entire mill race was reportedly still visible on the landscape prior to the construction of Route 10.

The furnace had several owners, including the Dorsey, Ridgely, and Barker families.  It also operated in conjunction with different furnaces in the region, including the Elkridge Furnace, situated along the Patapsco River, and the Northhampton Furnace in Towson.  Ads placed in the Maryland Gazette document that African Americans worked at the furnace.  In 1760, Caleb Dorsey advertised for the return of “Jem, a country-born Negro, 27 years old, who ran away from Curtis Creek Works.”   In 1817, another ad placed in the same newspaper described “the runaway Negroes Jack Boyer and Will Nevil…who ran away from Mr. Charles B. Ridgely Jr.’s farm… both bought of Mr. John E. Dorsey, in Feb. last at the Aetna Furnace, formerly the Curtis Creek Furnace…” 

During the War of 1812 John E. Dorsey entered into a contract with the United States Ordnance Department to provide both ammunition and gun carriages.  An order placed in 1813 called for “300 Tons of heavy Shot 18 & 24 Pdrs deliverable at Baltimore @ 72 $, 10 Tons Grape Shot @ 120.”  Also, “60 Gun Carriages (travelling) with Timbers complete 40 for 6 pdrs: at 215 $ a piece, 20 for 24 pdrs at 245 $ a piece.”   A first hand account of Miss Sarah A. Randle, 96 years of age, recorded in 1890, describes the involvement of the Curtis Creek Furnace during the War.  According to Ms. Randle, “At the beginning of the war of 1812 Captain Abner Linthicum’s company of the county militia, of which her father was a member, was called out, and was often in service, for longer or shorter periods, as required, which it lasted, sometimes at Fort Madison, opposite Annapolis, sometimes at Etna Furnace, Curtis Creek, where cannon were cast before and during the war.  The uniform of this company was gray, with dark blue facings.” 

It is against this broad historical backdrop that Lost Towns Project archaeologists Shawn Sharpe, John Kille, Anastasia Poulos, and Stephanie Sperling, and volunteers Skip Booth, Jim Morrison, and Barry Gay assessed the integrity of this multi-faceted industrial site.  This team was directed by Dr. Al Luckenbach, Anne Arundel County Archaeologist, C. Jane Cox, Anne Arundel County Cultural Resources Planner, and the author.  This work was extremely challenging due to a formidable overgrowth of trees and brush, many decades of trash dumping and looting, dredged soil spread over much of the site during the construction of nearby Route 10, and mounds of slag debris.  Despite these obstacles, much progress has been made to document the physical layout of the furnace complex, including a number of later buildings and wharves in close proximity to the water.
Total station transit used by Maryland State Highway Administration Survey Team and Lost Towns Project archaeologists at Curtis Creek Site.
Precise mapping tools such as Lidar and Total Station, helped to identify areas where the natural landscape had been altered.  Lidar mapping is an optical remote sensing technology that measures distances and properties of targets by illuminating the target with laser light and analyzing the backscattered light.  The Total Station transit uses laser light to create accurate maps that delineate topography and the relative location of landmarks and site features.  Maps created with these advanced tools proved very useful in exploring and recording landmarks and physical features.

Map of Curtis Creek Site created with Lidar and Total Station mapping technology.  Lidar map shows gradations delineating elevations and human disturbances upon the natural landscape, with an overlay of landmarks discovered by Lost Towns Project archaeologists that were precisely recorded with a laser transit by MSHA surveyors.
The first landmark identified by the Lost Towns Project was the spot where the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace once stood.  The furnace complex was found to be situated upon a high, flat area overlooking Furnace Creek, free of dredged fill and trash and perhaps the most well-preserved area of the site.  Large stones and brick used in the construction of the furnace were documented on the surface of this high area and the slope leading down to Furnace Creek below.  Heavy concentrations of slag were also spread over much of this general area as well.  

It was not possible to determine the type of operations that stood alongside the drop offs west of the furnace, as they were covered with dredge fill.  Perhaps the biggest surprise of this field survey was the recent discovery of extensive foundations for a later industrial complex and wharf landing situated east of the furnace site, along the shoreline.  The existence of early stone foundations, as well as cinder block and concrete construction, suggests a long period of occupation.  However, much more focused research and analysis will be necessary before the story of this built environment can be told.

This project has provided an outstanding opportunity to examine both the rich history and the intriguing cultural landscape of the Curtis Creek Iron Furnace.  Representing one of the earliest industries in Anne Arundel County, this venerable works also deserves recognition for its involvement in War of 1812.  A more detailed report of this investigation is found in the Spring 2013 edition of the Anne Arundel County History Notes, published by the Ann Arrundell County Historical Society.

[1] Maryland Gazette, February 14, 1760.
[1] Ibid., August 7, 1760.
[1] National Archives, Record Group No. 156, Contracts, Vol. 1, Entry 78, pp. 5 and 6.  1812-1829, 7W2, 223-241.
[1] Baltimore Sun, September 16, 1890.

*Yes, it really is spelled like that

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Native Allies: The Battle of Credit Island Part V

Welcome to the final post in a series about the forgotten (but now, clearly, remembered) Battle of Credit Island! Today our guide, Chris Espenshade, addresses another significant piece in the puzzle of that 1814 battle: the Native American warriors who fought with the British. Who were they, and what might they know about what happened that day? You can read Parts I-IV in this series by clicking on the links below.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV


One might think that it would be relatively straightforward to identify the tribal affiliations of the 800-1200 Native American warriors who participated in the Battle of Credit Island. That would seem like too many participants to be ignored or misidentified in the contemporary accounts. However, most of what we know comes from British and American accounts, and the sources were not always specific or accurate in ascribing fighters to specific tribes.
Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk (from History of the Indian tribes of North America, with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs). 
It is clear that warriors from the nearby Fox and Sauk villages participated, including Chief Black Hawk.  It is also clear that a group of Sioux was assigned to protect the British artillery.  Unfortunately, “Sioux” was a generalized term that was interchangeably applied to diverse groups throughout the region.  One account mentions the participation of Kickapoos and Puant. We do not know if there were other tribal participants beyond the Sioux, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoos, and Puant.

History is always enriched by a variety of perspectives, so information requests were sent to the Flandreau Santee Sioux; Ho-Chunk Nation; Iowa Tribe of Kansas & Nebraska; Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma; Lower Sioux; Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community; Otoe-Missouria Tribe; Prairie Island Indian Community; Sac & Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa; Sac & Fox Nation of Missouri; Sac & Fox Nation of Oklahoma; Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska; Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community; Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate; Spirit Lake Tribe, North Dakota; Upper Sioux Indian Community of Minnesota; and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.  

In the hope that some oral tradition of the battle may have survived, I asked if there was any tribal oral history or archival record that the tribe had participated at the Battle of Credit Island. Once the British lost the war, it was probably not a good thing for a tribe to broadcast their participation on the British side at the Battle of Credit Island. 

The responses are just starting to come in, and we have not yet added any tribes beyond the Sauk, Fox, and Sioux. The letter also serves the purpose of inviting Native American input into how the battle is interpreted and commemorated.  The City of Davenport strongly desires to publicly interpret the battle, and 2014 will likely see a major bicentennial celebration.  

From the existing accounts, we have been able to determine that Native Americans at the Battle of Credit Island scouted far downstream and kept the British informed of the progress of the American boats. They encouraged and assisted the movement of the artillery on the morning of September 5. The Native American warriors prevented the Americans from landing a party to flank the British gun position. Given the important role of the Native American forces in this battle, we are hopeful that descendants will provide input into how they would like the battle remembered.  

And with that, we have come a complete circle back around to the first post, identifying Credit Island as a forgotten battle. With the data from our recent efforts, the City and the ABPP will be able to begin a process of public outreach and interpretation.  Our initial proposals include signage along the existing bicycle paths, and a self-guided canoe/kayak tour of the battlefield.  If you find yourself anywhere near Davenport, Iowa in September of 2014, we encourage you to visit the battlefield and see the steps the City and the ABPP have made in bringing the battle back to life. 

This research – conducted by Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group -- was sponsored by the American Battlefield Preservation Program and the City of Davenport, Iowa.  This material is based upon work assisted by a grant from the Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Interior.