Thursday, February 27, 2014

Daughters of the War of 1812

You've probably heard of the Daughters of the American Revolution, but what about the Daughters of the War of 1812?

If you are interested in information about the War of 1812, or researching your family history (especially your 1812 ancestor), Washington D.C. has a boutique library and museum you will not want to miss!  The United States Daughters 1812 Memorial Library and Museum, 1463 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington , DC 20005 is free to the public.

The library has the only collection in Washington, DC that focuses on the period from the end of the American Revolution through the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent in 1815. Indeed, it may be the only such collection in existence. The collection includes the Archives of Pennsylvania, the Archives of Maryland, and similar official publications of those states most involved with this period. Rosters of militia for most of the 18 states in the Union during this time period are also in the Library collection.  There are more than 5,000 titles in the collection representing some 6,000 volumes.

The second floor of the building, occupies the 1812 Museum.  It is an exceptional facility dedicated to the 1784-1815 time period.

Both the library and the museum are usually open Tuesdays & Thursdays 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.  You may call 202-745-1804 to be sure so you don’t waste a trip.  The Library has limited staff so assistance can be provided and we can give you a tour of our beautiful and unique museum.

We regret that Assistance cannot be offered in genealogy or lineage research.  Limited photocopies can be made at a cost of $.20 per page and microfilm copies at $.50 per page.  No photography is allowed in the museum.

For more information, and to view the library’s holdings, visit the Daughters of the War of 1812 on the web at

The British Are Coming Again

"Huzzah, boys! More Rum, More Tobacco!" The British make the most of their time in Alexandria.
Historic Alexandria is planning several commemorative 1812 events this summer and early fall, and as usual they're approaching history with humor and style. On August 31, 2014, there will be a big event at the waterfront, including a British-American rematch tug-o-war, a yacht race, and a cricket match. You can find out all about that right here (, or check out the Historic Alexandria Calendar of Events.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

War of 1812 Events: Alexandria

Starting this month, the Alexandria Lyceum is offering a series of talks about the War of 1812 in Virginia and the D.C. Metro area. Check out their calendar of events or their website to see more!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Following Francis Scott Key

This week, Architectural Historian Rebecca Crew takes us on a tour of historic sites associated with Francis Scott Key, author of The Star-Spangled Banner

Following Francis Scott Key

In honor of the current winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, this blog post will consider the author of our national anthem, Francis Scott Key, and the places that commemorate him. What is the Gold Medal place that best defines Francis Scott Key’s significance?

Portrait of Francis Scott Key, Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Francis Scott Key was born at Terra Rubra on August 1, 1779 in what was then part of Frederick County, but is part of Carroll County.  Terra Rubra is listed in the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties as MIHP # CARR-2 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1978. Birthplaces of significant individuals are not normally listed on the NRHP, but Terra Rubra’s association with Francis Scott Key adds to its significance along with its representation of plantation architecture. The combination of NRHP Criterion B and C is likely what qualifies this place for NRHP listing.

Terra Rubra, Keymar, Maryland, birthplace of Francis Scott Key. Wikepedia
Key spent his early childhood at Terra Rubra, and then went to study in Annapolis at St. John’s College and Preparatory School. For seven years, he lived with his great-aunt and great-uncle at the Upton Scott House (MIHP # AA-726), which contributes to the NRHP-listed Annapolis Historic District (MIHP # AA-2046).  St. John’s College, chartered in 1784, was then contained within what is now known as McDowell Hall (MIHP # AA-675).  Key graduated in 1796 and St. John’s College now has a Key Memorial Hall on its campus, but it is a Modern structure designed by the renowned architect Richard Neutra that was not built until 1956-58, falling into the commemorative category of historic sites.

Upton Scott House in Annapolis. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Key married in Annapolis in 1802, and spent some years in Frederick studying law.  Between 1805 and 1808, he purchased a house in Georgetown overlooking the Potomac River. This was Francis Scott Key’s residence when he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the accomplishment for which he is most-well known. 

A photograph of the Key Mansion before it was lost. Via
Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombing of Fort McHenry on the night of September 13-14, 1814 from the Chesapeake Bay.  Key was aboard the British gunship HMS Tonnant with Vice Admiral Cochrane, Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn and Major General Robert Ross to negotiate the release of his friend, an Upper Marlboro physician named Dr. William Beanes. As part of the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, a red, white, and blue National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) buoy is located at Key’s approximate location during the bombardment. 

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. Via
After the bombardment, Key was able to return to land. Many histories state that he stayed at a Baltimore hotel known as the Indian Queen Hotel, where he completed his poem.  The Indian Queen Hotel, then owned by John Gadsby (who had formerly owned a tavern in Alexandria, Virginia) was at the southeast corner of Hanover and Baltimore Streets, a site now occupied by the Brutalist-style Morris A. Mechanic  Theatre. Other histories say Key stayed at the Fountain Inn at the northeast corner of Light Street and Lovely Lane (now Redmond Street), which is now a surface parking lot.

In 1805, Key wrote a poem that included the words “star-spangled flag,” and he had set this to the tune “To Anacreon in Heaven” which was originally composed by John Stafford Smith, and had been re-worded as “Adams and Liberty” by Robert Treat Paine for the 1800 political campaign of John Adams. The Smith tune and Key’s new words about the Fort McHenry bombardment were closely tied from the beginning.

There are several explanations for how the poem was originally distributed. The first publishing of the poem, as a hand-bill, may have been produced by Benjamin Edes, a printer at the southwest corner of Baltimore and South Streets, former location of the Baltimore American.  On September 20, 1814, the Baltimore American published the “Defence (sic) of Fort McHenry.” The Baltimore American’s office was at No. 4 Harrison Street.

Key’s great-grandson claimed that soldiers at James MacConkey’s Tavern in Baltimore first sang Key’s poem in late September 1814, and its first public performance is said to have occurred next door to MacConkey’s Tavern at the Holliday Street Theater just a few days later; newspaper accounts verify this occurred October 19, 1814.  The Holliday Street Theatre was damaged by fire in 1873 and it, and the site of MacConkey’s Tavern as well, is now the site of Baltimore’s War Memorial Plaza. 

War Memorial Plaza, Baltimore. Via
Carr’s Music Store (then assigned the address 36 Baltimore Street) published the song (the poem and music together) in November 1814. The Carr family operated music stores in Philadelphia and New York as well as Baltimore, and the song spread quickly through the country, which was still at war with Britain.  36 Baltimore Street, at the northwest corner of Baltimore and Gay Street is now occupied by Baltimore City government’s Charles Enton Building (417 E. Fayette Street).  All these printing and performing sites in Baltimore City are located within the boundaries of the Business and Government Historic District (MIHP # B-3935), which was listed on the NRHP in 1987. 

While the Star-Spangled Banner remained popular after 1814, it did not immediately become our national anthem. During the Civil War, the Star Spangled Banner was the unofficial anthem of the U.S. Army, and around 1890, it became the official song of the U.S. Army and Navy. However, it was not until 1931, during President Herbert Hoover’s administration, that Congress resolved to make the Star-Spangled Banner the National Anthem.  The 117 years between the writing of Key’s poem and its adoption as the national anthem suggests that Key's significance to Americans was not widely recognized during his lifetime, and this is reflected in the varying preservation levels of places associated with his life.

Following the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key continued a life as a lawyer in Washington, DC, arguing cases at the Supreme Court, and serving as U.S. District Attorney from 1833-41. He also served as Vice President as the American Bible Society, was active in the American Colonization Society, and continued to write books and poems. His home during the later part of his life was The Maples, or Friendship House, at 630 South Carolina Avenue, SE, Washington, DC; it is still extant.
The Maples, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Key died in 1843 in Baltimore, while visiting his daughter Elizabeth Key Howard; her house was on Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore. Key was originally buried at Old St. Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore. Key's house on M Street in Georgetown was sold out of the Key family ca. 1853, and converted to commercial use. 

In 1866, Key was re-interred at Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. Around the same time, his boyhood home, Terra Rubra, was damaged by fire. The Howard Mansion, where Key died, was demolished and became the site of Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church in 1872. The Francis Scott Key Monument (MIHP # F-3-159) at Mount Olivet Cemetery was constructed in 1898 from funds collected by Maryland school children, and while it commemorates Key, it is significant under NRHP Criterion C as an example of the work of sculptor Pompeo Coppini.

Francis Scott Key Monument, Mount Olivet Cemetery

The house where Key had lived in 1814, at 3518 M Street in Georgetown, was sold out of the Key family ca. 1853, and converted to commercial use undergoing variations over time that eventually diminished its integrity of design, materials, and workmanship.  In 1907, the Francis Scott Key Memorial Association was established with the purpose of buying and preserving Key’s Georgetown house as a memorial to Key; the organization failed to acquire enough funds to purchase the house.  In 1923, a new bridge over the Potomac River connecting Georgetown and Rosslyn, Virginia was named for Francis Scott Key and located near 3518 M Street. This reinforced concrete arch bridge was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1995 and to the NRHP in 1996 under Criterion C.  In 1931 the federal government acquired the 3518 M Street property as part of Palisades Park, but by this time, the house was too altered and in too poor condition to warrant preservation.  Francis Scott Key Park was established on the site in 1933.  

Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge over the Potomac. Wikipedia
Baltimore’s own Francis Scott Key Monument, a sculpture by Jean Marius Antonin Mercie was erected at Eutaw Place and West Lanvale Street in 1911. 

Francis Scott Key Monument, Eutaw Place, Baltimore. Wikipedia
In 1925, Fort McHenry was made a National Park, and it was made a National Monument and Historic Shrine in 1939. It was added to the NRHP in 1966, the inaugural year of the list. Finally, the Maryland State Highway Administration bridge carrying I-695 over the Patapsco River in Baltimore County was completed in 1977. The bridge has not yet reached the age at which it will be evaluated for the NRHP (50 years). Named for Francis Scott Key, it was built by and continues to be maintained by the Maryland Transportation Authority. Its commemorative naming is appropriate given its location near the site where Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

Photo courtesy of the National Park Service
Francis Scott Key’s The Star-Spangled Banner has come along way from the Patapsco River to the current Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The anthem's lyricist also traveled extensively during his lifetime, although many of the places he lived and visited are no longer extant. Key's boyhood home, his college, and his late-life home remain to this day, and he is commemorated all across the nation in the names of schools, bridges, and monuments. Overall, though, this judge finds Baltimore deserves the Gold Medal for being the place where Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry, where he wrote the poem, where it was first printed, sung, and performed, and where Key died, was originally buried, and remains commemorated through impressive monuments. Despite the loss of actual buildings, the relationship of these points on the landscape preserves the association of Francis Scott Key and The Star-Spangled Banner.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Attack at Fort Norfolk

Here's a fascinating story of War of 1812 Archaeology in Virginia - please enjoy this article by Mark St. John Erickson, which originally appeared in the Hampton Roads History section of the Daily Press.
Williamsburg archaeologist Alain Outlaw knew he wouldn't have much time to dig when he won the chance to probe for a lost piece of historic Fort Norfolk in 2004.
Williamsburg archaeologist Alain Outlaw used this 1819 map of Fort Norfolk to describe the defensive palisade and ditch unearthed in a 2004 dig. (Courtesy of Archaeological & Cultural Solutions Inc. / June 24, 2013) via
He had only two weeks at first to carry out what looked like an impossible rescue job.

But not long after City of Norfolk workmen demolished a giant early 20th-century warehouse that covered his site, he and his team from Archaeological & Cultural Solutions Inc. unearthed the first signs of a defensive palisade that Virginia militiamen had hurriedly constructed to protect Fort Norfolk from a land attack after a massive British fleet pushed through the Chesapeake Bay in early 1813.

And like the archaeologists themselves trying to beat a tight deadline, the War of 1812 volunteers working under the direction of Army Corps of Engineers fortification expert Capt. Walter K. Armistead were really humping.

"We found dramatic physical evidence that they knew the British were coming -- and that they were rushing to build this palisade," Outlaw says, describing the discovery of an abandoned circa 1780 well that had been stuffed full of limbs trimmed from the timbers used to build the defensive wall.

Workers filled this abandoned circa 1780 well with lopped-off branches during the construction of the 1813 palisade wall at Fort Norfolk. (Courtesy of Archaeological & Cultural Solutions Inc. / June 24, 2013) via
"They looked just like they had been lopped off that afternoon. The state of preservation was incredible."
Outlaw says the discovery made during the preliminary site preparation for the construction of a downtown waterfront development project would not have been possible without the concerns raised by numerous Norfolk preservationists.

Equally important was the city's quick decision to fund a short-lived but productive archaeological investigation of the site before the irreplaceable evidence was lost.

"There wasn't very much time to do the job -- and everything that could have added to the challenge did," he recalls, citing hurricanes, flooding and other problems that dogged the dig.

"It was certainly one of the more amazing projects that I've been part of."

Once the city decided to go ahead with the dig, it dispatched workers and equipment to not only demolish and remove tons of debris but also pump out  as much as 8 feet of water that covered the site on a day-to-day basis.

And when the dig began turning up significant evidence from the historic fort, it gave Outlaw and his crew a third week in which to pursue their investigation.

By the end of that period they'd not only uncovered evidence of the palisade's hurried construction but also retraced more than 120 feet of its triangular path, including the apex. Alongside much of the wall were the accompanying ditches used to strengthen the riverside fort's landward defenses.

Dark stains trace the footprint of the palisade constructed on the landward side of Fort Norfolk in 1813 to protect against a British assault. (Courtesy of Archaeological & Cultural Solutions Inc. / June 24, 2013) via
"I have also directed works to be constructed for the better defence (sic) of the reverse of Fort Norfolk," wrote Virginia militia officer Andrew J. McConnico in a letter to the governor in early March 1813.

"And this morning I have begun entrenching the approaches to the Borough, and two hundred and eighty men, with a corresponding number of officers and non-commissioned officers, are now at work in the absence of the General."

With the previous destruction of War of 1812 fortifications at Craney Island and Fort Nelson, which complemented Fort Norfolk from the other side of the Elizabeth River, the discoveries made in 2004 represent  the only known surviving physical evidence of the land defenses constructed for the 1813 theater of operations in Virginia, Outlaw says.

They also have another distinction.

"These are the only professionally excavated archaeological finds from the War of 1812 in the state," he says.

"And especially with the bicentennial, it doesn't get any better than this in more then 40-plus years of working as an archaeologist."

You can find the previous installments in this series on the War of 1812 in Hampton Roads at