By Renée S. Gordon
ABOVE PHOTO: Actress plays Mary Pickersgill with young visitors.
“I have yet to learn that the color of the skin, or cut and trimmings of the coat can effect a man’s qualifications.”
–Commodore Isaac Chauncey
Maryland, named in honor of King Charles I’s queen Henrietta Maria, became the sixth of the 13 original colonies in 1634. It achieved its nickname, “The Old Line State,” during the American Revolution from Washington himself. In giving the honorific Washington was acknowledging the fact that Maryland’s was the only state with regular troops, the “old Line,” and these troops were deemed the bravest and best trained and disciplined in the Continental Army. The nickname can be seen today on the state quarter.
The Treaty of Paris was signed in Paris on November 30, 1782 and officially ended the American Revolution and Maryland became the seventh state in the new United States on April 28, 1788. In a less than 20 years Marylanders would be called upon to defend their homeland and “hold the line” once again.
The War of 1812 is often referred to as “the second war for independence” and “the forgotten war.” Congress declared war against Great Britain on June 12, 1812 stating that the British seized US ships and impressed and forced US citizens to serve in the British Royal Navy (BRN). Many citizens were less than enthusiastic because the BRN was the largest and best equipped in the world with greater than 500 ships to the colonies’ 16 vessels. Britain was engaged in fighting Napoleon and it was believed that they would be less formidable because they would be fighting on two fronts.
The war ended, in a stalemate, with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent on December 24, 1814. Maryland, because of its significant role during the war, began almost immediately to memorialize the events and one –hundred years later it held a seven-day centennial commemoration, the largest in the country.
Once again Maryland is preparing to commemorate the war that first proved the United States was willing to defend its hard won liberty. Visitors can retrace the path of the war and visit museums that interpret the stories of the battles, the soldiers, the homefront and the war effort in the cities, towns and communities. A series of trails have been created and are available online as Southern Maryland’s “The War of 1812 Travel Map and Guide,” www.destinationssouthernmaryland.com, and the 290-mile “Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.” www.starspangled200.org
Baltimore is the perfect place to begin the commemorative trek. In addition to having several significant locations the Maryland Historical Society provides a wonderful overview through artifacts, memorabilia, text and artwork. The facility, half library and half museum, was established in 1844. Currently the campus is located on land that once belonged to the abolitionist Enoch Pratt and has a collection of 7.5 million items.
Gallery II is devoted to the War of 1812 and here you can see the “Rock Stars” of the war. Rembrandt Peale was commissioned by the city to paint the four leaders of the defenders of Baltimore in 1816. They are displayed here along with Francis Scott Key’s original manuscript of the “Star Spangled Banner.” These items are on view and will become part of a much larger exhibit on June 10, 2012.
The Civil War galleries are also worthy of a visit. The most interesting presentations include a diorama of a portable photographer’s wagon and a flag carried by the US Colored Troop’s Christian Fleetwood, a winner of the Medal of Honor. The most unique is a jacket worn by a soldier who was disemboweled. The jacket was cut open for ease of treatment but the wound was deemed mortal. Not only did the soldier survive but returned to duty and was wounded two additional times. He died in 1903. www.mdhs.org
Mary Pickersgill was a widow who moved to Baltimore from Philadelphia and opened the first advertised flagmaking business in the Continental US and it was here that she received the commission to make the flag that would inspire Key’s lyrics. Tours of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House begin in her kitchen complete with period pieces.
The parlor was the room in which she greeted her customers and took their orders. On display is a clock that belonged to her and a copy of the original receipt for the flags she made for the army, a large garrison flag and a smaller storm flag. The flag on the façade of the museum is the exact size of the flag that flew over Fort McHenry, 30′ x 42′,with 15 stars and 15 stripes. Major George Armistead ordered a flag in 1813 large enough for the British to see at a cost of $405.94. The 17′ x 25′ flag cost $168.50. Guided tours are offered as well as a variety of interactive programs. www.flaghouse.org
British troops landed on September 12, 1814 at North Point in Maryland intent on taking Baltimore. The Maryland militia slowed their progress, their losses were significant and the path to Baltimore was blocked. Several blacks fought at North Point and at least one, Samuel Neale, received a pension for his service. These citizen-soldiers came to be known as “The Defenders” and were forever after esteemed.
The 52-ft. Battle Monument memorializing the defenders at the Battle of North Point was the first war memorial, and the first dedicated to the ordinary soldier, in the country. The monumental Carrera marble column is inscribed with the names of the 39 defenders who died in battle. It was completed in 1829.
Fort McHenry is the sole place in the nation where the flag is allowed to be flown 24-hours a day in honor of the flag that flew over the fort during the battle for Baltimore on September 12, 1814.
After an unsuccessful attempt to invade Baltimore the British turned their attention to the fort with hopes that a naval victory would allow them to enter Baltimore Harbor and take the city. They began bombarding the city with cannon balls and rockets, considered modern technology at the time, on the morning of the 13th. They fired on the fort for 25-hours through rain and darkness, using an estimated 1,800 rounds of ammunition. The attack was unsuccessful and on the 14th they retreated downriver.
Francis Scott Key observed the battle from a truce ship in the harbor where he was under British guard until the battle was over. Much to his astonishment as the sun rose the next day he used his spyglass to determine that “the flag was still there,” signaling that the Americans had won. He penned a portion of a song on the spot and upon landing he completed the lyrics in a tavern. The lyrics were set to an established tune and the song, published six days later, became an instant hit. The Star-Spangled Banner was designated our National Anthem by Congress on March 3, 1931.
Visits to Fort McHenry should begin with the 10-minute orientation video in the visitors’ center and museum. The museum allows you to gain insight into the writing of the song and its meaning then and now through artifacts, dioramas, interactive exhibits and video kiosks. Gallery One, “The Song Remains the Same,” features versions of the song by such diverse performers as a Civil War band, Whitney Houston, Belå Flack and Jimi Hendrix. An interior gallery has a sculpture of a pensive Key facing a series of screens that facilitates visitors’ understanding of the meaning of individual words and phrases. A short walk takes you to the five-pointed, star-shaped brick fort named in honor of James McHenry the Secretary of War from 1796-1800. Inside the ramparts are restored guardrooms, barracks, bastions a powder magazine, officers’ quarters and a replica of the 1814 flagpole on the original site.
Black men were among the defenders of Fort McHenry and one of the best documented cases is that of Frederick who enlisted as William Williams on April 14,1814. In September his unit, the 38th US Infantry, was sent to the fort. During the fighting a cannonball severed his leg and he died of his wounds. www.nps.gov/fomc
In 1798 the Secretary of the Navy declared that no blacks could serve on warships but more than 15 percent of the men in the Navy during the War of 1812 were of African descent and some crews on privateers are estimated to have had much higher percentages. While the army and all state militias except North Carolina banned blacks, especially slaves because they had no status to sign a contract, many blacks did serve. Additionally New York and PA had all black units. PA’s 26th US Infantry consisted of nearly 250 all black soldiers and NY’s two units had a total of 2,000 men. Even more interestingly, of the six civilian employees in the War Department at the time one of them, Caesar Cummings, was a free black man.
Baltimore’s Hotel Monaco is centrally located for this portion of the Star-Spangled Trail. Though it does not date back to 1812 the hotel is historic. The Beaux-Arts building was constructed in 1904 to serve as the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad headquarters and retains its twin marble staircases and Tiffany windows.
Rooms in this elegantly appointed boutique property feature 96-inch king beds, luxurious linens, flat screen televisions, designer bath products and even a pet goldfish to keep you company during your stay. Information and reservations are available online. www.monaco-baltimore.com
Maryland is less than 90-minutes from Philadelphia and it is an ideal place to immerse yourself in history and celebrate our heritage. www.visitmaryland.org
I wish you smooth travels!
“What’s Great About I-95” is a wonderful companion book for any jaunt from Maine to Florida. Barbara Barnes has included intriguing stories, quirky history and fun facts alongside essential information such as maps, mile markers and etc. www.interestinginterstates.com
Traveling further afield? Don’t forget “Walking Guides.” A series of four books that include “WALKING ROME,” “WALKING LONDON,” “WALKING NEW YORK” and “WALKING PARIS.” www.shop.nationalgeographic.com