War of 1812
Lt. Colonel Phillip Reed, a captain in the Continental Army during the Revolution, proved a more than a competent commander of the militia. Another Revolutionary veteran, General Benjamin Chambers, of the heroic Maryland Battalion which had distinguished itself during the Battle of Long Island; Chamber’s son, Ezekiel; and James Edmundson Barroll, were among the many Kent County citizens who would stand bravely in the defense of their own soil during the summer of 1814.
The H. M. S. Menelaus under the command of Sir Peter Parker, landed at Swan Creek on August 20 with the intention of raiding Rock Hall. Within days, a thunderstorm caused H. M. Mary to capsize at Swan Point, sinking her load of weapons and powder. This was the same thunderstorm that had extinguished the fires burning in Washington in the August 24 capture of the city by the British. The defense of the nation’s capital had been ill planned and poorly executed. Virginia militia fled before the British as they marched into Washington. But the Kent County militia were prepared to stand their ground.
On August 27, Lt. Colonel Reed used what might have seemed an obvious ploy to mislead the British about the size of his forces, directing his cavalry to cross and recross the water from the mainland to Eastern Neck Island on a ferry scow. Sir Peter Parker wrote: I was surprised to observe the enemy’s regular troops and militia in motion along the whole coast.
Nonetheless, the British set out to raid Fairlee. British Lieutenant Benjamin George Beynon recorded the following in his journal: Early this morning we saw several milita men in full uniforms on the banks very near us, at ten a great many horsemen had collect round Genl. James Loyd’s House (Big Fairlee), some dismounted, and came and reconnoitered the ship to drive them we fired a blank cartridge, at which they all but smashed their rums; a shot was then fired, and they scampered off in style, but still a great many kept round the house. To dislodge them…some of Congreves rockets…were well thrown afterwards, and some excellent shot from the 18 pdr … at five landed and …we then set fire to the house, which was nearly full of corn as well as ten outhouses … the Cavalry were latterly in three squadrons. I offered them Battle by advancing within one hundred yards of them, and giving them a sharp and galling fire for ten minutes which must have laid some of them low; they were extremely well mounted – smashingly dress’d in blue and long white feathers in their hats. One fire completely routed them, at dusk no one was to be seen and we all embarked much pleased with our excursion; this is by far the finest part that I have seen in America. The house was elegant.
The only account of slaves in Kent County being taken by the British occurred when they next raided James Frisby’s farm at Great Oak Manor (Frisby’s wife somehow convinced them not to destroy the house) and they took with them four slaves, who likely joined the several thousand slaves offered freedom and resettled by the British during the war, mostly in the Canadian provinces.
The British went on to destroy Richard Frisby’s (James Frisby’s cousin) farm, Farley. According to Lieutenant Beynon, there they met some blacks who told us their masters were with the cavalry.
Another African American encountered the British when, according to British Lieutenant Henry Crease, An intelligent black man gave us information of two hundred militia being encamped behind a woods, distant half a mile from the beach. Whether this was one of the slaves or another man, possibly a free black, is unclear. Also unclear is whether this was an attempt by the black man to betray the militia, or to deceive the British. The information was inaccurate; the militia were nearly three miles inland. Lieutenant Henry Crease recorded that the black man stated that one-fifth of the militia gathered were to be sent for the defense of Baltimore, which was also incorrect. British midshipman Frederick Chamier later wrote that the guide’s sincerity in our cause was very questionable.
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