War of 1812
Raids in Kent County began with a raid on Howell Point, just north of the mouth of Still Pond Creek, when H.M. S. Maidstone bombarded the shore, terrifying local citizens. The Daily National Intelligencer reported the frigate lies so near Howell’s Point that she has thrown some of her shot a mile into the country. The enemy’s force, consisting of one 74 (gun ship), three frigates, two brigs, two schooners, and a number of tenders and barges, were lying from off Werton (Worton Creek) to some distance below Pool’s Island,” reported the Intelligencer. “…a ship of war … commenced a bombardment on Simon Wilmer’s house. Later, the enemy landed at Plum Point, and robbed George Medford’s smokehouse, henhouse and sheep pen, and killed his cattle. While they were thus employed an express was sent for the militia, a party of which arrived in time to prevent them carrying off the cattle… the militia fired on the barges as they left the shore, and it is thought some of the enemy were killed. The British continued up the Bay, plundering Frenchtown, and raiding and burning Havre de Grace.
Georgetown in Kent County was Cockburn’s next destination. They needed to find their way up the Sassafras, but Cockburn was “frustrated by the intricacy of the river.” His solution was to land at Turner’s Creek, an active village with a granary, store and wharf. There the British kidnapped local resident James Stavely, forcing him to pilot them up the Sassafras to Georgetown, a bustling village of 40 houses, school, Presbyterian church and shipyard, which Scott’s 1807 travelogue described as one of the most healthy on the Eastern Shore, that launched many very fine schooners and brigs. That description could not have been written after the British landed.
The British sent warning with local boaters that if the town did not resist, it would be spared, and any provisions taken, paid for. But the militia had built earthworks for defense on Fort Duffy on the north side of the river and Pearce Point Fort on the south side. About 400 militia men opened fire, but reports were they quickly fled as the British advanced on land, and most of the civilians hid in the woods.
The British torched house after house. Local legend has it that they spared several homes due to the actions of Miss Kitty Knight, a local lady of esteem, who stood up to the British when they were about to burn the home of one of her elderly neighbors. Newspaper accounts say that several homes were spared at the entreaties of the women and the aged. Thirteen dwellings and outbuildings, cobbler’s shop, tavern, a granary and storehouse were destroyed that day.
As Cockburn proceeded back down the river, he noted that …what had passed at Havre and Georgetown … had its effects, and led more to hope for from our generosity than from erecting batteries … The British returned Stavely to Turner’s Creek where they took supplies, leaving the people of this place well pleased with the wisdom … on their mode of receiving us.
Chestertown residents felt the sense of impending doom in August of 1813 when the British returned, establishing a camp at Kent Island, from which they attacked St. Michael’s and threatened Queenstown. Chestertown must go if attacked, read a letter to the western shore, for we have not a sufficient force to repel them. But mosquitoes, heat, and plucky Talbot County militia encouraged the British to move out of the Bay for the time being.
The tide of war was turned in September 1813 with Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry’s brilliant naval victory in Lake Erie on the Niagra, and William Henry Harrison’s defeat of the British at the Battle of the Thames outside of Detroit, during which Tecumseh was killed.
Federalists and even Republicans celebrated when Napoleon was defeated by the British and Russian allied forces in the spring of 1814. “I rejoice with you,” Jefferson told a friend, “in the downfall of Bonaparte.” There was some hope among Federalists that this would lead to peace with England, but Republicans felt otherwise: “We should have to fight hereafter,” said Joseph Nicholson, “not for free Trade and sailors rights, not for the conquest of Canada, but for our national existence.”
With Europe at peace for the first time in 20 years, England turned its attention to the American coast of the Atlantic, occupying part of Maine in the early summer of 1814 (and welcomed by many of the residents). But their fiercest attention would be directed at the Chesapeake and, ultimately, the primary targets of Washington and Baltimore, the home port of privateers who had been harassing British ships in both the Atlantic and Pacific before and during the war.
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