November 3rd, 2014

Library programs help us rediscover our War of 1812 history

flag and words - no event detailsThese days when we see a British flag we tend to think of the Beatles, the Queen, and tea with scones—all safe and friendly associations with our cousins across the Pond. But if you were a Cecil County resident 200 years ago the sight of that flag would have represented fire, plunder, and Royal Marines with fixed bayonets on your doorstep.

Residents all around the Chesapeake Bay were literally under attack during the War of 1812. It’s a conflict that is largely overshadowed today by the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and yet it’s the rare time that there was actual military conflict literally in our backyards.

This amazing local history was something I learned about when researching my book, “1812: Rediscovering Chesapeake Bay’s Forgotten War.” Until then, I had mostly been a Civil War buff. I soon “rediscovered” some surprising history.

The war began because we Americans were upset about a few things, not the least of which was the Royal Navy stopping American merchant ships and grabbing up our sailors for their own crews. It was an issue of “sovereignty” — the idea that the United States was not being recognized as an independent nation. President James Madison and other hawkish-minded Americans decided that declaring war would teach the British a lesson, so that’s what we did in June of 1812.

Unfortunately, the war did not go well from the start. Things got worse with the defeat of Napoleon in Europe, enabling the British to devote more military resources to North America.

For Chesapeake Bay residents, that meant frequent raids beginning in 1813 of the small towns and farms all around the waterfront. Leading these raids was a highly capable military commander named George Cockburn. Admiral Cockburn (he would have pronounced his name “co-burn” but Marylanders said “cock-burn”) struck on the Sassafras River in 1813 when his forces burned Georgetown and Fredericktown. The attack gave rise to the legend of Kitty Knight—who chased off those raiders with a broom.

Then the British struck at Elkton, attempting to capture the important crossroads town, before being turned back by the milita’s defense at Elk Landing. That was a temporary setback for the Redcoats. The British moved on to Havre de Grace and burned most of the town, despite the heroic efforts of an obstreperous Irishman named John O’Neill.

Time has put these events in soft focus and dulled the edges of the British swords in our imaginations, but make no mistake—this was a terrifying era to be living along the shores of the Chesapeake.

It was local militia officer Captain Andrew Hall who said it best in 1813: “The times in these parts has been troublesome. Our waters have been polluted with the English since last spring and are yet.”

Our greatest indignity of the war came in August 1814 when the British overwhelmed the Maryland militia near what is today College Park and marched into Washington. British troops then burned the White House, Capitol, and Library of Congress.

It wasn’t that Marylanders were helpless or cowardly. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think it would take a great deal of courage. Most of the local militia members were untrained, possibly middle-aged shopkeepers, farmers and teachers who grabbed their fowling pieces (shotguns) to take a stand against crack British troops who were not only well-armed, but who were combat veterans of the Napoleonic Wars.

Finally at the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814, the tide turned on Chesapeake Bay with the defeat of British forces. That victory gave us “The Star-Spangled Banner” song and the flag itself as a powerful American icon.

During the month of November, you can rediscover more of the War of 1812 during an exhibit at the Elkton Central Library called “When Free Men Shall Stand: Remembering Maryland and the War of 1812” on loan from the Maryland Museum of Military History.

Even better, you can experience the music of the era on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. during a live music event with David & Ginger Hildebrand called “Music of the War of 1812.”

You will be amazed at this chapter in local history, but be forewarned: you may never look at that British flag in quite the same way again.

David Healey is has written several historical novels and nonfiction books on regional history, including “Great Storms of the Chesapeake.” He will be giving a talk called “Keepers of the Light: Legends & Lore of Local Lighthouses” on Nov. 17 at the Chesapeake City Branch Library at 6:30 p.m.

These days when we see a British flag we tend to think of the Beatles, the Queen, and tea with scones—all safe and friendly associations with our cousins across the Pond. But if you were a Cecil County resident 200 years ago the sight of that flag would have represented fire, plunder, and Royal Marines with fixed bayonets on your doorstep.

Residents all around the Chesapeake Bay were literally under attack during the War of 1812. It’s a conflict that is largely overshadowed today by the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and yet it’s the rare time that there was actual military conflict literally in our backyards.

This amazing local history was something I learned about when researching my book, “1812: Rediscovering Chesapeake Bay’s Forgotten War.” Until then, I had mostly been a Civil War buff. I soon “rediscovered” some surprising history.

The war began because we Americans were upset about a few things, not the least of which was the Royal Navy stopping American merchant ships and grabbing up our sailors for their own crews. It was an issue of “sovereignty” — the idea that the United States was not being recognized as an independent nation. President James Madison and other hawkish-minded Americans decided that declaring war would teach the British a lesson, so that’s what we did in June of 1812.

Unfortunately, the war did not go well from the start. Things got worse with the defeat of Napoleon in Europe, enabling the British to devote more military resources to North America.

For Chesapeake Bay residents, that meant frequent raids beginning in 1813 of the small towns and farms all around the waterfront. Leading these raids was a highly capable military commander named George Cockburn. Admiral Cockburn (he would have pronounced his name “co-burn” but Marylanders said “cock-burn”) struck on the Sassafras River in 1813 when his forces burned Georgetown and Fredericktown. The attack gave rise to the legend of Kitty Knight—who chased off those raiders with a broom.

Then the British struck at Elkton, attempting to capture the important crossroads town, before being turned back by the milita’s defense at Elk Landing. That was a temporary setback for the Redcoats. The British moved on to Havre de Grace and burned most of the town, despite the heroic efforts of an obstreperous Irishman named John O’Neill.

Time has put these events in soft focus and dulled the edges of the British swords in our imaginations, but make no mistake—this was a terrifying era to be living along the shores of the Chesapeake.

It was local militia officer Captain Andrew Hall who said it best in 1813: “The times in these parts has been troublesome. Our waters have been polluted wth the English since last spring and are yet.”

Our greatest indignity of the war came in August 1814 when the British overwhelmed the Maryland militia near what is today College Park and marched into Washington. British troops then burned the White House, Capitol, and Library of Congress.

It wasn’t that Marylanders were helpless or cowardly. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think it would take a great deal of courage. Most of the local militia members were untrained, possibly middleaged shopkeepers, farmers and teachers who grabbed their fowling pieces (shotguns) to take a stand against crack British troops who were not only well-armed, but who were combat veterans of the Napoleonic Wars.

Finally at the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814, the tide turned on Chesapeake Bay with the defeat of British forces. That victory gave us “The Star-spangled Banner” song and the flag itself as a powerful American icon.

During the month of November, you can rediscover more of the War of 1812 during an exhibit at the Elkton Library called “When Free Men Shall Stand: Remembering Maryland and the War of 1812.”

Even better, you can experience the music of the era on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. during a program called “Music of the War of 1812.”

You will be amazed at this chapter in local history, but be forewarned: you may never look at that British flag in quite the same way again.

David Healey is has written several historical novels and nonfiction books on regional history, including “Great Storms of the Chesapeake.” He will be giving a talk called “Keepers of the Light: Legends & Lore of Local Lighthouses” on Nov. 17 at the Chesapeake City Branch Library at 6:30 p.m.


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October 28th, 2014

Uncover Your Family History

genealogyDid you know that if you go back 10 generations in your family tree, you have 1,024 direct-line ancestors? Ten generations may sound like a lot, but if you were born in 1950, ten generations may only bring you back to 1700 – a little over 300 years ago! Direct-line ancestors only include parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on, so each of those 1,024 people directly contributed to your existence.

For some, researching their family tree helps them connect with the past and make sense of where they fit in the scheme of history. For others, genealogy is a deeply emotional experience as it helps them understand where they came from, who they are, and why they do the things they do. Others find genealogy to be an invigorating game of detective, piecing together clues from documents and family lore to figure out who, what, where, and when, sometimes even why!

Whether you’re just getting started or are a seasoned researcher, the 3rd Annual Cecil County Genealogy Symposium at the Elkton Central Library on Saturday, November 8th is not to be missed. We are joined by keynote speaker James Beidler who is known on the national level for his expertise in German and Pennsylvania research.

9:00-9:30     Poster Sessions* and Registration
9:35-10:35     “Time and Place”: Using Genealogy’s “Cross Hairs” (James Beidler)
10:35-10:50     Break
10:50-11:40     Finding and Using Public Domain Books (Leah Youse)
11:45-12:00     Break
12:00-1:00     Letterpress to Digital: Historical Newspapers in Print, Microfilm, and Online (James Beidler)

*Discover the resources you have access to in our region at our poster session, a gathering of local historical and genealogical societies, including:

Upper Shore Genealogical Society of Maryland
Maryland State Archives
Maryland Department at the Enoch Pratt Free Library
Historical Society of Cecil County
Daughters of the American Revolution, Head of Elk Chapter
Delaware Genealogical Society
Family History Library

Be sure to reserve your spot at this popular event!

Sponsored by the Upper Shore Genealogical Society of Maryland

Photo courtesy the Library of Congress


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