The 270th Anniversary of Baltimore Town’s First Recorded Fire

Today, err rather tonight, marks an important anniversary in the timeline of Baltimore — and it is one that is not often remembered. On the night of Thursday, March 16th 1749, occurred the first recorded fire in Baltimore Town. At least, according to The Maryland Gazette, which printed an account of the conflagration six days later in its Wednesday, March 22nd 1749 issue:

“On Thurſday Night laſt a terrible Accident happened in Baltimore Town, at the Houſe of Mr. Greenbury Dorſey ; which in the dead Time of the Night took Fire, and burnt down to the Ground, with all the Furniture, and ſix Perſons in it ; viz. one Man, four Children, and a Negro Girl. Mr. Dorſey happened to be from home ; and it was with great Difficulty that any Persons were ſaved ; Mrs. Dorſey, who lay up Stairs, preſerved herſelf and two Children, by firſt throwing one out of the Window, and afterwards jumping out herſelf with another in her Arms ; tho’ they are very much hurt. This melancholy Scene is ſuppoſed to be the Effect of the horrid Malice and diabolical Revenge of a Servant Man of Mr. Dorſey’s, who it ſeems had threaten’d ſuch a Thing, and was out of the Houſe himſelf, with ſome things belonging to him, when it happened ; and at the firſt Diſcovery, the Houſe was obſerved to be on Fire below in ſeveral Places at once. On theſe, and other dark Circumſtances, the Servant is apprehended and committed to Jayl.”1

For an event that demanded a whole paragraph’s worth of attention in The Maryland Gazette, it seems rather curious that there was no follow-up story during the rest of March, or all of April. Especially considering that there was a reasonable suspicion of arson. The “Greenbury Dorſey” [sic] in question was undoubtedly Greenberry Dorsey (1710-1782), who was a resident of Baltimore County. Following the death of William Fell in 1746, Dorsey married Fell’s widow, the former Sarah Bond. Thus, it seems most likely that the fire referenced in this article took place somewhere in the area of town known as Fell’s Point… Perhaps even in the dwelling-house that was formerly occupied by William Fell and Sarah Bond? [Will have to research this further…]

1. The Maryland Gazette, Containing the freſheſt Advices, Foreign and Domestic., Wednesday, 22nd March 1749, p. 3, col. 1.

Baltimore History, Revolutionary War

Happy 29th of July! The Day that Baltimore Read Aloud the Declaration of Independency

Huh? You may be wondering: the declaration of—ɪɴᴅᴇᴘᴇɴᴅᴇɴᴄʏ? Well, mass standardization of the English language had not quite yet taken hold by the 1770s, and believe it or not, Baltimoreans referred to their country’s de facto birth certificate as such.

Back in 1776, news traveled much slower than it does today. Though Continental Congress actually declared “ɪɴᴅᴇᴘᴇɴᴅᴇɴᴄᴇ” from Great Britain on July 2nd 1776—which is the day that John Adams (1735-1826) thought future Americans would celebrate—the document listing Americans’ grievances with Kɪɴɢ Gᴇᴏʀɢᴇ III (1738-1820) and their reasons for declaring independence, was dated July 4th 1776. Word of Congress’s decision rippled outward from Philadelphia, with the central point of dissemination being the Pennsylvania State House, now justly known by a different name: ɪɴᴅᴇᴘᴇɴᴅᴇɴᴄᴇ ʜᴀʟʟ. Several days later, on Monday, July 8th 1776, the president of Continental Congress—John Hancock (1737-1793)—wrote a letter to the Maryland Council of Safety in Annapolis, informing Marylanders of the congressional action:

Philadelphia July 8th 1776.


Altho’ it is not possible to foresee the consequences of Human Action, yet it is nevertheless a duty we owe ourselves & Posterity in all our Public Councils, to decide in the best manner we are able, and to trust the Event to that Being, who controuls both Causes and Events, so as to bring about his own determinations.
Impressed with this Sentiment, and at the same time fully convinced that our affairs may take a more favourable turn, the Congress have judged it necessary to dissolve all connection between Great Britain and the American Colonies, and to declare them free and Independent States, as you will perceive by the enclosed Declaration, which I am directed by Congress to transmit to you, and to request you will have it proclaimed in your Colony in the way you shall think most proper.
The important consequences to the American States from this Declaration of Independence, considered as the ground & foundation of a future Government will naturally suggest the propriety of proclaiming it in such a manner as that the People may be universally informed of it.

I have the Honour to be Gentlemen
Your most obedt and very hbl Sevt
John Hancock Prest

to the Maryland Council of Safety

The next day, Tuesday, July 9th 1776, the Declaration of Independence was published in full on page two of Dunlap’s Maryland Gazette; or the Baltimore General Advertiſer, in columns two and three. The document having been voted on, but not signed [ᴛʜᴇ ᴀᴄᴛᴜᴀʟ ᴅᴏᴄᴜᴍᴇɴᴛ ᴡᴀsɴ’ᴛ sɪɢɴᴇᴅ ᴜɴᴛɪʟ ᴀᴜɢᴜsᴛ 2ɴᴅ], the Gazette listed John Hancock as the lone signatory. While Hancock’s letter to the Maryland Council of Safety included an official copy of the Declaration as an enclosure, it is clear that John Dunlap (1747-1812) decided to publish the Declaration independently of Hancock’s correspondence. This is because Dunlap’s paper ran the Declaration under the following header: “P H I L A D E L P H I A, July 6.” In other words, Dunlap’s source for the information was two days older than Hancock’s letter. The notion that Dunlap could have gotten the news out so quickly is not surprising. After all, in addition to his printing office on Market-street in Baltimore Town, he had another office that was in Philadelphia [ᴄᴏɪɴᴄɪᴅᴇɴᴛᴀʟʟʏ, ᴀʟsᴏ ᴏɴ ᴍᴀʀᴋᴇᴛ-sᴛʀᴇᴇᴛ], where he published his senior newspaper—Dunlap’s Pennſylvania Packet; or the General Advertiſer, which (founded in 1771) predated his Maryland Gazette (founded in 1775) by four years.

1776 Dunlap Broadside

The Dunlap Broadside that belongs to the Library of Congress.

Dunlap was well established in Philadelphia, having gone there as a ten-year-old boy in 1757 to apprentice with his printer uncle, William Dunlap. By 1766, Uncle William had left the business in his hands—making the nephew a full-fledged printer at nineteen. Ten years later, with Continental Congress in session at the soon-to-be-called Independence Hall, Dunlap’s star rose even higher as he obtained the lucrative printing contract for the fledgling U.S. Government. With the congressional contract in hand, Dunlap’s sources regarding news streaming out of Congress were impeccable. Case in point: on the night of July 4th 1776, word of the Declaration came straight from John Hancock himself. He ordered Dunlap to print about 200 copies of the document on broadside—ɴᴏᴡ ᴋɴᴏᴡɴ ᴀs ᴛʜᴇ ᴅᴜɴʟᴀᴘ ʙʀᴏᴀᴅsɪᴅᴇ. This was the first time the Declaration was ever committed to type, and of that original run, only twenty-six copies are known to exist. It was undoubtedly a Dunlap Broadside copy of the Declaration that Hancock enclosed with his letter addressed to the Maryland Council of Safety. So, knowing that Dunlap got word of the Declaration of Independence from Hancock, and on July 4th 1776 no less … when he ran the document in his Baltimore newspaper on July 9th 1776, his header could just as easily have read: “ʜᴀɴᴄᴏᴄᴋ ᴛᴏʟᴅ ᴍᴇ ᴛʜᴇ ɴᴇᴡs!”

That Dunlap was actively engaged as a printer in Baltimore Town while simultaneously maintaining operations in Philadelphia was no secret. The colophon at the bottom of page four in Dunlap’s Maryland Gazette even advertised the fact that he also published a Pennsylvanian newspaper: “B A L T I M O R E: Printed by JOHN DUNLAP at his Printing-Office in Mᴀʀᴋᴇᴛ-Sᴛʀᴇᴇᴛ, where Subſcriptions at Tᴇɴ Sʜɪʟʟɪɴɢs per Annum, Advertiſements, &c. are received for this Paper; alſo for the Pennſylvania Packet, and all manner of Printing Work done with the utmoſt Expedition.” The corresponding colophon on the bottom of the Pennſylvania Packet‘s fourth page noted that the physical printing of that paper was farmed out to the office of the Saturday Evening Mirror, at 23 S. Seventh-street in Philadelphia. This would suggest that Dunlap’s business in Philly had grown to such an extent that he was contracting at least some of his newspaper work out to other area printers.


George Washington ordered that the Declaration of Independence [ᴀ ᴅᴜɴʟᴀᴘ ʙʀᴏᴀᴅsɪᴅᴇ!] be read aloud to the Continental Army in Manhattan on Tuesday, July 9th 1776. Baltimoreans learned of that event one week later, in the Tuesday, July 16th 1776 edition of Dunlap’s Maryland Gazette, on the first column of page two—an excerpt of which appears here:

N E W – Y O R K,  July 11.

On Tueſday laſt, the Congreſs’s Declaration of the Independence of the United States of America, was read at the head of ſeveral Brigades in this city, with acclamations of Joy ; and, ’tis expected, will be declared in form by order of the Provincial Congreſs, in a few days.
Same day, in the evening, the ſtatue of King George the Third, on horſeback, in the Bowling Green, was taken down, broken into pieces, and its honour levelled with the daſt.

In the adjacent column, on the same page, news from Easton, Pennsylvania described their having received the Declaration, and publicly proclaimed it:

EASTON (Northampton county) July 8. This day the DECLARATION of INDEPENDANCY was received here, and proclaimed in the following order : The Colonel and all other field officers of the firſt battalion repaired to the court-houſe, the Light Infantry company marching their with drums beating, fifes playing, and the Standard (the device for which is the thirteen United Colonies) which was ordered to be diſplayed, and after that the Declaration was read aloud to a great number of ſpectators, who gave their hearty aſſent with three loud huzzas [ᴘʀᴏɴᴏᴜɴᴄᴇᴅ “ʜᴜᴢᴢᴀʏ”], and cried out Mᴀʏ Gᴏᴅ Lᴏɴɢ Pʀᴇsᴇʀᴠᴇ and ᴜɴɪᴛᴇ the Fʀᴇᴇ and Iɴᴅᴇᴘᴇɴᴅᴀɴᴛ Sᴛᴀᴛᴇs of Aᴍᴇʀɪᴄᴀ.

From the wording in that excerpt, it would seem as if Easton had a public reading of the document on the exact same day that it received it. Baltimoreans learning about the news from New-York and Easton may well have been asking themselves: ᴡᴀɪᴛ, ᴡʜᴇɴ ɪs ᴏᴜʀ ᴘᴜʙʟɪᴄ ʀᴇᴀᴅɪɴɢ? Oddly enough, despite receiving the Declaration and disseminating it via newspaper on July 9th 1776—Baltimore Town did not hold a public reading of the document until nearly three weeks later. The much-anticipated event took place on Monday, July 29th 1776, at the Baltimore County Courthouse.


The old Baltimore County Courthouse, which was erected in 1768 when Baltimore Town replaced Joppa Town as the County Seat of Government. It stood at the point where Calvert-Street dead-ended into the cliff that gave way to a roughly sixty-foot-straight drop to Jones’s Falls.

An account of the proceedings was published the following day in Dunlap’s Gazette, in the second column on page three:

B A L T I M O R E.

Yeſterday, by order of the Committee of this Town, the DECLARATION of the INDEPENDENCY of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA was read aloud at the Court-Houſe to a numerous and reſpectable body of Militia and the company of Artillery, and other principal inhabitants of this town and county, which was received with general applauſe and heart felt ſatisfaction : And at night the town was illuminated, and, at ſame time, the Effigy of our late King was carted through the town and committed to the flames amidſt the acclamations of many hundreds.—The juſt reward of a Tyrant.

Another account appeared a day later, Wednesday, July 31st 1776, in a rival paper: the Maryland Journal, and the Baltimore Advertiſer, on page two, column number one:

B A L T I M O R E.

On Monday laſt, at 12 o’Clock, the Dᴇᴄʟᴀʀᴀᴛɪᴏɴ of INDEPENDENCY was proclaimed at the Court Houſe in this Town, at the Head of the Independent and Artillery Companies, and the ſeveral Companies of Militia, to the great Joy and Satisfaction of the Audience, with a Diſcharge of Cannon, &c. and univerſal Acclamations for the Proſperity of the Fʀᴇᴇ Uɴɪᴛᴇᴅ STATES………In the Evening the Effigy, repreſenting the King of Great-Britain, was carted through the Town, to the no ſmall Mirth of the numerous Spectators, afterwards thrown into a Fire made for that Purpoſe. Thus may it fate with all Tyrants.

The wording in both of these accounts differs slightly, and both offer unique versions of the day’s proceedings. The array of militia & regular units under arms for the reading must have stood in the public square immediately to the south of the courthouse—near the intersection of Calvert-street and East-street [ᴍᴏᴅᴇʀɴ-ᴅᴀʏ Fᴀʏᴇᴛᴛᴇ-sᴛʀᴇᴇᴛ]—as the document was read from the steps. Exactly what kind of cannon was used for the “diſcharge” is anyone’s guess, but it likely belonged to Captain Nathaniel Smith’s Company of Matrosses out of Fort Whetstone [ɴᴏᴡ ᴋɴᴏᴡɴ ᴀs Fᴏʀᴛ MᴄHᴇɴʀʏ]. And the fire that consumed the effigy of Kɪɴɢ Gᴇᴏʀɢᴇ III most likely occurred in the same public square where the document was read, as it was spacious enough to accommodate such things.

Courthouse 1776

The building marked ‘J’ is the old Baltimore County Courthouse—the present-day location of which is occupied by the War of 1812 Battle Monument. [From A.P. Folie’s 1792 Map of Baltimore Town, LOC]

Newspapers did not provide the only written documentation of the event. A review of the minutes of the Baltimore County Committee of Observation offers an additional insight into the political climate of Baltimore Town, circa July of 1776:


At a Meeting of the Committee
July 29, 1776


This day, agreeable to the resolve of this Committee of the 22d instant, the Declaration of Independency was proclaimed at the Court-House by Mr. William Aisquith, (Mr. Christie being out of Town:) Captain Nathaniel Smith’s Company of Matrosses, Captain John Sterrett’s Company of Independents, Captain John Smith’s, Captain James Cox’s, Captain George Wells’s, and Captain William Richardson’s Companies being drawn up under arms on occasion. 

Though it may seem rather innocuous on the surface, the “ᴍʀ. ᴄʜʀɪsᴛɪᴇ ʙᴇɪɴɢ ᴏᴜᴛᴛᴀ ᴛᴏᴡɴ” line subtly hints at a more sinister subtext. John Thomas Scharf sheds light on page 147 of his 1874 history of the city, The Chronicles of Baltimore:

Mr. Robert Christie, Jr., who, as sheriff of the county, it had been supposed was the proper person to read the Declaration of Independence to the people at the court-house, refused to appear there for such a purpose. In consequence of this refusal on his part, threats had been made against him, which he deemed it prudent not to brave, and therefore he withdrew from the town. 

The Committee of Observation was not happy with the tension that these threats of violence induced, and feared that inaction on its part would lead to public mayhem. So the next day, it passed a resolution that clearly stated its position—as elaborated in the minutes:


At a Meeting of the Committee
July 30, 1776


The Chairman being informed by Mr. Robert Christie, Sheriff of this County, that he had reason to be apprehensive of violence being offered to him, the said Sheriff, on account of his not attending to read the Declaration of Independence on Monday last, agreeable to the desire of the Committee; and that from these apprehensions, he would be under the disagreeable necessity of retiring to the country, and withdrawing himself from the publick service; whereupon,
ResolvedThat the Committee do declare their utter disapprobation of all threats and violence being offered to any persons whatsoever, as contrary to the Resolves of Congress, and the sense of the Convention of this Province; that they conceive themselves bound to protect (as far as is in their power) the Civil Officers in the discharge of their duty; that they do expect of, and call upon every good citizen and friend to his country to assist them in their endeavors to preserve the peace and good order of society, and to prevent all riots and tumults, and personal abuse or violence to individuals; that the good people of Baltimore, having hitherto been so respectfully attentive to the Resolves of this Committee on all occasions, they flatter themselves that due regard will be paid to this recommendation.

Attest: Geo. Lux, Secretary.


Were William Aisquith standing today on the spot from which he read the Declaration of Independence to the citizens of Baltimore Town in 1776, this is more or less what he would see: the view looking south on Calvert-street from the location of the War of 1812 Battle Monument. [Photograph taken by the author of this article, on August 20th, 2013.]

William Aisquith not only took Christie’s place at the reading, but he took his public office as well. Christie had served as the Sheriff of Baltimore Country from 1774 to 1776, but Aisquith became Sheriff in 1777. Though they never came to pass, the threats aimed at Robert Christie Junr eerily foreshadowed a problem that tormented Baltimore all throughout the nineteenth century, and one that still haunts it to this day: the riotous, mob mentality, which caused later generations of Americans to defame Baltimore with its most shameful moniker, “ᴍᴏʙᴛᴏᴡɴ.”


While the Revolution occurred through spoken word for the unlettered masses of America, the educated classes also bore witness to a Revolution on paper. In this respect, John Dunlap led the charge on the front lines of Baltimore Town. In the same issue of his Gazette that described the public reading of the Declaration, he included a couple of well-placed adverts on the fourth page, just above the colophon. The first, was for a map of New-York that he was readying for the press:

In a few days will be ready for Sale by the Printer hereof (abſolutely neceſſary for every Officer under Marching orders for New-York.)
A ᴍᴀᴘ of New-York, Staten-Island, part of Long-Island, and New-Jerſey, in which will be delineated, the ſituation of the Britiſh Forces now on Staten-Island, alſo the different Batteries thrown up for the defence of Continental troops in thoſe parts. The Utility of ſuch a Map muſt appear obvious to every Officer who underſtands the nature of Actual Service.

The second was a plea to the local citizenry of Baltimore Town, for clean rags to keep a steady supply of paper on hand for his printing press:

L I N E N   R A G S.

Tʜᴇ higheſt price is given for clean Linen Rags, by Jᴏʜɴ Dᴜɴʟᴀᴘ, in Market Street, Baltimore. Who begs leave to inform the Public in general, and the good people of this town in particular, that the Paper Mills are idle for want of Rags; and of Conſequence, the Preſſes, the important vehicles of inſtruction and amuſement, muſt ſoon be reduced to the ſame unhappy ſituation.—We therefore flatter ourſelves, that this intimation of the languiſhing ſtate of ſo intereſting a manufacture will be ſufficient to prevail upon all careful Houſekeepers to ſave their RAGS and ſend them for ſale to


Both of these adverts paired nicely with a notice on the first page, which featured a plea of a different sort:

July 23d, 1776.


As an Apprentice for the Printing Busineſs, a Lad about 14 or 15 years of age, who can be well recommended—Enquire of the printer.

Just as the militia and regular forces needed recruits, printers did too. And just as the militia and regular forces needed supplies and ammunition, printers did too. This is how they fought their Revolution.

So if you are wondering how to celebrate this 29th of July, and how best to honor those who gave us the freedoms that we now enjoy, allow me to suggest this:

Do something … ɪɴᴅᴇᴘᴇɴᴅᴇɴᴄʏ!

Baltimore History, War of 1812

Earned by Virtue: Observing the 200th Anniversary of the Aquila Randall Monument

At 10.00 A.M. this morning, a small but sturdy crowd of people gathered in the grassy area on the northeast side of North Point Road, just above its intersection with Battle Grove. There, amid a suitable amount of pomp and circumstance, the Maryland National Guard and the Society of the War of 1812 in Maryland observed the bicentennial and rededication of the Aquila Randall Monument—one of the Monumental City’s greatest treasures—hidden in a small residential area known as the Wells McComas community, on the eastern neck of Dundalk between Bear Creek and the Back River. The monument, which is a white obelisk on a base, altogether extends about 6½ feet above ground level. It was erected on Monday, July 21st 1817 by the surviving members of the First Mechanical Volunteers—a company which was commanded by Captain Benjamin Chew Howard (1791-1872), and attached to the 5th Regiment, Maryland Militia during the Defense of Baltimore. The monument commemorates two things relating to the Battle of North Point: 1) the memory of Aquila Randall (c1790-1814), a 24-year-old private in Benjamin Chew Howard’s company, who was killed in action defending his homeland, and 2) the slaying of Major-General Robert Ross (1766-1814), commander of the British forces, which occurred—not far from where the monument currently sits—in a pre-battle skirmish between an advanced party of Americans under a detachment commanded by Major Richard Key Heath (1770-1822) of the 5th Regiment, Maryland Militia, and the British column on its march up Patapsco Neck.


The well-constructed monument, which is simple yet handsome, reads as follows. On the side which faces the northeast (the American left flank):

To the memory of
who died in bravely defending
his Country and his Home,
on the memorable
12th of September, 1814.
Aged 24 years.

On the side which faces the southeast (the British line):

In the skirmish which occurred
at this spot,
between the advanced party,

of the 5th Regt M. M.
and the front of the British column
Major General ROSS,
the commander of the British force,
received his mortal wound.

On the side which faces the northwest (the American line):

The First Mechanical Volunteers
commanded by
of the 5th Regt M. M.
have erected this Monument
as a tribute of their respect
for the memory of
Their Gallant Brother in arms

On the side which faces the southwest (the American right flank):

How beautiful is Death
when earned by


One of the coolest parts of this morning’s bicentennial observance was a recitation of the events which took place at the initial ceremony in 1817. The particular account that today’s bicentennial referenced appeared a week after the event, in the Monday, July 28th 1817 edition of the Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, on page two, in columns two and three:


“Dulci et decorum est pro Patria mori.”

On Monday last, “THE FIRST MECHANICAL VOLUNTEERS,” one of the companies attached to the Fifth Regiment, erected on the spot where the advanced party under Major HEATH was engaged with the British forces, a Monument to the Memory of AQUILLA RANDALL, one of the members, who fell in that skirmish. The company, headed by their commander, Capt. B. C. HOWARD, marched from town at an early hour; and having been joined on the ground at 11 o’clock by Col. HEATH, Lt Col. BARRY, Major STEUART, and several other officers of the regiment, this ceremony of putting up the Monument was then commenced, and in a very short time completed, under the direction of Mr. TOWSON, (Lieut. of the company.)—Indeed, much commenda- tion is due to this gentleman (and no less to Col. SMALL, who assisted in the design) for the style and good taste in which the Monument is executed. He has aimed at simplicity and neatness, and he has not been disappointed.
The Monument is a pyramid of white stone, about four feet high, resting on a well proportioned pedestal, which bears the following inscriptions:

[On the side facing the road,]
[On the opposite side,]
On the Memorable 12th of September,
Aged 24 years.
[On the side up the road,]
Commanded by Capt. B. C. Howard,
In the 5th Regiment M. M.
[On the side down the road,]
Between the advanced party under
Major Rɪᴄʜᴀʀᴅ K. Hᴇᴀᴛʜ,
Of the Fifth Regiment, M. M.

Having completed the necessary labors of the undertaking, the company was then drawn up in front of the Monument. The officers of the regiment, attending by invitation, were posted in front of the company, and Capt. HOWARD delivered, in a modest, but impressive manner, the Address, an imperfect sketch of which is published in this day’s paper.
The address was remarkably appropriate—It is indeed to be regretted, that in yielding to the request for publication, Capt. HOWARD has not been able to collect from a failing memory, the whole address as he delivered it. But there is enough left to challenge praise; not only for the judicious selection of topics, but also for the beauty and putity of his language.
After firing three vollies over the Monument, the company was dismissed to partake of a handsome collation.


My Friends and Fellow Soldiers,
We are assembled on this day for the purpose of completing a design that we have long entertained. It is to perform one of these duties that can happen but seldom in the course of an individual’s life, for wars, thank Heaven, in our country, are not so frequent as to call upon us often to honor the memories of those who fall in her defence. But when it does occur, it is a duty for the performance of which we are bound by more than ordinary ties.—We owe something to those who are dead—something to those who are yet unborn. So strongly do I feel this, that my imagination at this moment flies forward to the future, and my memory back to the past. I can picture to myself the sensations of those who in far distant days will contemplate this monument, while busy memory brings before me the scene which was exhibited here and the melancholy event which has caused our assemblage at this spot. Let us turn our attention for a moment to the year 1814, when a black and portentous cloud seemed threatening to burst upon our country; when it had been vauntingly declared that all assailable places were to be laid waste, and our city, rich with gifts of commerce, and strong with the sinews of war, stood high on the list of proscription—But the spirit of the nation was roused, and the torch of military enthusiasm was lit at the flame of the consuming Capitol. There the list of proscription stopped. With the points of our swords, we erased from it the name of Baltimore, and Baltimore was saved. And whom had we to oppose? not a miserable rabble fighting for their rations alone; not an irregular and undisciplined enemy, but troops that had scattered the armies of France to the right and to the left in their march through Spain; troops inured to carnage and war, and flushed with thinking they had tamed the American pride at that ill-fated, unfortunate Bladensburg—Can we look back upon this contest with any less feeling than pride? Was there any thing in our conduct that should make us avoid recurring to that period? No—Thank Heaven, there was not—here we stood, and here we acted our parts—Here we all shared one common danger, and though the ball that bore the message of death as it sang through the air, took only one from amongst us; yet who is there that might not have shared the same fate? who is there that might not have been that one? it well becomes us therefore to join heart and hand in placing some durable memorial on a spot so consecrated as this. This monument which we are now erecting, will stand as a solemn expression of the feelings of us all, as a solemn determination, that though the life of Randall, was rudely and untimely destroyed, his name shall not perish from the face of the earth.
Our city, I am proud to say, has evinced no backwardness, no cold reluctance, to honor the memories of those who fell in her defence. She has placed in her bosom an ornament to her beauty, and a monument of her gratitude. She has erected in the midst of her busy streets an edifice whose towering column is destined to bear the names of those whose lives were offered up to save her from the hostile tread and the midnight terrors of an exasperated and ungovernable foe. Not a traveller can pass without stopping to admire the gratitude of Baltimore to her defenders. But I regret that the spot, which is made classic by the effusion of blood, the spot where the long line stood unappalled by the system and advances of an experienced and disciplined foe, has been suffered to remain unnoticed. It is here where her citizens stood arrayed in soldiers’ garb, that honors to a soldier’s memory should have been paid. To mark the spot be then our care. Let our monument arise, in humility proportioned to our number, compared with the collected mass. Let the name of Randall be recorded on imperishable stone, on the spot where his life-blood streamed upon the ground I scruple not to say, that though the lofty column does not rise above the tops of the neighboring trees; though plain an unadorned with magnificent and expensive sculpture, the monument which we have this day erected is a proud, a noble, a splendid tribute to his memory. Who is there here, whose heart would not beat faster, whose pulse would not throb quicker, at the prospect of such a monument as this. For myself, I could almost change places with him; I do believe that his death atoned for many a sin, if many a sin he had committed. To defend our country has ever been considered one of the highest, holiest duties that man has to perform. Religious bigotry may tell us, that war is unlawful and a crime; but the honest unperversed feelings of the human heart will always refuse to believe it. What—Has Providence blessed us with a noble country, enriched with all the blessings of civilization and enlightened by the animating principles of liberty, only to surrender it up to the first invader? Shall we not keep what God has given us? He who suffers the fiery death of the warrior, whose soul has burst, and crept forth from its tenement of clay in such a cause as that, has well performed his part in life. The lamp of life, if it be not suddenly extinguished, will waste slowly away; better to be extinguished in the midst of its brightness and leave the memory of its brilliancy behind it, than glimmer for years in the socket.
Near this spot another monument was earned, though ten thousand swords would leap from the scabbards to prevent it from being placed there. It was here that the haughty General who declared he did not care if it rained Militia, atoned with his life for his rash opinion. It was here that they rained such a tempest upon his head as beat him to the ground. There let his memory rest for us. If his Government have done, what it is said they have, they have not only insulted the feelings of the American Nation, but imprinted a foul and shameful spot on the memory of him they wished to honor. To assert that Ross was slain at Washington is as monstrous and inexcusable as to engraft upon his coat of arms the broken flag of the United States. How different is it with us. Truth, simple as the stone and pure as the color that glitters in the day, breathes in every word and action. The honors we pay are those we think due. No more. With that sublime attribute of Heaven, truth, engrafted upon them, they can be looked upon with more pride by those who give them and the friends of him on whom they are bestowed, than the most pompous and lordly testimonials, framed to feed national unity at the expense of history and fact.
My friends—I have done it—We commit this Monument to Destiny and Time.

The inconsistencies found in the above-quoted article are curious. It not only misspells Aquila Randall’s name by giving it a superfluous ‘l’ (i.e., “Aquilla”), but it gives an imperfect transcription of the text on the monument. If these inconsistencies are present in the part of the article that describes the basic facts relating to the monument, it does cause one to wonder how accurate the sketch of Benjamin Chew Howard’s speech really is, and whether or not any parts of it were invented out of whole cloth by the newspaper reporter who covered the proceedings. The bit about Captain Howard being unable to reproduce his speech in full for publication, due to a “failing memory,” is especially interesting. Howard was not an old man, by any means, at the time of the dedication; in July of 1817, he was only 25 years old—just one year older than Randall had been at the time of the battle. So Howard probably couldn’t reproduce his speech because he had never even fully written it down in the first place. Whatever the case, it is a remarkable example of his oratorical skill, and was undoubtedly delivered with masterful elocution. Even 200 years later, in 2017, the words are quite stirring, and hearing them read aloud at the bicentennial rededication was quite a treat.

In all likelihood, this will be the last of the War of 1812 Bicentennial events. What a privilege it was to take part in it. Over the past five years, commemorating the 200th anniversary of America’s Second War for Independence has given many people in the Greater Baltimore Metro Area a lot of joy, and it has certainly provided us with a renewed sense of community and patriotism as we look toward the future. May the Monumental City’s spirit continue to endure, infused with the memory of people like Aquila Randall and his comrades in arms, who gave everything—their lives included—for Baltimore City.

Our city.

Our debt to them truly is, ᴍᴏɴᴜᴍᴇɴᴛᴀʟ.


Baltimore History, War of 1812

The Battle of Baltimore: An Eyewitness Account by Joseph Townsend (1756-1841)

What follows is my attempt to provide a faithful transcription of the four loose front-and-back diary pages, written by Joseph Townsend, describing the Battle of Baltimore in September of 1814. Townsend’s account is not aided by page numbers, so the order of the loose pages is somewhat difficult to discern. This difficulty is further compounded by the fact that some of the pages are missing pieces, along with the words, of course, that go on those pieces! Despite these hazards that have been thrown in my way, I’ve decided to trudge onward, with my transcription hat planted firmly and snugly on my head. Much to my surprise, I found that this account seems to mirror, at least somewhat, the structure of Townsend’s much more famous eyewitness account: that of the Battle of Brandywine, which he witnessed as a 21-year-old in September of 1777—an account which was published five years after his death, by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in 1846. Below is my transcription of Townsend’s recollection of Baltimore in 1814, complete with original spellings (and some minor corrections):

In the year 1814 [title from page five]
When information was received that the Troops / had left the City of Washington & got on board the Fleet / near the mouth of the Potowmac—various were / rumors the conjectures & Ideas entertained respecting their de- / stiny & further depredations, but the general / opinion was, that an attempt to capture Bal- / timore would take place—It therefore became / the duty of the Military department to be / prepared to meet the expected attack— / The Militia belonging to the City who / had marched for the defence of Washington & / had taken an active part in the engagement / at Bladensburg had returned & were kept / in readineſs for the defence of their own / City—& numerous Companies of Militia / from different parts were daily coming / in not only from the State of Maryland but / from the western part of Pennsylvania— / the rumour was generally spread [along the?] whole [begin page two] on the line of Encampment next to Town to / keeping up the fires that were in blast for Cooking / during the past day—that it might not appear / that they were on the Retreat—When the / morning arrived, the ground on which they / had encamped was cleared, & not a person / belonging to their Army to be discovered— // It appeared that there was an understanding / between the Generals on land & the Command- / ers on board the Fleet that if they effected a / landing above the Fort McHenry a sign / was to be given by their firing a rockett tow- / ards or over the City in order to notify the Ge- / nerals on land to rush into it with all their / forces to meet with those that might land from / on board the Veſsels—but if otherwise the Rock- / ett was to be thrown down the River, which / being done the whole Army was in motion / on the water, & progreſsing down to the Fleet at / [?] —being disgraced in the Attempt [begin page three] [The] country appeared to be aroused, & disposed to aſ- / sist in the defence of their Commercial Ci- / ty—Great unanimity was evident on this / interesting occasion— // The British Fleet after receiving the Troops was discovered to be / [in] the bay & appeared to be bound up, which / confirmed the opinion sustained respecting / their object—Fortifications & Batteries Co- / nsidered neceſsary were hastily prepared & Canon mounted / Whereon—a considerable number of Veſsels / were sunk acroſs the channel of the river near / Fort McHenry—& Tar barrels were placed / along the public road to be set on fire in / case of their attempting to march into the / City in the course of the night— // As is customary on such occasions of alarm / the Citizens had generally removed their families to the / Country to be out of the way of danger, which / [was] now to be dreaded, & the military had / surrounded them most of whom were encamped [begin page four] round the Eastern section of the City, but / Intercourse which was kept up with them, / in other respects, it appeared that the place was alive with the bustle & stir that neceſsa- / rily took place— // My family had retired to the Country near [?] on / after the scene of the wounded men [?] the afternoon of the memorable 12th after various ac- / counts had come in that the march of the Brits / was hastening toward the City—a number of / the wounded men had come in, & that the probability / was that the whole of the British Army would / have poſseſsion of the City before the next morn- / ing—I believed it right to remain at home & to / subject to what might occur—the night passed on / without anything extraordinary taking place— // There was considerable stir amongst the Milita- / ry the numbers collected from different parts / were very considerable & were encamped inside / the breast work, that had been hastily thrown up by the [men?] / [along?] the Eastern part of the City—being at a [g-] / [eneral?] view of their Enemy, who were encamped / [indecipherable, bottom of page mutilated] [begin page five] After the destruction at Washington city / the British Troops—they returned & embarked / on board the Fleet which lay in the Chesa- / peak bay & in some of the Rivers emptying / into it, & when collected they proceeded up / the bay to North Point at which place where they / effected their landing, having in view the ob- / struction of Baltimore as their next object in the next place / at this place their force was estimated at / about 6000 regular Troops and a company of blacks—exclusive of those who / manned the Bound Veſsels & Barges—these / Veſsels were sent up the Patapsco River to / attack the Fort McHenry, & the Troops w[ch?] / were landed at North Point were conduct under ed up Patapsco neck by the command of their Generals Roſs / Cockburn & Brooke— until whose object / was to conduct them up Patapsco neck / the east part of the city to be in readineſs to enter part of it as soon [begin page six] [as] a Bomb Veſsel had conquered the Fort / as they marched up on the morning after they had effected Men landing, they were / met with by the American Militia under / the command of Generals Stricker, Stans- / bury &c—who had marched down the / preceding afternoon & were in readineſs / to check their March of the British as they / progreſsed up—the Engagement commenced about noon & a brisk fire was kept up / between them for some, in which General / Roſs received his death wound—as they were / conducting him back to the Fleet on a Litter / they made a halt under the large Poplar tree / opposite to the entrance of Gorsuch’s lane, where / he died—After he fell the British Troops / were conducted by the surviving Generals & the / engagement being over, & night drawing on, they [begin page seven] encamped on the battle ground a little south / of the Methodist meeting house—they next / morning after their wounded soldiers were / sent in barges to the Fleet they marched up / in sight of Town & encamped on / orange f[ields?] & fields adjoining—at this place they remained / during the remainder of the day waiting for / succeſs of the Bomb Veſsels &c to silence Fort / McHenry, having commenced their opera- / tions for that purpose about 8 O Clock in the / morning—they continued kept up a continual fire / & Bombardment during the day without suc- / ceeding & did not decline their exertions / when night came on—about one or two O / Clock in some of their Veſsels & barges paſsed / the Fort in a secret manner & entered the / River with a view to effect a landing on the Peninsula between Boat & the basin—but / [in] this they were [most] grievously disobedient [?] [begin page eight] as their not knowing they had not knowledge of Fort Coventry [Covington] & a six / Gun Battery being prepared to receive them / & which was opened upon them unexpectedly / with a most tremendous fire—the British find- / ing themselves likely to be shattered to pieces & their Veſsels / sinking they there was a most terrifying uproar / amongst them & they hurried out of the River & / paſsed the Fort in greater haste than they did / when she went up—This circumstance with / some others in which they had been engaged through / the course of the day, proving unsucceſsful put / a final end to the expedition & daring attempt / notwithstanding they kept up the appearance of / the engagement until near 8 O Clock the next / morning, which proved to be for the expreſs purpose / of affording time for the land forces to retreat / on board the Veſsels laying at North Point—as they / had commenced their march for the purpose / about [9?] O Clock in the morning, leaving t[hen.] [?]

This is an amazing insight into the defense of the City of Baltimore—penned by one of its most respected residents. Joseph Townsend moved to Baltimore during the fall of 1783, after having spent a year teaching in a school along the Gunpowder. Once a resident of Baltimore Town, in 1784, Townsend founded the school now known as the Friends School of Baltimore. Ten years later, in 1794, he founded Baltimore Equitable Insurance. Friends School and Equitable still exist, and both institutions are thriving. This account just adds another chapter to an already robust historical legacy. What a wonderful gift you’ve given us, Mr. Townsend!

Geography, Indigenous People, Maryland History, Towsontown

Of Interest, Perhaps, to the Natives, Inhabitants, & Scholars of Terræ Mariæ.

About a month ago, I came across the following article hiding on the second page of the July 7th 1866 edition of The Baltimore County Union—the local weekly newspaper that was printed every Saturday morning in Towsontown, out of the office of the Longnecker Bros. (John Barr “J.B.” & Henry Clay “H.C.” Longnecker), from 1865 to 1909.

Neither before, nor after running across this excerpt, have I discovered anything as concise and informative, relating to the history, geography, and nomenclature of the State of Maryland. What makes this article such a gem is the fact that it pays equal attention to not only the settlers, but the region’s indigenous peoples as well—the inhabitants of the pre-European-contact Chesapeake region—thus giving voice to a demographic that is all-too-often marginalized, or silenced entirely.

That many of these names are still in use makes this a worthwhile read. However, while this article is inclusive of indigenous culture, it would be a mistake to think that all marginalized communities are equally represented. The population data from the 1860 U.S. Census can hardly be accurate, considering that it most likely only accounts for the state’s free and white population. So it is important to remember that there are enslaved African Americans who are missing from these numbers. In addition to the missing people, there are also a couple of missing counties—because two of them were created after 1866 (the year that this article was published): 1) Wicomico County, created from parts of Somerset & Worcester Counties in 1867, named after the Wicomico River (the derivation of which is included below); and 2) Garrett County, created from part of Allegany County in 1872, named after the president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, John Work Garrett.

So, without further ado, the article:

☞ We have been shown a “Geography of the State of Maryland,” designed to accompany “Cornell’s Grammar School Geography.”—It was got up, we believe, at the suggestion, of Rev. L. Van Bokkelen, of our county, the able State Superintendent of Public Instruction.—From it we extract the following valuable information concerning the origin of the names of the counties of our State, with the date of their formation, population in 1860, &c. Our readers will do well to cut it out and preserve it:

ST. MARY’S, the earliest ; called in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary ; formed in 1634 ;—character of the surface, undulating ; Geological formations, tertiary and post tertiary ; area, 300 square miles ; population, 15,213.

ANNE ARUNDEL, after the Lady Anne Arundel, wife of Cæcilius 2d Lord Baltimore ; formed in 1650 ; character of surface, hilly ; Geological formation, metamorphic, jurassic, cretaceous, tertiary ; area, 360 square miles ; population, 23,900.

KENT, after the English county of that name, by settlers from said county ; formed in 1650 ; character of the surface, gently rolling ; Geological formations, cretaceous and tertiary ;—area, 240 square miles ; population, 13,267.

CALVERT, after the family name of the Proprietary ; formed in 1654 ; character of surface, undulating ; Geological formations, tertiary ; area, 250 square miles ; population, 10,447.

CHARLES, after Charles Lord Baltimore ; formed in 1658 ; character of surface, rolling ; Geological formations, tertiary ; area, 450 square miles ; population, 16,517.

BALTIMORE, from the Proprietary’s Irish barony (Celtic bailte-mor, i. e., the large town ;)—formed in 1659 ; character of surface, hilly ; Geological formations, metamorphic and jurassic ; area, 600 square miles ; population, Baltimore city, 212,418 ; Baltimore county, 54,135.

TALBOT, after Lord Talbot, uncle of Lady Baltimore ; formed in 1660 ; character of surface, level ; Geological formations, tertiary ; area, 280 square miles ; population, 14,795.

DORCHESTER, after Earl Dorset, a family friend of the Calverts ; formed in 1666 ; character of surface, level ; in part marshy ; Geological formations, tertiary and post tertiary ; area, 600 square miles ; population, 20,461.

SOMERSET, after Edward Somerset, husband of Maria Calvert, daughter of Lord Baltimore ; formed in 1666; character of surface, level ;—Geological formations, tertiary and post tertiary ; area, 500 square miles ; population, 24,992.

CECIL, after the forename of the 2d Lord Baltimore ; formed in 1673 ; character of surface, hilly and undulating ; Geological formations, metamorphic, jurassic, and cretaceous, area, 350 square miles ; population, 22,862.

PRINCE GEORGE’S, from Prince George of Denmark ; formed in 1695 ; character of surface, moderately hilly ; Geological formations, jurassic, cretaceous, and tertiary ; area, 400 square miles ; population, 23,327.

QUEEN ANNE’S, after the reigning Sovereign of Great Britain ; formed in 1706 ; character of surface, gently rolling ; Geological formations, tertiary ; area, 400 square miles ; population, 15,961.

WORCESTER, in commemoration of the Stuart proclivities of the Palatine’s family ; formed in 1742 ; character of surface, level ; Geological formations, post tertiary ; area, 560 square miles ; population, 20,661.

FREDERICK, after Frederick, Prince of Wales ; formed in 1748 ; character of surface, undulating, and in part mountainous ; Geological formations, metamorphic, silurian, and triassic ; area, 580 square miles ; population, 46,591.

MONTGOMERY, after General Montgomery, who was killed at Quebec ; formed in 1766 ; character of surface, moderately hilly ; Geological formations, metamorphic and jurassic ; area, 425 square miles ; population, 18,322.

CAROLINE, after Caroline Harford, a niece of the Proprietary ; formed in 1773 ; character of surface, level ; Geological formations, tertiary ; area, 270 miles ; population, 11,129.

HARFORD, after Henry Harford, a nephew of the Palatine, and Governor of the Province ;—formed in 1773 ; character of surface, in the north, hilly ; in the south-east, level ; Geological formations, metamorphic and jurassic ; area, 400 square miles ; population, 23,415.

WASHINGTON, after General Washington ;—formed in 1776; character of surface, mountainous except in the Great Valley ; Geological formations, silurian and devonian ; area, 525 square miles ; population, 31,417.

ALLEGANY, after the great Indian tribe of the Alligewi ; formed in 1789 ; character of surface, mountainous and glade lands ; Geological formations, carboniferous, devonean, and silurian ; area, 1,100 square miles ; population, 28,347.

CARROLL, after Carroll of C., the signer of the Declaration of Independence ; formed in 1836 ; character of surface, hilly ; Geological formations, metamorphic and triassic ; area, 425 square miles ; population, 24,533.

HOWARD, after Colonel John Eager Howard, the elder ; formed in 1850 ; character of surface, hilly ; Geological formations, metamorphic ; area, 240 square miles ; population, 13,388.


Al-le-ga-ny—Corrupted from Al-le-ge-wi, i.e. the old settlers.
An-ne-mess-ex—The creek where are logs for building.
An-ti-e-tam—The swift current.
A-qua-keek or A-ka-keek—The thicket ; or the place for pic-nics.
A-qui-a—Passing between two headlands.
Cat-oc-tin—The place of many deer.
Chap-o-wan-sie—The red beech.
Chap-tic-o—Deep water.
Ches-a-peake—The great salt reservoir or bay.
Chic-a-hom-i-ny—Turkey lick, resort of turkeys.
Chic-a-mim-om-i-co—Where turkeys are plenty.
Chick-a-max-en—Turkey stone, where turkeys brood.
Ching-o-teague—Where pike is caught ; or, poor land.
Chop-tank—Where there is a bend, or turn-off.
Co-an, or Cow-an—The creek of pines.
Con-o-co-cheague—Very long.
Co-nol-o-wa—Having deep holes.
Co-ra-pe-chen—A fine running stream.
Cur-ri-o-man—Having much extent.
Gun-sen—Where we were called at or spoken to.
Lo-na-co-ning—The great right-hand opening or stream.
Ma-cho-dic—Big water.
Mag-o-thy—Little meadows.
Man-o-kin—The place of scalping, or the fort.
Mat-ta-po-ny—Where we had no bread.
Mat-ta-wo-man—Where we found nothing.
Mo-nic, Mo-ny—The place of assembling.
Mon-oc-a-cy—Having many large bends.
Nan-je-moy—The haunt of raccoons.
Nan-ti-coke—The first or head tribe.
Nas-e-ong-o, Nas-sa-wing-o—Where we killed deer ; or, black water.
Ne-ap-sco—Near foam or breakers.
Oc-co-quan—The boiling pots, i.e. the cooking ground.
Pam-un-key—The place of sweating-ovens or vapor-baths.
Tasp-o-tans-a, Pas-qua-hans-a—Where we go for boating.
Pat-ap-sco—Having white-capped waves.
Pat-ux-ent—Winding among loose stones.
Pec-at-on—Open water.
Pic-a-wax-en—Where our moccasins were torn.
Pis-cat-a-wa—Having dark-colored or shaded banks.
Po-co-moke—Having shell-fish.
Port To-bacc-o—Corrupted from Po-ta-phac-o, the crook between two hills.
Po-to-mac—Among black-walnuts ; or, the river highway.
Quant-i-co—The dancing-place.
Que-pong-o—The burnt pines.
Sin-e-pux-ent—Having many oyster-beds.
Sus-que-han-na—The stream with rapids.
Tuck-a-ho—Where deer are shy.
Wic-om-i-co—Where houses are built.
Wit-ip-kin—The place of buried skulls and bones.
Yoh-a-ga-ny, (first syllable pronounced yock,)—Running the contrary way ; all other streams joining the Chesapeake, while this goes into the Ohio.

Three other river names, Linganore, Octarara, and Tuscarora, are probably Iroquois terms, and were unintelligible to the Lenni-Lenape or Delawares.

As to the veracity of all of the facts recited above, well, I cannot personally vouch for them. But they were deemed good enough for promulgation to the youth of Maryland in 1866, and they certainly provide a fascinating insight into what people thought was important at the time. I suppose that we can thank the Rev. Dr. Libertus Van Bokkelen (1815-1889) for compiling this information, as he was then Maryland’s superintendent of public instruction. Van Bokkelen (as the keenly observant readers of this page may have already guessed) was not a native of Maryland, but rather a native of New York City—the grandson of an eighteenth-century Dutch immigrant, a Protestant-Episcopal clergyman, and an all-around interesting character in his own right (who may well merit a future article on The Monumental City). He seems to have been a rather inquisitive fellow, and ’tis possible that he compiled this information as much for himself, as he did for the children in Maryland’s public school system. Whatever the case, he evidently thought that this information was worth knowing.

And you know what?

He was right.

A lot of this information is still worth knowing.

Eastern Shore History, Revolutionary War, War of 1812

The Amazing Lifespan of John Mitchell Senʳ (1710-1816)


While today’s post has nothing to do with Baltimore City in particular, it does reference a small notice that ran in a Baltimore newspaper, nearly two centuries ago. As printed in the June 17th 1816 edition of the American & Commercial Daily Advertiser: “Died on the 3d inst. at his residence in Dorchester County, E.S. Md. Mr. JOHN MITCHELL, at the very advanced age of one hundred and five years and nine months.”1

This short notice, and the news that necessitated it, provides an interesting window into how news spread, organically, during the beginning of the nineteenth century.


James Mitchell Bigwood posing next to the grave of his fifth-great grandfather, John Mitchell Sen’r (1710-1816).

Truth be told, there is much confusion surrounding the date of death for John Mitchell Senr. His tombstone says, rather vaguely, that he “departed this life in 1815,” but this cannot be correct. Every single newspaper that reported his death, did so during the year 1816, and with someone who lived to be as old as John Mitchell Senr did, there is no way that newspapers would have delayed reporting that news for an entire year! The June 3rd 1816 date, referenced in the above newspaper notice, is also incorrect, for reasons that we will detail below. Based on the interpretation of the earliest known primary source, it seems clear that he actually died on May 20th 1816 … two hundred years ago, today!

We know May 20th to be his proper death date, because his death notice first appeared in a newspaper on the Eastern Shore—the Republican Star or General Advertiser in Easton, to be exact—on Tuesday Morning, May 28th 1816. It reads as follows: “DIED—On Monday last, at his residence in Dorchester county, E. S. Md. Mr. JOHN MITCHELL, at the very advanced age of one hundred and five years and nine months.”2 Had he died on Monday May 27th, the notice probably would have said “yesterday,” instead of “On Monday last.” So it is reasonable to assume that “Monday last” refers to the 20th day of the month.

The June 3rd vs. May 20th confusion is likely due to a bit of laziness at the Daily National Intelligencer in Washington, D.C., which appears to have been the first Capital-area newspaper to echo the news.3 It did so on Thursday June 6th, and assuming that it was referencing the above-mentioned Republican Star or General Advertiser report of May 28th, which said “Monday last,” it is possible that the editor at the Daily National Intelligencer, absentmindedly read it and thought it referred to the Monday of the week that he was already in, which would have been Monday June 3rd … thus beginning a snowball effect of misinformation, as many newspapers in major cities were more likely to have subscribed to a Washington, D.C. newspaper than to an Easton, Md. newspaper. Proof that lazy journalism is not just a byproduct of modernity—it stretches all the way back to the early 19th century, at the very least!


John Mitchell Senr has long been an interest of mine. Partially because he happens to be my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, but also because 18th & 19th-century centenarians were mighty uncommon. Consequently, the elder John Mitchell’s story is quite unusual for its time.

It is not the actual death itself that was newsworthy, but rather the fact that he had lived as long as he had. News of his longevity spread like wildfire up and down the east coast. This was 30 years before the Associated Press (AP) formed, so newswires—and telegraphy, for that matter—did not yet exist. There was, however, a method by which newspapers transmitted news to one another during the 1810s, which I alluded to above: newspapers subscribed to other newspapers. Sort of a pre-newswire wire service, shall we say. When the out-of-town newspapers would arrive at a newspaper office, editors or reporters would skim for the best little nuggets and bits of out-of-town news to include in their own papers.

The thought of a man living to be 105 years old is intriguing even now, during the 21st century, so it must have seemed doubly so to someone living during the early 19th century, when the infant mortality rate was much higher and the average lifespan much shorter. Accordingly, the death notice for John Mitchell Senr was picked up by newspapers as far afield as Charleston to the south, and Boston to the north. Each editor must have thought something along the lines of, “Whoa! John Mitchell on the Eastern Shore of Maryland lived to be 105 years old! That’s the kind of news that people want to read. I’ve GOT to include that one.”

John Mitchell Newspapers

Some of the newspapers that picked up the death notice for John Mitchell Sen’r.

Though the full list of newspapers which ran his notice remains unknown, it made it into at least the following editions: the aforementioned Republican Star or General Advertiser (Easton, Md.) on May 28th and the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) on June 6th, the Washington City Weekly Gazette (Washington, D.C.)4 on June 8thThe Columbian (New York City)5 on June 10thThe Albany Daily Advertiser (Albany, N.Y.)6 on June 12th, the City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Charleston, S.C.)7 on June 13th, the Commercial Advertiser (New York City)8 on June 13th, The Albany Advertiser (Albany, N.Y.)9 on June 15th, the New-York Spectator (New York City)10 on June 15th, the aforementioned American & Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, Md.) on June 17th, the Independent Chronicle (Boston, Mass.)11 on June 20th, the Columbian Centinel (Boston, Mass.)12 on June 21st, the Newburyport Herald, and Commercial Gazette (Newburyport, Mass.)13 on June 21st, the Salem Gazette (Salem, Mass.)14 on June 21st, the American Watchman (Wilmington, Del.)15 on June 26th, The Recorder (Boston, Mass.)16 on June 26th, the Hampshire Gazette & Publick Advertiser (Northampton, Mass.)17 on June 26th, the New-Jersey Journal (Elizabeth-Town, N.J.)18 on July 2nd, and lastly, the Camden Gazette (Camden, S.C.)19 on July 4th.

Not bad for an unlettered farmer from rural Maryland, huh?


Part of Mitchell’s Garden, the farm owned by John Mitchell Sen’r (1710-1816). This photo is looking toward the direction of the family burial ground.

In life, John Mitchell Senr may never have even traveled outside of the 20-mile radius surrounding his farm. But in death, he … quite literally … became a household name.


This was not just a case of someone claiming to be old. He was consistent when reporting his age, and when one looks at his story with a critical eye, the story checks out.

On July 21st 1764, the following appeared in Dorchester County land records:20

The Deposition of John Mitchel of sd County aged fifty four years or thereabouts deposeth & saith that about seventeen years agoe he was present when Thomas Mackeel & William Byus met as commiſsioners to take Dipositions conscerning the Bounds of the Land formerly calld Indian Quarter now called Thomas Chance when John Soward swore that his Father John Soward told him that at the place where he now shews was a pine as well as he remembers which was the first bounder of Indian Quarter & farther saith not.

John (his  marke) Mitchel

Sworn to ye 21st Day of 7br. 1764 before
Robt. HonHugh Spedden,

The fact that he deposed to be 54 years old or thereabouts, and then proceeded to recite the particulars of an event that he had witnessed relating to a boundary dispute, some 17 years prior—roughly around the year 1747 or so—lends a good deal of credence to his claim.

He would have had no reason to lie. And his claiming to be 54 years old in July of ’64 would place his birth date sometime around July of 1710, give or take a few months—which lines up beautifully with someone who would have been pushing 106 in May of 1816!


Whence these Mitchells came is not exactly certain. The family lore has it that one William Mitchell and his wife, Elizabeth Gibbs, immigrated from Edinburgh, Scotland to Bermuda in 1612. Supposedly William and Elizabeth had a son named William Junr in Southampton Parish, Bermuda, in 1623, and this younger William is alleged to have fathered a son named John Mitchell. As the story goes, it was these Mitchells who immigrated to the Province of Maryland and settled in Dorchester County in 1684, where the John Mitchell (son of William Junr), supposedly fathered the John Mitchell Senr (1710-1816) who is the subject of this article.

This Scotland-to-Bermuda-to-Maryland story is one that has always piqued my interest. But does it match up with the historical record? I decided to do some digging to see if I could either confirm, or deny, its veracity. This proved to be a tricky task, though, since the Dorchester County Courthouse burned down in 1851 (thanks, apparently, to some maleficent arsonists). The county register’s office went up in flames, and 1777-1851 probate records are nonexistent. However, by some miracle, the clerk’s office records were salvaged from the fire, and county land records stretch all the way back to the year of its founding: 1669.

So, while the lack of probate records is a definite handicap, one can use land (and other) records to piece together whatever fragments of information remain, and with a little luck, further analysis of those fragments can form a story. In the specific case of John Mitchell Senr, there is also a very visual component to this analysis. He was an unlettered man, so he made his ‘mark’ on documents, instead of providing a signature. While it would be easy to write him off as being an ignorant, uneducated man, the type of mark that he made actually suggests that—while he may not have been able to read, or write in full sentences—he did possess a base level understanding of the alphabet. This is because, instead of the more traditional ‘x’ mark that is so often seen on old documents, John Mitchell Senr wrote a capital ‘I’ with serifs and a slash through the middle. “Why did he write an ‘I’?” you may be asking. Well, up until the 17th century, the letters ‘I’ and ‘J’ were interchangeable in the English language—especially in Latin texts. For instance, people named John often wrote their name as ‘Iohn’. Since John Mitchell Senr was born in 1710 (and raised by parents who were born in the 17th century!), it makes sense that he would have used the ‘I’ in this fashion. So, essentially, when he made his mark, he was writing the first letter of his given name. He may not have known all 26 letters, but he knew his letter! And his letter was ‘I’. [In order to properly convey the visual effect of his mark, I have chosen to display it as a ‘ᵻ’ glyph, as that is how it looks on most documents.]

Like tracing a name, one can follow John Mitchell’s glyph backwards in time—it is a trail of sorts. Wherever, and more importantly, whenever John Mitchell Senappeared, to make his mark, we are able to anchor him to a specific time and place.


The ‘marke’ of John Mitchell Sen’r (1710-1816)

The earliest such instance of John Mitchell making his distinctive ‘ᵻ’ mark on a document, as far as I know, is a Dorchester County land deed from August 20th 1732. John Mitchell (who had not yet acquired the Sensuffix) witnessed a land transaction between Joseph Thomas and his son, John Thomas. Since John Mitchell was witnessing a legal document, he must have, therefore, been of legal age by August of 1732, which suggests that he was at least eighteen years old by that point … meaning that the very latest that he could have been born was August of 1714. Though this does not prove that he was born in 1710, conversely, it does not disprove it. At the very least, it verifies and cements his claim that he was a legitimate centenarian by the time of his death in May of 1816!

The crucial ‘link’ which proves the placement of John Mitchell Senr within the Mitchell family is a land deed from June 15th 1801:21

This Indenture made the 15th day of June in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and one between John Mitchell Senr of Dorchester County and State of Maryland planter of the one part and Richard Mitchell and Levin Mitchell of the said County and State aforesaid planters of the other part. Witneſseth that for and in Consideration of the love and and Affection which the said John Mitchell Senr hath and do bear unto his son Richard Mitchell aforesaid and his Grand Son Levin Mitchell aforesaid and also in Consideration of the Sum of Ten Shillings Current Money to me the said John Mitchell Senr in hand paid by the said Richard Mitchell and Levin Mitchell at or upon the Sealing and delivery of these Presents the receipt whereof I the said John Mitchell Senr do hereby Acknowledge hath given granted, aliened enfeoffed Confirmed and Conveyed, and by these presents doth give Grant, alien enfoeff convey and Confirm unto the said Richard Mitchell for and during his natural life and after his deceaſe unto the aforesaid Levin Mitchell and his heirs forever, All that part of two Tracts of Land lying and being in Dorchester County and State of Maryland affsd called Mitchells Garden and Johns Garden excepting that part of the Mill Point where the old Mill now Stand until the said Mill shall be movd off the said Mill Point, now in the occupation tenure and Poſseſsion of the ſaid Richard Mitchell and Levin Mitchell after the Decease of the said Richard and to Levin Mitchell and his heirs forever as aforesaid together with all and singular the houses outhouses Gardens trees, fences liberties advantages Emoluments hereditaments and appurtenances to the same belonging or any ways Appertaining, and the reversion and reversions, remainder and remainders, rents and Services iſsues and profits of all and singular the Lands and Premises hereby released and Confirmed or mentioned or intended so to be and all the Estate right, title, Interest property claim and demand whatsoever in Law or Equity of him the said John Mitchell Senr of in and to the Premises or any part or parcel thereof with the and every of the Appurtenance. To Have and To Hold the said Lands and Premises hereby Granted and Confirmed or mentioned or intended so to be with the Appurtenances to the only proper uses benefit and behalf of the said Richard Mitchell during his natural life as aforesaid and after his decease to his son Levin Mitchell and his heirs forever. And the said John Mitchell Senr for himself and his heirs executors and Administrators doth Covenant grant and agree to and with the said Richard Mitchell and Levin Mitchell afsd by these Presents that the said Richard Mitchell and Levin Mitchell shall and may lawfully from time to time and at all times hereafter Peaceably have hold use occupy Poſseſs and enjoy the said Lands and Premises hereby Granted and Conveyed with all and Every of the appurtenances free clear and fully discharged or will and Sufficiently save and keep harmleſs and indemnify from and against all former and other Gifts grants and bargain according to the true intent and meaning of these Presents. In Witneſs whereof the said John Mitchell Senr to these Presents have hereunto set his hand and ſeal the day and year first above Written, Signed, Sealed & Delivered

John (his  mark) Mitchell Senr {seal}

In the presence of…
Jno Stevens
Levin Woolford


Richard Wesley Mitchell’s house at Kilmaurie Farm.

In the above deed, John Mitchell Senr is giving a portion of his farm, Mitchell’s Garden, to his son, Richard Mitchell, and his grandson (the son of Richard), Levin Mitchell Senr. This farm—owned by Richard Mitchell—now bears the name Kilmaurie, and because it was originally part of the Mitchell’s Garden tract, sits directly adjacent to Mitchell’s Garden. It has a family burial ground on the property which contains not only Richard Mitchell (c.1740-1824), but his son, Levin Mitchell Senr (1768-1849), his grandson, Levin Mitchell Junr (1799-1846), and his great-grandson, Richard Wesley Mitchell (1827-1900)—the respective 5th-, 4th-, 3rd-, and 2nd-great grandfathers of yours truly—all of which corresponds with the entries in the Mitchell family bible.


The Mitchell Family Graveyard at Kilmaurie.

Since John Mitchell’s grave is located in the burial ground at Mitchell’s Garden, adjacent to Kilmaurie, and his mark in the 1801 land deed corresponds with the mark in the 1764 deposition, we may reasonably conclude the John Mitchells from the land records and the one buried at Mitchell’s Garden are the same person. But we can do even better than that!


Following the chain of title backwards in time for Mitchell’s Garden, we find that before the land fell into Mitchell hands, it was originally called John’s Garden, and it was owned by a fellow named Richard Owen (sometimes listed as Richard Owing). Richard Owen purchased the property for 5,700 ℔ of Tobacco from James Williams on January 6th 1673/4, and maintained it until his death in 1713. A look at Owen’s Last Will & Testament provides some VERY interesting clues:

In the Name of God amen I Richd. Owing of Dorchester Co:ty being sick & weak but in perfitt sence & memory am minded to ~ settle my temporall affairs in a Christian Like manner first I bequeath my Soul to almighty God that I am aſsured of Pardon for my Sin’s don in this Life & this to be my Last will & Testamnt: making voyd all other wills & Testamt: here before made I appoint my Lo: wife Jane my whole & Sole Extx: of this my last will & Testamt: & of all & singular my Goods & Chattles & that my Grand=ſon Richd. Michall I joyne wth: ye afore Jane in ye Executr-ſhip afsd: the ye sd. Jane to have ye sole authority dureing her naturall Life & to pay all my just debts out of my Estate I likewiſe give unto ye afsd. Richd. Michall all my two Tracts of Land ye one called John’s Guarding ye other called Owings adventure during his naturall Life & after his deceaſe to his two ſon’s Richd. & Jno: to be equally divided between them Jno: to have ye first Choyce & after ye deceaſe of ye sd. Jno: Michal & ye sd. Richd. I give ye sd. Land to ye male heirs of their body’s ~ Lawfully begotten for evermore & for want of heirs then to ye next & nearest of blood to ye sd. Richd. Owing I likewiſe ordr. what is due from Jno: Brānock to me be left in his hands to be of Council for my wife Jane in her Capacity & likewiſe for my Grand=ſon Richd. Michal in his Capacity that I may be buried in Christian Like manner Sealed & delivered in the Prsence of us this tenth day of Septembr: 1713 //

Richd: Owing {seal}

Jno: Brannock
Jos: (his T marke) Thomas
Jno: Moriſon //

And on ye back was Endorsed //

Decembr: ye 3d. 1713 //

Came before Jno: Brannock & Jos: Thomas two of ye wth: in Evidences & made oath on ye holly Evangelist that they saw Richd: Owing ſingn ſeal publish & declare ye wth: in written will to be his last will & Testamt: & that he was at ye same time of a Perfect & sound mind & memory to ye best of their knowledge Juratt Corum Mee Rogr. Woolford Depty. Comry. ~

Dorchester County // Mr: Rogr. Woollford whereas my deceaſed husband Richd. Owing by his last will & Testamt. made me ye Exrx. of his ſaid will wth: my Grandſon Richd. Michel but for as much I am very ancient & weake I pray that you would be pleaſed to grant Lrs. of Admracon unto him ye sd. Richd: wholly in his name for I have Riſigned my Right unto him as witneſs my hand & ſeal this ſeaventh day of Decembr. 1713 //

Jean Oen {seal}

Test Jno: Brannock

Wow! So John’s Garden (which was eventually resurveyed and renamed Mitchell’s Garden) was passed down to a ‘Richard Mitchell’ by his grandfather, Richard Owen! And the document further tells us that Richard Mitchell, grandson of Richard Owen, had two sons: one named ‘Richard’ and one named ‘John’.


The signature of Richard Mitchell the Elder, and the mark of Richard Mitchell the Younger.

By Richard Owens’s specification that John should have the first choice of lands, it would seem that John was the older of the two Mitchell brothers. And, sure enough, when our John Mitchell acquired John’s Garden on June 13th 1744, he did so from a ‘Richard Mitchell’ and a ‘Richard Mitchell the Younger’—which we can presume was his father and his brother. A telling detail that would be easy to overlook on this land deed is the area where both Richard Mitchells (the elder & the younger) affixed their signatures and seals, confirming the validity of the transaction. Richard Mitchell signed the document in full, Richd Michell, while Richard Mitchell the Younger made his mark—a large capital R at that. So the elder Richard was lettered, while the younger Richard was not … just like John Mitchell! And, the younger Richard made his mark by writing the first letter of his given name … just like John Mitchell! Is anyone seeing a pattern here…? It seems that, not only were John Mitchell Senr and Richard Mitchell the Younger nearly identical in age, but they both had the exact same level of education, which further entrenches them as, not only close contemporaries, but brothers as well. Given the specifics laid out by Richard Owen in his Last Will & Testament, and the manner in which John’s Garden was transferred from one party to another, we may correctly conclude that Richard Mitchell the Younger, and John Mitchell Senr, are the same Mitchells mentioned in Owen’s will and, thus, his great-grandchildren!

By 1744, the year that John’s Garden transferred into the possession of John Mitchell Senr, both John and his brother were in their mid-thirties, likely well into raising families of their own. Their father was evidently still alive, but he was probably in his mid-fifties—not incredibly old for the time, but certainly not young either. Since Richard Owen deposed that he was “aged fifty six” in November of 1700, he was probably born in the year 1644, which would mean that any grandson of his, who would have been old enough to have had a child by the year 1710, (Richard Mitchell the Elder) was probably born sometime during the late 1680s or early 1690s—roughly around 1692, let’s say. This gets the Mitchells almost back to their supposed 1684 date of arrival. But I have my doubts as to whether or not they actually settled in Maryland in 1684, because the records would seem to suggest that they were actually here earlier than that.

There are two Mitchell brothers—Abraham & Mark—who lived in Dorchester County during this time frame. Abraham died in 1723, and Mark died in 1734, suggesting that they were likely both relatively old by that point. And there was a ‘Mark Mitchell’ from Dorchester County who was paid 300 ℔ of Tobacco by the Upper & Lower Houses of the Maryland General Assembly for military services rendered during the punitive expedition against the Nanticoke (a.k.a., the “Nanticoke Indian War”) of 1678. This, most likely, is the Mark who died in 1734. Assuming that he was at least 18 years of age during his military service (placing his birth year around 1660), he would have been around 74 years old at the time of his death—which would certainly explain the general shakiness of the ‘marke’ on his Last Will & Testament. In fact, neither Abe, nor Mark, were lettered, and both made their respective signs—an A and an M—on official documents. And Richard Mitchell the Elder (the lettered one) appears to have been closely associated with both! When Abraham’s Will went to probate, Richard appeared before the court and testified that he had actually written Abe’s will for him by hand, and then read it out loud to him before Abe agreed to its terms and wrote his giant, capital A next to the seal. And in Mark Mitchell’s Personal Inventory from 1734, “a (sic) old Gun & Augur” is listed among his property … might this be the very gun that he used during the 1678 expedition against the Nanticoke?! Further solidifying a relationship, the following signatures—Richd Michell, and the R mark of Richard Mitchell the Younger—are shown as “kindred” of the deceased. So, it seems clear that Richard Mitchell the Elder & Richard Mitchell the Younger were both close blood relations of Mark & Abraham Mitchell. What that blood relationship was, exactly, remains unclear. They may have been a son and grandson. In 1734, Richard the Elder would have been in his mid-forties, and Richard the Younger in his early-to-mid twenties; the younger Richard was certainly old enough to sign a legal document like the Inventory for his grandfather.

The working hypothesis is that Richard the Elder & Richard the Younger were direct descendants of Mark Mitchell. Mark seems like the most likely candidate based, in part, on an interpretation of the land records surrounding a tract of land called Paradice. This tract—which lay on the south side of Fishing Creek, off of the Little Choptank River in Dorchester County—was deeded from Thomas Vickers & Elizabeth his wife, of Dorchester County, to Abraham Mitchell of Dorchester County on March 15th 1720. In Abraham Mitchell’s aforementioned Last Will & Testament, made just a little under two years later on January 24th 1722, he left all of his land to Anne Vickers, the daughter of Thomas Vickers. Yet he did so with the following caveat: “if it please God the said Anne Vickers Dyd wthout iſſue then the Land ſhall fall to Mark Mitchell and the heirs of his body Lawfully begotten.” Anne Vickers must have died without issue, because twelve years later on April 30th 1734 when Mark Mitchell made his Last Will & Testament, he left a tract of land called Paradice to his four daughters—to them and their heirs forever. This means that at some point, the tract of land “fell” from Abraham Mitchell to his brother Mark Mitchell. None of Mark’s daughters are named in his Will, and there is no mention whatsoever of a possible son. But just because there is no mention of a son does not mean that a son did not exist. By the time that Mark Mitchell wrote his Last Will & Testament in 1734, Richard Mitchell the Elder would have already been adequately taken care of in terms of inheritance. Remember that Richard the Elder had been named in the Will of his grandfather, Richard Owen, 21 years before. So, perhaps, knowing that his father-in-law had made his son a legatee, Mark saw no need to add onto his son’s already fairly lucrative inheritance. Especially when Mark had four other children to provide for—his four daughters. Regardless, whether it was an outcome that Mark Mitchell had intended or not, after his death, somehow, Paradice mysteriously wound up in the possession of Richard Mitchell the Elder and his son, Richard Mitchell the Younger. Mark was dead by June 12th 1734—the date that his Last Will & Testament was admitted to probate—and yet just over one year later, on June 14th 1735, Richard the Elder & Richard the Younger, in tandem, deeded Paradice to Thomas Vickers. So, since it wound up in Richard’s hands after Mark’s death, going off of Abraham’s aforementioned caveat that the land should pass from Mark to the “heirs of his body Lawfully begotten,” we may reasonably conclude that Richard Mitchell the Elder was … one of the “heirs” that was “Lawfully begotten” from Mark Mitchell’s “body” … a.k.a. Mark Mitchell’s son!

Mitchell bloodline aside, it also seems clear that there was a very, very close relationship between the Mitchell and the Vickers families. The way that both intertwine just in terms of the chain of title for Paradice, is pretty ridiculous: the tract passed from Vickers, to Mitchell, to Vickers, to Mitchell … to Mitchell, and then back into Vickers hands! It would not be in the least bit surprising if one, or more of these Mitchells, was married to a Vickers bride.

They may all have been married to Vickers women.

And Elizabeth Vickers, the wife of Thomas?

She may have even been a Mitchell.

The American & Commercial Daily Advertiser. 17 June 1816. p. 2, col. 5. [link]
2. The Republican Star or General Advertiser. 28 May 1816. p. 3, col. 3. [link]
3. The Daily National Intelligencer. 6 June 1816. p. 3, col. 4. [link]
4The Washington City Weekly Gazette. 8 June 1816. p. 232, col. 3. [link]
5. The Columbian. 10 June 1816. p. 2, col. 5 -to- p. 3, col. 1. [link]
6. The Albany Daily Advertiser. 12 June 1816. p. 3, col. 1. [link]
7. The City Gazette and Commercial Daily Advertiser. 13 June 1816. p. 2, col. 3. [link]
8. The Commercial Advertiser. 13 June 1816. p. 2, col. 5. [link]
9. The Albany Advertiser. 15 June 1816. p. 1, col. 3. [link]
10. The New-York Spectator. 15 June 1816. p. 2, col. 5. [link]
11. The Independent Chronicle. 20 June 1816. p. 3, col. 2. [link]
12. The Columbian Centinel. 21 June 1816. p. 2, col. 4. [link]
13. The Newburyport Herald, and Commercial Gazette. 21 June 1816. p. 3, col. 3. [link]
14. The Salem Gazette. 21 June 1816. p. 3, col. 3. [link]
15. The American Watchman. 26 June 1816. p. 3, col. 3. [link]
16. The Recorder. 26 June 1816. p. 104, col. 4. [link]
17. The Hampshire Gazette & Publick Advertiser. 26 June 1816. p. 3, col. 3. [link]
18. The New-Jersey Journal. 2 July 1816. p. 3, col. 1. [link]
19. The Camden Gazette. 4 July 1816. p. 4, col. 2. [link]
20. Dorchester Co., L.R. Liber Old 19, folio 429-432. [link]
21. Dorchester Co., L.R. Liber H.D. 17, folio 231-235. [link]

Annapolis History, Baltimore History, War of 1812

St. John’s College: The Convergence of Walter Farnandis & Francis Scott Key

Well, folks, today’s entry was a rather spur-of-the-moment one. It all stems from a newspaper notice that was printed, on this day, 215 years ago—November 24th 1800.

When last we spoke, we used Walter Farnandis as a test subject for our 1815 Baltimore City map exercise. Today, let us return—however briefly—to Mr. Farnandis’s story.

As a veteran of the War of 1812, and one of Baltimore’s gallant ‘Old Defenders’ who came to the aid of the city during its darkest hour, Walter is already what we historians would refer to as a “person of interest”… But recently, a juicy new tidbit came to light, and it has ratcheted up his interest level—considerably so!

Walter Farnandis was born in Charles County, Maryland, on May 9th 1782, the son of Capt. James Farnandis—one of the famous ‘Maryland 400’—and Ann Elizabeth Wallace Farnandis, his wife.[1] On February 20th 1790, James explicitly stated in his last will and testament: “its my will and deſire that my two ſons Samuel & Walter Fernandis [sic] get proper Education then to be bound out at Walter Stones discretion either to a trade or to any kind of buſineſs that the ſaid Walter Stone thinks proper.”[2] After he died that spring, his young sons Samuel and Walter likely continued their schooling. But Walter Stone’s death in 1791 and his complete omission of the brothers Farnandis from his will almost assures that they were never bound out by him to any kind of trade or business, which leaves quite a gap in their respective life stories.[3] And as if their omission in Walter Stone’s will weren’t already strange enough, they went completely unmentioned in the will of their stepmother, Chloe McPherson Farnandis, as well.[4] By the time that Chloe’s will had been proved on May 2nd 1796, 13-year-old Walter was essentially an orphan, and whatever happened to him between Stone’s death and his arrival in Baltimore City during the early 19th century has long been a mystery. That is … until now!

Late one night, while combing through the far reaches of the internet on a research binge, I turned up the following nugget of information: Walter Farnandis, apparently, graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis. Wow! It proves that, even if we don’t know how he was able to do it, he managed to extend his education all the way through to the collegiate level. An uncommon distinction for most 18th-century Americans, much less an orphan! It places him in some rather exclusive company, probably due to the generosity of an unknown benefactor. St. John’s was—and still is—one of the best institutions of higher learning in the state.

According to a college register published in 1856 (coincidentally the year of Walter’s death), his classmates in the Class of 1799 included: Thomas Beale Dorsey, Thomas Rodgers, James S. Grant, Robert C. Stone, Dennis Claude, Philip W. Thomas, James Shaw, George Washington Parke Custis, Philip I. Thomas, Matthias Hammond, Beale M. Worthington, Kensey Harrison, and James Cheston.[5]

Plus, aside from the relationships that he likely cultivated within his own class, his presence at St. John’s during the 1790s raises the possibility for all sorts of other fantastic connections. Since he later fought in the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, perhaps nothing is more exciting than the possibility that he may have known, or at least crossed paths with, Francis Scott Key—a member of the Class of 1796.[6] I need not detail Key’s historical significance here… I feel certain that readers of The Monumental City require no introduction to him and his exploits. But since 18th-century American colleges were small, fairly exclusive, tight-knit communities, Key and Farnandis almost certainly knew one another… Or, at least, knew of one another.

As luck would have it, my question (as to whether or not the two crossed paths) was answered nearly as quickly as it was asked. From the aforementioned November 24th 1800 edition of The Telegraphe and Daily Advertiſer:[7]

ANNAPOLIS, November 20.

On Wedneſday the 12th inſtant, a commencement for conferring degrees in St. John’s college, was held in the college hall, before a very large and reſpectable audience, conſiſting of the honorable the legiſlature of the ſtate, and the gentlemen and ladies of the city. The vice principal opened the buſineſs of the day with a ſolemn prayer to the Supreme Being, after which the candidates proceeded with the public exerciſes in the following manner: 1. A latin ſalutatory oration, by Mr. Richard Brown, of Virginia. 2. An oration on the character of a good citizen, by Mr. C. Stone, of Maryland. 3. An oration on the modern philoſophy, by Mr. Walter Fernandes, of Maryland. 4. An oration on the advantages to be derived from the ſtudy of hiſtory, by Mr. James Boyle, of Maryland. 5. An oration on ridicule, as the teſt of truth, by Mr. John Sanders, of Maryland. 6. An oration on party ſpirit, by Mr. Philip Thomas, of Maryland. The degree of bachelor of arts was then conferred by the principal of Meſſrs. Richard Brown, Robert C. Stone, Walter Fernandes, James Boyle, John Sanders, Philip Thomas, and Thomas Rogers—Meſſrs. James S. Grant and Thomas Dorſey, who were prevented from attending the commencement with their claſs, were alſo admitted to the ſame degree. At the ſame time, Meſſrs. Charles Alexander, Thomas Chaſe, John B. Ducket, John C. Herbert, John J. Tſchudy, Richard Harwood, William Cooke, Robert H. Goldſborough, Francis Key, Daniel Murray, John Shaw and Carliſle Whiling, alumni of St. John’s college were admitted to the degree of maſter of arts. 7. Valedictory oration by Mr. Thomas Rogers, of Maryland. The principal then cloſed the buſineſs of the commencement with a ſhort addreſs to the graduates reſpecting their future conduct in life, and concluded by commending them to the care of the Almighty Governor of the Univerſe.

Amazing! It’s interesting that the college register says that he graduated in the Class of 1799, while the newspaper account of his commencement ceremony makes it rather clear that he was actually in the Class of 1800. And of course his name is spelled incorrectly in the paper… An all-too-typical error. Regardless, we now know for a fact that—at the very least—Francis Scott Key both saw and heard Walter Farnandis speak! And likely vice versa. Not only that, but Key received his A.M. from St. John’s on the same day when, and at the same ceremony where, Walter Farnandis received his A.B.!

Of additional interest is the fact that the college register lists Jesse Eichelberger as a member of the Class of 1800.[8] Though not in the commencement article from November of that year, Eichelberger was most definitely a student at St. John’s College; his pertinence here being the fact that he served as a first lieutenant in the Baltimore Fencibles—the same unit in which Walter Farnandis served as a private during the Battle of Baltimore.[9] Thus, Walter undoubtedly saw and took orders from his former St. John’s classmate at Fort McHenry during the bombardment on September 13th & 14th 1814. Eichelberger’s post as the second in command in the Baltimore Fencibles may have even been the reason why Walter chose to join that particular unit—maybe he fancied the idea of serving in the same outfit with an old college buddy.

So, the $64,000 question, of course, is: did Walter Farnandis & Francis Scott Key ever talk about the Battle of Baltimore, after the fact? Perhaps at a St. John’s College reunion in Annapolis? Maybe Key even had dinner at Walter’s house, No. 48 Hanover street, years later, and regaled the Farnandis family with his recollection of watching the bombardment from his truce vessel among the Royal Navy’s fleet in the harbor… Followed, of course, by Walter giving his recollection of the same event, from the exact opposite point of view. These two actually saw the rockets’ red glare—the bombs bursting in air. How incredible it would have been to listen in on their hypothetical conversation!

Unless someone turns up a letter, journal, or diary entry which recounts an interaction like the one imagined above, it will have to remain a hypothetical situation for now.

But a huge part of being an historian is using one’s imagination in conjunction with the facts at hand. And in this particular case, the facts at hand spark the imagination quite a bit!

1. For year of birth, see Walter’s tombstone in Green Mount Cemetery. The day & month are from family records. James Farnandis’s biography at the Maryland State Archives details his placement in the Maryland 400.
2. Charles County Will Book, 1788-1791, pp. 386-7. [link]
3. Charles County Will Book, 1791-1801, pp. 47-52. [link]
4. Charles County Will Book, 1791-1801, pp. 333-5. [link] Curiously, Chloe provides for her young stepdaughters, Amilla & Ann, but not her stepsons, Samuel & Walter.
5. Proud, John G., Jr., A.M., Register of St. John’s College, MDCCCLVI, Annapolis, St. John’s College [printed by Robert F. Bonsall], 1856, p. 4. [link]
6. Proud, op. cit., p. 3. [link]
7. The Telegraphe and Daily Advertiſer. 24 November 1800. p. 3, col. 1-2. [link]
8. Proud, op. cit., p. 4.
9. Saffell, Charles C. The Citizen Soldiers at North Point and Fort McHenry, September 12 & 13, 1814. Resolves of the Citizens in Town Meeting, Particulars Relating to the Battle, Official Correspondence and Honorable Discharge of the Troops. Also, Celebration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary, 1889. Reprint., Baltimore, Self Published, 1889, p. 12. [link]