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!

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]

Baltimore History, Reviews, War of 1812

Exploring Baltimore City in 1815: Finding Your Bearings

Anyone who knows me is well aware of the fact that I love to bridge the past with the present. And few things accomplish this better than the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s BEARINGS map, which depicts Baltimore City as it might have appeared during the year 1815.

BEARINGS, of course, is an acronym: Bird’s Eye Annotated Representational Image / Navigable Gigapixel Scene. A bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? I remember hearing about this project sometime in late 2013 / early 2014, when I was working for the Baltimore City Archives. My boss mentioned it to me one morning and the two of us talked about what a neat idea it was. It reminded me of my time as an undergraduate at Washington College, working on the Chestertown 3D & Pluckemin projects in the school’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) laboratory, making digital, 3-D models of historic buildings for placement into Google Earth. At WAC, our program of choice was Google Sketchup. Admittedly, I don’t know much about UMBC’s Image Research Center, but it sounds like the UMBC equivalent of WAC’s GIS lab, and I’d be willing to bet that Sketchup is a familiar program to the folks who created the BEARINGS map, if not the exact program that they used.

Initially, BEARINGS was supposed to be a visual supplement to the Maryland Historical Society’s In Full Glory Reflected: Maryland during the War of 1812 exhibition. The first iteration of the map went live at MDHS in June of 2014. I stopped by not long afterward to give it a look. I was impressed with what I saw, and even more so when I was told that this would be an on-going project—that as improvements were made, the most current, up-to-date version of the map would be uploaded into the exhibit, effectively hitting the *refresh* button and giving museum patrons the most accurate view of 1815 Baltimore that modern scholarship could provide. It was billed as being an interactive map, and to some extent, it is. But not fully. One of its drawbacks is the fact that it’s frozen in a viewpoint looking southeast. While I can understand that it might be a bit of a data or memory hog were it fully navigable, if it’s permanently fixed and the viewer can never orient the map to look in the opposite (northwest) direction—or any other direction for that matter—what’s the point of going to the trouble to make the buildings 3-D? It defeats the purpose if the viewer can’t view every structure in 360º. Aside from the directional component, however, my initial impressions of the BEARINGS map were overwhelmingly positive.

Okay, now that I’ve supplied you with my base observation, let’s perform a few experiments. Don’t worry, nothing too rigorous… We’re just going to attempt to see how well the BEARINGS project stacks up to its potential. BEARINGS is nothing short of a mammoth undertaking, so, with that in mind, how much accuracy and detail can we really expect? We’ll divide our inquiry into three separate categories: 1) buildings that were around in 1815 that still exist today, 2) buildings that were around in 1815 that no longer exist, but were photographed before they were demolished, and 3) buildings that were around in 1815, that no longer exist, and are not known to have been documented by photography—or any other method of visual documentation—before they were destroyed. This ought to provide us with a reasonable rubric for determining the success of BEARINGS thus far. We could use stars in our rating system, but I would prefer to go with something a little more Baltimore themed: like, say, the Battle Monument. An appropriate choice for the Monumental City, don’t you think? Each category will be assigned a number of Battle Monuments on a scale from one to five, and at the end, we’ll tally them for a final score.

Category No. 1: I’ll start with an institution that I know quite well: Friends School of Baltimore. As an active member of the Alumni Board, I consider myself to be the ‘keeper of the flame’ when it comes to the school’s historical identity and I think that, if prompted, any member of the current administration at Friends would affirm this notion. Since it is Baltimore’s oldest school (it was founded in 1784), common sense suggests that we should be able to find it on a map of circa-1815 Baltimore. And sure enough, it’s there! Or, at least … sort of—the only extant part of the original campus.

The Aisquith Street Meeting House, circa 1815.

The Aisquith Street Meeting House, circa 1815.

On January 29th 1784, a group of Quakers congregated in the Aisquith Street Meeting House to discuss the founding of a school. Among those present were Elisha Tyson (1749-1824)—the famous abolitionist—and George Matthews (1729-1811), the nail factory owner who had built the Aisquith Street Meeting House in 1781. To provide a bit of a context: Matthews was born the year that Baltimore Town was founded. While he lived to be a relatively old man, at the age of 82, bear in mind that Baltimore Town did not even attain its status as a ‘City’ until 1797, when Matthews was 68. So he was already pushing 70 years old when Baltimore City was brand new! I think that he would probably be pleased to know that, as of my typing this in July of 2015, his Meeting House is still standing at the corner of Aisquith and Fayette streets—a conceptual realization to him, and a relic of the 18th century to us. Though no longer in use as a house of worship, it is the city’s oldest religious structure, predating Old Otterbein Church (1785) by four years.

The Aisquith Street Meeting House as it looks today.

The Aisquith Street Meeting House as it looks today.

Now, when I say that the school is “sort of” shown on the BEARINGS map, what I really mean to say is that it’s partially there. For the first 16 years of its life as an academic institution, Friends held its classes in the meeting house—the structural centerpiece of the Quaker tract of land. But, around the year 1800, when it became clear that the Meeting House was no longer a suitable location for that purpose, a schoolhouse was built on the southeast corner of the property. For the next 30-some odd years, Friends School occupied that schoolhouse, which stood roughly near the intersection of present-day East Baltimore Street & Central Avenue. That is where the school would have been during the time that the BEARINGS map (circa 1815) is supposed to visually represent. Which means that this map shows the circa-1815 Friends School campus, but neglects to include the most important part—the actual schoolhouse! I’ll cut the BEARINGS team some slack on this, though. Since the structure was torn down long ago *, the Meeting House is the only part of that Friends School campus that still exists, and because most people are unaware that a separate schoolhouse ever stood on the southeast corner of the property, I can’t really fault the UMBC folks for neglecting to include something that they probably didn’t even know existed in the first place. Plus, the digital representation of the Meeting House is a spitting image of its current self. (Overall rating: 5 / 5 Battle Monuments)

* or maybe not? Another blog post forthcoming!

Category No. 2: This category was decidedly harder than the first. I wouldn’t even begin to know how many buildings existed in 1815 Baltimore that were photographed at some point during the 19th or 20th centuries, before they were demolished. Barring any huge disasters like the Baltimore Fires of 1873 and 1904, the fact that we even need this category is a shame! At least, that’s what we historic-preservationist types think… Granted, not every building that was standing in 1815 Baltimore was worthy of saving, but I can think of at least a dozen or so off the top of my head that deserved a longer lifespan than they got (and for each specific one that I can think of, there were probably at least five or ten more of equal cultural value). Anyway, while scouring the BEARINGS map, I came across a great example for this category—old St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, which stood on the east side of Sharp Street, roughly near the southeast corner of the present-day Baltimore Arena (or if you prefer its newest moniker, Royal Farms Arena, a.k.a. “The Chicken Box”).

St. Peter's Episcopal Church, circa 1815.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, circa 1815.

Not only is the original building from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church gone, but the parish is too; it merged with Grace Church to form Grace & St. Peter’s Church in the mid-19th century. The origins of St. Peter’s are sort of curious, really. It was founded by a small group of Baltimoreans in 1802. The organizational charter was drawn up by a Kentish—as in, Kent County, Maryland—lawyer, John Scott IV (the patriarch of the Baltimore branch of the Scott family), who had moved to town just three years before, in 1799. Evidently, he and a handful of others decided to break away from the more well-established St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. By that time, Old St. Paul’s was already—old, having been founded 110 years earlier in 1692 as one of the original 30 Anglican parishes in the Province of Maryland. Though I have not delved into the parish records of either church to see what might have initiated this particular schism, I’d be willing to bet that there’s an untold story in there somewhere…

St. Peter's Episcopal Church.

Old St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, sometime during the 1800s. This is a great shot, but if the Henry Fite House was still standing when this was taken, I can’t help but think that the photographer should have turned around and pointed the camera in the opposite direction!

As we can see from this 19th-century photograph of St. Peter’s, the BEARINGS group did a remarkable job of creating an accurate version of the building, based on the descriptive materials (i.e. photographs) that it had at its disposal. Well done. The truly astounding part about seeing St. Peter’s visualized on a 3-D map, however, is noticing just how close it was to the Henry Fite House, a.k.a. “Congress Hall,” where Continental Congress met from December 20th 1776 through February 27th 1777, when Baltimore Town was the Capital of the fledgling United States of America and the Fite House was its capitol. An all-too-unknown fact, if you ask me—and one that puts Baltimore in some rather exclusive company.

Here it is... The plaque that no one reads.

While, yes, this is a start—is this really the best that we can do as a city?

Only two places served as the nation’s capital during that pivotal year of 1776. Everyone knows about Philadelphia … but what about Baltimore?! Almost no one knows that our city (née town) shared the same honor. We, as a city, ought to make a bigger deal out of that, because aside from a small plaque which sits at the bottom of a ramp on the 1st-level concourse of the Baltimore Arena (that barely anyone bothers to stop and read), I can’t think of another way in which that momentous fact is celebrated. We simply must figure out a way to make that common knowledge! It would boost the level of civic pride tenfold. (Overall rating: 5 / 5 Battle Monuments)

Category No. 3: This category was the toughest. Where does one even begin? It’s almost a case of “you’ll never know what, or how much, you don’t know…” Perhaps this is where we can flex our research muscles, though. Alright, first thing’s first—we need to look up an address. Or maybe two. Since this map is rooted in the War of 1812 era, I think a veteran of the Battle of Baltimore would suffice. Thus, I’ll choose my favorite: Walter Farnandis (1782-1856), who served as a private in the Baltimore Fencibles—a militia artillery company commanded by captain Joseph Hopper Nicholson (1770-1817). Walter was at Fort McHenry during the famous bombardment, and he was among the troops cheering on the ramparts as the genuine Star-Spangled Banner was raised at 9 A. M. on September 14th 1814, as the dejected and defeated British Royal Navy sailed out of Baltimore’s Harbor, having failed in its primary objective to capture the fort and Baltimore City. While the 30’ x 42’ garrison flag made its way up the flagstaff, on a truce vessel anchored several miles out, a dashing Georgetown lawyer named Francis Scott Key witnessed the spectacle through his spyglass and, well—you know the rest. So, what was Walter Farnandis’s personal address in 1815…? Heck, while we’re at it, we might as well look up the address for Walter’s older brother, Samuel Farnandis (1779-1854), who also participated in the heroic defense of Baltimore. Thanks to James Lakin’s 1814-’15 City Directory—and despite his misspelling of their surname!—we now have an address for both:

Not surprising to see their names spelled incorrectly.

I know that spelling wasn’t standardized for most of recorded history. But, seriously… Can anyone spell the ‘FARNANDIS’ name correctly?

When studying early 19th-century Baltimore, it is impossible to really understand both the town’s social and physical layout without consulting a city directory. In those days, city directories served as a de facto Yellow Pages or White Pages—sans telephone numbers, of course. Everyone had a city directory. Everyone needed a city directory. Since they were so ubiquitous, making them was a profitable venture! The compilers of these directories were known as ‘directors’, and being the City Director was a sought-after position among the enterprising bunch. While many of these 19th-century directories are available online for research purposes, they don’t make much sense unless you actually know what you’re looking at. In the 1814-’15 edition, we see that A) Samuel Farnandis is listed at 113 Baltimore Street, and B) his brother Walter is at 129 ditto.

Great! But there’s one problem: these addresses don’t mean anything without the knowledge of what the layout of the city was like in 1814-’15, and because Baltimore has gone through at least two major street-numbering overhauls since then, sorting it all out is no easy task. The most recent overhaul took place during the autumn of 1886 (e.g. the residents who lived at 222 N. Calvert Street went to bed one night and woke up the next morning to find that their house’s address had changed to 912 N. Calvert Street), and if I recall correctly an earlier switch had taken place during the 1840s. But since we’re dealing with the beginning of the 19th century, we need something that corresponds with the very first street-numbering system. Enter James Robinson’s 1804 Baltimore City Directory.


Robinson’s street descriptions are most helpful. His hard work needs to be rewarded somehow… Can we retroactively give him a Key to the City? Is there a precedent for that…? Hmm. There ought to be!

Robinson’s directory is truly the ‘Rosetta Stone’ for understanding the layout of early 19th-century Baltimore. Unlike John Mullin, Cornelius William Stafford, James M‘Henry, William Fry, Charles Keenan, James Lakin, or Edward Matchett (who all organized their directories in alphabetical order), Robinson decided to organize his in geographical order, giving a name index at the front with corresponding page and line numbers, methodically tackling the city’s grid one street at a time. If he had not gone to the trouble to go “against the grain” and present his directory in this fashion, we would be at a total and complete loss for ever knowing how to interpret the other city directories that came before or after that point. And even though it’s nothing more than a list of names and addresses, Robinson’s directory actually makes for a fascinating read, as you can literally follow along as he’s walking the street, noting the inconsistencies and irregularities of a city in transition.


As we can see from the order, Samuel Farnandis’s dry goods store would have been two doorways east of South Calvert-Street and Walter’s would have been one doorway west of Public-Alley. Boom!

In many ways, the Baltimore City of 1804 was very much still the 18th-century Baltimore Town, with the word ‘City’ crudely scribbled over top of that second word. And 1815 Baltimore wasn’t much different, either. Robinson’s 1804 directory notes the rather nebulous nature of the then-current street-numbering system. The word “system” here is used very loosely. Many addresses had a ½ on the end to denote a building that had been erected between two others with already-established street numbers. And some had no street numbers at all! The word ‘next’ denotes structures that fall into this category. It’s pretty straightforward, really. This is a perfect snapshot of a rather imperfect Baltimore City as it existed in 1804, through Joseph Robinson’s eyes. In order to translate this snapshot into the present—or, in this case, 1815—modern scholars can use his street descriptions in conjunction with the fold-out Baltimore City Map that was attached inside the front cover of his directory.

The Farnandis Bros. dry goods establishments on Market Street, circa 1815.

The Farnandis Bros. dry goods establishments on Baltimore (née Market) Street, circa 1815. A) Samuel Farnandis’s store at 113 Baltimore Street, and B) Walter Farnandis’s store at 129 ditto.

So, with our Rosetta Stone in hand, we can see that the brothers Farnandis lived on the south side of Baltimore Street in 1814-’15—Samuel two doorways east of South Calvert-Street and Walter one doorway west of Public-Alley. And, voilà! Both buildings are present on the BEARINGS map! Sensational. Now, do we really know that this what these buildings looked like in 1815? Probably not. (And if the answer to that question is yes, then I would love to see what sources were used to make that determination.) Regardless of whether or not this is actually how these buildings would have looked in 1815, the important part is being able to visualize how they might have looked, and this map certainly accomplishes that goal through and through. Fantastic work, UMBC. My only deduction here is for the simple fact that the 1804 City Directory shows that seven structures stood on the south side of Baltimore Street, between South Calvert Street and Public Alley. The BEARINGS map only shows three. Had those other four buildings been torn down by 1815? According to Lakin’s 1814-’15 City Directory, the answer is no. They were all still standing—some even with the same inhabitants, ten years later. (Overall rating: 4.5 / 5 Battle Monuments)

The Final Tally: While it’s great that this map includes various contemporary landmarks at the bottom of the page that, when clicked on, will fly the viewer to those specific points on the map (and give the viewer a short written description for each one), I think the overall product is greatly limited by the fact that the viewer can’t manipulate the map to show a different orientation. So, in terms of the interactive nature of the user interface, I think it’s probably a 3 / 5 Battle Monument rating. Which gives us the following: (Total rating: 17.5 / 20 Battle Monuments)

Multiplied out to a 100-point scale, that gives the BEARINGS project thus far a rating of 87.5 / 100—a B+ for everyone who’s keeping score at home. That seems like a fair grade. With a little bit of tweaking, it could easily move up into the A- range—or higher!

The ambition of this project is magnificent, and it is by far one of the best educational tools that I have ever seen. My hope is that it will continue to inspire other history buffs as much as it has inspired me.

Even if you’re not sure whether or not you like history, or for one reason or another are confident that you don’t, I encourage you to give it a go—play around with this map for a little while.

Who knows…

In the process of finding your bearings in 1815 Baltimore, you might just find out that this whole history thing is pretty cool after all.