Elkton Again Saved from the British Torch

It was a warm summer evening along Little Elk Creek when the silence of that evening was broken: first by the sound of paddles, slapping the water, followed by the shouts of “fire” and the crack of muskets and rifles. Then more paddle splashes, cries of “huzzah” and then the quite returned. “Four of the enemy’s barges had been repulsed by a party of militia at Elkton, but that they were expected to return the seceding night in greater force.”
Thus began a memo from the Secretary of the United States Navy following an attack by British Marines against the forts at and near what is now Historic Elk Landing. The date was July 11th, 1814, over a year since the initial attack on the Head of Elk in April of 1813, an event which was observed and celebrated in historic reenactment and character interpretation last year. But this second attack came just one month before the British advanced on and burned Washington, D.C. and two months prior to the less successful bombardment of Fort McHenry, which resulted in the writing of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Secretary John Rodgers acted on his fears of another British attack on Elkton as he ordered re-enforcements of men and materials.
“I was induced to order Lieutenant Morgan of the Navy, to march 250 of the officers and seamen attached to the flotilla, to his assistance, for the defense of that place and the surrounding country.” According to Secretary Rodgers, Lt. Morgan and his troops made it to Elkton in record time.

“In three hours and 47 minutes, the whole detachment, completely armed, reached the courthouse at Elkton, with two heavy pieces of traveling artillery, notwithstanding the roads were excessively bad, and the night very dark and rainy.”

According to a report posted on the Historic Elk Landing web site titled “The War of 1812 and How it Relates to Elk Landing,” the attack came the next day.

“The British attacked with 3 barges, but again were repulsed by the Elkton militia. Due to the difficulty of navigating to Elkton and the positioning of the forts as well as the militia itself, the British were never able to successfully attack Elkton nor burn it.”

This second and third attack on Elkton by the British during the War of 1812, takes a back seat to the events occurring in Washington D.C. and later Baltimore as well as at Elk Landing itself the previous year. It was during that first attack that Frenchtown, its wharfs, two packet boats, and some store houses were burned. But it was the bravery of a 19 year old slave woman named Hettie Boulden who saved Elkton from the British torch by directing a squad of British Marines right into the cross hairs of the muskets, rifles, and cannons posted at Forts Hollingsworth and Defiance. The underground remains of Fort Hollingsworth were located in the spring of 2012 and were outlined for the 2013 re-enactment. Both that 1813 and the July 1814 attacks were some of the very few failures encountered by the British in their efforts to subdue their former colonies during this “Second War of Independence,” as it is sometimes called. The President and Dolley Madison barely escaped Washington before the British arrived, sacking and burning the city. The British were not stopped again until they were repulsed at Fort McHenry a month later. The war would continue for another three months, ending with the Battle of New Orleans, which was actually fought AFTER the peace treating ending hostilities was signed. But now we remember and celebrate the brave men of the Cecil Militia who successfully defended their families, farms, and country from foreign invasion… 200 years ago today!

More information about Historic Elk Landing, the foundation, the War of 1812, and Fort Hollingsworth is located on the foundation web site at http://www.elklanding.org
For more information about the War of 1812 in Cecil County, contact the Historical Society of Cecil County at http://www.cecilhistory.org

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The Battle of Elk Landing Revisited

Fort drawingLast April, the Historic Elk Landing Foundation observed and celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Elk Landing when British Marines advanced on Elk Landing in an attempt to take the fort by force. Thanks to the efforts of a local slave woman, Hettie Boulden, and the Cecil Militia manning the fort, the British were unsuccessful. However, this event did not happen in a vacuum. History, like nature, abhors a vacuum! As noted in his report on the discovery of Fort Hollingsworth in August of 2012, archeologist, James Gibb wrote that the British were essentially looking for revenge.
“(United States) land forces burned a number of Canadian towns, including the provincial capital of York (now Toronto), in many cases leaving the civilian inhabitants to survive the Canadian winter with little shelter or food.

Witness these secret orders from Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, to Colonel Sir Thomas Beckwith of the British Army dated 20 March 1813:

It having been judged expedient to effect a diversion of the Coasts of the United states of America, in favor of Upper and Lower Canada, which the American Government have declared it to be their intention to wrest from His Majesty in the course of the ensuing Campaign, Sir J. B. Warren will receive instructions to direct a Squadron to proceed with the troops named in the Margin [of this letter], towards the places on the Coast, where it may appear to him most advisable that a descent should be made.

The number and description of the Force placed under your Command, as well as the object of the Expedition itself, will point out to you that you are not to look to permanent possession of any place, but to the reëmbarking of the Force as soon as the immediate object of each particular attack shall have been accomplished.

As the object of the Expedition is to harass the Enemy by different attacks, you will avoid the risk of general action, unless it should become necessary to secure your retreat (Bathurst 1813, reproduced in Dudley 1992: 325).”

This is essentially what happened at Elk Landing. However, the local militia’s response caused a “general action” which the British did not want and thus resulted in their withdrawal.

Less celebrated, let alone observed, was a second battle at Elk Landing in July of 1814. Probably pushed into obscurity by another skirmish in Baltimore later that year involving Fort McHenry and the writing of a poem that just happened to become our National Anthem!

Gibb writes that prior to this second attack there was more correspondence between British naval officers. This time, the motivation for more attacks on American municipalities had changed as the British continued to look for strategic advantage.

“This is not to say that British strategy had devolved into revenge. It had not, as appears from a letter of Vice Admiral Cochrane of the Atlantic Squadron to Canada’s Governor-General Sir George Prevost, dated 11 March 1814:

And I hope to make a very considerable diversion in the Chesapeake Bay, to draw off in part the Enemy’s Efforts against Canada—I hope to be able to Keep the Enemy in a constant alarm so as to prevent their sparing any part of their Military force from the State, South of Delaware, which if I succeed in, I do not believe from the temper of the Eastern states that they will be able to recruit their Army from thence (Cochranne to Prevost, 11 March 1814; reproduced in Crawford 2002: 39-40).”

We’ll review the events of April, 1813 in a few weeks.

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Camp Followers at Elk Landing

This Saturday, this Memorial Day weekend, the Historic Elk Landing Foundation will sponsor another unique look at military life, this time in the American Revolutionary War.  We all know about General George Washington, and Britain’s Generals Howe and Cornwallis, but how much do we know about the people who kept the soldiers together and on the move?  How much do we know about especially the women who did the cooking, mending, laundry, childcare, and nursing of the sick and wounded back to health?  Did you know that some of these women, known as “Camp Followers,” were not only fed (half rations), but were paid a small stipend in some cases?  And a few even found themselves in combat when their husbands were wounded.  Well, it’s true.  And this Saturday the women members of the Cecil Militia will explain what their duties were and what life was like as a camp follower in General Washington’s Continental Army. 

Our gates will open at 10 a.m. on Saturday when you are invited to tour the Cecil Militia camp and talk to the costumed interpreters about life in Washington’s army from a women’s point of view.  We will also offer tours of our 2 centuries old Hollingsworth House at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.  The program will wrap up at 2 p.m.

Admission is free.

Contact Linda Parrish at Linda.Parrish@ncs.k12.de.us

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Thank You!

The guns are silent.  The actors’ lines have been delivered.  The grill is put away.  Only the memories and the history remain.  The Battle of Elk Landing: A Bicentennial Celebration is concluded.  Thanks to everyone who participated in and supported our celebration at Historic Elk Landing this past weekend, marking the 200th anniversary of the day the British Navy came in an attempt to terrorize Cecil County during the War of 1812.  At least 73 guests, both young and old, came to witness and enjoy our celebration in perfect weather conditions.  They heard Mary Hollingsworth, Judge Thomas Jefferson Sample, and Hetty Boulden tell their stories of that time, 200 years ago, when the people of Elkton defeated the most powerful Navy in the world.  Elk Landing’s story is unique to the region: Charlestown was partially burned.  Frenchtown was burned.  Havre de Grace was half burned.  Only Elkton was spared, thanks to the quick thinking of a 20 year old slave woman and the bravery of the Cecil Militia. Think about it.  The British threw 400 men on 12 river barges at Forts Defiance and Hollingsworth with their 100 or so militia members, and the home team won!  Quite an achievement.  That history was relived this past weekend with members of the modern day Cecil Militia returning to the very spot where, 2 centuries ago, our ancestors stood, fought, and won.  Hetty Boulden returned to tell how she fooled the British into believing she was taking them to Elkton when she was really taking them into an ambush.  Mary Hollingsworth explained how her son joined those militiamen and how she worried about him, but supported him in his gallant effort.  And finally, Judge Sample, returning from his home in Indiana, noted how he and his father manned Fort Hollingsworth, how the British came, and how, when the war was won, the town celebrated, with near disastrous results.  Vigilance, training, hard work, and loyalty were all on display then and recalled this past weekend.

We at the Historic Elk Landing Foundation hope you enjoyed the celebration and our experiment in Living History Theatre.  We did.  Based on your response, maybe we’ll do it again sometime. Thanks to God for the great weather.  Thanks to the board members and their friends and families who worked to make the event possible.  Thanks to the Cecil Militia members, the only militia members who volunteered to share in our celebration.  And a very special thank you to Mike Collins, Paula Smith, Linda Parrish, and Gordy Johnson who portrayed Judge Sample, Hetty Boulden, Mary Hollingsworth, and William Hollingsworth, bringing them alive once again to share their stories with us.

You can enjoy pictures of The Battle of Elk Landing: A Bicentennial Celebration, posted on our web site at www.elklanding.org   In addition, a great deal of research information about the War of 1812 and how it played out in CecilCounty is also available on the site.

Our next event is Saturday, May 25th, Memorial Day weekend, when the Cecil Militia will return for a Revolutionary War encampment.  On that Saturday, Camp Followers, the women who kept the army cleaned, fed, sometimes nursed back to health, and inspired, will share their stories of daily military camp life during the Revolutionary War.  We’ll share more about that event in the days and weeks ahead.  Until then… thank you.

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The Historic Elk Landing Foundation Presents…

The Battle of Elk Landing:

A Bicentennial Celebration

Living History Theatre!


Friday April 26th 6 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. (Candle Light)

Saturday April 27th 11 a.m. & 2 p.m.


Meet:  Mary Hollingsworth, the matriarch of the Hollingsworth family, Judge Thomas Jefferson Sample who wrote about his teenaged experiences as the son of a militia leader, and Hetty Boulden, the African American slave woman who was commandeered to take the British to Elkton, but instead, took them to an ambush at Fort Hollingsworth 200 years ago. 

Friday night admission for each candle light tour (6 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.): $5 per person 12 years old and over.  $3 per person under 12 years of age. 

Saturday: Site open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Site admission includes tours of Ft. Hollingsworth and our 2 War of 1812 era houses, plus one living history theatre tour (11 a.m. or 2 p.m.): $5 per person 12 years old and over.  $3 per person under 12 years of age. 

All tours are by reservation only.  Please call and leave a message on our voice mail system at 410-620-6400: number of persons, ages, day and specific tour. 

See our web site, www.elklanding.com for event details and directions.

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Terrorism: Then and Now

Terrorism was not born yesterday in Boston, nor was it born at Newtown, Aurora, or Oklahoma City.  It wasn’t even born on September 11th, 2001.  Terrorism has been around and utilized by many different peoples around the world over the centuries.  An early example of terrorism in the United States occurred right in the Chesapeake Bay when, in April of 1813, British soldiers, sailors, and Marines sought out and put to the torch wharfs, warehouses, and whole towns up and down the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  They succeeded in Frenchtown and partially so in Havre de Grace, but not in Elkton.  With the help of a 20 year old slave woman, a group of rag tag citizen soldier Cecil Militiamen successfully fended off an attack by a superior force and saved Elkton.

On Friday and Saturday, April 26th and 27th you can hear firsthand accounts of how that attack was perpetrated and turned away from 3 individuals who were there.  See our web site at www.elklanding.org for details.

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The Battle of Elk Landing: A Bicentennial Celebration

Friday April 26th 6 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.

Saturday April 27th 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

On Friday evening, April 26th, step back in time and walk amongst the Cecil Militia units that manned Fort Hollingsworth on the eve of the War of 1812 battle and hear their impressions of the pending conflict.  Through our unique candle light living history theatre walking tours, interact with three persons who were there in 1813:  Mary Hollingsworth, the matriarch of the Hollingsworth family, Judge Thomas Jefferson Sample who wrote about his teenaged experiences as the son of a militia leader, and Hetty Boulden, the African American slave woman who was commandeered to take the British to Elkton, but instead, took them to an ambush in front of the guns of Fort Hollingsworth 200 years ago. 

Then on Saturday, April 27th, trod where those brave men also trod who defended the newly rediscovered Fort Hollingsworth.  See where the battle took place and hear about how it transpired from our resident expert and militia re-enactors. Tour the houses that housed the Hollingsworth family during the battle. And, if you missed it on Friday night, experience the living history theatre in two walks: one at 11 a.m. and the other at 2 p.m. All tours by reservation only.  See our web site, www.elklanding.com for event details

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