Tag: War of 1812

Expanding the scope and content of Battle of Baltimore commemorations

An early 20th century celebration of the "boy heroes" of North Point, Daniel Wells and Henry McComas
An early 20th century celebration of the “boy heroes” of North Point, Daniel Wells and Henry McComas

For any historical event, landmark anniversaries provide an opportunity for reflection. The very first anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore could be described as both solemn and triumphant, as survivors honored those lost during the fighting and cheered the steadfast defense of their city. Newspaper accounts of the first Defenders’ Day in 1815 recall the occasion as pious and full of “pomp.” As the Battle of Baltimore faded from living memory over the course of the 19th century—and as the North and South attempted to reconcile after the Civil War—commemorations became more celebratory in nature. The civic leaders who planned the 1914 centennial, on the eve of World War I, infused the program with patriotism. They emphasized Baltimore as a place of national significance because of its association with the Star-Spangled Banner, although it wouldn’t become the national anthem until 1931.

The navy stunt planes, the Blue Angels, pictured from the Smith and Armistead monuments on Federal Hill during the Star-Spangled Spectacular in September 2014
The navy stunt planes, the Blue Angels, pictured from the Smith and Armistead monuments on Federal Hill during the Star-Spangled Spectacular in September 2014

For those of us who recently experienced the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore, the laudatory spirit might still be felt. The Star-Spangled Spectacular in September 2014 included a massive fireworks display, a festival of tall ships from across the world, an aerial performance by the Blue Angels, and visits to Fort McHenry by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. While some locals and visitors challenged themselves to learn more about the War of 1812 through exhibits and programs at many local museums, critical thinking was by no means required during the bicentennial commemorations.

Perhaps large-scale public festivals—whether in 1914 or 2014—do not offer the ideal opportunity to dive deeply into the history of the Battle of Baltimore. However, this does not mean the events of September 12, 1814, have gone forgotten. While the printed centennial program (which you can access here) included a detailed account of the battle, we in the 21st century have many more opportunities to discover stories of the War of 1812. The Star-Spangled Banner bicentennial generated a great deal of online content—videos, websites, interactive maps, blogs, and digitized archival materials—free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Diversity is a theme of the National Park Service's bicentennial commemoration
Diversity is a theme of the National Park Service’s bicentennial commemoration

While several of these digital projects have continued to examine military history and the actions of Francis Scott Key (the main areas of focus during the centennial), the scholarship has also widened its lens to include more cultural history. Representing a range of diverse historical actors and their contributions to the city’s defense has been a priority in some of these projects. The Battle of Baltimore website and app embodies this bicentennial moment by examining places of worship, commercial centers, and sites of commemoration as well as defensive positions and troop movements. Stories relating to the generals and militiamen who participated in the Battle of Baltimore can certainly be found, but the project seeks to sketch a more complete picture of Baltimore in the early 19th century by also discussing everyday activities such as shopping, learning, praying, and working.

Selected Battle of Baltimore digital projects emerging from the bicentennial:

  • Prize of the Chesapeake: The Story of Fells Point: The nonprofit Preservation Society produced this website with support from two state agencies: the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. The project includes a ten minute film for young audiences, a very detailed walking tour, a series of essays, and a selected archive all focused on Fells Point in the War of 1812. The content emphasizes Fells Point as a center for shipbuilding and caulking, and addresses its racial and ethnic diversity.

    The state's suite of interactive battle maps utilize new tools to tell familiar stories
    The state’s suite of interactive battle maps utilize new tools to tell familiar stories
  • The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: Interactive Battle Maps: this project of the state bicentennial commission identifies four stories related to the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: St. Leonard Creek, Bladensburg, North Point and Baltimore. Brief videos introduce users to each place with footage of living history reenactments, “talking heads” from experts at the National Park Service, period maps and drawings, and computer-generated graphics. High-tech animated battle maps then provide a personalized approach for exploring each story in depth. While the focus is on military history, the content addresses the contributions of everyday citizens from all backgrounds.
  • Maryland in the War of 1812 blog: Scott Sheads, a longtime ranger at Fort McHenry and a foremost expert on the Battle of Baltimore, maintained this detailed, scholarly blog devoted to the military history of the War of 1812 in Maryland during the bicentennial period. Through original research and transcriptions of primary sources, Sheads brought to light many individuals, engagements, and correspondence through this digital platform. Some of the information published on this blog has been reproduced (with permission) on Battle of Baltimore.

    The 2.5 billion pixel model of Baltimore circa 1815 demonstrates the bicentennial push for exploring more than military history
    The 2.5 billion pixel model of Baltimore circa 1815 demonstrates the bicentennial push for exploring more than military history
  • BEARINGS map of Baltimore circa 1815: The Imaging Research Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County created an interactive, three-dimensional map of the city around 1815 for an exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society. The map shows a south-facing view of Baltimore, including ships in the harbor, hundreds of structures along city streets, outlying forested areas, and the meandering path of the Jones Falls. An enormous amount of historical research and computer programming went into creating this map, which could serve as a valuable tool for students and adults alike.
  • War of 1812 Classroom Resources: Maryland Public Television produced this Thinkport project in collaboration with the Friends of Fort McHenry and the National Park Service. K-12 educators can filter over 100 classroom resources by grade level, format, and keyword. They will also find a list of interactives, including quizzes, and suggested field trip itineraries. Although the site covers all of the War of 1812, the focus remains in Maryland.
  • War of 1812 in the Collections of the Lilly Library: The Indiana University at Bloomington Libraries have opened their War of 1812-related collections to a national audience through this digital exhibit using the Omeka platform. Organized chronologically and then thematically, each topic features a short essay followed by related primary sources. The site integrates social media using the hashtag #War1812.
  • National Park Service War of 1812 portal: This national project offers users various entry points into the War of 1812. Users can explore the history thematically by choosing Stories, People, Places or Resources, and then Voices, Moments, Perspectives and Narratives. The content does not center exclusively on military history or policy, but offer insights into civilian life and the home front for American, British and indigenous people.
  • Key Cam: KeyCam, another state initiative from the bicentennial, provides live video streams from four cameras in Baltimore’s harbor. Two of the cameras are positioned where Key spent the night of September 12, 1814, offering 21st century viewers an opportunity to see Fort McHenry and the city from his perspective. This initiative ties directly into the enduring fascination with Francis Scott Key and the Star-Spangled Banner story. While Key is not depicted as a hero—“slavery and slaveholding” is one of the five chapters in the biography section—this project might have been as well-received during the centennial as the bicentennial.
Star-Spangled Spectacular 2014
The capstone of bicentennial commemorations in 2014: a fireworks display accompanied by patriotic music at Fort McHenry

Highlighting a famous flagmaker and a little-known collection

Read on for the second post in a new series from local preservationist Auni Gelles as she works on our new Battle of Baltimore website and soon-to-be-launched app. Auni interviewed Amanda Shores Davis, the Executive Director of the Flag House, about this museum’s unique and little-known collections.

If you have an interest in the Battle of Baltimore, you’ve no doubt visited the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House on Pratt Street. (And if you haven’t, now is a great time to check it out!) The 1793 brick house became the home and business of flagmaker Mary Pickersgill in 1806, seven years before she was commissioned to sew the enormous flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. The house’s proximity to the busy harbor helped to make her business creating ships’ colors and signal flags quite stable. Mary stitched the soon-to-be-famous Star Spangled Banner and a smaller storm flag in seven weeks over the summer of 1813 with the help of her mother (and fellow flagmaker) Rebecca Young, daughter Caroline, nieces Eliza and Margaret Young, and Grace Wisher, an African American indentured servant.

The city of Baltimore purchased the house in 1927 and it has served as a museum for the past 88 years. A new permanent exhibit at the Flag House entitled “Family of Flagmakers: The Women Who Created the Star-Spangled Banner” explores the lives of these women.

In addition to the historic house, a contemporary museum building, and landscaped grounds, the Flag House is home to a collection of archival materials related to the Battle of Baltimore and the Star-Spangled Banner. Amanda Shores Davis, the Executive Director of the Flag House, took some time to answer my questions about this little-known but valuable collection.

Auni: Some Baltimoreans may be aware of the historic house and museum building but not the collections at the Star-Spangled Flag House. What types of materials are held here? How large is the collection?

Amanda: The Flag House holds a collection of 19th century decorative arts (the majority are from the early part of the century, 1800-1820), memorabilia from celebrations in recognition of the Star-Spangled Banner, Old Defenders, and Baltimore anniversaries, and War of 1812 military items. There are also small holdings of primary source documents (city directories, letters, periodicals) and WWI and WWII posters. We have roughly 1,000 items in the collection. This does not include the archaeological materials found in 1996 and 1998.

Auni: How did these objects/documents end up at the Flag House? Were they donated by descendants, purchased/donated by individuals, or acquired by the city?

This photo of Mary Pickersgill was taken some 40 years after the Battle of Baltimore. Courtesy of the museum.
This photo of Mary Pickersgill was taken some 40 years after the Battle of Baltimore.

Amanda: Collections items have come to the Flag House in a variety of ways. The one of the first administrators, the Ruth Bibbins, who purchased or collected many of the furnishings for the house. Some items have been gifted over the years and some items have come to us as permanent loans from institutions that are no longer operational. Very few items have been donated by descendants of Mary Pickersgill. Her daughter Caroline Pickersgill Purdy was childless so few things have come to us by the descendents of Mary’s sister Hannah.

Auni: Is the collection accessible to researchers?

Amanda: We are currently undergoing reorganization of the collection, cataloging, and status reports so for now the collection is not open to researchers—although that is the end goal, and to add our online catalog to the website.

Auni: What artifact or document is most surprising, in your opinion?

The living room at the Flag House, courtesy of the museum.
The living room at the Flag House.

Amanda: The most surprising item in the collection is the receipt for the Star-Spangled Banner for the fact that it even exists. There is little to no documentation of the flag making business aside from advertisements in city directories. We have two key documents that sort of create bookends to Mary’s career as a flag maker: the first is the [flag] receipt from 1813, six years after the establishment of the business in 1807 and obviously her most famous commission. The second is an 1815 receipt for what we consider to be one of the last flags made by Mary. The receipt is for an American ensign 15 x 24.5 feet, for $120, commissioned in February 1815. It dates to the period in which Mary stops making flags before the marriage of her daughter, Caroline, to iron merchant, John Purdy.

Auni: Are there any objects/documents related to Grace Wisher in the collection?

Amanda: There are no objects related to Grace Wisher, the only evidence I believe anyone has been able to locate about Grace is her indenture contract, which is not part of our collection.

Auni: I know there was some archaeological work conducted at the Flag House a number of years ago. What were some of the most interesting finds of those digs?

Amanda: This is probably my favorite part of the collection. There is one box of objects from the dig under the kitchen floor conducted in 1996. Everything from beer bottles to a lady’s hair comb. The 1998 dig conducted by the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology uncovered over 15,000 unique items. The majority of the items were preserved and mostly intact due to the use of the privy and beehive oven being used as trash disposal areas. I specifically included a case in our new exhibit to showcase some of these items to tell the history of the house itself and because there was so much cool stuff!

For me as a decorative arts historian some of the best items are intact utilitarian objects like yellow ware bowls and a decorative candy dish because they were so well-preserved and are great educational tools to talk about material culture and life in the 19th century. A close second would be the remnants of a thimble and pair of scissors that the archeologist located in the old foundation of the oven and date to the period when Mary lived in the house.

Auni: Thank you, Amanda, for taking time to share the collection with us!

[We Dig Hampstead Hill] Volunteers process artifacts from Patterson Park at the Maryland Historical Trust lab in Crownsville

Any archeologist will tell you: the most important part of a dig is not what we find, it is what we find out! Processing artifacts is an essential step to learning more about an archeological site and the stories it may hold. Thanks to support from the Maryland Historical Trust Archeology Lab in Crownsville, project archeologists from Louis Berger, and a great group of fourteen volunteers, we just completed the laboratory processing for the artifacts recovered from Patterson Park this past spring.

Between July 29 and August 27, our volunteers (including seven people who helped out during the dig this spring) washed and labeled artifacts then recorded detailed description in a catalog for the collection. The artifacts included a War of 1812 musket ball, a Civil War belt buckle, and a half-plate made of ironstone. The oldest artifact is the Piscataway point created over 2,000 years ago. We didn’t realize in the field that we had found huge number of pieces of kiln furniture (the protective vessels that held pipes as they were fired in the kiln) or “muffles.” The large number of pieces raises the question of whether a kiln was located at the site or whether they were just brought in as dirt fill.

In the next few weeks, Louis Berger will send the artifacts to Kansas City to be photographed at their own laboratory. They’ll be back in Baltimore in time for the bicentennial celebrations on September 14. In October, we will send the collection to its permanent home at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, at Jefferson Park and Museum in St. Leonard, Maryland. You can look forward to seeing a selection of artifacts back in Baltimore this spring as part of a new exhibit we are planning at the Patterson Park Pagoda with the Friends of Patterson Park.

Photograph by Greg Katz, September 02, 2014.
Photograph by Greg Katz, September 02, 2014.

Learn more about We Dig Hampstead Hill! Searching for the War of 1812 in Patterson Park from our earlier updates or on our project page.

[We Dig Hampstead Hill] Volunteer to help process artifacts from Patterson Park

Our archeological investigation in Patterson Park this spring surprised almost everyone with the great number and diversity of artifacts we recovered. Over a thousand artifacts from 1814-era musket balls to left-over animal bones help us learn more about the history of Patterson Park and the people of Baltimore.

This summer, Archeological Society of Maryland is continuing its generous support for We Dig Hampstead Hill by taking on the laboratory processing of the archeological materials at their volunteer lab in Crownsville, Maryland. If you thought archeology was all about digging, this is your opportunity to experience the next phase of archeological discovery!

When can I volunteer?

Volunteer opportunities are available most weeks Tuesday and Wednesday between 9:30am and 3:30pm. Processing the Hampstead Hill collection is expected to continue from August through September. Volunteers are welcome to sign up for a few hours or for a full day. After the conclusion of this project, additional volunteer opportunities will be available at the lab on most Tuesdays to process artifacts from a contact-period Native American archeological site.

Where is the lab located?

Maryland Historical Trust
100 Community Place
Crownsville, MD 21032

How can I sign up?

To volunteer, contact Greg Katz at gkatz@louisberger.com. Seats in the lab are limited and will be filled on a first-come-first-served basis.

Processing includes washing/cleaning, drying, labeling, identification, cataloging, data entry, and packaging for long-term care. No prior experience or training is required to get involved with this stage of the project! Volunteers will work alongside lab director Louise Akerson, retired Director of the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology, and Fieldwork Director Greg Katz and his team from the Louis Berger Group. Cleaning artifacts is a great way to learn more about conservation and artifact identification.

[We Dig Hampstead Hill] School groups, mysterious drain pipes and a musket ball

As rain today and tomorrow keeps our We Dig Hampstead Hill project team inside (catching up on all of the less glamorous paperwork!), we’re excited to share a few results from our second successful week in the field, what archeologist Greg Katz says is, “Good stuff, and more good stuff to come!”

Last week, we welcomed five school groups for a hands-on field trip at Hampstead Hill including students from Thomas Johnson Middle School, Morrell Park Middle School, Patterson Park Public Charter School, and Hampstead Hill Academy. Special thanks to our school outreach coordinator Theresa Donnelly for supporting these visits and to Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum (whose “Mystery Objects” learning activity has been a huge hit with these young archeologists-in-training).

 

We also made great progress in locating the remains of the defensive earthworks and finding some exciting artifacts that connect us to the people who camped along that line during the fall of 1814. Fieldwork Director Greg Katz has shared his perspective on the second week of the project:

2014-04-25 15.20.37We had strong volunteer support, and we were able to take our test units (started last week) down to 3-4 feet below surface into some very interesting nineteenth-century deposits. We found the eastern and western edges of the tavern structure, as well as the base of the earthen cellar. We recovered lots of interesting artifacts from the tavern excavations, including a large assortment of buttons and ceramic wares, and smaller amounts of bottle fragments and other domestic items. One of my favorite finds from this area is a Goodyear rubber button, probably produced in the 1850s, when the former tavern was home to the Keeper of Patterson Park. Nothing military in nature was found in the tavern structure, which was unexpected.

Some military items did turn up in the test units north of the Pagoda, including a gunflint and a musket ball. By the close of the week we were fairly confident that we were near the base of the 1814 fortification ditch in the excavations both north and south of the Pagoda.

2014-04-23 12.31.14The testing south of the Pagoda found some very interesting layers of soil and elements of an older drain system possibly dating to the nineteenth century. A relatively shallow ditch, suggestive of the 1814 fortification ditch, was found approximately 1.5 feet below the ground surface. At the base of the ditch was a small brick storm drain. Approximately two feet lower we encountered another ditch that we think is the actual trench from the 1814 earthworks. Our current theory is that the upper ditch is a historical reenactment of sorts – that at some point in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries a ditch was dug to recreate the historic rampart. The drain system may have been installed to keep the recreated ditch from filling with water. This may be an example of how each generation of Baltimoreans comes to learn the city’s history, and rediscovers and reinterprets the past. Good stuff, and more good stuff to come!