Southern Maryland was one of the most affected regions of the country during the war between the United States and Great Britain, which lasted from 1812 to 1815.
The active British presence in Southern Maryland, the capital’s first line of defense, resulted in wide-spread destruction and disruption of daily life for the citizens of Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties.
The British Arrive in the Chesapeake
As the British Rear-Admiral George Cockburn directed his fleet towards the coastline of Southern Maryland, daily life went on as it had since the Revolution. Local residents had little reason to expect an attack. The arrival of Cockburn’s fleet, pulling an unsuspecting people into the nation’s war efforts, would forever change their history.
Many Southern Marylanders rose to the occasion of protecting their state and country. On the eve of the Battle of Bladensburg, John Stuart Skinner witnessed the British army’s movements, and first warned Commodore Joshua Barney, then famously rode over 90 miles to Washington, D.C., to warn President James Madison of the British army’s imminent attack.
This heroic action cost Skinner his property on St. Leonard’s Creek, when the British burned his land in retaliation. Following Skinner’s late night ride, he was given the nickname of “Maryland’s Paul Revere.”
Others joined forces with the British in hopes of freedom. Upon his arrival in the Chesapeake, Admiral Cockburn encouraged the slave population to escape. British forces offered permanent liberty to slaves who joined with the British and turned against their American owners.
One such slave to take up that offer was Frisby Harris, a resident of Calvert County who lived and worked on the plantation of William Harris. While out on loan from his master to another white man, Frisby made his escape to the side of the British. He later helped them as they raided towns in the area.
With the arrival of Cockburn, the small region of Southern Maryland was catapulted into an immense war. Southern Marylanders from all types of backgrounds became a part of the conflict.
Whether a doctor, landowner, tenant, or slave, their everyday lives were altered, and some people were never the same. Through the links above, and in the menu to the right, you can explore their stories, as well as find information about commemorative events and venues that will be held throughout Charles, Calvert, and St. Mary’s Counties.
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