Before and during the War of 1812, Southern Maryland’s staple crop was tobacco. Tobacco farms covered the landscape, which would have looked very different from today’s landscape. All the trees seen today would have been cleared for these tobacco plantations. In 1810, William Hebb, brother-in-law of Clement Dorsey, along with Peter Gough, and William C Somervill planted several cotton fields and opened up the Clifton Textile Factory. This was all in an effort to make cotton the staple crop of St. Mary’s County. The property included a textile mill, a factory, a sulfur mill, a saw mill, a tannery, a smokehouse, a dairy, stables, a tailor’s shop, a tavern, and several houses all situated on 520 acres of land. This was the only manufacturing facility in St. Mary’s County at the time. Unfortunately, Maryland does not have the right climate for cotton production, and the venture was not very profitable.
The owners of the factory, which would have been powered by slave labour, would have been worried about the impending British arrival. They feared that their slaves would run away to the British. During the War of 1812, Peter Gough, remaining loyal to the United States, passed intelligence to the local US Navy officer of British ships he observed sailing up and down the Saint Mary’s River. He once reported to Captain first name? Doyle on July 17th 1813, “From intelligence received this morning, July 17, there are at anchor… 20 miles up the Potowmac, three 74’s; one at the mouth of St. Mary’s river; two frigates at the mouth of Wycomoco river; three brigs, tenders and barges gone up the Potowmac, and one sloop of war at Blackiston’s Island…No landing has been attempted yet on the main. The enemy are said to have been sounding St. Mary’s river.”
In August of 1814, the British landed four miles downriver from the mill and began to advance towards Great Mills. A group of militiamen were assembled to halt the British advance. However, before the British even got there the militia became frightened and fled, leaving the town completely undefended. When the British arrived they saw that the town was completely abandoned with the exception of one family. The British then looted the town and set fire to it. In 1900 John Thomas Cecil built a flour mill on the site and today the site is occupied by Cecil’s Old Store.
Columbian. (New York, NY), July 22, 1813.
Eshelmen, Ralph. The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake: A Reference Guide to Historic Sites in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
Maryland State Archives. National Registry for Historic places Inventory Nomination Form SM-382. http://www.msa.md.gov/megafile/msa/stagsere/se1/se5/026000/026700/026716/pdf/msa_se5_26716.pdf.