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                                                                 Henry Arvin
                                                                Part 1 – The War of 1812


                                          The militia resisted as best they could, but the plantations
                                          suffered. Negro slaves ran away and joined the enemy.
                                          Sickness prevailed. Some of the plantation owners abandoned
                                          their homes and moved westward.              
Gilbert Byron
                                                                 The War of 1812 on the Chesapeake Bay




     Henry Arvin was born in Charles County, Maryland, on 7 November 1787.1 His father Edward Darnall Arvin was a veteran of the War for Independence. His mother was Sallie (nee Padgett). Henry had two older sisters (whose names we do not know); he was the first-born son. His younger brother Thomas Padgett Arvin was born about 1788, Elias was born in March 1790 and Edward Jr. was born about 1796. There were other brothers and sisters in this typically large “early American” family, although we do not know their names either. If any members of the family had been christened at the nearby Episcopal church known as Piney Chapel, records of the events were lost when it burned in 1823.

     His family lived on land known as Arvin’s Enlargement (Lotts 38, 33 & 40 on this map made in 1789) which Henry’s grandfather Thomas Arvin had purchased at an auction sponsored by the State of Maryland. Henry’s uncle Joshua Arvin owned Lott 41, Arvin’s Dispute, which adjoined Thomas’s land, and the entire Arvin extended family lived on these properties. But as the country moved from expansive times to a wrenching post-war depression, replete with debtor-punishing deflation, Thomas had been on the verge of going to debtor’s prison. He had been forced to deed the land to the Scottish tobacco factor turned debt collector, Alexander Hamilton. Edward and the whole family attempted to work through their financial difficulties, but there was no solution. By 1798 Hamilton was shown in the records as the owner of the land, with Edward “Harvin” and Thomas “Harvin” (either Edward’s father, Thomas Sr., or his brother, Thomas Jr.) listed simply as “occupants or possessors.”2

     Times were tough, but as a young boy Henry never knew anything different. He just helped farm the land and did what he was told to do. The Arvin’s were slave owners, as were most Southern Maryland and Virginia planters, and he grew up working in the fields alongside the family slaves. Neither Henry nor anyone in his entire family ever had the opportunity to learn to read or write. Farming occupied their time, full time. Family tradition holds that he was heavy-set, too big to work in the fields, so he taught himself the trade of the cooper. He made barrels to hold the hogsheads of tobacco so prevalent in the Southern Maryland economy.

     As a child and young boy, Henry had lived through historic times. General George Washington, by far the most famous individual in America, had lived in a huge mansion across the Potomac River in Virginia. Henry’s father had in fact served in the Continental Army under his command. After resigning from the army General Washington had come home to Mount Vernon, only to be called to the service of his country again, this time unanimously elected as the first president of the United States. His Excellency had served two terms as president, then again retired back to Mount Vernon. He had died right there in the bedroom of his mansion in 1799, when Henry was twelve years old. Henry’s grandfather, Irish immigrant Thomas Sr., died a few years later, at Arvin’s Enlargement, when Henry was a teenager.
At twenty-two years of age, Henry married Theresa Montgomery on 1 January 1810.1 Theresa, born 20 October 1787, also twenty-two, was the daughter of Joshua Montgomery and Sara (nee Miles), who probably lived nearby, although they are not shown on the map of the old Zachia Manor. Census records for 1790, 1800 and 1830 show Joshua Montgomery as the head of a household in Charles County, with a large family and three slaves in 1800. Henry is shown on the census of 1810 (effective in August) still living in his father’s household, but he and Theresa were probably in the process of establishing their own homestead on Arvin’s Enlargement, with Henry farming and Theresa taking up housekeeping. The following year their family began with the birth of William Arvin, who was born 6 June 1811. A second son, Thomas, was born 21 May 1813.

The Second War of Independence

     Between the births of these two boys tensions had risen between Britain and the United States to the point that they were now at war. And the war would have serious repercussions for Southern Maryland. The events leading up to the War of 1812, often referred to at the time as the Second War of Independence, actually began years earlier. Britain, at war with France, had introduced a series of trade restrictions designed to impede American commerce with France. The United States contested these restrictions as illegal under international law. In addition, Britain was accused of providing military support for American Indians. But most abhorrent, Britain was still imposing forced recruitment—“impressment”—of U.S. citizens into the Royal Navy. This practice of impressment was partly the result of the navy losing so many of its own seamen to the American merchant marine, where wages were higher and working conditions better. It hit hard in the Chesapeake tidewater. “In the years before the War of 1812 there was scarcely a family in the tidewater counties of Maryland and Virginia that was not saddened and angered by the loss one or more of its men to the British Navy. This seizure of Americans and their forced service on British warships was a result of many desertions from British naval and merchant vessels over a long period.”3 The tradition of impressment stretched back to colonial times. But now these colonies were a sovereign nation, and the practice was considered a violation of American sovereignty. By 1803 over 20,000 British sailors were serving in the American merchant marine. Likewise, over 2,200 American seamen had been impressed since the British and French hostilities began.
     Events escalated in December of 1807 when President Thomas Jefferson isolated the United States by ordering a self-imposed embargo on it. There would be no trade with either country, in fact with any country. “The act closed all American ports to incoming and outgoing ships of all nations. This strategy, designed to force England and France to withdraw their restrictions on American commerce, proved a disaster. The self-imposed embargo hurt American producers much more than it affected European markets. In St. Mary’s County, as in other parts of Southern Maryland, huge quantities of unsold tobacco collected in warehouses.”4 The effects were felt strongly by the population of Southern Maryland, including Edward D. Arvin and his extended family living on Arvin’s Enlargement. “In the region around the Chesapeake Bay, in southern Maryland and Virginia, huge quantities of unsold tobacco collected in the warehouses. In northern Maryland, the price of wheat fell from $2.00 to 75 cents a bushel.”5

Mr. Madison’s War

     Thomas Jefferson yielded the presidency to James Madison in 1809. Because they were both of the same political party, the Democratic-Republicans retained power in the executive mansion. But the legislature was another matter. In November 1811, the Twelfth Congress, full of young legislators from the South and West, assembled in Washington City. Known as “War Hawks,” they were tired of negotiation and eager for action. But as the drum beat of war grew louder, the nation was not of one mind on the matter. The South and the West leaned towards war, but New England, heavily dependent on foreign trade, opposed it. Caught in the middle, the State of Maryland found itself divided on the issue. “…Baltimore was overwhelmingly pro-war, in contrast to southern Maryland and New England, which favored the anti-war Federalist party. Baltimore voted solidly Republican. [This party is not to be confused with the present-day Republican Party. This was the Democratic-Republican Party.] Madison’s Republican party appealed to Baltimoreans because of it democratic emphasis and its welcoming view toward immigrants.”6 “Yet in Southern Maryland, along the rural lower Patuxent and Potomac drainages, far removed from the storms of controversy and public persuasion, the inhabitants, largely Federalists in political persuasion, seemed altogether uninterested in the crisis of dissent and even less in the progress of the war.”7
     Things came to a head in June of 1812. On the 1st of June, President Madison’s war message was presented to Congress, meeting in secret session. This was in fact the first time a president had asked for a declaration of war on another country. On the 4th the U.S. House of Representatives passed the measure; on the 17th the Senate passed it. The following day, June 18, the President signed the resolution and ordered the Attorney General to draft a proclamation declaring that a state of war existed between the foundling United States, with a fleet of barely twenty ships, and the British Empire, which had over a thousand. The war became known as the War of 1812, but many of those who were opposed to hostile action simply called it, “Mr. Madison’s War.”
     President Madison assumed that the state militias would easily seize the North American colonies of Great Britain, known collectively “the Canadas,” and negotiations would follow. The Americans struck the first blow in August of 1812 with an invasion attempt, but it was repulsed, leading to the British capture of Detroit. The British government, for its part, was preoccupied with a great European conflict against Napoleon Bonaparte, and did not deign to declare war on the United States until October 13th, as the Americans were making a separate attempt to invade the Niagara peninsula.

     American “privateers,” privately owned ships of prey operating with the full consent of the United States government, quickly filled the seas. Baltimore, third largest American city (population 45,000), became the largest port for these armed raiders, which captured and destroyed hundreds of British merchantmen. The British Admiralty wanted to respond in kind to these activities, but was severely limited because of its engagement in war with France. “Yet enough ships and men were available to begin a campaign of terror and attrition against the exposed towns and plantations along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. With the states of New England strongly opposed to the war, and threatening to secede from the Union, such a campaign might decide the issue. The states which bordered the Chesapeake Bay were divided as to the desirability of war with Great Britain. Should they tire of the conflict and join New England in opposing the war, the political leaders of the young republic might be forced to sue for peace. So reasoned the British high command….”8

The Maryland Militia
     After the Revolutionary War, the standing national army had been much reduced, and there was once again great reliance on state militias to supplement the regulars with temporary manpower. The British saw it this way: “The fact is, every man in the United States, under forty-five years of age is a militiaman; and during the war attended in turn, to be drilled and trained. He had always in his possession either a musket or rifled-barrel piece; knew its use from infancy; and with it, therefore could do as much execution in a smock frock or plain coat as if he wore the most splendid uniform.”9 Militia members were required to arm themselves at their own expense with a musket, bayonet and belt, two spare flints, a cartridge box with 24 bullets, and a knapsack. Men owning rifles were required to provide a powder horn, 1/4 pound of gun powder, 20 rifle balls, a shooting pouch, and a knapsack. Men were required to report for training twice a year, usually in the spring and fall. However, things had not changed much from Revolutionary War times. The militia would prove to be absolutely no match for the British regular army composed of trained and disciplined career soldiers.

     Henry and his younger brothers were automatically enrolled in the Maryland Militia under the Militia Act of 1792. It conscripted every “free able-bodied white male citizen” between the ages of 18 and 45 into a local militia company overseen by the state. The brothers were called out for short periods of time to various places in Southern Maryland as the War of 1812 unfolded there.10 [There are also militia service records for a Thomas Arvin, who served as a private in the 17th Regiment, from Prince George’s and lower Montgomery counties. His relationship to Henry is unknown; he may have been a cousin. Thomas Arvin was a private in the 17th (Beall’s) Regiment, from Prince George’s and lower Montgomery counties. Lt. Col. William D. Beall’s forces, parts of two regiments comprising 750 men, were called down from Annapolis to Bladensburg by General Winder to defend against the British invasion in August 1814. (Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland, p 81ff.) The name “Thomas Arvin” was becoming a quite popular.]
     The Maryland Militia, stocked with citizen soldiers rather than battle tested veterans, was nothing more than a paper tiger. “The entire establishment was divided into 12 brigades, each composed of 4 regiments. Each regiment was made up of 2 battalions, and each battalion was comprised of 5 companies. Every company was to consist of 64 privates, 4 sergeants, a drummer, and a fifer or a bugler. Thus, a full-strength brigade could muster, on paper at least, nearly 3,000 men….On paper the militia defense of the Patuxent-Potomac axis consisted of nearly 9,000 infantry and 1,150 cavalry. Unfortunately, few if any of these units were to operate anywhere near full strength at any given period of time of the war. And it is painfully obvious form the very onset that those enrolled in the militia of Southern Maryland were only half-heartedly in support of the war effort at best. The system was found entirely deficient in its ability to field sufficient forces, but equally significant was its notable lack of esprit de corps.”11  

     And Southern Maryland was not regarded by the federal government as a strategic area which needed vigorous defense. “Superior mobility on the water and naval supremacy along the many peninsular ‘necks’ and islands of the Tidewater provided the British with the means to easily envelope or flank a force on any side they wished. The St. Mary’s peninsula contained no major cities of significance and provided little in the way of industrial support, and was therefore deemed of little importance to the general war effort.”12

The 1813 Campaign

     Britain soon backed up its declaration of war on the United States with words and with action. “On December 26, 1812, the British government issued a proclamation declaring a blockade of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays. On February 4, 1813, a British fleet entered the Chesapeake and anchored at Hampton Roads. On Board the Marlborough, 74 guns, was Rear Admiral George Cockburn. [cō-burn]13 He had entered the British Navy as a servant boy at the age of nine. Now forty-one, energetic and ruthless, he would soon become the most hated of the British leaders who campaigned on the Chesapeake. He commanded a fleet which included four ships of the line, six frigates, and several sloops. The expedition included a land force of 1,800 men. There were shallow draft barges for landing operations….”14   
         Hitherto the people of Maryland had not felt acutely the stress of
         war, though business was gradually becoming demoralized and
         militia service (which was compulsory) entailed considerable
         hardships on mechanics and others. After the blockade was
         effectually established, conditions became much worse as the
         privateers and coast-wise vessels came in and out of the
         Chesapeake with great difficulty, if at all, and in Baltimore
         especially the price of food stuffs increased enormously. All
         business came to a standstill owing to the stoppage of the ordinary
         supplies of provisions and the general financial stringency. The
         distress became acute, and many worthy people were obliged to
         choose between emigration or dependence on charity.
               In the spring of 1813 the enemy’s squadron left the anchorage
          at Lynn Haven Bay and moved slowly up the Chesapeake,
          creating great alarm among the inhabitants of both shores
          by the system of plunder, rapine and destruction inaugurated by
          Cockburn and his savage men. The people of the lower counties,
          being cut off from their executive head, were embodied into
          companies at the discretion of the militia officers, according to the
          militia laws of the State. Early in April, while moving up the bay,
          Cockburn sent his tenders and barges into most of the navigable
          inlets, plundering and burning as he went. At each point
          threatened, the militia was called out, sometimes exchanging shots
          with the attacking parties, but offering little obstacle to the
          marauders; they were usually disbanded as soon as the immediate
          danger was past. So much anxiety was felt for the safety of
          Annapolis, that the Governor not only called out additional militia
          but removed the public records to a place of safety, inland.15


“…the citizens around the bay were terrorized and preyed upon almost at will by the British. The people of the bay suffered repeated scenes of invasion and plunder by the enemy conducted under the battle cry of “Beauty and Booty!”—a quainter way of saying “rape and pillage.”16

Records Destroyed

    Those records which the governor had ordered to be taken inland were secure. But other Maryland state records were not so fortunate. Apparently some records were either permanently stored or temporarily removed to a small town on the northern reaches of the Chesapeake, Havre de Grace. When Henry’s father, Edward D. Arvin, applied for a pension in 1833, he declared “
that his name was on Capt Francis Ware’s roll, which was burnt at Haver de grass, during the last war with many other papers.” Here’s what happened:

     By May of 1813, the British had made their way up the entire length of
Chesapeake Bay, burning and pillaging. In the extreme north they laid siege to several small towns, including Havre de Grace. This beautiful little town, name inspired by Lafayette himself, had narrowly lost an election to be the nation’s capital to Washington D.C., but was now in decline. On the third of May Cockburn sacked and burned the town, sparing little. “Property losses at Havre de Grace alone were estimated to have been $50,000 in 1813 prices.”17 The attack came at dawn, while most of the inhabitants were still in their beds.
      “…the British appeared before the town in 19 barges. They opened fire with shot, shells, and rockets….
     “The bombardment set fire to many houses in Havre de Grace. After making their landing, the British plundered and put the torch to other houses. Of the sixty buildings in the town, forty were destroyed by the invaders. They remained at Havre de Grace about four hours before going back to their barges.
     “When the citizens returned to Havre de Grace, they sent a group under a flag of truce to meet with Cockburn. He released the prisoners but refused to return any of the property seized. Nor would he reimburse the citizens for their losses.”18

     The British raids, among other things, set the wheels in motion for a special session of the legislature.
“The Maryland legislature met in extra session on May 17th….The legislature convened for only thirteen days. Of the twenty-three measures enacted, three concerned the war:

     “1—An act providing for calling out and retirement of the Maryland militia.
     “2—An act providing for the payment and expenses of the militia while it was in service.
     “3—An act authorizing the banks of Maryland to lend money to the government of Maryland.

     “Resolutions were passed condemning the actions of the British as violating humanity and national honor. One thousand dollars was appropriated to relieve Havre de Grace…”19


The British Fleet Expands

     As the spring of 1813 turned to summer, Cockburn’s commanding officer, the elderly Admiral Sir John Borlase Warren,
joined him in the Chesapeake Bay with an enormous fleet, and the situation grew more grave. “On June 1st, Admiral Warren returned from the British base on Bermuda with more ships and men. These included eight ships of the line, 74 gunners, twelve frigates, and many small boats. Landing forces added 1,800 more marines and a total of 2,650 men. With the troops already available, the British now had a force of more than 5,000 men….”20 They soon began operations in St. Mary’s County, the most vulnerable to naval operations.
“‘On July 21, 1813, the British took possession of St. Clement’s and St. Catherine’s Islands where they sank wells to get to water.’ That same month they landed on St. George’s Island and inflicted devastation on that place. They burned every house and set fires that spread along the south and west sides of the island from end to end. They cut down twenty-five large white oaks, six large hickories, and many of the pine trees. They destroyed fences and carried off the stock….‘From the face of things, they (British) had no other view than to have completely destroyed the whole of the property.” 21

Up the Potomac

     The population of the tidewater was terror stricken. Things worsened as “…the British entered the Potomac, conducting raids and landings…, inducing slaves to run away, plundering tobacco stocks, and burning crops as they proceeded.”22
     “…Captain James Forrest, commander of the Leonardtown troop of horse….reported that the British had landed between two and three thousand troops at Point Lookout, from which they organized plundering raids on the surrounding area. In addition to about 200 head of cattle and other property, the raiders carried off four [St. Mary’s] countians. The Weekly Register reported of the British that, ‘Their depredations were of the usual character – they plundered every thing and any thing robbing even the women and children of their clothes and destroying such articles as it not suit them to carry away.’”23In consequence of these depredations, the inhabitants of the eastern half of St. Mary’s County were compelled to perform military duty with very little intermission from early in April. Their plantations, therefore, were neglected and pillaged, their slaves ran off to the enemy, and sickness prevailed to a great extent among these poverty stricken people.”24

Unrelenting, Admiral Warren soon enlarged the scope of his operations, and decided to menace Washington City itself. The young American capital called itself a city, but it was still tiny, listed in the 1810 census as having only 5904 whites, 867 free blacks and 1431 slaves. “Warren ordered a squadron of five light vessels as far up the river as possible….Warren noted that he wanted ‘to create an alarm in Washington and to embarrass the Enemy…during the setting of Congress in that City.’ Weeks earlier, he had written that he knew the river to be navigable and defended by only two batteries. After carrying the batteries, the capital would ‘be open to insult’—in which case the Americans would be forced ‘to withdraw a proportion of [their] regular force from the Canadas.’

     The move caused the anticipated alarm but (unfortunately for British objectives) not a resultant withdrawal
     of U.S. Army troops from the border with Canada. Virginia and Maryland militia units along the Potomac
     were mobilized. Secretary [of War John] Armstrong hurried to Fort Washington to superintend the
     deployment of the militia and six hundred regulars of the 36th and 38th Regiments that were hastily
     assembled at the fort. The regulars comprised raw recruits in two regiments that had only recently been

          Secretary of State James Monroe rode even further down the river into St. Mary’s County with a party
     of ‘gentlemen volunteers’ to reconnoiter the enemy. They found three or four hundred British troops
     digging wells on Blakiston (St. Clement’s) Island. Monroe sent word back to Armstrong requesting 350
     regulars to help them capture the British detachment. The secretary of war refused to part with more than
     half the regulars, which he said would be needed for the defense of the capital. He told Monroe the
     operation was a job for the local militia. Yet Monroe had already informed Armstrong that the militia had
     no firearms.25

          In fact, the 36th Regiment of the regulars was itself recalled shortly thereafter from the fort by order of President Madison. Brigadier General Steuart, who commanded the 5th Brigade of the Maryland Militia—St. Mary’s and Charles Counties—was ordered to keep his forces in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Calvert Counties. The military strategy behind these moves was twofold. First the military authorities were reluctant to maintain a force on the Southern Maryland peninsula where they could be cut off by the British forces. Secondly, all available manpower was needed to the north to defend Washington City, Baltimore and Annapolis. But the citizens of St. Mary’s County, through the voice of a committee, presented a 10-point grievance to the State Legislature, citing the danger to which they were subjected due to the county’s exposed position. After complaining of the apparent abandonment by the state government, their paper closed with heated and desperate rhetoric:

     It is therefore, in the opinion of this committee, both just and reasonable that the United States should
     furnish a regiment to the county of St. Mary’s, which would serve in conjunction with our militia, not
     only as a shield of security, but as a severe annoyance to the enemy. In the name of the Constitution, we
     ask it as the protection it has promised us. In the name of justice we solicit it to rescue and save us. In the
     name of God we crave it for the sake of suffering humanity.26

     The petition was apparently received at the State Legislature, but went no further. Nevertheless, the Maryland militia needed more manpower, and many Southern Maryland men found themselves called to active duty. Just as in the Revolutionary War, they were totally out of their league. “Aside from the infrequent and inept resistance by local militia,…[and] a handful of warships and gunboats being built or outfitted at Washington and Baltimore, the Chesapeake was devoid of naval defenses.”
27 At this time the paper tiger Maryland Militia was divided into three divisions, each commanded by a major-general. The First Division included the 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th Brigades. As mentioned, men living in Zachia were in the 5th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Philip Steuart with Henry S. Yates as its major. It consisted of the 1st, 12th, 43rd and 45th Regiments. In this new wave of mobilization were two young men activated into the 43rd Regiment from Charles County: Henry Arvin and his younger brother Elias. Henry was 25 years old that summer, Elias was just 23. 


     Henry Arvin: July 22 - 26, 1813. 5 days service. Rank of Private, Roll of Captain
     Benjamin J. Fendall’s Detachment, 43 (Hamilton’s) Regiment, Maryland Militia,
     ordered on service in July, 1813. Stationed at Major Henry S. Yates’ [i.e., at his
     plantation in Charles County
.] One day’s rations retained, valued at 20 cents.
     Pay, $1.31. Pay and Rations $1.51.


     Elias Arvin: August 3 - 5, 1813. 3 days service. Private. Roll of Captain Townley
     Robey’s Detachment, 43 Regiment, Maryland Militia, ordered on service July 13,
     1813, and stationed at Port Tobacco. Two days rations, value 40 cents. Pay, 79 cents.
     Pay and rations, $1.19.

     Ultimately the Potomac River, not the militia, thwarted the attack. “The British squadron made it up the river as far as 40 miles below Fort Washington. The treacherous shoals of the river proved difficult. Warren reported to London that the ships could not proceed further ‘in consequence of the Shoals between Cedar & Maryland Points….’ Warren was not prepared to order a lightening of the ships by offloading their cannons. The sailors spent their time sounding the tricky Kettle Bottom shoals. The information would prove valuable a year later when the British would again attempt to sail up the Potomac.”28
     “Finally…the British fleet left Point Lookout, and three days later ‘stood up the Bay.’ After plundering Maryland’s Eastern Shore communities, most of the British fleet sailed from the Chesapeake Bay in late November, 1813, to winter in Bermuda. A skeleton force remained to maintain the blockade at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.”29 Southern Maryland had been shaken to its very foundations. But the British had just gotten started.

The 1814 Campaign

     Back in Europe, Napoleon had been defeated in October of 1813, and this led to his abdication early in April of 1814. Britain now turned its full attention to the upstart United States. As the Times of London reported, “Now that the tyrant Bonaparte has been consigned to infamy, there is no public feeling in this country stronger than that of indignation against the Americans.”30 The British were prepared to send an even stronger fighting force to America. “His defeat released thousands of seasoned English veterans. With the American coast blockaded and the British in control of the high seas, these soldiers could easily be transported to the United States.”31
     “In late April the large British seventy-four-gun man-of-war Dragon (Captain Robert Barrie commanding) and several armed tenders arrived at the mouth of the Potomac to reestablish a temporary blockade, secure fresh water, and conduct patrols as high up the river as Blackistone Island. Their presence on Maryland’s southern border was not taken lightly, for now the invaders were conducting raids designed not only to plunder, but to free the black slaves of the Tidewater for the purpose of recruiting and training them as soldiers in a new unit called the Black Colonial Corps….the planters of southern Maryland were terrified at the specter of a black insurrection. Fighting white men was one thing, but fighting one’s escaped slaves was definitely something else! After all, who knew what savagery they might be capable of?”32
     The British Admiralty ordered the uninspired and aging commander of the American Station, Admiral Warren, to step down. He was replaced by Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, under whose decisive leadership the British Admiralty hoped to gain a speedy and victorious end to the campaign in the Chesapeake. In late May, 1814, Rear Admiral Cockburn, now aboard the 74-gun Albion, also returned to the Chesapeake Bay. He was accompanied by ships and men to strengthen the force which had remained in the Bay during the winter.33 Cochrane issued a proclamation aimed at anti-war whites and at the slaves who continued to flock to the British. U.S. newspapers obligingly printed it. It offered dissidents the chance of either entering His Majesty’s sea or land forces, or being sent as free settlers to either British possessions in North America or the West Indies. “Because Cochrane’s proclamation openly stated that the British would arm ex-slaves, it renewed American fears of a slave insurrection.”34


     “However, by the spring of 1814, the Americans had also prepared for some offensive action. An American navy, consisting of 26 gunboats and barges manned by 900 men, had been assembled and placed under the command of Commodore Joshua Barney.” 35 Joshua Barney was fifty-three years old at the outbreak of the War of 1812. He was a native Marylander and bona fide hero of the American Revolution. He had led a storybook life of adventure and travel. Going to sea as a child of thirteen, he had assumed command of his first ship at the age of fourteen, and during the Revolution served as a privateersman and as the youngest commander ever of a Continental Navy frigate. 
     “At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Barney had been denied a command in the U.S. Navy because of his loss of seniority while in the service of France….he watched in despair as the British conducted their forays against the tidewater with ferocity, and against little or no opposition. By midsummer 1813, he could no longer restrain himself.” Private citizen Joshua Barney submitted to the secretary of the navy his own detailed plan, entitled “Defense of Chesapeake Bay,” replete with sketches of the vessels he suggested be built to implement it.…”36 He proposed a “flying squadron” of barges: a flotilla of inexpensive, easy to build, shallow-draft row-galleys, “as many as can be manned,” which could patrol the entire Bay and take the offensive against the British. Secretary of the Navy William Jones recognized the brilliance of the plan. The enemy was using such row barges to mount their own attacks, the mammoth frigates and ships-of-the-line being too large to get close to land. In a matter of weeks, Jones had appointed Barney “Acting Master Commandant,” answerable only to Washington, not to the Navy. Barney was delighted. He set about his task of building the flotilla. It would occupy him and the Baltimore shipyards all through the fall, winter and spring.
     By the spring of 1814 he had made great progress building of the flotilla, although due to lack of funds and manpower it was not nearly complete. But Barney decided he could wait no longer. He sailed from Baltimore with his little fleet of eighteen vessels on May 24, intent on a surprise attack on Tangier Island where the British were building their own squadron of barges. On May 31 he took up temporary anchorage at Drum Point, at the mouth of the Patuxent River; the following morning he set out again.

Rocket’s Red Glare    
     While Barney was heaving to under Drum Point, Captain Barrie on the Dragon was personally embarking on a reconnaissance mission only twenty miles to the south. Just four hours into their mission, Barrie’s boat crews sighted the flotilla bearing down on them from the north. Barney had spotted the British an hour earlier and was now racing at them under both “sail and oar.” Barrie quickly assembled his scattered forces. Barney, now realizing he was outgunned by more than two to one, had no choice but to retreat northward again. A dramatic confrontation developed, and when the flotilla attempted to open a peppery fire on the enemy at long range, “the British responded with a secret weapon hitherto unused on the Chesapeake—the Congreve rocket. The weapon was the invention of a British artillery officer, Sir William Congreve, and though far from accurate or destructive, served to thoroughly terrorize the Americans. Its fame was soon to be widely castigated in the American press. But its fearsome long-range utility in battle was unquestionable.”37 “…they were wildly inaccurate, yet they did have their advantages. They were simple—briefly, just metal tubes filled with powder and capped by a warhead. They were easy to carry—one man could handle three of the 12-pounders….They were easy to fire—a common tube and tripod arrangement did the trick. But above all, they terrified anybody on the receiving end who didn’t know how erratic they really were.”38

     Barney ordered the flotilla to retire to temporary sanctuary three miles up the Patuxent River. Barrie immediately established a blockade of the river mouth, and sent for reinforcements. Meanwhile, Joshua Barney regrouped and contemplated his desperate situation.
     Captain Barrie spotted the Americans working up toward St. Leonard’s Creek, a shoally waterway impossible for the great warships to enter. “For three days on June 8, 9, and 10 the British, using shallow-draft barges and rocket boats, attacked Barney’s flotilla. However, their attempts to lure Barney out into the Patuxent within range of their larger vessels were unsuccessful.”39 Barrie decided that, “by destroying some of the tobacco stores of the region the inhabitants would be induced” to force Commodore Barney to put out and defend their property. A program of wanton pillage and destruction began, one that would leave its cruel scars upon the Patuxent Valley for more than a half century.

Terror Tactics

     Barrie launched the first of numerous attacks on the lower reaches of the Patuxent on the morning of June 11, raiding plantations, tobacco storehouses, and private homes. Warehouses were burned and livestock carried off. Whenever demands upon the local population were not met, landing parties composed of Royal Marines and, for the first time, a detachment of the Black Colonial Corps, plundered and burned at will. Although the local militia, ill equipped and lacking any form of discipline, frequently turned out, they usually fled before the battle-hardened veterans. “Tobacco, slaves, farm stock of all kinds, and household furniture,” it was later reported,

                 became the objects of their daily enterprises, and possession of them in large quantities was the
                 regard of their honorable achievements. What they could not conveniently carry away, they
                 destroyed by burning. Unarmed, unoffending citizens were taken from their very beds
                 sometimes with bed and all, and carried on board their ships, from which many of them were not
                 released until the close of the war….


     Barrie was reinforced by the arrival of yet another warship, five more boats and 231 men. Without hesitation he proceeded to launch a raid on the town of Benedict, situated on the narrow neck of Charles County which stretches to the Patuxent. Though nominally also defended by militia, it was taken without a fight and plundered. The British pressed on upriver, and on June 16 took “quiet possession” of Lower Marlborough as the militia and townfolk fled terror-striken into the wood. Meanwhile a squadron went further upriver and menaced Upper Marlborough. On the morning of June 17, Lower Marlborough’s warehouses were set afire, with a loss of $125,000 of tobacco. As they returned downriver, the British conducted raids in turn on Magruder’s Landing, Benedict, Coles Landing, Kent’s Landing, Ballard’s Landing and Graham’s Landing. Livestock, slaves and tobacco were taken off without the slightest opposition.

     The flotilla was still bottled up in St. Leonard’s Creek. “Barney’s situation was critical. Although his flotillamen and marines were obviously more than able and willing to fight, his land support was less than adequate. The Calvert County Militia, under Colonel Michael Taney, were “to be seen everywhere but just where they were wanted—whenever the enemy appeared, they disappeared,” complained the Commodore.40 
     In the midst of these raids by the British marines, Henry’s younger brother Edward Jr., not yet twenty years old that summer, had been unexpectedly ordered on service. He was plunged into this confrontation with the world’s mightiest military power; it was a maelstrom of unknown proportions. Edward was untrained, untested, led by an inept militia command, terrified of the Congreve rockets, and concerned for his family’s safety back on Arvin’s Enlargement. He soon decided that he had had enough. 


     Edward Arvin [Jr.]:  June 14 - 20, 1814. Private. Captain Francis Thompson’s
     Detachment, 43 Regiment, Maryland Militia, ordered on service in June, 1814.
     Captain Robey’s company. Time of service 6 days. Rations due 2 days, value 40
     cents. Pay 1 dollar 58 cents. Pay and rations 1 dollar 98 cents.
     Remarks: Deserted 20 Instant [
this month]. Roll dated June 29, 1814.

     The problem of desertion plagued both sides. “Desertion was a chronic problem for the British while they were in the Chesapeake but possibly more so for the fleet than for the army due to the harsh discipline in the Royal Navy. For the Americans, desertions likewise posed a major problem. Considerable numbers of militiamen deserted both before and after the Battle of Baltimore. In a letter of September 20, Brig. Gen. Thomas M. Forman, commander of the 1st Maryland Brigade made up of Cecil and Harford County troops of an estimated 2,900 men, possibly the rawest and least steady of the brigades defending Baltimore, mentioned the post-Battle of Baltimore desertions to his wife. He lamented, ‘A great many of my Brigade have deserted,…and nearly all, are extremeem[ly] anxious to return to their homes.’”41

Mutual Contempt
      “If Barney was angered by the militia and the local citizenry, the feeling was mutual. Many, whose homes had been destroyed by the British or who stood to lose should the enemy again ascend the river, believed that their plight had been triggered by the presence of one man. Joshua Barney.”42
     On July 2 the British, again reinforced by the arrival of HMS Severn, commanded by Captain Joseph Nourse, made a second appearance at St. Leonard’s Creek. Nourse dispatched several barges loaded with 150 marines up the creek. When the flotillamen fired on them and ran off into the woods, the British avenged themselves by attacking St. Leonard’s Town. “Absolutely nothing was spared—not even the slave quarters, henhouses or pigsties….When the raiders departed, there was little left but ashes to signify that there had ever been a St. Leonard’s Town.”43
     Meanwhile, units of the militia from Charles County were being activated and sent to the aid of St. Mary’s County. Henry Arvin recalls in a claim for bounty land made decades later that he was “drafted at Beantown, Charles County, Maryland, on or about the first day of June 1814 for an indefinite period of time.” But at this critical moment, the company was discharged, apparently without explanation. He states later that he was “honorably discharged on the Patuxent River in Charles County” on July 6, and had to march 30 miles back home.

     Henry: June 25 - July 6, 1814. 12 days service. Private. Captain Wilson Smoot’s
     Detachment, 43 Regiment, Maryland Militia, ordered on service in June and July,
     encamped in St. Mary’s County. Note: The company was discharged July 6 last,
     at Camp Floyd’s, St. Mary’s County, upwards of 30 miles from residence. The
     officers and men are allowed 2 days’ pay and rations for the march home from
     place of discharge. Value of rations, 1 dollar 00 cents. Pay 3 dollars 68 cents. Pay
     and rations 4 dollars 68 cents

     But the American situation remained critical. “Admiral Sir George Cockburn’s flagship, the majestic seventy-four-gun ship of the line Albion, joined Nourse’s squadron on the Patuxent on July 6. The admiral had come to personally assess the situation. Barney’s flotilla, he decided, was so far up the river it was no longer a threat.”44 “On July 10 word arrived that Annapolis was being seriously menaced by the British. An attack on the town was feared. Wadsworth’s troops, then stationed at Benedict and the only viable land forces on the river, were promptly marched off to meet the threat. No sooner had they departed than reports reached Nottingham that the British had again attacked Benedict.”45 Barney ordered the flotilla down to the town to protect it, but the report proved false.





     Then on July 14, five more British warships and two transports filled with troops arrived on the Chesapeake, and Cockburn received news that a powerful army of invasion would soon be available. Admiral Cochrane turned to Admiral Cockburn for council: he wanted his assessment of just where a decisive attack on the American coast might be made. Cockburn argued emphatically that Benedict on the Patuxent would be the most advantageous beyond any other spot in the United States. “Within forty-eight hours after our arrival in the Patuxent of such a force as you expect, the City of Washington might be possessed without difficulty or opposition of any kind.”46
     Cockburn proposed focusing his own attentions on the Potomac, which had been sounded the previous year, to terrify and distract the Americans from his true plans until the army of invasion arrived. He divided his fleet in the upper Bay into two squadrons, one under his own command, which would conduct operations “up the Potomac,” and the other under Nourse, which would continue depredations on the Patuxent. Nourse’s squadron consisted the newly-arrived Brune (thirty-eight guns), a bomb-ship (eight guns), a sloop-of-war (twelve guns), and the forty-gun frigate Severn.47
     “Cockburn conducted a series of raids along the Potomac. First hit were towns along the Maryland shore, beginning with Leonardtown on July 19. Eleven days later, at dawn on July 30, Cockburn carried out a raid on Chaptico on the Wicomico River. His men allegedly desecrated Christ Episcopal Church. The Americans later claimed the British stabled horses in the nave of the church, broke tiles, robbed tombs, and even forced women to strip naked for the delectation of officers.”48

     Meanwhile, Captain Nourse was ordered to foster the “emigration” of black slaves from the region while conducting his forays, but was not to seem too aggressive lest Washington become overly alarmed. Nourse quickly followed through the admiral’s orders. On July 16 he landed at Battle Creek and destroyed the former Calvert County seat of Calverton. Continuing up the river, he put ashore with 300 men at God’s Grace and made a seven-mile forced march to the town of Huntington. It was completely taken by surprise, and its tobacco warehouse set afire. The fire spread from house to house until the entire town was burned. They marched back to their ships, setting fire to a plantation along the way.
     “Opposition by the American army, now under the command of an inept officer named William Henry Winder and the local militia (scurrying hither and yon with total ineffectiveness) would have added a comic touch to the affair if the stakes had not been so tragically serious. Unfortunately, Nourse was far from finished.”49
     On July 19 Nourse attacked the town of Prince Frederick in Calvert County. “Though opposed by a strong force of local militia, the Americans were not inclined to fight and melted into the countryside as the British marched nine miles overland without opposition. At Prince Frederick, the captain ordered the county courthouse, all of its records, and the county jail burned, and then marched back to his ships, again without the least molestation.”50 The following day, he landed below Benedict, in St. Mary’s County, marched four miles inland, destroyed the local warehouses and tobacco stocks, and retired again to his ships. He was totally unopposed. Soon afterward, another landing at Sandy Point and another forced march five miles inland resulted in the destruction of another tobacco warehouse and the plundering of more local tobacco stocks. There again was absolutely no opposition.
     “Belatedly, Barney was alerted to the raids and dropped down the river to interdict the invaders, but to no effect. He was a few hours too late. The river was again barren of ships. Nourse was already en route to the squadron anchorage under Drum Point, fat with plunder and full of praise for his officers and men.”51

Terror on Both Rivers

Mary’s and Charles counties were in an impossible tactical position and were totally vulnerable to these types of attack. They were being terrorized from both rivers, and were completely without assistance from the federal government. Rumors sprang up that Cockburn had descended on the town of St. Mary’s, Maryland’s first capital. “As a consequence, the militiamen on the St. Mary’s County side of the Patuxent, who had been lying in the woods opposite Drum Point, had timidly preferred to follow the movements of Nourse’s small squadron rather than pursue the greater danger offered by Cockburn’s main force.”52 But the British on the Patuxent seemed invincible. “The product of his recent raids along the Patuxent Valley had been absolutely devastating to the Americans. He reported to Cockburn that ‘the people on either side of the Patuxent are in the greatest alarm and consternation many are moving away from both Calvert and St. Mary’s, and I think in short time they will be nearly deserted.’ Those few inhabitants that remained on their farms and plantations had been almost entirely deserted by their slaves, most of whom had come over to the British.”53 
     “By this time the countryside was terrified, especially along the shores of St. Mary’s and lower Charles counties. Rumors spread throughout the region that the enemy was on the march with 1,500 men. The venerable riverport of Port Tobacco was abandoned within hours, and the local militia was usually among the first of those fleeing the countryside. The War Department was in a dither as the enemy seemed to be ascending both the Potomac and the Patuxent. Not everyone was convinced the capital might be their target. Secretary of War Armstrong was informed by the new commander of the military district, Brigadier General Winder, ‘that he expected [the enemy] up the bay; and should not be surprised to find Annapolis his object; which he feared would fall, before five hundred men.’”54  
    Again at this desperate hour, Henry and Elias were activated.
Elias later states in his pension application that he was drafted “at Charles County in Class No. 2 in July 1814.”  This time, the brothers apparently stayed in Charles County. Meanwhile, Thomas Padgett Arvin was also activated. He had attained the rank of sergeant in the 1st (Hawkins’) Regiment, whose members were also part of General Philip Steuart’s 5th Brigade and were also drawn from Charles County.


     Henry: July 22 - August 3, 1814. 13 days service. Private. Captain Townley Robey’s
     Detachment, 43 Regiment, Maryland Militia, ordered on service July 22, 1814, and
     stationed at Camp Yates. Captain Wilson Smoots’ company. Value of rations,
     60 cents. Pay 3 dollars and 42 cents. Pay and rations, 4 dollars 02 cents.


Elias: July 22 - August 3, 1814. 13 days service. Private. Captain Robey’s     
     Detachment, 43 Regiment, Maryland Militia, ordered on service July 22, 1814,
     and stationed at Camp Yates. 3 days rations. Value of rations 60 cents. Pay 3 dollars
     42 cents. Pay and rations 4 dollars 02 cents. Remarks: Aug 3 attached to Captain F.
     Thompson’s Company.


     Thomas P. : July 21 - 22, 1814. 2 days service. Sergeant. Captain James H. A. Middleton’s
     detachment, 1 Regiment, Maryland Militia, ordered on service July, 1814.
     Value of rations __ dollars, 20 cents. Pay 72. Am’t of pay and rations 92.
     Remark: All the within named are entitled to one day’s ration.


     As Captain Nourse and Admiral Cochrane were making Southern Maryland their sacrificial lamb, the Washington City newspaper, the Daily National Intelligencer, downplayed the danger.

     The British squadron recently in the bay, availing itself of its wings, moves about from point to point, from
     river to river, and by this frequent motion induces a belief that there is more than one such squadron in the
     Bay. Then enemy has probably now entered the Potomac for the purposes of watering only, as he has very
     few small vessels with him, and cannot ascend the river higher than Laidler’s ferry even in the smallest of
     his vessels. The force now in the Potomac is evidently the same whose appearance (on Saturday and
     Sunday) in such force in the mouth of the Patuxent, caused the late requisition from the District, and the
     call that our troops are speedily recalled to their families, whose apprehensions have been, as we think,
     rather unnecessarily excited on the present occasion.55


     “While Nourse blockaded the Patuxent, and Cockburn raided up and down the Potomac, Barney and Secretary of the Navy Jones agonized over what to do with the flotilla. Escape past the blockaders seemed out of the question….”
     Jones even considered dismantling the flotilla and hauling it out of the creek overland, but Barney thought it best that they stay right where they were. “Barney was absolutely certain that the next major British offensive would be in his quarter, first for the plunder, and second, ‘if successful, they can march on the Capital with as much ease and in as short a distance as from any other place.’ No, it was better the flotilla remain where it was. Properly supported, he reported confidently, he could put an end to the war in this quarter once and for all. His observations were read, and quietly shelved.”56

     The British campaign of depredation against Southern Maryland and American fear, inability, or
     reluctance to counter it was having a telling. Many of the citizens of the region were growing increasingly
     exasperated, blaming the president himself ‘for leaving them to their exposed situation.’ One letter from
     Leonardstown, extremely critical of the U.S. government, later reprinted in The Times of London, noted
     the consternation and suffering of the people, ‘are only exceeded by the high stock of irritable sensibility
     discovered by all classes of citizens, of whatever party, with scarcely an exception, whenever Madison or
     Barney’s name is mentioned. The dethroned tyrant [Napoleon] is scarcely more excepted by the people of
     Paris, Lyon, or Bordeaux, then our President is by the good people of Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s.
     Curses are poured upon him daily by thousands of mouths, for bringing the enemy upon them without
     affording protection.’57

     “General Winder was unable to make up his mind just what to do about the dual incursions against Southern Maryland. Characteristically, he decided to do nothing.”58

     “It had become all too clear that assistance from the regular army of the District of Columbia Militia would be limited in Southern Maryland, and that unless the capital itself were imperiled, neither force would again be moving about much at all. The flotilla seemed to be the only viable force capable of providing any organized opposition….
     “Ironically, many in Washington were perplexed at the attitudes of those most exposed to enemy attack in Southern Maryland. Few observed that government had failed to provide substantial support for the countryside against even the most minor incursions until it was too late or unless Washington itself was thought to be threatened. Yet, they were amazed that the foe could operate with such ease in hostile territory, and suffer so few losses. Almost no one faulted the militia system itself, but instead blamed the rural farmers for failing to mount their own defense….”59 One Washingtonian observed in the Daily National Intelligencer that, “The population of any two or three plantations, if armed and faced to the enemy, might in many cases have repelled marauding parties which have ravaged a whole neighborhood.”60 On August 3rd the two Arvin brothers were reassigned to Captain Francis Thompson’s detachment. Sergeant Thomas P. Arvin was activated on August 12 in his regiment.


     Henry: August 3 - 17, 1814. 14 days service. Private. Captain Francis Thompson’s
     Detachment, 43 Regiment, Maryland Militia, ordered on service in July, 1814.
     Captain Townley Robey’s company. Pay 3 dollars 68 cents.


     Elias: August 3 - 17, 1814. 14 days service. Private. Captain Francis Thompson’s
     Detachment, 43 Regiment, Maryland Militia, ordered on service in July 1814.
     Captain Robey’s company. Pay 3 dollars 68 cents.



     Francis Thompson: July 22 - Aug 17, 1814. 27 days service. Rank of Captain.
     Captain Francis Thompson’s Detachment, 43 Regiment, Maryland Militia,
     ordered on service in July, 1814. Rations retained 60. Value of rations, 12 dollars,
     00 cents. Pay 35 dollars 49 cents. Pay and rations 47 dollars 49 cents.
     Captain Thompson’s detachment consisted of 40 men.
provision returns  reimbursement request 


     Thomas P. : August 12 - 17, 1814. 6 days service. Sergeant. Captain James H. A. Middleton’s
     detachment, 1 Regiment, Maryland Militia, ordered on service in August, 1814.
     Am’t of pay and rations 2.16
     Roll torn. Supplied from roll for July 1814

     Never one to miss an opportunity, Admiral Cockburn launched yet another landing on the mainland from the Potomac on the evening of Thursday, August 11. He apparently was attempting to initiate his new arrivals into the science of Tidewater raiding as much as to further throttle the Americans. The artillery and marines embarked, as usual, in the tenders, and by 2:00 a.m. on Friday, August 12, another foray was under way. The new initiates landed at several locations on the shores of St. Mary’s River. “Units of the Maryland Militia were reportedly forming at a cotton manufactory in the vicinity, but the local inhabitants, considering it wiser to belie their opposition, submitted to the invaders without incident. The factory was taken without a shot being fired.”61
     Back on the Patuxent, “Nourse was impressed by the complete lack of support for the American war effort in Southern Maryland. ‘In one of our expeditions,’ he noted with relish, ‘an American told us he guessed we were the advanced guard of a considerable force intended to land at Benedict and march to Washington—I wish with all my heart this force was arrived for Jonathan I believe is so confounded that he does not know when or where to look for us and I do so believe that he is at this moment so undecided and unprepared that it would require but little force to burn Washington, and I hope soon to put the first torch to it myself.’”62


The Invasion Route
          Admiral Cochrane had sailed his fleet up the Chesapeake in early August and it was now at anchor at the mouth of the Patuxent. Admiral Cockburn’s squadron rendezvoused with it on August 15. As plans for the invasion of the American capital were being finalized, the British almost decided to march right through the old Zachia Manor on their way to Washington. Who knows what havoc they would have wreaked along the way; they might have even marched right up Piney Church Road. Fortunately, they decided not to take this option, as Cockburn had convinced Admiral Cochrane and the others there was a better route to Washington. “
The direct route to Washington, from the mouth of the Potomac, was up that river, about fifty miles to Port Tobacco; thence, overland by the village of Piscataway, thirty-two miles, to the lower bridge across the eastern branch of the Potomac; but…a preference was given to the route up the Patuxent, and by Bladensburg; where the eastern branch, in case of the bridge at that spot being destroyed, could be easily forded.” And so the final decision was made. Zachia Manor and Arvin’s Enlargement were spared.63 The same would not be said for Washington City. On August 19 the British fleet sailed up the Patuxent with a landing force of 4,500 men. They would land at Benedict in Charles County.

     In 1871—in another time and another place—Elias made a claim for a pension based on his military service. He also helped Theresa, then 83 years of age, in bad health and bedridden, file a claim for a widow’s pension based on the late Henry Arvin’s military service. (Elias states he has known Theresa for 69 years.) We know from these claims that the brothers had some additional service. (See Henry Arvin - Part 2.) But exactly when and where they served was never adequately documented. Thomas P. Arvin also had additional service. He apparently never made a claim for a pension, as his total active duty totaled only 12 days.  

      Notes  Notes  Notes

     Henry: August 18 - 22, 1814. 5 days service. Private. Auditor later found evidence
     of three days for travel as part of Henry’s service in the reports of Captain Francis
     Thompson’s Detachment.


     Elias: August 18 - September 3, 1814. 31 days service. Private. Auditor later found Elias
     served in “Cap Frank Thompson’s” Company from 3 August to 28 August 1814. Still
     later, another auditor found that he “served for 31 days in August & September


     Thomas P. : August 18 - 21, 1814. 4 days service. Sergeant. Captain James H. A. Middleton’s
     Detachment 1 Reg’t Maryland Militia, in service August and September, 1814
no payments recorded]



Overwhelming Force

     “‘The military annals of England furnish no parallel of such a force as was assembled there, a force composed of the elite of the finest army of the world—veterans of a hundred battles, and with whom ‘to fight’ and ‘to conquer’ were synonymous terms.”64

     Thomas Swann, manning the government’s forward lookout post on the Potomac River, gazed in
     astonishment at the enormous forest of masts and sails blanketing the Chesapeake. The long-awaited and
     feared British invasion fleet, at least forty-six ships strong, had arrived. Aboard were 2,814 men of the 4th,
     44th, and 85th Regiments, veterans of the Peninsula Campaign in Spain known as “Wellington’s
     Invincibles” for their part in the victory of Napoleon….Also aboard were 1,000 men of the veteran 21st
  Regiment. Together with the Royal Marines and a contingent of trained naval personnel, the invasion of
     Maryland and the attack on Washington was to be carried out by no less than 4,500 crack troops. Their
     designated landed point, suggested by Cockburn and approved by Cochrane, was to be at the sad little
      town of Benedict. At 6:30
P.M. that evening…the British invasion force dropped anchor off Drum Point.
      The following morning they entered the river, their line resembling a peacetime sailing regatta more than a
      heavily armed invasion force bent on the destruction of a national capital….
           Joshua Barney learned almost immediately of the British arrival from two lookouts he had posted at the
      mouth of the Patuxent. On the morning of Friday, August 19, he fired off a confirmation. The force at the
      entrance of the river had in all seven frigates, seven transports, a sixty-four-gun ship, one raze (cut down
      frigate), two seventy-four-gun ships of the line, and two or three gun brigs….

           As Barney composed his communiqué aboard Scorpion, the British Army, under the direction of a
      disciplined, seasoned commander and veteran of the Peninsular Campaign in Spain, Major General Robert
      Ross, streamed ashore at Benedict and prepared for its long dusty march toward Washington.
            By the early morning hours of August 20, Joshua Barney learned of the successful British landing at
      Benedict, even then still under way, and at 7:00
A.M. dispatched another urgent report to Secretary Jones.
     The enemy had committed himself. The commodore was now absolutely certain the British target was
          The flotilla and a covey of merchantmen that had retreated with it had retired as far up the Patuxent as it
      could go, and came to anchor in a single line, bow to bow at Pig Point….There was little question that in
      these confines, the flotilla was doomed….65

     While General Ross marched north on the river road, Admiral Cockburn shadowed him up the Patuxent itself. He intended to dispatch the flotilla, then wait for the troops to return from Washington. Knowing the end was near, Barney sadly turned over command of the fleet with orders to destroy it upon the first appearance of the enemy. “Shortly before 11:00 A.M. on August 22, the British armada neared the American fleet….” What happened next was probably even heard at Arvin’s Enlargement. Admiral Cockburn described his armada as rapidly closing on the brave little flotilla, when he says it was “blown to atoms.”     
     “The tremendous explosions which ripped the Chesapeake Flotilla asunder were heard for miles. At that moment, General Ross’s troops were entering Upper Marlboro and sensed the enormous importance of the sounds. Neither was the chilling significance of the blasts lost on General Winder’s retreating soldiers….”

     Secretary of State and future president James Monroe had been a cavalry officer in the Revolutionary War, and when the news reached the capital, he found himself longing for action again instead of sitting in Washington. President Madison agreed to let him act as a scout, and, accompanied by a detachment of dragoons, he galloped off to the little town of Aquasco, then spied on the British from a vantage point four miles northwest of Benedict. In the crisis he was addressed not as Mr. Secretary but as Colonel Monroe, a new role he thoroughly relished.  Assessing the situation, he dashed off an urgent message to president Madison. “The enemy,” he wrote, “are advanced six miles on the road to the Woodyard, and our troops are retiring. Our troops were on the road to engage them, but in too small a body to engage. General Winder proposes to retire till he can collect them in a body. The enemy is in full march for Washington. Have the materials ready to destroy the bridges.” Monroe added ominously, “You had better remove the records.”66

Attack on the Federal City     

     The British bivouacked in Nottingham on the night of August 21st while the American forces, which had gathered from Washington, Annapolis and Baltimore, met up and marched to join their commander. On the evening of the 22nd, President Madison and three Cabinet members arrived to plan their strategy. The next morning, they reviewed the troops, a mixed lot of primarily untrained and untested soldiers, who were to face the highly skilled, battle-hardened, better equipped British forces. It was a recipe for disaster.
     On August 24th, the British broke camp at Melwood Park and moved northwest to the little town of Bladensburg. Marching in intense heat along the river road, the British arrived about noon. The American forces under General Winder were determined to make their stand against a force of only half their strength. But, seized with fear caused by the explosion of British Congreve rockets and uncertain of any rear line support, the Americans rushed to the rear of the battle line. The rest of the American forces retreated to the rear, thus opening the turnpike leading to Washington for the British….67 The humiliating defeat of the American arms that followed on that grim day has been ignominiously referred to ever after as “The Bladensburg Races,” in reference to the speed with which the American forces left the field. “The American defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg doomed Washington.”68
       Entering Washington that evening, the British began to sack and burn many of the public buildings of the city, including the Capitol and the President’s House. The American forces, having dispersed and retreated to Georgetown, left the capitol open to the British.

     No doubt everyone at the Arvin family compound realized what was happening up north. “In remoter parts of Virginia and Maryland, glum and pensive citizens looked across the darkened countryside to the glow above the capital. It looked as if the Federal City was sending out a fiery distress signal. Daniel Sheldon Jr., an auditor in flight with the secretary of the treasury to Fredericktown, Maryland, stopped at 1 A.M. to look back at the capital twenty-eight miles to the east at the shimmering light over Washington. It was a night of sorrow and dread….The citizens of Baltimore also saw an ominous brightness at the end of a dark stretch forty-five miles to the southwest….Far to the east, aboard Cockburn’s flagship HMS Albion on the Patuxent, a duty officer recorded his impression in the log book at 9 P.M.: ‘Observed a great fire in the direction of Washington.’”70

      By the end of the following day many public buildings including the Treasury and War Department offices had been burned as further revenge for damage inflicted by Americans on British-Canadian cities.69 Under cover of a severe storm, the British withdrew from the city the evening of the 25th, retracing their steps to Bladensburg, where they left most of their wounded. They arrived back in Upper Marlboro at dusk on the 26th. Some stragglers were arrested by a certain Upper Marlboro resident named Dr. William Beanes. This action angered General Ross, who took the doctor prisoner. By August 30th, the British had retraced their steps to Benedict and were back on board their ships…their twelve day campaign over. Dr. Beanes remained captive on board a British ship.71
     “Not a shot was fired at them all the way; not a bridge destroyed nor a tree chopped down to check their progress. They had seen few enemy troops on the way in; they saw none on the way out.

     “Yet there were casualties—not killed, or wounded, or prisoners, but a remarkable number of stragglers and deserters. A total of 111 men simply vanished….But others were more than armed marauders, taking time out to pillage the countryside. They stayed away from the big estates of the Federalist country squires—these often had British guards. They concentrated on the small holdings of the poor dirt farmers, robbing their homes, their crops, their hen houses.”72  

      The fleet headed southward, lingered about Tangier Island a bit, menaced the Potomac…and on
      September 9 was spotted off the mouth of the Patuxent once again. Where it was bound was anyone’s
      guess. The following morning, the still-massive armada was observed heading up the bay under full press
      of sail. Cockburn, it appeared, was again about to have his way, for he had successfully pushed upon Ross
      and Cochrane a plan for a devastating strike against the Port of Baltimore. Such a strike, he felt, if
      successful, could end once and for all the war in the Tidewater, if not in America.
          When the British departed the Patuxent, they left behind them what seemed a ruined land. A few houses
      and farms that remained along the river’s banks lay untended and deserted. Fields of unharvested corn still
      abounded, often the burnt-out shells of once pleasant dwellings and modest farms. Many of the major
      plantations had been completely destroyed while others had been mysteriously spared. Here and there
      flocks of sheep could still be found grazing, tended by a slave or two who had refused to run off to face a
      somewhat uncertain future in Canada or the West Indies. 
          Yet the scene of total ruination and destruction extended, for the most part, barely two miles inland
      from the river. The scar upon the hearts and minds of the people, however, extended much deeper. The
      march on Washington had produced traumatic repercussions amidst the natives of the Maryland
      countryside.” 73

That Banner Yet Waves

     Baltimore had grown to be a hotbed of anti-British sentiment and action. It was here that the privateers were most prevalent, so it was only natural that after their great victory in Washington, the British would attempt to vanquish this town, a target of obvious importance. The dramatic events of the Battle of Baltimore would play out at Fort McHenry, strategically located on Whetstone Point jutting out into the harbor. As a new recruit in the Revolutionary War, Henry’s father Edward, on his way north to join the Continental Army in 1779, had stopped briefly at the Whetstone Point battery before Fort McHenry was ever built. Now a generation later, Whetstone Point was to be the stage for a crucial act in this play known as the Second War of Independence.
          While the British were positioning for their attack on Fort McHenry, John Skinner, United States agent for the exchange of prisoners, and Francis “Frank” Scott Key, an attorney from Georgetown and family friend of Dr. Beanes, boarded the ship where he was held to negotiate his release. Francis Scott Key, born in 1779, was the great-grandson of Mr. Philip Key, who had purchased the indenture of Henry’s grandfather, Thomas Arvin, when Thomas arrived at Annapolis from Ireland in 1745. The kindly Mr. Key helped Thomas get his start in America. The two soon found they would not be allowed to leave until the siege of Baltimore was over. “John Skinner and Francis Scott Key had spent the night on the deck of their ship trying to guess at possible damage to Fort McHenry. They monitored shells by listening raptly after each firing to hear whether it was followed by an explosion. So long as the bombardment continued, they knew the fort had not fallen. The exhausting vigil held hour after hour. But when the shelling slackened in the darkness before dawn, they did not know whether Fort McHenry had surrendered or whether the bombardment had been abandoned. Nervously pacing the wet deck and constantly looking at their watches to see how long they had to wait for daylight, the two men futilely trained their glasses on the darkened fort to see whose flag flew above the ramparts. Then the light quickened, and as the breeze cleared away the mist, Key marveled. A gigantic star-spangled banner flew conspicuously above the fort. ‘Our flag was still there!’ he later told Roger Taney, his brother-in-law.”74  

     The attack had clearly been thwarted, and the British decided to withdraw. The army had suffered badly; its leader, Major General Robert Ross, had been killed by a sniper. The navy, after testing the strength of Ft. McHenry with seemingly endless hours of artillery and rocket fire, finally sailed away on September 17, bloodied in humiliation, although still quiet intact. Morale was incredibly low. Admirals Cochrane and Cockburn agonized over their failure and attempted to put the best face on things in the report to the home government, but the British Admiralty was not impressed. And, “Despite the apparent triumph of Ross and Cockburn at Washington, world opinion quickly turned against the British for their incendiary actions in the American capital.”75 The world was about to change. The United States of America was coming of age.

     By October, Cochrane and the largest portion of the British fleet were on the Atlantic, bound for the West Indies, where they joined the expedition which later failed in its attempt to capture New Orleans. Cockburn returned briefly to the Chesapeake, but colder whether, rather than the Americans, chased him further south. In January 1815, he was off the coast of Georgia, still plying his trade. “Performing what had become a familiar routine, he looted public storehouses there and moved briefly into the interior to recruit slaves for further raiding. When Cockburn heard in February that peace had been concluded, he was planning an assault on Savannah and talking of provoking a general slave uprising to bring the southern states under British control.”76   




     The peace treaty was signed in the City of Ghent (now in Belgium) on Christmas Eve, 1814. But trans-Atlantic travel still took weeks, and news didn’t reach America until the following year. At 8:00 PM on Saturday evening the 11th of February 1815, two of the American negotiators, Anthony Baker and Henry Carroll, landed at the Battery in New York City. They were bringing home with them copies of the peace treaty for ratification by the United States Senate. Word leaked out, and within twenty minutes of their arrival lamps were blazing along lower Broadway. Ignoring the fact that the treaty hadn’t been ratified yet, men paraded through the streets with candles. Bells rang, guns sounded off, commercial messengers galloped off in every direction to alert the nation. By 9:00 PM a special edition broadside was on the streets. Henry Carroll left immediately for the Federal City in a chaise. 

     At 4:00
PM, February 14, Carroll’s coach finally reached Washington…swung past the burnt shell of the
     Capitol…and rolled up Pennsylvania Avenue to James Monroe’s residence at I Street. Carroll dashed
     inside as an excited crowd swarmed around the coach and its four steaming horses. A few moments later
     both Carroll and Monroe emerged and hurried down 18th Street to the President’s temporary home at
     Octagon House. Here they joined Madison and retired upstairs to the circular room above the front hall.
     Other cabinet members soon joined them, and the little group huddled together, quietly dissecting the
     treaty paragraph by paragraph.
          Downstairs all was excitement. Congressmen, officials, good friends streamed through the front door
     and milled around the drawing room embracing each other. For once party differences were forgotten….77

     Shortly after 8:00, Dolley Madison beamed radiantly as her husband pronounced the terms satisfactory. Her cousin Sally Coles called out “Peace! Peace!” from the top of the servant’s stairway. Wine was poured, the pantry boy began fiddling the “President’s March.”
     Word of the treaty found its way to the citizens of the nation via the various news organizations of the day, moving at the speed of the times. The New York Gazette published the story on Sunday, February 12. Philadelphia picked it up on Monday. In Annapolis, The Maryland Gazette announced the news in its edition of Thursday, 16 February 1815.


                                                                PHILADELPHIA, FEB. 13
                                                       Important & Heart Cheering News

                                                       The sensation  produced yesterday,
                                                       was such as we have never witness-
                                                       ed, and cannot attempt  to describe.
                                                       ….                    —A letter was left
                                                       by  the  Express at  Mr. Stockton’s

                                                       stage office, directed to a gentleman

                                                       in this city  which  being committed
                                                       to the care of the Editor of  this pa-
                                                       per, was handed  to  the  person  to 
                                                       whom it  was  addressed, amidst  a
                                                       crowd of two or three hundred curi-
                                                       ous heart beating citizens.—The let-
                                                       ter announced, in a few  words,  the
                                                       “glad tidings” of  Peace,  and to  the
                                                       assembled  hundreds with  a  sudden
                                                       and consentient shout rung the news                          
                                                       with their cheerings.—This news was
                                                       welcome to every description of cit-
                                                       izens, spread  with  electric velocity,
                                                       and  the  city   was  almost  fitfully
                                                       thrown into a  paroxysm of  joy.
                                                                        From our Correspondent
                                                                        Office of the New York Gazette
Feb. 12, 1815 (Noon)

The Senate did ratify the treaty, by unanimous vote, on Friday, February 17. On Saturday President James Madison read his proclamation. Peace was at hand. “The Treaty of Peace and Amity between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America,” printed in its entirety, filled the front page of the Maryland Gazette on Monday, 20 February 1815.
     “Late in February, the last of the British warships left their moorings at Tangier Island and sailed down the Bay. Almost two years had passed since the British first occupied the island early in April 1813.”78 This time they left the Chesapeake forever.

Continued in   Henry Arvin  Part 2 – Migration

Researched and written by Robert Joseph Arvin, Jr.      ©
Copyright 2009



1.  tombstone inscription; Charles Blanchard, History of the Catholic Church in Indiana (1898), Vol. 2, p 27
2.  Image of this document available on-line at Maryland State Archives Online,, Vol. 729, p 1387: the “1798 Federal Direct Tax” list
Gilbert Byron, The War of 1812 on the Chesapeake Bay (1964), p 7
4.  Regina Combs Hammett, History of Saint Mary’s County, Maryland (1977), p 94
5.  Byron, The War of 1812, p11
6.  Christopher T. George, Terror on the Chesapeake, the War of 1812 on the Bay, (2001), p 14
7.  Donald G. Shomette, Flotilla, the Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812 (2009), p 3
8.  Byron, p 14
9.  William James, The Naval History of Great Britain, as quoted by Byron, p 21

10.  National Archives and Records Administration, Compiled Military Service Records for the Volunteer
       Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812
, Microcopy 602, Roll Box 6

11.  Shomette, Flotilla, p 16-17
12.  Shomette, Flotilla, p 18

13.  Byron, p 17; George, 102; Walter Lord, Dawn’s Early Light (1972), p 138
14.  Byron, p 12, 17-18
15.  William Marine, The British Invasion of Maryland 1812-1815(1913), p 27-28
George, Terror on the Chesapeake, p viii
17.  George, p 37
Byron, p 24-25
Byron, p 26
20.  Byron, p 26
Edwin W. Beitzell, “A Short History of St. Clement’s Island, Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Vol.6, No. 11
       (November 1958), p 45, 246, as quoted by Hammett, History of Saint Mary’s County, p 95
Donald G. Shomette, Tidewater Time Capsule: History Beneath the Patuxent (1995), p 54
23.  Hammett, p 95-96
Marine, British Invasion, p 53
George, p 56
26.  Hammett, p 96
Shomette, Tidewater, p 55
28.  George, p 56
29.  Hammett, p 96
Times of London, 15 April 1814
31.  Byron, p 45
32.  Shomette, Tidewater, p 64
33.  Hammett, p 97
34.  George, p 68
35.  Hammett, p 97
36.  Shomette, Tidewater,  p 56
37.  Shomette, Tidewater,  p 65-66
38.  Walter Lord, The Dawn’s Early Light (1972), p 126
39.  Hammett, p 97
Shomette, Tidewater, p 73-74
41.  George, p 161
42.  Shomette Flotilla, p 165
43.  Shomette, Tidewater, p 83
44.  ibid, p 83
45.  ibid, p 84
46.  ibid, p 84
47.  ibid, p 84
48.  George, p 79
49.  Shomette, Tidewater, p 87
50.  ibid, p 87
51.  ibid, p 87
52.  Shomette, Flotilla, p 204-205
53.  ibid, p 188
54.  ibid, p 201-202
Daily National Intelligencer, 20 July1814, in Shomette 2009, p 192
56.  Shomette, Tidewater, p 88
57.  Times of London, 6 September 1814 as in Shomette 2009, p 194
58.  Shomette, Flotilla, p 194
59.  ibid, p 195-196
60.  Daily National Intelligencer, 21 July 1814
61.  Shomette, Flotilla, p 214
62.  ibid, p 205
William Marine, The British Invasion of Maryland 1812-1815 (1913), p 73
Shomette, Flotilla, p 232
Shomette, Tidewater, p 89
Shomette, Flotilla, p 278
67.  Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, History Division, The 1814 British Invasion
       Route, A Self-Guided Driving Tour of The March Through Maryland to Washington D.C.

68.  Shomette, Tidewater, p 89-92
Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, History Division, The 1814 British Invasion
       Route, A Self-Guided Driving Tour of The March Through Maryland to Washington D.C.

70.  Anthony S. Pitch, The Burning of Washington, the British Invasion of 1814 (1998), p 126, 144
71.  Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, History Division, The 1814 British Invasion
       Route, A Self-Guided Driving Tour of The March Through Maryland to Washington D.C.

72.  Lord, p 185
73.  Shomette, Flotilla, p 337
74.  Anthony S. Pitch, The Burning of Washington, the British Invasion of 1814 (1998), p 218
75.  George, p 159
76.  David Stephen Heidler, Encyclopedia of the War of 1812 (2004), p 117
77.  Lord, p 337-338
78.  Byron, p 85


All pen and pencil drawings from The Pictoral Field Book of the War of 1812 by Benson J. Lossing (1869)
James Madison by John Vanderlyn (1816), courtesy Wikipedia
Map of Actions in 1814, and American and British Vessels  are courtesy National Park Service, from “Proposed Star Spangled Banner Trail Through Maryland and Washington, D.C., Studied by the National Park Service” (March 2004).
Rear Admiral Cockburn by George Lucas (pre-1854), courtesy Wikipedia
Admirals Warren and Cochrane courtesy of Wikipedia.
Russian Soldier Using Congreve Rocket 1826-1828 courtesy New York Public Library digital gallery, Vinkhuijzen Collection
U.S. Capitol after burning by the British (c. 1814), by George Munger, courtesy of United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division, digital ID cph.3g11489
A view of the President’s house in the city of Washington after the conflagration of the 24th August 1814 (1814), by George Munger, later engraved by William Strickland (1814), courtesy Library of Congress, digital ID cph.3b51941
By Dawn’s Early Light, by Edward Percy Moran (1912), courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
“A VIEW of the BOMBARDMENT of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, by the British fleet taken from the Observatory under the Command of Admirals Cochrane & Cockburn on the morning of the 13th of Septr 1814 which lasted 24 hours, & thrown from 1300 to 1800 shells in the Night attempted to land by forcing a passage up the ferry branch but were repulsed with great losses” by John Bower (1816), courtesy of Wikipedia
A Hundred Years Peace. The Signature of the Treaty of Ghent between Great Britain and the United States of America, Dec. 24th 1814 by A. Forestier. (c 1915), courtesy of National Defense and the Canadian Forces website (



Arvin Ancestry Biographical Sketches