As 1813 came to a close, nearly 50,000 people lived in Baltimore and the surrounding precincts, among them 5,000 enslaved blacks. Only Philadelphia and New York boasted larger populations and Baltimore had the bustle and bravado of a booming young metropolis. The city incorporated only sixteen years earlier, a combination of Baltimore Town (located around today’s Inner Harbor), Jonestown (northeast of the marshy delta at the bottom of the Jones Falls, around the Fayette Street Post Office and the Shot Tower), and Fell’s Point (facing Fort McHenry and Federal Hill, across the Patapsco River).
Since its foundation, the young city had nearly doubled in size and sprawled over into the western and eastern precincts beyond the city line. In March 1813, President James Madison started his second term as president. The War of 1812, known to its critics as Mr. Madison’s War, had left port cities like Baltimore struggling under a British blockade of merchant shipping. Instead of trades, wealthy local merchants in Baltimore invested in new factories powered by water wheels or the risky privateer ventures that chased British merchants and their cargoes around the Atlantic and Caribbean. Despite the conflict, life went on in Baltimore.