On the evening of September 12, 1814, Vice Admiral Alexander Cochran wrote to Colonel Arthur Brooke with the news that General Robert Ross was struck and killed at the Battle of North Point:
1/2 past Seven Monday Evening [12 September 1814]
The Sad Accounts of the death of General Ross has Just reached Me— I had written him a few Minutes before by the boats in Bear Creek with a Bird’s Eye View of the fortifications of Baltimore and the New entrenchments I saw them throwing up to the NNE.—of the Town, upon Which a Good Many people are Engaged— It Struck Me that this entrenched Camp may be turned.
Since writing the before going my letter to my poor departed friend is returned. I therefore Send it to you in its Original form—
It is proper for me to Mention to You, that a System of Retaliation was to be proceeded Upon—in Consequence of the Barbarities Committed in Canada—and that if Genl. Ross had Seen the Second letter from Sir George Prevost—he would have destroyed Washington and George Town— Their Nature are perfectly known to Rear Admiral Cockburn and I believe Mr. Evans— In them a kind of Latitude is given for raising Contribution instead of destruction but in this public property Cannot be Compromised.
You will best be able to Judge what can be attempted—but let me know your determination as Soon as possible that I may Act Accordingly
Ever my dear Sir
The transcript of this letter is re-posted from the Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum and Blog of 1812.
On May 27, 1814, Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane wrote to Rear Admiral George Cockburn, describing the need to pay for intelligence and ensure that British attacks could be directed to “do them the greatest injury and facilitate the Escape of their Negroes.”
Private and Confidential
Asia 27 May 1814 Bermuda
My dear Sir,
As I daily look for the arrival of the Marines and it being probable from the lateness of the Season that nothing equal to what was intended can take place, the Troops being required for the Defence of Canada, I must therefore confine myself to minor objects, attainable by a force not exceeding 1,500 Men.
I have therefore to beg that you will endeavor to procure the most correct information possible of the Force and position of the Enemy within the Chesapeake and to the Southward with the Situations where Landings can be made to do them the greatest injury and facilitate the Escape of their Negroes— such information can be only come at by paying for it—you have therefore authority to do so.
It is of material consequence to know exactly their military force at the different Stations, as it may be necessary to make distant and partial attacks to draw off their force from the point of real attack. You will therefore see what consequence it is to obtain the best information on those heads which may be difficult unless you can find some enterprising characters who run all risks for money, with which you may assure them of being well remunerated if their intelligence is found correct.
Adieu my dear sir, ever most sincerely Yrs
This letter is cross-posted from the Blog of 1812 courtesy the Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum.
On April 2 1814, Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane issued a proclamation to attract black recruits from the men held in slavery on farms and plantations across the Chesapeake region. The proclamation was intended to help fulfill his plans (mentioned in his March 10 letter to George Prevost) to combine the “Recruits I expect to raise from the Negroes” with the British Marines and “Keep the Enemy in a constant alarm.”
In The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832, historian Alan Taylor observed how the carefully worded proclamation avoided any direct mention of slavery but still emphasized the “FREE” status of any who fled to the British–allowing Cochrane to deny any charge of promoting a slave revolt. Cochrane sent 1,000 printed copies of the proclamation to Cockburn for distribution around the Chesapeake, an effort aided by local and national newspapers that reprinted the proclamation in full. Taylor quotes orders from Cochrane to Taylor identifying the emancipation of enslaved people as a central goal of the 1814 campaign writing:
“Let the Landings you may make be more for the protection of the desertion of the Black population than with a view to any other advantage… The great point to be attained is the cordial support of the Black population. With them properly armed & backed with 20,000 British Troops, Mr. Maddison will be hurled from his throne.”
Many of the black recruits and families that took advantage of the British offer were eventually resettled in Halifax, Nova Scotia. According to Taylor, around 1,200 black refugees arrived between 1813 and 1814 and another 1,611 refugees arrived between April 1815 and October 1818. Among the enslaved people from the Chesapeake who made it to Canada was thirteen-year-old Gabriel Hall (pictured above in an 1895 photograph) who escaped from Walter Wells’s Calvert County farm in July 1814. Learn more about Gabriel Hall from the Maryland State Archives or read on for a transcript of Cochrane’s proclamation.
PROCLAMATION OF VICE ADMIRAL SIR ALEXANDER F.I. COCHRANE, R.N.
By the Honorable Sir ALEXANDER COCHRANE, K.B. Vice Admiral of the Red, and Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels, upon the North American Station …. &c, &c, &c.
WHEREAS, it has been represented to me, that many Persons now resident in the UNITED STATES, have expressed a desire to withdraw therefrom, with a view of entering into His Majesty’s Service, or of being received as Free Settlers into some of His Majesty’s Colonies.
This is therefore to Give Notice,
That all those who may be disposed to emigrate from the UNITED STATES will, with their Families, be received on board His Majesty’s Ships or Vessels of War, or at the Military Posts that may be established, upon or near the Coast of the UNITED STATES, when they will have their choice of either entering into His Majesty’s Sea or Land Forces, or of being sent as FREE settlers to the British Possessions in North America or the West Indies, where they will meet with due encouragement.
Given under my Hand at Bermuda, this 2nd day of April, 1814, ALEXANDER COCHRANE.
By Command of the Vice Admiral, WILLIAM BALHETCHET. GOD SAVE THE KING.
On March 11, 1814, Admiral Alexander Cochrane wrote to British Governor General George Prevost in Halifax, Nova Scotia from on board the HMS Asia docked in Bermuda. Cochrane outlined his plan to draw American forces away from Canada by making a “considerable diversion in the Chesapeake Bay.” Cochrane also felt optimistic about the prospects of “facilitate the desertion of the Negroes, and their Families,” and the possibility of arming formerly enslaved men to fight against slave-holders in the Chesapeake region.
HMS. Asia, Bermuda 11th March 1814
I have the honor to acquaint Your Excellency of my arrival at Bermuda, to Succeed Admiral Sir John Warren in the Command of His Majesty’s Ships on the Coast of America, from the St: Lawrence to the Mississippi, and I take this early occasion of assuring Your Excellency of my most cordial concurrence in every measure that can be conducive to the good of His Majesty’s Service; Rear Admiral Griffiths will have my directions to Second your views to the utmost of his power,—
And I hope to be able to make a very considerable diversion in the Chesapeake Bay, to draw off in part the Enemy’s efforts against Canada—
It is my intention to fortify one of the Islands in the Chesapeake, to facilitate the desertion of the Negroes, and their Families, who are to have their choice of either entering into His Majesty’s Service, or to be settled with their Families at Trinidad or in the British American Provinces— Recruiting Parties are to be sent from all the West India Regiments to Bermuda, and those who may choose to enlist, are to have their Wives and Families Provided for in the same manner, as those permitted to attend the Regiments abroad, by which it is hoped in a certain time the Regiments will furnish their own Recruits—
As two additional Battalion of Marines are on their way out, with the Recruits I expect to raise from the Negroes joined to the 102 Regt. all of which will be under the immediate Command of Major General Conran, I hope to be able to Keep the Enemy in a constant alarm so as to prevent their sparing any part of their Military force from the State, South of the Delaware, which if I succeed in, I do not believe from the temper of the Eastern states that they will be able to recruit their Army from thence—
I have the honor to remain etc.
[Signed] A. Cochrane March 11, 1814
On February 23, 1814, Rear Admiral George Cockburn sailed his flagship the HMS Albion into Lynnhaven Bay marking the return of the British military campaign to the Chesapeake.
The British attacks on coastal Maryland and Virginia towns that earned Cockburn a reputation for brutality in 1813 paused when most of the fleet sailed for Bermuda in September. Returned from the Caribbean after a tour of the Atlantic blockading squadrons, Rear Admiral Cockburn soon resumed the aggressive raids and anticipated grander actions under his new, more aggressive commander in chief Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane.