Category Archives: Letters

Admiral Alexander Cochrane: “I hope to be able to make a very considerable diversion in the Chesapeake Bay”

HMS Asia at Malta, US Navy, .
HMS Asia at Malta, US Navy, NH 64198.

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

Postmaster Charles Burrall to Thomas Jefferson: “individuals began to practice their insiduous arts to obtain” my office

Baltimore March 6, 1814.


In consequence of the removal of Mr Granger, there will be many efforts made to remove the subordinate officers in our Dept especially where their offices are worth having, and already have individuals began to practice their insiduous arts to obtain mine—From, your personal knowledge of me, and from an opinion entertained by myself, that your sentiments have been favorable to me I have presumed Sir, to address you on this subject. …

Old City Post Office
Old City Post Office, Front near Exeter Stret, Maryland Historical Society

On March 6, 1814, Baltimore Postmaster Charles Burrall wrote to Thomas Jefferson seeking his intervention in the local politics that threatened his position in the city. Born around 1763, Charles Burrall had served as a clerk at the general post office in Philadelphia in 1791, assistant postmaster general from 1792 to 1800, and as postmaster of Baltimore since 1800. Burrall knew Jefferson personally from the late 1790s when the two lived at the same Philadelphia boardinghouse.

The political attacks on Charles Burrall may have been inspired by the replacement of long-serving Postmaster General Gideon Granger but stemmed from the politics around the events of August 1812 when a local Republican mob attempted to take and destroy copies of the anti-war newspaper Federal Republican from the Baltimore post office after they arrived from Georgetown for distribution. Burrall recalled the events in his letter writing:

In the summer of 1812 I had a trying time here, and although I would not go thro’ the same scene again for any office within the gift of the President that I am capable of filling, yet I have the consolation of knowing that I then served Mr Madison with as much fidelity as I flatter myself, in your estimation, I heretofore served you—I believe I may say without vanity that I at that time contributed as much as any other individual to prevent his coming into collision with the riotously disposed of this City…

Burrall expanded on the issue and shared testimony he had delivered in court in December 1812 in a second letter sent to Thomas Jefferson the very next day:

Sir, [7 March 1814]

Since writing my letter of yesterday an insiduous piece has appeared against me in the Whig, which I enclose—It contains many unfounded suggestions to my prejudice, altho it tacitly admits that I have done my duty with correctness & impartiality…

Burrall left his position with the postal service in 1816 and took on the job of president of the Baltimore and Reister’s-Town Road Company. Burrall remained in Baltimore until at least 1824 and eventually settled in Goshen, New York where he died in 1836.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton: “men blinded by party spirit are not to be cured by reason but by sufferings”

Baltimore, 26th February 1814

I have read with much pleasure your speech at Annapolis; you have perspicuously traced the causes of our war with Great Britain to their real origin and have exposed the disgraceful intrigues and falsehoods of the Administration by which they have gradually led Congress to declare it. If the war party could divest themselves of their hatred to England and consider dispassionately the contents of your address, I should hope the perusal of it would be followed by happy consequences. But men blinded by party spirit are not to be cured by reason but by sufferings, and the great mass of the people have not yet suffered enough to make them sick of the war.

Engraving of "Charles Carroll of Carrollton"
Engraving of “Charles Carroll of Carrollton” by Samuel M. Wilson. University of Kentucky, pa62w8.

On February 26, 1814, Charles Carroll of Carrollton wrote to his son-in-law Robert Goodloe Harper (continuing their  correspondence from January) to praise his recent speech in Annapolis.

Throughout the war, members of the Federalist Party, like Carroll and Harper, expressed serious concerns about the conflict with Great Britain and offered sharp criticism of President James Madison. In Baltimore, the debate between Federalists and supporters of the Democratic-Republican Party turned violent when a group of rioters destroyed the offices of the Federalist newspaper The Federal Republican on June 20, 1814. In a second attack in July, a mob brutally assaulted and tortured the newspaper publisher Alexander Contee Hanson and eight of his employees and associates. In 1816, Contee succeeded Robert Goodloe Harper as a United States Senator for Maryland.

Carroll’s February 1814 letter continues below:

Continue reading Charles Carroll of Carrollton: “men blinded by party spirit are not to be cured by reason but by sufferings”

Benjamin Williams replaced Nathaniel Hynson as warden at the Maryland Penitentiary

Maryland Penitentiary from J.H.B. Latrobe's Picture of Baltimore (1832). Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries, F 189.B1 P53 1842 QUARTO.
Maryland Penitentiary from J.H.B. Latrobe’s Picture of Baltimore (1832). Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries, F 189.B1 P53 1842 QUARTO.

On February 23, 1814, Nathaniel Hynson, warden of the Maryland Penitentiary since April 1812 and a prominent cabinet-maker, was replaced by a new warden Benjamin Williams. Williams’ appointment sparked a conflict between the Inspectors of the Penitentiary (a group that included Hezekiah Clagget, John Hillen, James Kemp, George Lindenberger, Isaac McPherson, John Oliver, Henry Payson, George Roberts, Baltzer Schaeffer, Samuel Sterett, and Elisha Tyson) and Maryland Governor Levin Winder documented in a series of letters between the parties.

On January 27, 1814, Benjamin Williams wrote “with concern” to Col. John Thomas in Annapolis sharing that the Inspectors of the Penitentiary objected to his appointment and remarking “should the intrigue of the Inspectors succeed, it would be a ruinous stroke to me.” On January 28, 1814, Baltimore judge Luther Martin wrote directly to Governor Winder, to note Williams’ arrival in Baltimore and object that none of the Inspectors had any prior notice and remarking that Hynson’s character and livelihood was affected by his removal.

The Maryland legislature established the state penitentiary in 1809 with an act declaring that “all prisoners convicted of any crime punishable by confinement in the penitentiary should be placed and kept in solitary cells thereof, and kept on low and [coarse] diet for such a time as the discretion of the court might direct.” The same act also determined that the warden or keeper of the penitentiary “in addition to the salary allowed him by the Legislature, have five per centum on the sale of all articles manufactured by the prisoners in the institution, with the power to appoint his deputies and assistants.” The keeper’s responsibilities included providing “a sufficient quantity of stock and materials, working tools and implements for the employment of the convicts and to contract for the clothing diet and other necessaries for the maintenance and support of the convicts.”

As a member of the Columbian Fire Company and a former member of the Baltimore First Branch City Council, Hynson was a well-known local citizen but likely still struggled from the sudden loss of wages from his position. Hynson may have returned to his trade as a cabinet-maker but, on March 14, 1821, he came back to the Maryland Penitentiary where he took over from Benjamin Williams as keeper until February 9, 1825.

Sources: Scharf, John Thomas. The Chronicles of Baltimore. Turnbull Bros., 1874. pp. 187, 203, 205, 251; Radoff, Morris Leon. The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland.  Hall of Records Commission, 1955, p. 249.

“Go and ask your mother” – George Nicholas Hollins joins the Navy

George Hollins, 1816. The Frick Collection, b1080356
George Hollins, 1816. Image courtesy The Frick Collection, b1080356

On February 8, 1814, 14-year-old George N. Hollins wrote a letter to his uncle Samuel Smith:

“Dear Uncle, I saw Commodore Perry and witnessed the honors paid him. I never was so pleased with the appearance of any person. Anxious to deserve similar honors and emulate his actions, I have taken the liberty to solicit your interest to procure me a midshipman’s commission in the navy.”

Continue reading “Go and ask your mother” – George Nicholas Hollins joins the Navy

Secretary William Jones: “The reiteration of your request to recruit in New York is superfluous”

On February 7, 1814, Secretary of the Navy William Jones sent a reply to Master Commandant Spence in Fell’s Point, firmly rejecting his request to recruit in New York to find sailors for the USS Ontario:
Robert T. Spence Esquire
Navy Department
U.S. Navy Baltimore.
February 7th. 1814
I have received your letter of yesterday. The reiteration of your request to recruit in New York is superfluous, you were explicitly informed, that it was inadmissible. The recruiting for the Lake service at New York will require all that can be obtained there. A surgeon will be ordered to the Ontario in a few days.—
I am respectfully your Obedt. Servant
William Jones

There is now among us a Gallant Hero, Commodore Perry! The public spirit of Baltimore seems to have awakened to the Beams of his Glory, and shone forth yesterday in a Dinner to him A Large Company, and an excellent repast, with splendid decorations for the occasion.

Letter from Lydia Hollingsworth to cousin Ruth Hollingsworth from Baltimore, February 2, 1814. Read more stories from Oliver Perry’s visit to Baltimore.

Source: Hollingsworth to Hollingsworth, 2 February 1814, Hollingsworth Letters, Ms. 1849, Maryland Historical Society. Published in “This Time of Present Alarm”: Baltimoreans Prepare for Invasion, Barbara K. Weeks, Maryland Historical Magazine, Volume 84, Fall 1989.

The National Union Bank: “a sort of oyster in Architecture!”

On February 2, 1814, in a letter to Reverend James Kemp, Nicholas Rogers offered up a novel metaphor for the National Union Bank (designed by Robert Cary Long at Charles and Fayette Streets) when he observed that the building was:

“wonderfully full of deformity, a sort of oyster in Architecture!”

Rev. Kemp, the recipient of Rogers’ letter and an associate rector of St. Paul’s Church, was working with Robert Cary Long on the construction of the new building for St. Paul’s Church on Charles Street.

National Union Bank Building, Fayette & Charles Streets
Library of Congress, HABS MD,4-BALT,52–1

Organized and chartered in 1804, the Union Bank of Maryland was built in 1807 with architect Robert Cary Long joined by builders William Steuart and Colonel James Mosher. One artifact  from the long-since demolished bank building still survives up through the present. A carved sandstone typanum, created by “Messrs. Chevalier Andrea and Franzoni,” was moved to the “Municipal Museum,” better known as the Peale Museum, where it was installed in the rear yard after the museum’s 1931 restoration.

E. H. Pickering, September 1936. Library of Congress, HABS MD,4-BALT,52--4
E. H. Pickering, September 1936. Library of Congress, HABS MD,4-BALT,52–4

Source: Hayward, Mary Ellen, and Frank R Shivers. 2004. The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

On February 2, 1814, President James Madison appointed Christopher Hughes, Jr. to serve as the “secretary of the joint mission for negotiating a treaty of peace and of commerce with Great Britian” at Ghent, Belguim. Born and raised in Baltimore, Hughes’ father was a well-known local silversmith.

Learn more about Christopher Hughes, Jr. (1786-1849) from Maryland in the War of 1812.

Christopher Hughes, Jr.
Christopher Hughes, Jr., The pictorial field-book of the war of 1812 (1896).

Source: U.S. Secretary of State James Monroe to Hughes, February 2, 1814. Christopher Hughes Papers, Clements Library, University of Michigan.

Architect Robert Mills submits a “book of designs” for Baltimore’s Washington Monument

Robert Mills, 1808

On January 12, 1814, a 33-year-old architect named Robert Mills mailed off a “book of designs” to the Board of Managers of the Washington Monument in Baltimore. Accompanying the dozen drawings and pages of notes describing his design, Mills included a letter making the case for his particular qualifications as an American architect:


Through your indulgence in granting me a little time beyond the period fixed upon in your advertisement, for designs for the Monument you purpose to erect to commemorate the inestimable virtues and glorious deeds of the immortal Washington, I have now the honor of submitting to your consideration the result of my labors towards accomplishing the Wishes of your honorable board— Accompanying this letter you will find a book of designs with a description of the Monument….

Being an American by birth and having also the honor of being the first American who has passed through a regular course of study of architecture in his own country, it is natural for me to feel much solicitude to aspire to the honor of raising a monument to the memory of our illustrious countryman. The education I have received being altogether American and unmixed with European habits, I can safely present the design submitted as American founded upon those general principles prefaced in the description contained in the Book of Designs. For the honor of our country, my sincere wish is that it may not be said; To foreign genius and to foreign hands we are indebted for a monument to perpetuate the Glory of our beloved Chief.

Drawing from Robert Mills' "Book of Designs"
Maryland Historical Society

Four years earlier on January 6, 1810, Maryland  had  authorized the “Board of Managers of the Washington and Monument in Baltimore” to raise funds by lottery to support the design and construction of a monument to George Washington. Delayed by the war and difficulties in raising money, the members of the board voted on February 15, 1813 to hold a design competition with a prize of $500 for the “best design, model or plan for a Monument to the memory of General Washington.”

Robert Mills submitted a detailed description of his proposal back in November along with a few rough sketches. When the board extended competition deadline  from January 1 to April 15, it gave him more time to prepare the illustrations contained in his “book of designs,” an essay with a description of the drawings and “a few remarks upon Monuments in general,” and the letter excerpted above.

In claiming the title of America’s first trained architect, Robert Mills played to his strengths despite the debatable nature of his claim. The board’s original announcement for the competition, appearing in the Niles’ Weekly Register on March 20, 1813, remarked:

“it is hoped that the American artist will envince by their productions, that there will be no occasion to resort to any other country for a monument to the memory of their illustrious fellow-citizen.”

Maryland Historical Magazine captured the definitive history of the Washington Monument in an 1939 article where you can find full transcripts of Robert Mills’ proposals and correspondence.

Learn more about the history of the Washington Monument from the Mount Vernon Place Conservancy or on Robert Mills in the excellent history by John M. Bruan: Robert Mills: America’s First Architect.

Washington Monument, 1828
Washington Monument looking north. Painting by John Rubens Smith, 1828. Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-01542.