Category Archives: War of 1812

“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.

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.

Advertisement: Public Dinner to Commodore Perry

Public Dinner to Commodore Perry
American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, January 24, 1814

On January 6, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry received a Congressional Gold Medal for his service at the Battle of Lake Erie. Make sure to sign up for our email newsletter to get more updates on Perry’s celebratory visit to Baltimore at the end of the January 1814.

On January 16, 1814, Charles Carroll of Carrollton wrote to his son-in-law Robert Goodloe Harper. His letter rejected Baltimore’s burgeoning optimism for a quick end to the war with England:

“Till Bonaparte is defeated so as to be forced to relinquish all his conquests and to make peace, or what would be more desirable till death rids the world of the tyrant, I am persuaded no peace will take place between this country and England.”

Carroll retired from public life in 1801—a public life that included signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and nearly 20 years in the Maryland State Senate. Retirement did little to slow Carroll’s correspondence. He spent the winter of 1813-1814, living at Doughoregan near Ellicott City and wrote often to Harper worrying over the mismanagement of his farm near Annapolis and the events of the war.

Source: Rowland, Kate Mason. 1898. The Life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, 1737-1832: With His Correspondence and Public Papers. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Master Commandant Robert T. Spence and the USS Ontario: “Had I my compliment of men, I could be ready for sea in three weeks.”

Baltimore Jany. 9th 1815 [1814]

In reporting to you the advancement of my ship I have the honor to state, that we got our topmasts on end to day—that our lower rigging is rattled down, and catharping’d in.
The Hold is nearly stowed.— and I intend our yards shall be across next week. I shall stand in need of my sails from Washington.
Had I my compliment of men, I could be ready for sea in three weeks.—
My residing within a hundred yards of my ship since appointed to her, and giving personal attention to every little thing will account to you for my rapid progress.— The “Erie” has more men, but in other respects the “Ontario” is equally advanced. Indeed we have little the start! With great respect your very Obt. Servant

R. T. Spence

From a January 9, 1814, letter by Master Commandant Robert T. Spence to Secretary of the Navy William Jones. The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, Volume III, p.19

On March 3, 1813, the United States Congress authorized the construction of six sloops-of-war. Naval architect William Doughty designed three of the six ships and directly supervised the construction of the USS Argus at the Washington, DC shipyards. In Baltimore, Thomas Kemp took Doughty’s designs and began work on the remaining two, the USS Ontario and USS Erie, at his Fell’s Point shipyard.

The Erie launched from the shipyard on November 3, 1813 and The Ontario followed on November 28, 1813. Master Commandant Robert T. Spence, commander of the USS Ontario, spent the winter months of 1814 struggling to recruit enough men to set sail—a delay that ultimately kept the Ontario stuck in Baltimore behind the British blockade of the Chesapeake through the end of the war.

USS Erie, American sloop-of-war
USS Erie, American sloop-of-war. Image courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration, 512994.

On January 6, 1814, the United States Congress awarded Captain Oliver Hazard Perry and Captain Jesse D. Elliott the Congressional Gold Medal for their service at the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813.

On the same day, Lieutenant William Ward Burrows II and Lieutenant Edward McCall received a Congressional Gold Medals for their service in the capture of the HMS Boxer on September 5, 1813.

New Year’s Day reflections from William Pechin and Hezekiah Niles

On January 1, 1814, two Baltimore newspaper editors reflected on the struggles of the war. William Pechin, editor of the American and Commercial Daily Advertiser published at 4 Harrison Street (near the site of the Baltimore City Police Department headquarters on Fayette Street) wrote:

“In taking a retrospective survey of the last twelve months, in a national point of view, although there may be much to deplore and regret, still we are not destitute of many proud and triumphant causes for the elevation of the American feeling, calculated to exclude any thing like sadness or despondency.”

Pechin, a 40 year-old Philadelphia native,  personally championed a Baltimore petition to advocate for the declaration of war that arrived in June 1812. Despite the recent U.S. retreat from Canada in October and the attack on Buffalo just two days prior, Pechin had lost none of his patriotic zeal continuing:

“The position we have been compelled to take to defend ourselves against the encroachments of British tyrrany, should call forth the zealous support of every American that has the vigor and spirit to wield a sword.”

The influential and nationally-circulated Niles’ Weekly Register, published by Hezekiah Niles, offered a more sober account:

“The present appears the most dreary sheet we have had yet to publish. The career of calamity seemed, for the moment, to overwhelm the soberness of reason, and place the mind in a state that has been aptly compared to the condition of ‘fishies frozen up in a pond.’”


January 1, 1814, Niles’ Weekly Register, “State of the War – Editorial Remarks,” p.299

January 1, 1814, American Commercial and Daily Advertiser, p.2