Elk Landing and the War of 1812
The United States declared war on England in June of 1812. This was, in part, due to British attempts to unfairly restrict trade, the Royal Navy’s impressment of American citizens, and America’s desire to expand into western territories. As the war progressed the U.S. was fighting the British in Canada, which was then a British colony. England initiated a diversionary strategy so that President Madison would recall troops from the Canadian campaign and send them to the Chesapeake region and the US Capital.
By sending raiding missions to attack small towns and settlements, up and down the Chesapeake Bay, the British felt it would create public outcries for protection.
On February 4, 1813 a hostile fleet, commanded by Admiral Sir George Cockburn, arrived in the Chesapeake Bay. He sent his tenders and barges into most of the navigable inlets plundering and burning as he went.
On April 28, 1813, Admiral Cockburn’s fleet anchored just off Turkey Point. On April 29th, the British ship Marlborough, captained by 28-year-old Lieutenant George Westphal, who was also in charge of thirteen barges manned by four hundred armed men, anchored there as well.
As the barges approached Elk-ton by way of the Elk River, they were met by a garrison at Fort Defiance about a half mile from Elk Landing. They were fired upon with cannonballs and grapeshot. Their progress was also hampered by a Chevaux-de-frise - an iron chain - that was stretched across the river from Fort Defiance to another smaller fort across the creek. Realizing that Elkton was well defended by the militia and the contour of the land, the British retreated down the Elk River.
Having been driven back by the militia at Fort Defiance, the British landed at White Hall, a farm owned by Frisby Henderson. They tried to persuade him to show them the way to Elkton. When he refused Hetty Boulden, an enslaved woman, was engaged to be their guide. Instead of leading the British to Elkton, Hetty led them to Cedar Point, just opposite Fort Hollingsworth at Elk Landing. Captain Henry Bennett, commander of the militia at Fort Hollingsworth, ordered them to fire on the British. The British were not up for a good fight and hastily retreated back to their waiting barges. They returned to their waiting schooner and the rest of the fleet near Turkey Point. Elkton had been spared due to the bravery of an enslaved woman and the well-placed plan of the local militia. Other towns would not be so lucky. Just days later, the British burned Principio Furnace and then Havre de Grace.
To read more about Hetty Boulden click here.