Judge Sample REMINISCENCES
Beginning on January 29th, 1872, the first of at least 13 letters to the editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper appeared, titled “Reminiscences of Elkton.” This, and succeeding letters, would illuminate the history of Elkton and Cecil County from 1800 to 1819, as seen through the eyes of an Elkton native son, from birth through his teenaged years. Judge Thomas Jefferson Sample, who was the son of Captain John Sample, a member of the Cecil County Militia before, during, and after the War of 1812, would contribute invaluable information about how the War of 1812 impacted Elkton.
In 1811, Sample and his family moved to Elk Landing where Sample says he lived for about 3 years before moving into Elkton proper. It was while living at The Landing, that Sample witnessed and later wrote about the events around the War of 1812, as the war literally came to his door step.
During the time that the British fleet lay at anchor in the upper Chesapeake Bay, Sample writes that terror was the constant companion of local residents.
“The British fleet lay in the bay,” Sample explained, “down about Pool’s island and Spesuita island, and from thence they sent marauding parties in barges up Sassafras, Susquehanna, and Elk rivers, robbing hen roosts, firing private property, and turning up Jack generally. They thus destroyed warehouses and schooners at Frenchtown, where we had an unfinished fort.”
As for the “battle” at Elk Landing, Sample says the Cecil Militia used a medieval weapon to stymie the British efforts to reach Elkton.
“They (the British) essayed to reach Elkton, but finding a chexaux-de-frise across the river, and the little battery at the landing ready to receive them, they retreated, remembering that discretion was the better part of valor.”
A “chexaus-de-frise” is a military defensive barrier, in this case consisting of a metal chain laid across the Little Elk Creek by the militia, anchored on each end to a shore point just below Forts Hollingsworth on the eastern shore and Defiance on the western. British barges could not pass this chain and so retreated to Frenchtown, and eventually their fleet, leaving Elkton unscathed.
Sample also describes events at Elk Landing when the town of Elkton celebrated the end of the war. Most probably a spontaneous gathering, lively and celebratory in intent, but not all was to be. Read about the harrowing event that took place.
In future letters, Sample would write more about the battle, who participated in it, the forts, and the outcome. He would also reminiscence about ordinary people and places with which he was familiar, even describing some former girlfriends and their dates! Some of the locations he talks about still stand in and around Elkton, including Elk Landing which boasts two structures that stood during the battle for Elkton in April of 1813.
As for young Sample, he and his family would move to Indiana in 1819 where Sample would attend school and eventually become a state judge. He would marry and have children, one of whom was Katie Friedley. It was in her home that Judge Sample died in 1882 at the age of 81. But Judge Sample’s legacy lives through his letters, and presents a view of the past through his REMINISCENCES.
Four letters describing the Judges experiences from his days at Elk Landing and the War of 1812 are transcribed (for easier reading) from the original Cecil Whig publications found on the Library of Congress (LOC) website.
The additional nine letters as well as the transcribed letters are available as a full page copy of the original Cecil Whig page.
Simply browse these pages and catch a glimpse into life and events of the latter 19th century.
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NOTE: The Library of Congress “Chronicling America” website contains full edition images of many of America’s early newspapers, including the Cecil Whig. The issues can be searched by year and date and illustrate the life, history and views, of national and local events.