Sunday, July 6, 2014

1814: A Plea for Better Privies and a Cleaner life-
Baltimore's Forgotten Civil Engineer and Map Maker, Peter Charles Varlé

In 1833 Peter Charles Varlé published one of the first comprehensive tour guides to Baltimore City (his nemesis, Benjamin Latrobe authored one the year before for the printer Fielding Lucas, Jr.) .  


It was a lovely volume filled with useful information and woodcuts of prominent buildings.   As the engineer for the Susquehanna Canal he had spent time on the road away from the city, including a frightening stay in Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic of 1798, but for for the most part he had "lived among" the citizens of Baltimore for 30 years and wanted to pay tribute in print before retiring to his native Languedoc.

Baltimore had come a long way since Peter Charles Varlé arrived in Baltimore by way of Haiti from Southern France where he had first experienced the consequences of poor sanitation.

In 1814 the only detailed street and estate map of the City and its immediate environs available to the British and citizens alike was his carefully executed map, the rights to which he gave up to the Baltimore printers Warner and Hanna who issued the most popular version under their own names in 1801.  Warner and Hanna still had the original copper plates (including one for a smaller edition published with a city directory) in the estate of inventory of Andrew Hanna when it was ordered auctioned off in 1814 for the benefit of Hanna's son, but they have long since disappeared.  Today Varlé's map can be superimposed on Google Earth with great accuracy with regard to the main streets and alleys of the city.  
When James Kearney produced his very large manuscript map of the terrain in and around Baltimore in 1817, he used Varle's map as the basis for how he depicted the outline of Baltimore's streets and defenses during the battle of Baltimore.  Note that Kearney's depiction of the fortifications running from the Sugar House to the west of Harris's creek when placed on Google Earth come close to their actual locations as they exist today including the fortifications that were near what is today the Pagoda in Patterson Park.

In 1814 Varlé had removed to Frederick, probably in part because of his concern that Baltimore was not a healthy place to live.  There he prepared maps of western Maryland and western Virginia in an effort to promote development in the healthy mountain air of the region. In February of 1814 he hoped for membership in the American Philosophical Society and submitted his recommendations to its President, Thomas Jefferson, for making Baltimore a healthier city by using an innovative approach to cleaning out the city's privies (there would be no sewers in the city until after the great fire of 1904).  Neither the Society nor the City proved to be interested in his suggestions at the time, although they would be taken up with a concerted effort on the part of the city fathers during the cholera scares of the 1830s perhaps one of the motivating factors for Varlé's retirement to his native Languedoc).

As early as 1811, the city fathers found Varle's map wanting, particularly as it related to the future development of the city.  They needed an accurate map on which to extend the streets and monitor development block by block (not the least of which for taxing purposes).  Over the next 11 years they negotiated with Thomas Poppleton to produce his map of the city (first printed in 1822) and it became the map that governed Baltimore's  spread outward.  In 1814, however,  Varlé's map was the best map that the British may have had to go by as they attempted to attack the city from the east of Hamstead Hill, producing their own reconnaissance of the city's fortifications that was no where near as accurate as Varlé's.

1814: Defending Baltimore

Over the past few years  my research assistants and I have focused on citizen participation in the  defense of Baltimore in the summer and fall of 1814.   What follows is an essay on the blockading of the entrance to Baltimore Harbor that  I asked Charles Weisenberger to write as he came to the end of his internship with me in 2012.

The best overall book on the defense of Baltimore in 1814 is The Rockets' Red Glare, the Maritime Defense of Baltimore in 1814 by Scott S. Sheads with a foreword by Walter Lord (Centreville, Md: Tidewater Publishers, 1986).  Scott assisted Charles in identifying the vessels sunk across the mouth of the harbor and our objective in the forthcoming study of Baltimore in 1814 is to document the lives of those merchants and owners whose ships were sunk in the City's defense. The image used below is taken from another excellent illustrated resource on the history of the war of 1812 in the Chesapeake,  In Full Glory Reflected, Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake by Ralph E. Eshelman and Burton K. Kummerow (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society Press, 2012): p. 141.  No one interested in the history of the War of 1812 as it affected Maryland and the nation should be without either book. 

1814: Defending the Harbor of Baltimore:
Gun Barges, Sunken Vessels and Booms
by Charles Weisenberger and Ed Papenfuse
11/08/2012 (revised 07/04/2014)

“…it was evident to all that the obstruction of the Channel was the greatest,
if not the only real preservation of the City of Baltimore…”
(Maryland Historical Society)

   Within the War of 1812 collections of the Maryland Historical Society is a most revealing and interesting view of the bombardment of Fort McHenry showing the sunken vessels, U.S. gunboats and the Lazaretto Battery. In the near distance the British bombardment squadron is seen along with the flagships of Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane (HMS Surprise) and Rear-Admiral George Cockburn (HMS Severn). In tow astern of the Surprise is the American flag-of-truce sloop-packet the President, Captain Grey.
In September 9, 1901 a Baltimore Sun reporter visited the home of Mr. Robert W. MacCubbin, Sr. (1812-1904) and was shown a watercolor of the bombardment of Fort McHenry.  The sheet measured approximately 20” x 24” with a view taken from Federal Hill looking down river towards Fort McHenry. It was painted by a Lieutenant Henry Fisher who served in Captain Daniel Schwartzauer’s company of the 27th Maryland Regiment that had fought at North Point. Lt. Fisher painted it one month after the battle and presented it to Moses Maccubbin a private in Captain Joseph Hopper Nicholson’s U.S. Volunteers, the Baltimore Fencibles who were in the Star Fort during the bombardment. Beneath the picture is found the following inscription:

“A view of bombardment of Fort McHenry by “the British fleet under the commands of admirals Cochrane and Cockburn on the morning of 13th September, 1814, which lasted 24 hours. Thrown from 1500 to 1800 shells. In the night attempted to land by forcing a passage up the Ferry Branch, but were repulsed with great loss.”
  Amidst the “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air…” over Fort McHenry this October 1814 watercolor vividly provides the only known contemporary visual account of the gun barges, sunken vessels and a chain-mast boom defending the harbor entrance. It captures the moment at 9:00 a.m. on the morning of September 14, 1814, as the morning gun was fired, the forts garrison flag raised, Yankee Doodle played and the British squadron unfurling their sails down the Patapsco River. How these shore defenses and additional obstructions came to be and their role during the bombardment are stories that have been left untold of the “perilous fight.”
  On February 5, 1813, nineteen months before the British established a naval blockade of the Delaware and Chesapeake bays that would be enforced for the remainder of the war. In the aftermath of the British naval depredations on the upper bay at Havre-de-Grace, Elkton, Georgetown and Frenchtown, a bill was presented to the Maryland General Assembly entitled “An Act for the building of barges for the defense of the Chesapeake Bay.It failed to be passed with a vote of 15-49. on May 28, 1813 and “so the barges were sunk.” On July 16 a similar bill, introduced by U.S. Senator Samuel Smith, was passed by Congress “An Act, providing for the further defense of the ports and harbors of the United States” authorizing the President
“…to cause to be hired or purchased, hulks, or other means of impediment to the entrance of the ships or vessels of the enemy, to be sunk, with the consent of the proper authority of the state…to defray any expense incurred a sum of $250,000 was appropriated to be paid out of any monies in the [U.S.] treasury...”
 Additionally barges were to be armed, equipped and manned of a size not less than forty-five feet long and to carry heavy guns.
 In August 1813, the British established a brief strategic naval base on Kent Island directly across the bay from the Patapsco River. With eighteen British warships within striking distance, General Smith caused a number of merchant vessels to be prepared for sinking, head to stern, from Fort McHenry to the Lazaretto Point to be held ready at a moments notice by their owners.
  In March 1814, a city ordinance was passed empowering the port warden to remove all vessels that may be sunk for the harbor defense. On August 25 in the aftermath of the capture of Washington, Baltimore’s Committee of Vigilance and Safety ordered the vessels moved below Harris’s Creek for the security of the harbor entrance.  The arrival of Commodore John Rodgers naval brigade of 350 U.S. Marines and seamen from Philadelphia’s frigate Guerriere, thereupon fell the responsibility for sinking the merchant vessels. Smith instructed Rodgers to sink the vessels to be enacted by the senior officer of the U.S. Chesapeake Flotilla Lieutenant Solomon Rutter. Sailing Master Beverly Diggs commander of Barge No. 7 of the flotilla received orders  on September 12th to blockade the channel. In a deposition Diggs stated he
“…took three vessels, towed them down, and sunk them agreeable to orders; such was the haste in which they were required to perform this duty, that no time was taken or any attempts made to save the Articles that might have been on board, or even to ascertain to whom the vessels belong, that at the time of Sinking the third vessel by the Crew of the Deponents Barge it was deemed proper to take an Ax & after careening the vessel cut a hole in her Bottom, let her right & sink. The Enemy having their Bomb Ships moored & Commencing the Bombardment…as it was evident to all that the obstruction of the Channels was the greatest, if not the only real preservation of the City of Baltimore…”

   Captain of the fleet Rear-Admiral Edward Codrington informed Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane: “We cannot pass the fort, because I find the enemy have sunk hulks between the fort and Gorsuch’s [Lazaretto] Point. So that the channel is completely closed…”    It would be these barges and the sunken vessels that ultimately would be Cochrane’s decision to forego the continuance of any strategy to force a passage past the Star Fort.

U.S. Gun Barges & Steamboat Chesapeake
In the left foreground one may see Captain Edward Trippe’s steamboat Chesapeake, to move forward or astern to allow U.S. gunboats to move through the blockade. The Chesapeake presented her white starboard wheelhouse with the inscription CHESAPEAKE UNION LINE towards the British fleet. Each barge was numbered with a corresponding numeral white flag under the American flag. Thomas Galloway, a professional painter was paid $2.50 each for the task.

Chain-Masts Boom
Another effective defense measure was the placement of a chain-mast boom across the northwest channel. On May 4, 1813, Captain Solomon Rutter was ordered
“…to lay booms of old or new masts connected by strong iron chains and bolts riveted through the ends of each mast from the shore of Gorsuch [Lazaretto] Point to the shore on Whetstone Point, supported by anchors or poles at each end, and [to extend] in front of the Marine Battery, at a distance of 150 yards from the shore, to extend to the steep bank [on the Ferry Branch]…”  
The boom consisted of 70-feet long and 24-inches thick ships’ masts and logs and spars stretched from the Lazaretto Point, across the channel to Fort McHenry and around the western shore to the Ferry Point.  

Post War Epilogue    
      In the aftermath of the British unsuccessful on Baltimore, General Smith realizing the injury the vessels had incurred during the winter asked that the flotilla men raise the vessels. Due to the flotilla having not been paid the work was delayed and the vessels remained in their sunken position through the winter of 1814-15. Smith then asked for appraisers to determine the damage sustained by the vessels in their present state and the vessels returned to their owners.
     In March 1815, Colonel Paul Bentalou, Baltimore’s Quarter-Master General and John Barney, Deputy Quarter Master was given the duty of raising the vessels and delivery to their owners. He found many of the vessels “fifthly in the extreme, being covered and partly loaded with mud…and unfit to go to sea again.”  To assist him in raising eleven of the twenty-four were Captains Geohegan, George Stiles, Master Riggers William Bartscher, John Tillard and Rene Le Moaitre and the men under their command.
      After the remaining vessels were raised ship builders William Price and Eli Despeaux were chosen to provide an estimate of the vessels damages gave depositions the vessels sunk “were depreciated to the amount of one-third there actual value.” The vessels “all of them were more or less swelled, strained, or burst in the hull, and their masts and upper works were much cut and broken by ice …by their settling in the mud at the bottom of the river. Several of the vessels were not raised for a period six to nine months being immersed in the muddy waters and when examined at their shipyards were found un-repairable.” Soon thereafter applications were made for Congressional compensation for damages incurred with other depositions by ship-chandler Thorndick Chase, ship joiner John Snyder and ship carpenter James Cordery. 
 In 1820, General Sam Smith expressed his hope that the owners would be reimbursed by the U.S. Government Committee of Claims. It would not be for another seventeen years, however, before the owners would be reimbursed for their losses as detailed in the following assessment submitted to the U. S. Treasury for reimbursement:.

“Length, Breath and Depth of Vessels Sunk in defense of the Harbor Baltimore, July 16, 1830” to Peter Hager, Esq., Auditor’s Office, Treasury. Third Auditors Report….

Twenty-Four Vessels Sunk for the Defense of Baltimore

Vessel                      Damages     Built                    Owner

Schooner Enterprise    413.00         unknown           

Schooner Columbia     140.00                    “

Brig Ann                     155.00                    “                    George Stiles

Ship Rosanna              200.00                    “

Ship Nancy                1000.00           “

Schooner Packet         200.00           “

Brig Aid                      520.00         Baltimore, Md., / 1811   George Stiles

Ship Thomas Wilson   1450.00         East River, Va., / 1804

Brig Sally                    675.00         Salsburg, Mass., / 1807

Ship Adriana               300.00         New York City / 1804

Ship Scioto                  755.00         Queen Anne’s County / 1806   George Stiles

Brig Swallow               715.00         Foreign Built

Ship Fabius                  350.00         Philadelphia, Pa., / 1791   George Stiles

Schooner Ann               165.00          unknown

Ship Temperance          880.00         Marietta, Ohio / 1804

Brig Blanche                547.00         Sussex Co., Va., /1806

Ship Chesapeake          640.00         Baltimore, Md., 1805

Brig Betsy and Mary     150.00         unknown

Ship India Packet        1553.00         Baltimore, Md., / ----

Ship Mars                     649.00         Baltimore, Md., / ----

Brig George                  247.00         Matthews County, Va., /1801

Brig Father & Son        250.00         unknown

Schooner Scudder       2750.00               “

Brig Eliza                     529.00         Middletown, Ct., / 1803

Total                    $15,188.50     

The actual reimbursements to the owners or those who claimed for them by 1837 were considerably more than what was listed in 1830 as appears from the records of claims in the the National Archives, RG217, 742-3-1070-1087.  Ultimately patriotism paid handsomely for the use of the ships in the harbor blockade:

Ship Scioto: $6,379.35, Sam Smith, James A. Buchanan, James Deale

Ship Adriana(o): $5,733.41, James A. Buchanan, Sam Smith, John S. Collins, John Hollins, Michael McBlair, and Lemuel Taylor

Ship Mars: $3,325.15, Henry Payson, Obed Mitchell, and Obed Fitch

Ship India Packet: $6,131.23, Levi Hollingsworth and Andrew Clopper

Ship Nancy: $6,243.65, Robert Barry and Washington Hall

Ship Temperance: $2,875.62, Charles F. Kalkman who also owned Bona, Caroline, Express, Fairy, Revenge, Tom, and Von Hollen  

Ship Chesapeake
Ship Thomas Wilson: together $18, 185.22, John Donnell who also owned Eleanor, and Sabine,

Ship Fabius
Brig Aid
Schooner Ann: together $17,154.98, George Stiles who also owned Climax, Moro, Nonsuch, and Siro  

Brig Swallow: $3,268.95, Peter Roscamine and M. Pascall and Others

Brig Father & Sons: $1,721.14, John Craig and Edward Wynne

Brig Sally: $2,893.18, James H. Caustin

Brig Eliza: $3,153.27, Thomas Chase

Brig Betsy: $1,389.95, Samuel Sterritt and Henry Newport    

Brig George: $3,412.44, William Patterson & Sons

Brig Blanche ($1,309.25)
Schooner Scudder ($1,562.30): together $8,138.17, Elie Clagett

Brig Anne ($875.00)
Schooner Packet ($325.00): together $3,148.19, Thomas and Samuel Hollingsworth

Schooner Columbia: $1,046.40, Timothy Baker, Jos. Crowell, and Thomas Shevenik Jr.

Schooner Enterprise: $1,283.11, Besley, Clark, Voss & Worthington

Schooner Rosanna: $1,238.03, Alexander S. Smith and William Thornton