St. Michaels Museum at St. Mary’s Square Presents a Special Exhibit for it’s 2013 Season – “St. Michaels in 1813”
This year, 2013, is the 200th anniversary of the famous battles of August 10 and 26, 1813 that led to the town motto “The Town that Fooled the British.” In keeping with the many activities during the 200th anniversary celebrations this years’ special exhibit will be “St. Michaels in 1813”. Featured will be a time line spanning the period 1777 to1815 to put the local activities during the War of 1812 in perspective with activities on the Chesapeake Bay, North America and Europe. Background and details will be presented on seven houses that were in St Michaels in 1813 and their owners who were variously boat builders, militia members or town merchants and active St. Michaels’ residents. Also included are pictures and histories of the two churches of that era which served as quarters for the militia during the Battles of 1813. The exhibit includes contemporary newspaper articles, lists of local militia members and contemporary maps to put the activities in St. Michaels during 1813 in focus. A centerpiece of the exhibit will be the essay on life in St Michaels in 1813 from St. Michaels Museum Curator, Kate Fones that is reproduced below.
St. Michaels in 1813
In 1813, St. Michaels was a chartered town with a town plan. It was chartered by the state legislature in 1805, only eight years before. The town plan was originally laid out by English factor James Braddock in 1778 and the plan was enlarged when the town was resurveyed during the application for a town charter. St. Michaels Population in 1813 was around 300 and there were 60 buildings. It had grown significantly due to the thriving ship building industry in town and nearby shipyards outside of town. For example in 1783 there were only 15 town lots, nine houses and three shops taxed in the 1783 federal Tax assessment.
By 1807, the town was governed by five commissioners appointed by the General Assembly in Annapolis. There was a small group of comfortable merchants and shipyard owners. There was also a large middle class of skilled boat carpenters and other artisans serving the boat industry. There were two blacksmith shops, a brick kiln, a grain mill and several stores. In 1813, there were six shipyards in town and several located outside of town on Broad Creek, Church Neck and Solitude Creek to mention a few.
In 1813, the pubic center of the town was St. Mary’s Square. In 1805 a market house was built in the square. Also on the square was the small brick, Methodist Episcopal Church, Sardis Chapel built in 1782. This was the first Methodist church built in Talbot County. The second church in town was the oldest, Christ Protestant Episcopal Church. Its location was between what is now Talbot Street and Church Cove Park. There was a church at this site as early as the 1670’s. The location near the water was to enable people to come to church by water, the easiest method of transportation. The third church was in the process of being completed in the summer of 1813. At this time Christ Church did not have a resident minster. During the uneasy weeks before the Battle of St. Michaels, militia drilled on the Square and during the crucial period the soldiers were quartered in the two churches. At the time of the Battle, Brigadier General Perry Benson made the square his headquarters.
At this time, there were no public schools in St. Michaels or for that matter anywhere in Maryland. In 1807 there was a short-lived private school. There was a post office in town, established in 1802. A young doctor, Dr. John Barnett lived in town on Water Street in 1805 and 1806.(Journal of Dr. John Barnett of St. Michaels, 1805-1806)
Transportation was primarily by water, with sailing packets that sailed on a weekly schedule. Roads in Talbot County were scarce and primitive. St. Michaels residents Captain Robert Dodson (1762-1824) , owner and builder of sailing vessels, his son William Dodson (1786-1833) and Impey Dawson (died 1814), owner of a busy boatyard at the end of Mulberry Street, were captains of sailing packets that sailed from St. Michaels to Baltimore and other towns on the bay. It wasn’t until 1839 that there was an established steamboat route between St. Michaels and Baltimore.
By 1813, the farms outside of town had undergone a major shift in produce. Tobacco was no longer the major crop that it was in the 18th century. Farmers concentrated on wheat, corn and raising sheep and cattle. The intensive labor needed for tobacco growing on large farms or plantations was no longer necessary and slaves were beginning to be sold down south. Slave dealers in Baltimore and elsewhere began coming to the eastern shore to buy slaves. This trend escalated in the 1820s and 1830s.
Politics in St. Michaels during this 1813 period saw town citizens and town leaders supported President Madison. The town’s majority supported the Republican/Democratic party of Jefferson and Madison. They supported the war party strongly at the outbreak of the war in June 1812 to the end of the war.
Docent Led Walking Tours
In conjunction with this exhibit three docent led historic walking tours will be offered on a rotating basis. Two tours, “St. Michaels During the War of 1812” and “Historic St. Michaels Waterfront,” will couple with this exhibit and make life in St Michaels in 1813 and in the 19th century come alive. The third tour, “Frederick Douglass, a slave, in St. Michaels 1833-1836,” will focus on the early life of St. Michaels’ most famous 19th century resident and probably the most important African American Abolitionist in the Civil War Era. These tours have been very highly regarded and involved more than 500 participants in 2012.
The new “St. Michaels During the War of 1812” tour will highlight the British attacks on St. Michaels on August 10 and 26, 1813, and the impact on the St. Michaels community. Starting at the Museum one will see the “St. Michaels in 1813” exhibit to set the stage and then leisurely walk though St. Mary’s Square to Muskrat Park and then on to Navy Point. Along the way one will see the cannon involved in the battle and the Cannonball House that was struck by a cannon ball that rolled down the interior stairs and frightened a woman holding her baby. At Muskrat Park see replicas of the cannons from 1813. The originals were removed by Union forces prior to the Civil War and are currently in storage at Fort McHenry. From there see the locations of the defending batteries in the harbor, in particular Parrott's Point. Continuing down Locust Street at the foot of Carpenter Street is the Higgins Boatyard, the oldest continuously operated boat yard in town and one of several in operation in 1812. Following on to Navy Point, get a good view of St. Michaels Harbor and hear about 19th Century activities in the harbor.
The 90-minute docent led walking tours will leave from the Museum every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. starting on May 11. The tours will rotate with a different one each week. The Saturday tours are available for $10 for adults and $5 for youth (6-17) with the fee including both the tour and museum entry fee. Detailed schedules can be found at www.stmichaelsmuseum.org and are listed below for May and June. Reservations are appreciated. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-745-0530. Subject to docent availability any of these tours can be offered at other times for groups of five or more.
St. Michaels Museum at St. Mary’s Square is open May through October, Fridays 1 to 4 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m.. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for youth (6-17).
The Sewell House, ca. 1865, was the home of a local waterman Jeremiah Sewell and his family. It was moved to the site in 1964 when the museum was established. The house is furnished in period pieces reflecting life of a typical working family at that time.
Built in 1860 as a commercial structure, the Teetotem Building got its name because of its roof’s resemblance to a toy top of the period. Originally located on Willow St, the building served variously as a magistrate’s office, a town jail, a saddle shop, a mortuary, a bank and a barber shop. Today the building displays highlights of various aspects of St Michaels’ commercial life in the 18th and 19th centuries
The Chaney home stands independently from the other buildings. Built by three free African American brothers, circa 1850, the two room house is typical of its genre.
After the brothers were able to buy his freedom from slavery, their father came to live with them. Later their sister and her family also resided there once they were freed.
Partially restored, the home may be viewed. It will contain exhibits on African American life in the community and house a library on the second floor.
Thanks to the Walking Tour Map Committee, the museum has available, free, a new and expanded version of "A Walking Tour of St. Michaels." This brochure allows you to identify historically important buildings and learn a little about their history as you stroll through the historic areas of St. Michaels. Stop by the museum to pick up a copy or click on the brochure cover (left) to download a pdf of the walking tour guide.