Where Are the British Soldiers Killed in the Battle of North Point Buried?
By Kathy Lee Erlandson Liston

That is a question that has haunted the Patapsco Neck for 185 years (pun intended).  After ten years of research I think I have an answer.  But first let us set the stage.

On September 11, 1814, the British fleet was spotted off North Point, at the tip of the Patapsco Neck Peninsula.  Major-General Samuel Smith, in command of the forces gathered to defend Baltimore, sent a reconnoitering party of 3200 men, under Brigadier General John Stricker, down the neck.  This party was composed almost totally of militia and included members of the 3rd Brigade, cavalry, rifles, and six four-ponder cannons.  Their job was to delay the enemy, buying time for the city to complete its defenses.  The Americans advanced as far as the Methodist Meeting House on North Point Road near Bread and Cheese Creek, and made camp for the night.  Stricker posted an advance party of riflemen near a blacksmith’s shop at School House Cove and sent the 1st Maryland Cavalry farther down near Gorsuch’s Farm, with videttes spread out towards North Point.

In the early morning of September 12, some 4000 British troops under the command of Major-General Robert Ross landed at North Point.  These troops, many veterans of the Napoleonic Wars, disembarked with the belief that they would march up the Neck and seize Baltimore with little or no opposition.  This belief was based largely on their experience at Bladensburg just three weeks earlier.  On August 24, when pressed by Ross’s veterans, the American militia, after giving only a token defense, had turned and run, leaving the British free to burn undefended Washington.  Derogatorily tagged the “Bladensburg Races” by the British forces, the battle reinforced an already strong disdain for the fighting abilities of “the colonies.”  With their success at the American capital, it is no wonder that the British viewed Baltimore as an easy target.  By mid-afternoon on September 12, their belief would be strongly shaken.

While the British were disembarking, General Stricker, advised of their progress by his videttes, deployed his army half a mile south of the Meeting House near Bouldin’s farm.  He positioned his main force at the heard of Bear Creek across the Patapsco Neck to Back River, and placed the 6th Regiment in reserve on the North Side of Bread and Cheese Creek near Cook’s Tavern.  Meanwhile, scouts returned with the news that the British were advancing slowly and that General Ross, Rear-Admiral George Cockburn and their staffs were eating breakfast at the Gorsuch farm.  When Stricker’s officers heard that the British were enjoying themselves at Gorsuch’s, several of them volunteered to dislodge them.  Accordingly, Stricker sent two companies of the 5th Regiment (Independent Blues and Mechanical Volunteers), Aisquith’s Rifles, some cavalry, and a four-pounder gun – 200 men total under Major Heath – forward with orders to “annoy [the British] advance.”1

In the early afternoon, General Ross and his party left the Gorsuch house and started once again up North Point Road.  Admiral Cockburn cautioned they were too far ahead of their main force, but it was too late.  The Americans opened fire and Ross was mortally wounded.  Ross was laid in a wagon and carried toward the landing point but only made it a mile down the road.  Placed on the ground under a large tree, he died commending his wife and family to his country.  The general’s body was removed to the H.M.S. Tonnant and Colonel Arthur Brooke of the 44th Foot assumed command of the British army.

The British pressed forward and finally, just before 3 o’clock, engaged the main American force.  The Battle of North Point began with an artillery barrage from both sides, and the fighting continued hot and heavy for over an hour.  Despite a moment of panic when the 51st Regiment and part of the 39th Regiment retreated after delivering only one random fusillade, the remainder of the Americans held their ground.  The incessant fire continued until 4 o'clock in the afternoon when Stricker, pressed by the superior British forces, retreated with his troops across Bread and Cheese Creek to the reserve position and thence to Worthington's Mill on the outskirts of Baltimore.  The British, exhausted from a day of unexpected fighting, broke off the attack and bivouacked for the night along Bread and Cheese Creek.  American loses were 24 killed, 139 wounded, 50 taken prisoner, and two cannons lost.2  The British suffered 46 killed and 295 wounded.3  The British numbers included General Ross and two other men killed in the initial skirmish.

Which brings us back to the question:  Where are the British soldiers buried?  To answer where it is important to look at who buried them.  Despite popular belief, it was not the British themselves. 

The night following the battle it poured rain.  The British, expecting to occupy Baltimore, had left their baggage on the ships and thus passed a very uncomfortable night without tents.  After a long, hot march followed by an unexpected battle, it is not surprising that they gave little thought to burying their fallen comrades.  It is probable that a few of the corpses were roughly covered with leaves and shallow topsoil hastily scraped together by friends, but the majority lay as they fell.4  The following morning the British army resumed its march to Baltimore.  However, when confronted by 12,000 men ensconced on Hampstead Hill, the British chose to retreat to their ships at North Point early on September 14 without engaging the Americans.  On the way back they passed over the scene of the earlier action.  A young British lieutenant, George Robert Gleig, would later describe the scene,

            ...we saw the dead lying as they lay on the evening of the action, still unburied.  Many had, however, undergone the process of stripping, though by whom it was impossible for us to guess; and all were beginning to emit an odour the reverse of acceptable to delicate organs; but we could not pause to give them sepulture; and both the sight and smell were too familiar to affect us very deeply.
5

By British military tradition, only high ranking officers or other special individuals were returned to British soil for burial.  The remains of General Ross were reportedly preserved in a cask of spirits and eventually transferred to the H.M.S. Royal Oak for transport to England.  Instead, the ship put in at the first British soil it encountered, Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Ross was buried on September 29, 1814.6

On September 14, the Committee of Vigilance and Safety received a request from General Smith that "carriages be sent to bring home the wounded; and that a party be sent to bury the dead..."  A subcommittee was duly appointed to see to the internment of the dead.  On the 15th, this subcommittee reported that the last of the American dead had been removed from the field.  On September 19, The committee received a communication from Joseph Townsend of the Society of Friends, who had been requested to bury the dead found on the ground on which the Battle of the 12 inst. was fought, stating that he had caused to be buried such of the British dead as were found lying on the surface and reinterred those that were not sufficiently covered amounting in all forty-two.  [A]nd that two of the American dead found on the field of Battle he caused to be decently interred, the number brought to Town by the Friends of the deceased not known (stated however in committee to be 17)...7

Joseph Townsend, a Quaker, was a prominent dry goods merchant with a shop on Baltimore Street.  Born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, he taught school at the Gunpowder Meeting before moving to Baltimore to teach in 1783.  He soon turned to trade, but remained true to his Quaker beliefs as a staunch and active Abolitionist.  He was one of the founders and first secretary of the Baltimore Abolitionist Society.  In 1794, he founded the Baltimore Equitable Society, a fire insurance company that survives today (readers will be familiar with the sign of two clenched hands over the date 1794, still seen on many local buildings insured by the firm).  More germane to our tale, the same year he donated to the city land for the first official paupers' cemetery, or potter's field, in Baltimore.  Townsend was very outspoken on the then common practice of burying deceased indigents and unidentified corpses wherever they were found, without heed to the fact that such burials might prove inconvenient at a later date and need to be moved.  He was also concerned with what he considered improper burials practices that he raised the money amongst his colleagues and his friends to buy a parcel of land for the city.8  This potter's field is under the current Johns Hopkins Hospital oncology center parking lot and garage.9

It is evident, then, that Joseph Townsend was not an arbitrary choice by the Committee to bury the British dead.  His beliefs were very well known and he could be relied on to do the job properly.  So we have the when - sometime between September 14 and 19 - and the who - Joseph Townsend - now for the where.

The area that saw the heaviest fighting and greatest loss of life was the main North Point road near the present Battle acre monument. The American artillery was aimed at the road and the "old locks, pieces of broken muskets and everything which they could cram into the guns" they were firing inflicted great damage on the British soldiers.10  Lieutenant Gleig recounts that "On the main road, indeed, the number of British bodies as considerable."11  An examination of historic maps of the area reveals an access road (now Norris Lane) from the main road across the battlefield to a farm located at the mouth of Bread and Cheese Creek on Back River.12  The farm was patented in 1697 by John Ferry as "Ferry's Range" and had been continually occupied since that time.13  At the time of the battle, it was being held in trust by Thomas Shaw and John Murray for a young man named William C. Weatherby.  Weatherby, at 18 still a minor, had inherited the property from his father, William, Sr., in 1811.14  Current maps still show it as Wetherby [sic] Point.  Base on archival evidence, Mr. Weatherby the younger led a less than exemplary existence.  His story would fill another whole article, but suffice it to say he died heavily in debt and his property was eventually auctioned off to satisfy his creditors.  At the time of the auction in 1847, Alexander Bouldin, a surveyor, drew a plat map of the property.  On the map he showed the house, outbuildings, and orchards, and, most important, a "Burial Ground."15  While it is possible that this was a family plot similar to many on the Neck, I think it is more.

Local tradition has long held that the British were buried either at the Methodist Meeting House on the battleground, or at the "mouth of Bread and Cheese Creek."  Archeological excavations conducted by this author at the Meeting House site in 1994 showed that there are no 1814-era soldiers buried there.16  That leaves the creek site.  Look at it from Joseph Townsend's position for a moment.  He had 44 rapidly decomposing bodies to inter.  It was extremely hot and it had rained heavily.  That section of the Patapsco Neck is composed of very shallow topsoil on top of rock-hard clay, interspersed with small ponds and marsh, so geographically his options were limited.  The potter's field was some six miles away.  How to give these men an expeditious, yet proper, burial in a spot that would remain undisturbed by time or vandals?  What could be more reasonable than to load the remains onto carts and go the short (approximately three-quarters of a mile) distance up a cleared road to an already existing burial ground on the Weatherby farm?  It was isolated and privately owned, and it was unlikely that there would be a need to move them in the future.  Perfect!  I believe that Joseph Townsend did just that, burying the British soldiers in one or more mass graves and giving the two Americans separate, "decent" burials.17  It is reported in the minutes of the Committee of Vigilance and Safety that Mr. Townsend presented a bill for expenses incurred "performing these offices," and that he was paid:  however, neither the bill nor the amount paid survive.18  One can speculate that the monies were for the rental of wagons, the hiring of laborers, and possible a fee paid to Mr. Weatherby for use of his property.

Unfortunately, having noted the documented facts, one must speculate on the rest of the scenario, for the Weatherby farm, continually occupied from 1697, was destroyed by the creation of the Norris Farm Landfill in the late 1970's.  Acres of lush green grass totally obscure towering mountains of compacted garbage at the mouth of Bread and Cheese Creek.  The landfill is no longer in use, but its eradication of the farm and cemetery, as well as the archaeological record, is complete.  In looking for a decent burial ground, Mr. Townsend couldn't have anticipated the destructive technologies of the twentieth century.  Perhaps one moonlite night local residents will be surprised by ghostly figures in coats of scarlet marching across the grass-covered hills of American garbage.  May they rest in peace.

Footnotes

1.  General John Stricker report to General Samuel Smith, September 15, 1814, published in Niles’ Weekly Register, September 24, 1814.

2.  Brigadier Major L. Frailey, “List of the killed and wounded of the third brigade at the late engagement at Long Log Lane, September 12, 1814, published in Niles’ Weekly Register, September 24, 1814.

3.  Franklin R, Mullaly, “The Battle of Baltimore,” quoting British War Office Records, Maryland Historical Magazine, 54 (1958):90.

4George Robert Gleig, A Subaltern in America; Comprising His Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army, at Baltimore, Washington, &c. During the Late War. Philadelphia and Baltimore: Carey, Hart & Co. 1833, p. 137.

5Ibid., p. 162.

6Niles’ Weekly Register, October 29, 1814. Popular Tradition has it that the British sailors and marines stuck straws in the cask and drank off the rum, making a hasty burial necessary.

7.  Minute Book of the Committee of Vigilance and Safety, August 24, 1814-Janaury 9, 1815, MS 1846, Maryland Historical Society.

8.  R. H. Townsend, The Diary of Richard H. Townsend, compiled 1851-1879 containing Historical, Biographical and Genealogical Information for 1683-1879, Vol. 1.

9.  Fielding Lucas, Jr., Plan of the City of Baltimore, 1822.

10.  George Robert Gleig, A Narrative of the Campaigns of the British Army at Washington, Baltimore, and New Orleans, 1847, p. 98.

11.  Gleig, A Subaltern, p. 139.

12.  George Kaiser, 8th Army Corps., Military Map, Baltimore Co. Md, 1863; and G. M. Hopkins, West Part of Twelfth District in Atlas of Baltimore County, Maryland (Philadelphia), 1877.

13.  John Ferry, “Ferry’s Range.” October 14, 1697. Patents CC 4:16.

14.  William Weatherby. October 28, 1811. Wills WB9:193.

15State vs. Weatherby, Plat-1847, MSA c295, MdHR 40, 200-1231; 2-12-10-46, Maryland Archives.

16.  Kathy Lee Erlandson, Archival and Archaeological Investigations at the Patapsco Neck Methodist Meeting House Site, 18BA443, Report submitted to the Maryland Historical Trust, 1998.

17.  There is some speculation as to who these two Americans might have been.  One possible candidate is Andrew Maas, a private in Captain Roney’s company, 39th Regiment, reported missing after the battle (Jon A. Every-Clayton, personal communication).

18Minute Book.

_________________ 

Kathy Erlandson is an archaeologist who has conducted excavations on the North Point battlefield and an advisor to the Journal of the War of 1812 and the Era 1800 to 1940. She is also an 1812-era reenactor.

A special thanks goes out to the Baltimore County Historical Society that has very graciously allowed us to reprint this article on MyEdgemere.com.  The original article first appeared in the Society's History Trails, Winter 1998.

 

 

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