- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The War of 1812 was an important milestone in Southern Maryland history, and all three Southern Maryland counties plan to pull out all the stops when they host 200th anniversary celebrations.
The events are part of the state of Maryland’s War of 1812 Chesapeake Campaign, a year of bicentennial events and activities that follow the 1814 British push up the Chesapeake Bay and later the Patuxent River to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.
Leonardtown will kick off its celebration with Raiders & Invaders from June 6 through 8.
“We are counting the days,” said Maria Fleming, the public relations and events coordinator for the commissioners of Leonardtown. “It has been so long in planning, and there are so many incredible people and musicians and historic re-enactors coming to this thing. We’ve never done anything this big before, and we’re very excited to see how many people are going to come. It’s going to be phenomenal.”
Two weeks later, Calvert County will hold its Star-Spangled Celebration on June 21 and 22. There will be fairs, re-enactments, tall ships, activities and games.
Charles County will close out the Southern Maryland portion of the War of 1812 activities Aug. 30-31 with tours, demonstrations, lectures, entertainment, children’s activities and live music.
Activities for Raiders & Invaders get underway June 6 during First Friday celebrations with children’s activities and games. There will be 1812-inspired songs and stories in the square by musician Gary Rue and historian Don Shomette, which Fleming said will “be a great introduction to the [War of] 1812 timeline.”
Forty actors between the ages of 7 and 82 will perform street theater as British soldiers and townspeople.
“Mannerisms and speech patterns are very different in today’s society. We are much more casual,” said Dawn Weber, the vice president of the The Newtowne Players Theatre’s board of directors and the director and producer of the street theater event. “It is difficult when someone is not memorizing a part, but responding to impromptu speech, to memorize a style of speaking and acting.”
The celebration really gets underway June 7 when the town will be a frenzy of War of 1812-themed activities, including musical performances, hands-on activities and contests.
Arguably one of the biggest attractions of the day will be the unfurling of the hand-stitched recreation of the Maryland Historical Society’s Star Spangled Banner. The 30-by-42-foot banner was re-created with the same fabrics and stitching techniques as those used by Mary Pickersgill, who stitched the original banner in 1813, and accurately represents the banner that flew over Fort McHenry while Francis Scott Key penned what would eventually come to be known as the national anthem. Made entirely by hand and bearing 15 stars and 15 stripes, the flag was created by more than 200 stitchers and more than 1,000 volunteers from around the world.
“We’ve talked about this among ourselves, and my personal No. 1 thing I’d like to see is the Star Spangled Banner Project,” Fleming said. “I would love to just break away from the action and go see that.”
The flag will be accompanied by traveling displays, a Francis Scott Key re-enactor, fife and drum musicians and Maryland Historical Society staff who will speak of the history and significance of the flag.
At the College of Southern Maryland’s Leonardtown campus, children can complete an obstacle course or take part in geocaching games based on “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Chronicles of Narnia” and “The Hunger Games.”
“They’ve taken [the event] in a different turn and mixed in modern and pop culture,” Fleming said of CSM.
Elsewhere, visitors can watch circus performers and participate in circus workshops, see a children’s variety show, listen to storyteller Ming Diaz, learn what life was like with demonstrations or take in period encampments or swordplay.
There also will be several musical performances.
Those who would like to test their sea legs can head to the Wharf for an “Invasion Route” boat tour on Breton Bay with oyster buy-boats and other craft.
And many area restaurants will be offering specials as well as 1812-themed meals.
“Everywhere you turn there’s going to be something,” Fleming said.
As the sun goes down, the music heats up. The Justin Myles Experience will perform 6 p.m. at the Wharf, followed by The British Invasion Tribute, which will perform music of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Pink Floyd, among others, at 7 p.m.
“It’s the British invading the wharf,” Fleming said. “[But] in a good way this time.”
Sotterley Plantation will stage “The Choice,” which is based on an actual War of 1812 story, June 7 and 8. The play focuses on an African-American couple following a British offer of freedom in exchange for service in the Colonial Marines.
“It’s a great story,” said 52-year-old Eric Zabiegalski of Cove Point, who portrays British Navy Commodore Brown.
Zabiegalski also is featured in costume in most of the promotional material for the Raiders & Invaders event.
“It’s a lot of fun, and I think it’s really neat, and I’m having fun with it,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting. Not only will there be a lot of events [during Raiders & Invaders], there will be a lot of varied events. There will be something for everyone.”
Fleming made sure to give props to Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum in St. Leonard and its re-enactments.
“They deserve kudos because they do this all the time,” she said. “They’ll do the full-on re-enactment with soldiers and the crafters and the whole historical feel to it. Ours is more like a party that we survived to tell about, but [Jefferson Patterson] does an extraordinary job of taking history and bringing it to life, and they do this annually.”
War of 1812 historian and author Ralph Eshelman said there were two main reasons for the war, which lasted from June 18, 1812, to Feb. 16, 1815.
“Because of the Napoleonic War, there were trade restrictions between England and some of the other European nations with France and vice-versa,” he said. “And to escalate the economic aspects of that war, they began to restrict neutral ships from trading with their enemies. That directly affected the United States because most of our trade is with Europe, so that was a major concern.”
The other reason was impressment, where the British would board ships looking for what they said were deserters, but in actuality were any men able to sail their ships because they were always undermanned. Eshelman said between 6,000 and 8,000 Americans were impressed into the Royal Navy between 1803 and 1812.
The war was fought from the British colonies (Canada) to Spanish Florida (not a part of the U.S. at the time) and all the way to the Western frontier (the Ohio Valley), Eshelman said.
“There is no place that suffered more from raids or skirmishes than did Southern Maryland,” Eshelman said. “If you look at the Patuxent River and then after that the Potomac that’s where most of those actions took place. Calvert County, St. Mary’s County and Charles County, they all suffered greatly from that war.”
Eshelman said the war claimed about 15,000 American lives and 8,600 more from the United Kingdom. In addition, Eshelman said the war “brought a tremendous negative economic impact on Southern Maryland. Many people were destitute because many of their crops, and some of their buildings had been burned. Some of their slaves had escaped, and you could imagine what that would do to the plantation owners and farmers in the area.”