WAMU 88.5 : News

Filed Under:

'The Town That Fooled The British' In The War of 1812, Prepares For Bicentennial

Play associated audio
St. Michaels is known as "the town that fooled the British" for its role in the War of 1812.
Tara Boyle
St. Michaels is known as "the town that fooled the British" for its role in the War of 1812.

It's been 200 years since the start of the War of 1812 — a conflict that pitted the United States against the British Empire it had fought just a few decades earlier in the Revolutionary War.

As the nation prepares to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812, it's not much of an exaggeration to say this war is often overshadowed by other conflicts in our nation's history.

However, for a place like St. Michaels, Md., which calls itself "the town that fooled the British," the War of 1812 is deeply embedded in its history.

The town's slogan is a reference to the Battle of St. Michaels, which took place on August 10, 1813, according to Betty Seymour, a board member of the St. Michaels Museum. At the time, St. Michaels was a thriving shipbuilding town and a tempting target for the British.

When locals sensed that an attack from the British was inevitable, they came up with a clever idea to trick the red-coated Marines heading their way, according to town lore.

"It's thought that they hung the lanterns in the trees to make it believe that we were on a hill," she said.

The thinking was that if the British believed St. Michaels was on a hill, they'd aim their guns up high, and miss the town. That theory was tested almost immediately.

The British rowed their boats along the Miles River, on a "dark and stormy night," according to Kate Fones, curator of the St. Michaels Museum. The British appeared at Parrot's Point at about 4:00 a.m., where the Americans had two cannons waiting for them.

As 300 red-coated British marines marched on shore, the Americans took aim, under the direction of William Dodson who commanded the militiamen.

The Americans "were able to get maybe two shots. And then they grabbed their flag and ran back to town," says Fones,

After the Americans disappeared into the mist, the British got back in their boats, and trained their cannon on St. Michaels. But they were not successful, according to Seymour.

"The British never hit anything. They shot over the town...the reason that happened was because there were lights in the trees to make them think we were high up on a bluff," Seymour says.

Seymour and other locals say they may never know all the details of what happened the night of August 10, 1813. Some people say there's little evidence to support the story about local residents hanging lanterns in the trees to fool the British.

Locals will have a chance to revisit this history over the course of the next year, as St. Michaels hosts public lectures, a ball, and other events to get residents and tourists ready for the August 2013 bicentennial.

"They can imagine what it would have been like to see the barges and the big ships coming up to the shore, and the soldiers on it," says Marie Martin, former president of the board of the St. Michaels' Museum, who is hoping for high attendance. "It makes it more personal."

NPR

Credibility Concerns Overshadow Release Of Gay Talese's New Book

NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Paul Farhi of the Washington Post about Gay Talese's new book, The Voyeur's Hotel. The credibility of the book, which follows a self-proclaimed sex researcher who bought a hotel to spy on his guests through ventilator windows, has been called into question after Farhi uncovered problems with Talese's story.
NPR

Amid Craft Brewery Boom, Some Worry About A Bubble — But Most Just Fear Foam

Fueled by customers' unquenchable thirst for the next great flavor note, the craft beer industry has exploded like a poorly fermented bottle of home brew.
NPR

White House Documents Number Of Civilians Killed In U.S. Drone Strikes

The Obama administration issued a long awaited report Friday, documenting the number on civilians who have been accidentally killed by U.S. drone strikes. Human rights activists welcome the administration's newfound transparency, though some question whether the report goes far enough.
NPR

Tesla 'Autopilot' Crash Raises Concerns About Self-Driving Cars

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating a fatal crash involving a Tesla car using the "autopilot" feature. NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Alex Davies of Wired about the crash and what it means for self-driving car technology.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.