The Delaware Militia in the War of 1812 Brig. Gen. Kennard R. Wiggins, Jr. firstname.lastname@example.org
The War of 1812, perhaps more than any other, was a conflict whose origins were largely nautical in nature. Much of the action was along the coast and in the waters of the littoral. Other significant naval battles were conducted on the inland lakes of New York and waterways along the Canadian border. Delaware is strategically located between two of the Eastern seaboard’s largest estuaries, as well as central between the centers of commerce, government and population. It was particularly vulnerable to attack from the sea. So it is emblematic that the militia of Delaware was largely devoted to defending itself from seaborne invasion during this conflict. The Delaware estuary was a critical artery of economic importance and was itself vulnerable to economic warfare.
American entry into the War of 1812 was not met with much approval from Federalist Delaware, but Governor Joseph Haslet was a Democrat and called the General Assembly into special session to raise militia. Carol Hoffecker in "Democracy in Delaware" describes him saying: "'Without your aid, the governor told the predominantly Federalist legislators, compliance is impossible.” The militia was in shambles, he said, without arms or organization. (See The Constitutional Militia Clause, the Militia Act of 1792 and the Rise of a Nation for an introduction to the Post revolutionary militia structure). But he was certain that Delaware would rise to the challenge. “In this state it is not a question of whether the authority of the United States is to be respected. The State of Delaware will never hesitate to cooperate with her sister states in defending the common rights of the nation.”
Governor Joseph Haslet was born in Milford, Delaware, son of Jemima and Colonel John Haslet. Colonel John Haslet was the commander of the Delaware Regiment in the Continental Army and was killed at the Battle of Princeton in January 1777. Jemima Haslet died a month later "of an inflammation in the throat and lungs." Chief Justice William Killen became guardian for the children and eventually Joseph was apprenticed to a watchmaker in Wilmington. After he came of age he bought a farm in Cedar Creek Hundred in Sussex County.
Democrat Haslet ran for Governor in 1804, losing to the Federalist candidate, Nathaniel Mitchell, and again in 1807, again losing to the Federalist candidate, George Truitt. Finally, in 1810 he squeaked out a victory against Federalist candidate Daniel Rodney and began his first term as Governor of Delaware, serving from January 15, 1811 until January 18, 1814.
Governor Haslet’s message to the legislature on January 7, 1812
“…I submit to you the immediate propriety of an amendment of our militia laws…We ought , as an efficient member of the Union, as a means of our own safety, and as a body politic, which is always to be resolved to defend its rights against every violation, to maintain a well disciplined and respectable militia. On this subject too much assiduity cannot be employed, as the hour is not known when we may be required to furnish that quota of men for the common defence, which as a component part of the Union we are bound to contribute. “
Haslet was prescient. The Secretary of War, William Eustis, issued orders to the Governors of the States on behalf of the President authorizing the raising of 100,000 troops on April 10, 1812 in anticipation of a conflict with the British. The Delaware quota was to be 1,000 men, “one twentieth part of Artillery, one twentieth part of Cavalry, and the residue Infantry…within the shortest period that circumstances will permit. Each Corps should be properly armed and equipped for actual service.”
Governor Joseph Haslet moved with dispatch to comply with the will of Congress. It would not be easy. As a result of an act of the legislature in 1811, Delaware entered the conflict with essentially no functioning militia.
Governor Haslet wrote on May 20th, 1812:
“The Legislature of this State by an Act passed February 2, 1811 entitled “A Supplement to an Act entitled “An Act to establish an uniform Militia throughout this State”, having enacted that no officer, non- commissioned officer or private should be subject to any fine or forfeiture by reason of non-attendance or being absent on company or regimental days of Meeting required by any militia laws of this State, these laws remain mere forms. Few of our fellow citizens will accept or hold commissions giving to them the semblance of rights of command, which they know they cannot enforce. Few or none of our fellow citizens will enroll themselves in companies, arm themselves, or perform military duty knowing that their neglect subjects them to no penalty, and also knowing that the patriotic exertions of individuals without the countenance and aid of the legislature cannot organize the militia. The militia is in consequence disembodied: it is without organization and without arms. In this condition of the militia I cannot take effectual measures for having one thousand of the militia of the State detached and duly organized according to the requisition of the President of the United States.
The Legislature gave the governor the authority to raise 1000 militiamen, as well as up to $25,000 for arms and equipment.
War with Great Britain was declared on June 18, 1812 by President James Madison. It remained an unpopular war in Federalist New England which relied upon commerce and trade which would surely be disrupted by war with England. Delaware representative, Henry Ridgley sided with the Yankee merchants and voted “no” as well, but the measure passed nevertheless by a majority Democratic vote. .
On paper some 700,000 militia officers and men were listed on the rolls of the state militias. The regular army, by contrast numbered only 6686 officers and men. A militia commander of the time observed that, “the regular army was the sword of the republic and the militia was its shield”. If so, the sword was but a short dirk, and the shield was made of paper mache’.
The United States attempted to take the offensive initiative, invading Canada. In one of the very first actions in response to the declaration of war, Captain Henry Grindage from St. Georges of the 14th U.S. Infantry left for the Northwestern American Army on October 25, 1812 with an expeditionary force of 110 Delaware militia from Wilmington followed by heavy wagons loaded with provisions and baggage. The 14th Infantry Regiment had been formed on January 11, 1812 and organized in March 1812 in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. It was later consolidated with other regiments after service in the Northwestern frontier.. Captain Henry Grindage also appeared on the rolls of the 15th Infantry Regiment as well. The 15th fought in the capture of Toronto and Fort George in April and May 1813, and covered the retreat of militia troops from Fort George in December 1813. The 15th fought in the Champlain Valley campaign in autumn 1814, and participated in General Dearborn's offensive in Ontario in October, and took part in many smaller battles that same year. The Regiment vanished in the Army reorganization of 1815.
At home the preparations were defensive in nature. In anticipation, precautionary measures were taken by Delaware officials in late 1812 to guard against incursions by the enemy. The Delaware Legislature met in special session at Dover on 9 November 1812. “The Governor announced that six hundred muskets, with bayonets and all the equipments necessary had been delivered to the militia, and the remaining three hundred contracted for were ready for delivery. In addition to these, the state received five hundred stands of arms from the government and equipments for five hundred muskets, as its quota in the general distribution of 1812, pursuant to the act of Congress of 23 April 1808, for arming the whole body of militia of the United States.”
.A blockade of the Delaware and Chesapeake Bays was proclaimed by the crown on December 26, 1812. The British fleet arrived off the Virginia Capes on February 4, 1813 to enforce this sanction followed by a similar course of action in March at the mouth of the Delaware River and Bay. This blockade would cripple commerce between the states as well as to overseas trading partners. It threatened the livelihood of watermen, traders, and fishermen.
The fleet entered Hampton roads on February 4, 1813 with four ships of the line, six frigates, and several smaller vessels under the command of Admiral Sir George Cockburn. The fleet consisted of the Marlborough, 74, the Admiral’s flagship; Dragon, 74, Captain Bery; Poictiers, 74, Commodore Beresford; Victorious 74, Captain Talbot; Acasta 44, Captain Kerr; Junon 38, Captain Sanders; Statira, 38 Captain Stackpoole; Maidstone 36, Captain Burdett; Belvidera, 36, Captain Byron; Narcissus, 32 Captain Aylmer; Lauristinus 21, Captain Gordon; and Tartarus, 20, Captain Paseo.
Shortly thereafter the Poictiers, the Belvidera (alternately Belvidier) and several smaller vessels, , were sent to blockade the Delaware. On March 9th at the Delaware Capes, the Belvidere, Poictiers, LaPaz and Ulysses took up their stations off Lewes and the Delaware Capes under the command of Commodore John de la Poer Beresford. The British squadron began to conduct raids along the coast along both sides of the Delaware Bay in an effort to disrupt maritime commerce and shipping. Many small actions resulted in numerous vessels being captured and destroyed.
In the course of the spring of 1813 the blockade was extended to the entire East Coast with the exception of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The fleet was correspondingly increased by San- Domingo, 74, Captain Charles Gill, in an attempt to strangle America's economic arteries.
In a report laid before Congress in February 1813, the entire military force of Delaware was placed at 7,451 men, of which 6,475 were infantry with the remainder artillery, cavalry and riflemen. A build up of arms and munitions continued. In 1813, 250 stands of arms received from the government were sent to Wilmington and 250 to New Castle and 150 to Lewes (Lewistown), along with equipments and ammunition. Five hundred muskets, held by the superintendent of military stores at Philadelphia, were also distributed to New Castle, Smyrna, Milton, and Milford.
The Niles Register reported, “At Wilmington the general measures of defense appear submitted by common consent to Colonel Allen McLane, a “seventy-sixer”, and as true as steel. To aid him in his operations all the men of other years , a veteran band of gallant hearts, are on the alert assisting”. The fort on the Christiana River at “the Rocks” in Wilmington was ordered completed by a committee sent to investigate defensive conditions in the three counties. An appropriation was made to finish the fort and keep a body of militia posted there. Senator James A. Bayard was personally active in the preparations. Clad in the “garb of a laborer with ditcher’s boots, and a shovel on his shoulder, he marched with the mass to achieve their muddy work” and labored with others to restore the redoubt with rebuilt earthworks and cannon. Batteries are erected below New Castle on the Delaware, and on the Christiana River that leads by Wilmington. The former is much exposed to the enemy; but the latter may be defended if the people are true to themselves, as they appear to be.
The Niles Register reported “At New Castle the chief control of the defensive measures has been confided to the veteran Captain Bennett, of the much extolled Delaware Blues, who, with General Greene, earned unfading laurels in the Southern States. This brave man is in his element, and as a colonel, has the command of some well-disciplined militia, artillery, and infantry.”
Captain Caleb P. Bennett fortified New Castle. Bennett was another veteran “76er”. During the War of 1812 Bennett was Captain of the Artillery and Commander of the town of New Castle. According to Scharf, in “History of Delaware” Bennett “was placed in control of measures to be taken at New Castle and the battery that was erected close to the town. He was made colonel of the militia and soon had a well-disciplined force of infantry and artillery.”
Fort Delaware, Delaware by Seth Eastman (1808 - 1875) Oil on canvas, 1870-1875 Sight measurement (U.S. Senate)
In the midst of the War of 1812 it was determined that a second line of defense was required for the Delaware River and the cities of Wilmington and Philadelphia. Pea Patch Island was therefore acquired by the federal Government from Delaware in 1813 as a site for fortification. The island at the time was not much more than a small patch of reeds that remained submerged below river level most of the time. It would not be until the eve of the Civil War that the island would be built up enough to support the foundations of Fort Delaware.
At Smyrna the people are alive, munitions of war are prepared, and all possible means are taken for the defence of that place and vicinity.
In response to the British threat, militia companies were marched from Philadelphia: Philadelphia Blues, Capt. Henry Myers; Independent Volunteers, Capt. Samuel Borden; and the Washington Guards. Each company consisted of 100 privates, 15 officers and two musicians. In four days they reached Stanton, on the Baltimore road, six miles below Wilmington, where a permanent encampment was formed under the command of General Bloomfield. These and other militia units were continually re-positioned while British vessels remained in the Delaware Bay and River. By the 28th of July most of the militia had been discharged.
The Niles Register reported, “At Dover, on Sunday last, in consequence of the movement of the enemy, the drum beat to arms. The whole population of all the various sects and persuasions, religious and political, capable of shouldering a musket, assembled; arms were liberally distributed, and from four hundred to five hundred men were ready for service. It is pleasant to remark that all the soldiers of the Revolution in the neighborhood were present. One old gentleman, who deserves to be named, Mr. Jonathan McNatt, tottering on his staff, received his musket and with hearty will went through the maneuvers. …the venerable man…returning home, set himself to work making ball cartridges, affording the youth the fruits of his experience, and presenting an example irresistibly leading to patriotism. The force musters frequently for drill, and have made great progress in essentials.”
The civilian sector mobilized as well. On January 28, 1811, in order to encourage the establishment of manufacturing industries in the state, the Delaware General Assembly passed an act exempting certain manufacturers, including gunpowder producers, from state militia duties (repealed in 1814). With the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and the United States in 1812, Victor and E. I. du Pont formed a private volunteer militia, known as the Brandywine Rangers, a corps of two hundred and thirty able- bodied men, well armed, equipped and disciplined to protect the interests of their company from enemy attack.
On March 16, 1813, the roll of officers and men on duty in camp at Lewes Town with arms &c. reported to Governor Haslet by Jesse Green, Adjutant General was some 640 soldiers of the Delaware Militia. William M. Marine in his account of the Bombardment of Lewes, described what he characterized as the “purest diamond in the tiara of Delaware, worn by her in the War of 1812, is the assault of the British on Lewes and the defence made by the garrison of the town. “
Because of its strategic location at the entrance to the Delaware Bay and River and the approaches to Philadelphia, and because of its many defense-related industries, Delaware has always been a potential target for enemy attack. Since shoals near Cape May effectively barred traffic from entering the bay on the New Jersey side, Cape Henlopen and the town of Lewes became the logical first line of defense for this waterway.
Lewes or Lewistown also commonly includes the hamlet of Pilot Town, about a mile down Pilottown Road. Early on a fortification had been erected there, which remained throughout the War for Independence.
Lewes was primarily a fishing center, and shipbuilding site, while Pilot Town was home to the professional pilots who navigated the Delaware Bay. Lewes was described at the time as being a slightly elevated strip of sand and marsh about three miles from the sea, lying between Delaware Bay and Lewes Creek. The Lewes- Rehoboth Canal today occupies what had been the creekbed of Lewes Creek (previously Hoerne Kill). The elevated strip varies in width, and is about a quarter mile wide where a new fortification was erected for its defense in 1813. The defense works were simple entrenchments built by the local citizens. They were sited on a prominent point commanding the entrance to the then deep and navigable creek known as “Hoerne Kill”. The forts were constructed of rough logs and brush filled in with earth, sand, and gravel, each with a log watch house.
A contemporary report of April 4th lists the strength at Lewes as follows:
Capt. Thomas Rodney, 1st C. Artillery Officers and Men 39 Capt. Samuel B. Davis 77 Capt. William Shankland, 1st Troop of Horse 16 Capt. Richard Harrington, 2nd 23 Capt. John Kollock Volunteers 63 Capt. Aron Swigget, Militia 45 Capt. Stephen Reddon Do. 43 Total 306
The volunteers at Lewes had varying degrees of commitment. Their terms of service were five, eight, and thirty days. Some were discharged even before the bombardment of the town, believing the danger had passed. They returned to their homes when their services were no longer required. This may explain the discrepancy in numbers reported only a little more than one month earlier when the report was a total of 640 on March 2nd. On March 27th, the strength on hand was reported at 325.
Those veterans who successfully qualified, and made application, received 160 acres of land for their wartime services. This was the primary incentive to serve.
Captain Warner, with his Wilmington troop of horse, forty members with fifty more volunteers rode to Lewes. They included Captain Hunter of Philadelphia and Major Robert Carr, United States Army. Another company of troops from Laurel under Captain Thomas Rider and a company commanded by Captain Samuel Laws, also presented themselves at the town. These companies, with others were incorporated into the Ninth Delaware Regiment under Colonel Mitchell Harshaw.
Britain issues an ultimatum
On 16 March 1813 Commodore Beresford sent the following letter to Lewes: His Britannic Majesty’s ship, Poictiers. In the mouth of the Delaware, March 16. Sirs: - As soon as you receive this I must request you send twenty live bullocks with a proportionate quantity of vegetables and hay to the Poictiers for the use of his Britannic Majesty’s squadron, now at this anchorage, which shall be immediately, paid for at the Philadelphia prices. If you refuse to comply with this request, I shall be under the necessity of destroying your town. I have the honor to be, Sir, your ob’t servant J. P. Beresford, Commodore... “
Admiral Sir John de la Poer Beresford, 1st Baronet, GCH (1766 – 2 October 1844) was an officer in the Royal Navy who rose to the rank of Second Sea Lord. He was a Tory politician in the United Kingdom. Beresford joined the Royal Navy in 1782. During the War of 1812, he served as captain of HMS Poictiers, during which time he ineffectually bombarded the town of Lewes, Delaware. More importantly, Poictiers participated in an action on October 18, 1812 where, four hours after USS Wasp, commanded by Jacob Jones, captured HMS Frolic, Capt. Beresford hove in sight, captured Wasp and recaptured Frolic, and brought both to Bermuda.
A sloop was burned by the British on March 17, and would have done more harm but for the appearance of volunteers. A schooner from Charleston voyaging to Philadelphia was chased ashore at the mouth of Town Creek. The English attempted to take possession, but were prevented by the militia, which successfully boarded the vessel and took two cannon and a large amount of ammunition.
John Warner to E.I. DuPont, Wilmington March 19, 1813: Dear Sir, I this morning recd. A letter from Governor Haslet stating that considerable depredations in burning of vessels &c are committed by the British vessels of war about Lewis Town in Sussex & requests me to forward him six kegs of your best rifle powder or such as is used for musketry, perhaps one or two kegs of the kegs had best be of cannon powder, I wish you to have it sent in to Paul McGins this evening or early in the morning, as we wish to forward it tomorrow with some lead I am procuring. P.S. Send me a bill of the powders. Yours sincerely John Warner
General Green of Delaware wrote to a friend in Baltimore, March 20, 1813:
“We have the British fleet at the capes of Delaware. They have burned several vessels and taken others. We have had an engagement with them from the shore. Our ammunition gave out, or we would have prevented them from burning the Charleston packet. They had four large boats full of men, and came within two thousand yards of the shore. I am now on my way to Lewistown, where there are one thousand men under arms… We have men sufficient to prevent them from landing, but we are in want of ammunition, which shall be supplied in a few days.”
Governor Haslet Responds
Governor Jos. Haslet’s Reply to Com. Beresford, March 26, 1813
Sir – AS the governor of the state of Delaware, and the commander of it s military force, I improve the earliest time afforded me, since my arrival at this place, of acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 16th, inst. Directed to the chief magistrate of Lewes. The respect which generous and magnanimous nations , even when they are enemies, take pride in cherishing towards each other, enjoins it upon me as a duty I owe the state, over which I have the honor at this time to preside, to the government of which this state is a member, and to the civilized world, to enquire of you , whether , upon further and more mature reflection, you continue to resolve to attempt destruction of this town. I shall, probably, this evening receive your reply to the present communication, and your determination of executing or relinquishing the demand mentioned in letter of the 16th. inst. If that demand is still insisted upon, I have only to observe to you , that a compliance would be an immediate violation of the laws of my country, and an eternal stigma on the nation of which I am a citizen: a compliance, therefore, cannot be acceded to. I have the honor to be sir, Your most obedient servant, JOSEPH HASLET, Governor of the State of Delaware
On the same date, a letter of appeal was sent by the town of Lewes to the people of Delaware seeking assistance in repelling the threatened English bombardment. Governor Haslet summoned the militia and they formed up at Lewistown in a strength of about one thousand.
Commodore Beresford to the Governor in reply:
“In reply to your letter received today, by a flag of truce, in answer to mine of the 16th inst. I have to observe, that the demand I have made upon Lewistown is, in my opinion, neither ungenerous nor wanting in that magnanimity which one nation ought to observe with another with which it is at war. It is in my power to destroy your town, and the request I have made upon it, as the price of its security, is neither distressing or unusual. I must therefore persist, and whatever sufferings may fall upon the inhabitants of Lewes must be attributed to yourselves by not complying with a request so easily acquiesced in.”
Captain Richard Byron (subordinate of Commodore Beresford) Captain of the Belvidera (36 guns) to S, B. Davis, Colonel Commandant:
“No dishonor can be attached in complying with the demand of Sir John Beresford to Lewes in consideration of his superior force. I must, therefore, consider your refusal to supply the squadron with water, and the cattle that the neighborhood affords, most cruel, upon your part, to its inhabitants. I grieve for the distress the women and children are reduced by your conduct, and earnestly desire they might be instantly removed.” In a postscript he added, “The Cattle will be honorably paid for.”
On April 6, the Commodore Beresford and his flotilla fired nearly 800 thirty-two and eighteen-pound shot into the town in addition to shells and congreve rockets. The bombardment lasted 22 hours.
Colonel Davis forwarded this response along to Governor Haslet in Dover, by a horse and messenger, and added, “The attack immediately commenced, and continued till near ten o’clock. The fire from our battery silenced one of their most dangerous gunboats, against which I directed the fire from an eighteen-pounder, for which I request you immediately send me a supply of shot and powder, as it is uncertain how long the bombardment will continue. They have not succeeded with their bombs in reaching the town, and the damages from their thirty-two-pounders and canister cannot be ascertained until daylight. In this affair you find the honor of the state has not been tarnished.”
Colonel Davis to the Governor:
“This evening the Belvidere and two small vessels came close into Lewes and commenced an attack by firing several thirty- two pound shot into the town, which have been picked up; after which a flag was sent, to which the following was returned:
“Sir, - In reply to the renewal of your demand, with the addition for “a supply of water”, I have to inform you that neither can be complied with. This too you must be sensible of; therefore I must insist the attack on the inhabitants of this town is both wanton and cruel. I have the honor to be your most obedient servant, S. B. Davis, Colonel Commandant.
Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis
At the outbreak of hostilities, Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis made a tender of his services to the United States government, which was accepted; and it was not long before he enjoyed an opportunity to render signal aid to the American cause. Receiving a commission in the regular U.S. Army at the outbreak of the War of 1812, Davis was made lieutenant-colonel of the 32nd U.S. Infantry Regiment on 17 March, 1813, and assigned to head the forces defending the entrance to Delaware Bay. The colonel had returned to his birthplace in Lewes. Davis was described as “of imposing stature, decidedly fine in appearance, prominent features, large cheekbones, heavy jaw, large nose and mouth, expressive of great firmness”. He stood six feet high and had the qualities of discipline, courage, and intellect.
As a regular army officer in command of the 32nd Infantry he was placed in charge of the defense of Lewes. Not much is known about the 32nd Infantry, but it appears that the defenders of Lewes were mostly militiamen.
April 6, 1813, Wilmington Delaware, “Blockading Squadron”
“The Delaware blockading squadron, it is said, now consists of one 74, three frigates, and some smaller vessels; they have again commenced their depredatory course of warfare, and several small shallops have been taken and burnt. Four gun boats have arrived at New Castle, for the protection of the river crafts &etc against the small vessels of the enemy.”
On the afternoon of the 7th, sailors from the fleet attempted to land in a small boat but were beaten back by the militia at the beach.
According to the writer of a letter to the Baltimore Federal Gazette dated April 7, 1813: “When the bombardment began, two eighteen-pounders were serviceable but without ball; two nine-pounders; ball too large, there were but fifteen casks of powder. One of the eighteen-pounders mounted on the 6th played on a sloop and silenced its guns. Our men behaved well; the women and children left the garrison; the Belvidere came within two miles of the town, too close for her shot to fall in it; the smaller vessels sent balls flying over the town. On the 5th of April there were 286 men, 418 muskets complete; 8000 cartridges; 25 bags of grape shot; 15 kegs of powder, 2270 flints; 41 twelve pound ball, 88 nine pound ball,; 167 six pound ball; 216 four pound ball; 434 kegs of lead; 2 eighteen-pounders, one mounted; 2 nine pounders, badly mounted; 4 six-pounders, badly mounted; 3 four-pounders, mounted.”
The state legislature passed emergency legislation in a special session to appropriate $2000 for the defense of the town even as the British fired upon it.
A dispatch from Cape Island to the Baltimore Patriot April 7, 1813 read:
“This morning a very steady smoke was seen in the direction of Lewistown, supposed to be occasioned by throwing rockets into that place. Our brave citizens being short of Cannon balls , the enemy was so accommodating as to fire eight hundred on shore, which on picking up and finding they suited the caliber of our cannon remarkably well, the loan was immediately repaid with interest.”
A spectator described the scene from above the town with an open view:
“The British ships were ranged in line of battle; the fire ceased about two o’clock, when he visited the earth works; the weather was threatening, wind easterly. Captain Byron drew off his squadron at four o’clock, a few miles, where he remained until sailing for the capes. About five hundred shots were fired. A collection was made of on hundred and fifty of small sizes and a few bombs. Houses were injured, chimneys cut almost in two, the corner posts, plates, and studs cut of in several houses. The foremast of a schooner was cut away, and another received a shot in her hull. Of two particular rockets thrown, one fell on a lot, another in a marsh. A fire was directed at the breastwork, where more than thirty men were stationed. Shot struck the battery and broke the pine logs. Two shots entered by the guns.”
A further account mentions that one bomb shell fell in the town, but failed to explode; rockets passed over the town, likewise the shots of the Belvidere, and fell some distance beyond. The damage suffered in the destruction of property was estimated to be two thousand dollars.
This was the first recorded use of the Congreve rocket against the Americans during the War of 1812. The rockets were of the same type used later in the assault upon Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor, made famous in the National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, by Francis Scott Key. The Congreve Rocket was a British military weapon designed and developed by Sir William Congreve in 1804. The rocket was made up of an iron case containing black powder for propulsion. They could be fired up to two miles, the range being set by the degree of elevation of the launching frame. They were as much a psychological weapon as a physical one, and they were rarely or never used except alongside other types of artillery. “The bombs bursting in air” (instead of at their intended target) give proof to their inaccuracy and unreliability.
A letter writer from Dover to the editor of the Aurora wrote:
“We tried some schemes to get them (the British) ashore and trap them, but they seemed to have anticipated our purpose, and kept close to their boats.” On the 8th the fleet withdrew, having inflicted some damage to a few houses. None of the citizens of Lewes or its defenders were injured. The British ships, which incurred damages from return fire, withdrew on April 7. A letter from George Read to his father notes that the “British have drawn off and the Belvidere is outside the Capes; the Poictiers retains her original position.” He writes that he witnessed heavy firing on the New Jersey side of the bay, and concluded from the smoke that a vessel had been burned.
A few weeks later, the Governor discharged the militia defending Lewes, with the exception of a company of the inhabitants of the area who manned the batteries, and a small detachment of cavalry.
Defensive measures continued throughout the Delaware, strongly influenced by the attack on Lewes. Fort Union was built at Wilmington, commanding the Christiana. Gun-boats patrolled the area around Bombay Hook.
On 21 April 1813, an alarm was spread among the people living in the vicinity of Little Creek when the British schooner Pilgrim anchored off the creek and sent a barge with twenty-two men up as far as Taylor’s Gut. In December a barge belonging to the British sloop Jason entered Milford Creek with a lieutenant and 7 men, and captured 2 shallops. They were cut off, however, and taken prisoners by the militia.
Niles Register, May 1, 1813
Wilmington April 28th. Extract of a letter from a gentleman in this borough dated April 23rd, 1813. “An alarm took place the night before last, which occasioned almost all our citizens to march. The Schooner Pilgrim , a tender of the Poitiers, lay off the mouth of Little Creek, while a barge containing 22 men came up the creek as far as Taylor’s gut, where two of the men landed, under the guide of a black man, whom they took with Captain Bell’s shallop last Sunday. The two men shortly after landing came up to Abraham Sharp’s at Little Creek landing, where they were made prisoners, by our people – They pretended that they came with a flag of truce, and that the object was to procure some livestock. Their depositions were taken. One of them was a New England captain, who commanded (he swears).”
Niles Register May 8, 1813
“The American captain seized in Delaware, as a traitor has been conducted to Philadelphia, and lodged in jail. On inspecting the gentleman’s pockets, six rarities appeared- such as one might travel over England without seeing – six English guineas.”
On April 28, Belvidera put to sea sailing to rejoin Admiral Cockburns’ fleet in the Chesapeake leaving the Statira and the Spartan, frigates, and the Martin, sloop-of-war, with some tenders and barges. On May 29 this detachment sailed up the Delaware Bay. Militia couriers were dispatched to alert the militia, and warn the countryside. The Philadelphia Independent Blues were ordered to march from Camp Staunton to New Castle. Other companies were standing ready. The British forces moved as far up the bay as Reedy Island, where they captured and burned some shallops and small craft, and the returned down the bay.
On 20 June 1814 the British frigate Nieman sent several barges with sixty men into Indian River, burning two or three coasters and shallops loaded with lumber, and securing a ransom for two others. Governor Rodney ordered a company of fifty men to Lewes to assist Captain Holland in defending the surrounding country. In July the Secretary of War, in compliance with continued requests from the Governor of Delaware, authorized the Governor to station a company of detached militia at Lewes under Major Charles Hunter.
In response to the British threat, militia companies were marched from Philadelphia: Philadelphia Blues, Capt. Henry Myers; Independent Volunteers, Capt. Samuel Borden; and the Washington Guards. Each company consisted of 100 privates, 15 officers and 2 musicians. In four days they reached Stanton, on the Baltimore road, six miles below Wilmington, where a permanent encampment was formed under the command of General Bloomfield. These and other militia units were continually re-positioned while British vessels remained in the Delaware Bay and River. By the 28th of July most of the militia had been discharged.
In May 1813 British raiders in the Chesapeake Bay led by Rear Admiral George Cockburn burned Havre de Grace and attacked settlements at the mouth of the Sassafras River as well as Frenchtown , a landing on the Elk River that was only sixteen miles from New Castle. The attacks led Delawareans to fear that British invaders might seize the mills on the Brandywine, particularly the DuPont powder mills, but the main British raids in the late summer of 1814 were on the western shore of the Chesapeake, where British forces successfully marched on Washington but were repulsed at Baltimore. Nevertheless the British blockade of the Delaware estuary continued until 1815, to the detriment of the local economy.
A number of individual Delawareans won distinction in this war, including Dr. James Tilton, a Revolutionary veteran who became surgeon-general of the army, Jacob Jones, physician and naval officer, who captured the British vessel Frolic, and Thomas Macdonough, commander of the American flotilla on Lake Champlain that won one of the strategic battles of the war by halting a British invasion in 1814.
History of the Militia and the National Guard, John K. Mahon 1983
“I am the Guard”, Michael Doubler 2001
The British Invasion of Maryland, Marine, William A.
Unpublished manuscript by Raymond Wilson, 1940, Delaware Military Heritage and Education Foundation Archives
Delaware Tercentenary Almanac, Christopher Ward, 1937
Life of Eleuthere Irenee du Pont from Contemporary Correspondence, 1811-1814 Volume Nine. Bessie Gardner du Pont. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1925.
Delaware Archives, Military History Volume IV
The Bombardment of Lewes, William Marine , Historical Society of Delaware, 1901
History of Delaware, John Monroe,
Children, Apprentices and Men of Low Rank:Delaware’s Citizen Militia 1744-1815, John R. Satterfield, Delaware History Fall-Winter 2004
Would you like to know more? We recommend the following book available at local Delaware bookstores and from Arcadia Publishing.
Delaware Army National Guard The Delaware National Guard traces its roots to 1655, when the Swedish Colonial government formed a militia to defend itself. That tradition carried through Dutch and then English control of the colony. The militia served in all five French and Indian Wars and then distinguished itself during the Revolutionary War as the First Delaware Regiment of the Continental Army, earning its "Blue Hen" nickname. The Delaware militia continued to serve in every major war, and currently it remains in the forefront. Images of America: Delaware Army National Guard presents images of this fabled organization that survived from the Spanish-American War to the present. The people, places, equipment, and facilities of the Delaware National Guard are illustrated in this compilation of historic photographs from the collection of the Delaware Military Heritage and Education Foundation.