Preserve the Pensions was recently represented by Rebecca Koford at the Defenders’ Day event held at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland on September 14th. Dressed in period costume, she spent the day handing out pamphlets and telling everyone she met about the community effort to Preserve the Pensions of the War of 1812.
These are some of the questions we asked her about participating in this historical event:
What is “Defenders’ Day”?
Defenders’ Day is Fort McHenry’s flagship event! It is a three-day encampment and extravaganza which is celebrated with over 100 War of 1812 re-enactors, parades, military bands, fireworks, a symbolic ship-to-shore bombardment and much more!
It is a celebration of the defense of Baltimore on September 12th, 1814 from British attack. This monumental defense is remembered in our National Anthem. After being taken prisoner temporarily, Francis Scott Key watched the 25 hour bombardment from the deck of an English ship. After the guns had stopped, he looked anxiously across the dawn through the haze of gunpowder smoke. A British flag would indicate that the ground troops had taken the fort, but an American flag would declare the fort was secure. Key was amazed to see the fort’s largest flag, personally commissioned by General George Armistead and created by Mary Pickersgill and an army of seamstresses, waving triumphantly in the morning light. This momentous event led Key to write the poem, “The Star-Spangled Banner”, which later became a symbol of our country.
At the Defenders’ Day celebration the fort grounds were full with people: picnicking, watching costumed troops parade, enjoying the children’s game areas, and watching recreated encampments. Towards the evening, the lovingly recreated Pickersgill flag was hoisted and the evening ended with fireworks displays over the water.
Rebecca, what did you do and what was the response of your table there?
It was a beautiful, mild day at the fort, crawling with Historical Interpreters (costumed re-enactors), members of lineage groups such as the Society of the War of 182, and history-loving families. I set up in a room at the Visitors Center, with authors of 1812 histories, the Star-Spangled Banner Committee of the Maryland Historical Society, and others. An estimated 300 people came to the table (I know I personally gave out about 200 brochures, and there were more than that who stopped to talk).
Why do you think people were so enthusiastic about the Preserve the Pensions campaign?
Many people, there to celebrate the history of Fort McHenry, stopped by the table to learn more about the Pension Project, and were surprised to learn that such valuable documents still existed at the National Archives and how they represented the individual lives of many of the soldiers who fought in the War of 1812. People commented favorably on the variety of information available in these documents. Some copies had been downloaded that week from the www.fold3.com website and printed as examples: Letters to the Office of Pensions with original signatures, marriage certificates, and service histories. It was commented how alike these soldiers were to us – first they fought for their country, then, when disabled, they still had to struggle to provide for their families.
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Rebecca Whitman Koford commented about the framed photo on her table: He is her 4th great grandfather, James Wescott Whitman and was reported to have served in the War of 1812 from New York. He lived through the Civil War period, which is about when this photo was taken. The interesting bit of information is that his son, Edward, served with the 8th NY Heavy Artillery who was stationed at Fort McHenry during the Civil War. This was something she pointed out to people there because, 1) it was interesting to note the connections between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and 2) since this ancestor did not receive a pension, she is hopeful that with the every-name indexing of the 1812 pensions, Rebecca will be able to find out about his service, if he signed an affidavit for a fellow soldier.
Thanks, Rebecca, for representing well the War of 1812 Preserve the Pensions campaign. We hope everyone who participated in historical events such as Defenders’ Day will contribute to the campaign so that these documents will be preserved and accessed online for FREE!
Photographs used by permission of Rebecca Whitman Koford.