Category Archives: War of 1812

Stories about the War of 1812 including important battles, dates and people who helped fight America’s Second Revolution.

Defenders’ Day – The Star-Spangled Banner Weekend!

Defenders Day 2013

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?

Summer 2013 185

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.

* * *

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.

Battle of Lake Erie: We Have Met The Enemy and They Are Ours

We Have Met The Enemy and They Are Ours

Two hundred years ago on the 10th of September 1813, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (United States Navy) met and decisively defeated a British Royal Navy squadron in the Battle of Lake Erie (also called Battle of Put-in-Bay). The Battle is often thought of as the turning point in the War of 1812. The victory enabled the United States to not only seize control of Lake Erie for the remainder of the war; but, also to ensure the recapture of Detroit. More importantly, the victory was a major contributing factor in the United States defeating Tecumseh and his Confederation of Native Americans one month later on 5 October 1813 at the Battle of the Thames.

Battle of Lake Erie

However, the victory was not easily won. Even though the Americans had nine vessels to the British six; the British had superior guns and range. Commodore Perry stated “If a victory is to be gained, I will gain it!” and then proceeded to do just that. Despite his flagship the USS Lawrence taking a terrible pounding Perry refused to give up the ship and surrender. He remained faithful to the words of his battle flag “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP”. Reportedly the last words uttered by his friend Captain James Lawrence, for whom Perry had named his flag ship!

Perry - Battle of Lake Erie

When the flag ship became untenable, Perry took the battle flag and rowed at least a half-mile to the USS Niagara thus transferring the flag and continuing the battle. With the exchange of gunfire initially favoring the British, Commodore Perry took a page from Lord Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar and split the British line and proceeded to pour a constant stream of metal rain into the British squadron. The tactic worked forcing the British to cease resistance and surrender.  It was then that Perry dispatched his now famous report: “We have met the enemy and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop.”

It was the first time in British Naval history that an entire naval squadron had surrendered! The victory was so sufficient that for generations thereafter, many families named one of their sons Oliver Hazard Perry, or just Oliver Perry. In my own family, my 2nd great grandfather was given the name of Oliver Perry.

Even though the Battle of Lake Erie was a huge victory for the United States; the battle continues to this day. Instead of weathering a blistering assault of round shot and chain; the pension records of the Sailors and Marines are being pounded with excessive exposure to light, air pollution, high humidity, and deterioration, thus making the papers yellow and brittle with age. So what can you do?

Damaged War of 1812 pension record

With the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812, the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) has initiated the PRESERVE THE PENSIONS-WAR OF 1812 PENSION PROJECT. FGS is proud to be leading the national fundraising effort to support this project and is actively seeking donations from genealogical and historical societies, patriotic and military heritage societies, as well as interested corporations and individuals. Ancestry.com and Fold3 are providing a dollar-for-dollar match of each donation through a provision of services. To learn more and contribute to the Preserve the Pensions project, visit www.preservethepensions.org.

This multi-year project consists of scanning the pension files at the National Archives in
Washington D.C. and creating a searchable index to the digital images. FGS has
targeted the War of 1812 Pension Applications as a high priority project based on the
value of the content for genealogists and historians as well as the importance of preserving the fragile records. At present two digital cameras are in operation with only three percent of the files digitized. The files contain documentation submitted in support of a claim, such as the original application form, affidavits, and statements from witnesses.

The collection is available for FREE as a digital collection on Fold3’s website www.fold3.com/title_761/war_of_1812_pension_files/.

We are calling upon the Navy and Marine Corps community as well as all others to help lead the charge to generate enough donations to employ more cameras at the National Archives to help in this effort to digitize and preserve the pension files of the Naval and Marine Corps heroes’ who fought and often bled in such battles as the Battle of Lake Erie. Let us show the nation that we can rally as did Oliver Hazard Perry on 10 September 1813, and proudly say “We have met the enemy and they are ours!”

  1. Honorverse, “Battle of Lake Erie.jpg,” Wikia (http://honorverse.wikia.com/wiki/File:Battle_of_Lake_ Erie.jpg: accessed 31 July 2013), Image of Battle of Lake Erie; digital image reprint from Painting by William Henry Powell
  2. Wikipedia, “File: Capt. James Lawrence, at jameslawrence.jpg,” Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Capt._James_Lawrence,_at_jameslawrence.jpg: accessed 31 July 2013), Portrait of Capt. James Lawrence, USN; obtained from a website maintained by the United States Navy:  http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/pers-us/uspers-l/j-lawrnc.htm
  3. Bible Page, Rebecca Collins, widow’s pension application no. 12288, certificate no. 28893; digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com: accessed 15 April 2013); William Collins (Fifer, Capt William Thompson’s Co Pa Mil, War of 1812); imaged from War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files M313 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives [n.d.]), no roll number cited.

Actor Chris O’Donnell’s War of 1812 Ancestor Featured on WDYTYA

chris odonnell who do you think you are?

On a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? on TLC, actor Chris O’Donnell discovers that he has a War of 1812 ancestor, George McNeir who was his 4th great-grandfather. McNeir served as a Lieutenant with the Sea Fencibles during the famous Bombardment of Fort McHenry, Maryland.

As O’Donnell learned, McNeir fought valiantly during this famous battle in September 1814 which ended an attempted land assault by the British. The battle is better known as the event when the words to the Star-Spangled Banner, our national anthem, were penned by Francis Scott Key.

Help Others Find Their War of 1812 Ancestors

Do you have War of 1812 ancestors or know others with a possible connection? One way of finding out is to research the War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files slowly being made available on Fold3.

The War of 1812 pension consists of approximately 180,000 pension and bounty land warrant application files relating to claims based on service between 1812 and 1815. The 180,000 files contain of approximately 7.2 million individual pages of these there are already more than 765,000 images online at Fold3.com/1812pensions. These rich documents contain details of your ancestors such as affidavits, statements from witnesses, widow’s maiden name, acres granted, marriage date, service data and more.

Your Help Needed NOW!

Many of these records are old and in poor condition. They must be rescued by being digitized so future generations of researchers can discover War of 1812 ancestors similar to the one in Chris O’Donnell’s amazing story.

You can help others learn more about their own ancestors in the War of 1812 Pension Files by making a donation via Preserve the Pensions. Click here to donate today!