Fort McHenry, Privateers & Black Powder






In October 2019 I was flown out by the US Naval Academy to deliver a lecture on Impressment and The War of 1812 as part of their The War of 1812: A Schoolhouse at Sea programme (more on that in this post – here)

As well as being flown out to deliver a lecture for the Midshipmen, I also took part in the more practical parts of the “Schoolhouse at Sea” and, on a fresh Saturday morning in October, I joined them on a tour of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. During the Battle of Baltimore from September 13th – 14th 1814, the Royal Navy bombarded the fort from where the bridge is today.

The defence of the fort and raising of the flag through the mist and rain led to the poem “The Star-Spangled Banner” being written. We were fortunate to be here in time for the flag raising ceremony and it was great to look around the fort and be part of history for a day.

After an hour with our incredibly knowledgeable guide, we joined our ship, the Privateer “Lynx” for the voyage to Historic London Town. The Lynx is an interpretation of an American letter of marque vessel of the same name from 1812. The original Lynx completed one voyage, running the Royal Navy blockade; the British captured her in 1813 at the start of her second voyage and took her into service as HMS Mosquidobit.

History & seamanship, what could be better?

We sailed to London Town, even passing the Pride of Baltimore en route, even firing a mini broadside (of a bread roll, don’t worry) for her, but I’m sad to say she did not return fire!

The original wharf at London Town was built by Colonel William Burgess, one of the area’s original settlers. It was once considered as the site for the capital of Maryland, considered as important a city for trade as Annapolis and Williamsburg, Virginia. A series of events caused it to decline and disappear by the 19th century, however, including failure to be chosen as a tobacco inspection station.

That evening we warmed up indoors with a lecture on weaponry from the War of 1812, led by the USMC Historical team, before heading for dinner, fire, grog and sea shanties! The Mids were exemplary for the weekend and it was a real privilege chatting to them.

On a very wet Sunday morning we rotated through stations using these historical weapons, from a boarding axe to a 12lb naval gun and brown bess musket. Despite a “flash in the pan” leading me to have black powder in my face for 2 days, it was probably one of the best experiences ever. Even the local Police Dept showed up to see what was going on, after it transpired residents from across the river were unimpressed with explosions over their breakfast.

We sailed back to Annapolis, arriving to glorious sunshine and even fired the ship’s guns to mark our arrival back to the Academy.

It was a wonderful way to round of a few days with the US Naval Academy team, great to meet and chat to some of the US Navy’s future officers and those serving.

We had great stories from USNA senior staff about pizza delivery via fighter jets and all sorts. It was super to see how the Academy runs and a true privilege to have been invited