By Chuck Fithian, HCA Curator of Archaeology
The year 1814 saw the inauguration of a new governor— Daniel Rodney of Lewes. Like his predecessor, he continued to oversee and maintain the active defense of the state. Defensive measures continued with Delawareans manning the various fortifications and ongoing militia service. During the year, Delaware ceded Pea Patch Island to the federal government, which fortified it using Martello-type towers, a new type of fortification developed earlier by the British for the defense of southern England.
Also at this time, Delawareans would be assisted, for the first time, by the arrival of significant elements of the United States Regular Army. These regulars were stationed in Lewes and in encampments across northern Delaware. Naval operations by British vessels also continued unabated in the Delaware Bay and River. For example, small boats from the frigate Nieman destroyed a group of shallops containing a valuable cargo of shingles in Indian River. However, Delaware would face new threats, this time ones originating in events taking place in the Chesapeake Bay.
British military forces, now under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane and Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, launched new and more vigorous attacks against American assets on both sides of the Chesapeake. Both of these highly experienced officers had served in naval campaigns in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and were aggressive practitioners of the concepts of total war.
Numerous raids were launched throughout the region, but the 1814 campaign also included larger engagements such as the destruction of the Chesapeake Flotilla in the Patuxent River, the battle of Bladensburg, the burning of government buildings in Washington, the battle of North Point, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry.
It is also significant that at this time Admiral Cockburn pressed his commander to consider attacking targets in the Delaware Valley including New Castle, Wilmington, and the DuPont gunpowder works in Delaware; and Chester and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. Admiral Cockburn’s interest in enlarging the scale of British operations in the Delaware Valley shows the strategic importance of the region and clearly indicates that the operations on the Delaware should not be considered a backwater of the regional naval campaign.
The events occurring in the Chesapeake were being watched by Delaware authorities, who had begun to prepare the state for attacks from the west. Immediately after the attack at Fort McHenry, British forces again threatened the northern Chesapeake and Delawareans would be a part of the measures to counter that move. Under the command of Thomas Stockton of New Castle, then a major in the 42nd United States Infantry, a force of Delaware militiamen, United States Army regulars, and United States Navy sailors from the Delaware Flotilla marched into northern Maryland and occupied positions in the Elkton area.
By this time the war was clearly winding down, and British forces withdrew into the lower Chesapeake, and began to depart to other areas. However, for Delaware the war was not over. As late as November and December, garrisons, such as those at Lewes, were still being manned, Royal Navy vessels, such as HMS Majestic , a 74-gun ship-of-the-line, were sighted on station in the Delaware Capes, and fears of landings along the coast were still real.
Chuck Fithian holds a master’s degree in history from Salisbury University and has extensive expertise in military and maritime history/archaeology, in material-culture studies, and social history of Colonial- and Revolutionary War-era America. Mr. Fithian is responsible for the curation of the archaeological collections of the state of Delaware and for conducting historical/archaeological research. His current work includes directing the research and conservation of the artifact collection and hull of His Majesty’s Sloop DeBraak and conducting a survey of Delaware sites related to the War of 1812.