The Old Defenders

This is a special post regarding the events of 207 years ago, when three branches of my family were engaged in defending our new nation at the beginning part of the 19th century. 

With the defeat of Napoleon by the British in April of 1814, more British military troops and ships were able to be sent to the United States. 

The date was the 24th of August in 1814…a time in the later stages of the War of 1812.   

My 4 times great-grandfather, William Earp, was a Sergeant in the 2nd regiment, Maryland militia, also known as Shutz’s Company.  With little notice or time to organize, his company, along with the 1st regiment and 5th regiment, Sterret’s Company of the Maryland militia, which my 5 times great-uncle John Timanus belonged to, were preparing for the British enemy at Blandensburg, Maryland.  Brigadier General William H. Winder was in command of the American troops.  Major-General Robert Ross was in command of the British troops. 

The Battle of Bladensburg was decidedly a dark day in American history. The American troops present at Blanensburg were ill-prepared, poorly trained and improperly deployed to crucial defensive areas that lay between the British military and Washington, D.C.  As the attack began by the British forces, the British were able to beat back the America troops that were defending a bridge over the eastern branch of the Anacostia River.  This initial advance by the British caused the destabilizing of the left flank of the American line, which further caused a widespread unorganized retreat. The American troops just basically ran from the battlefield, since General Winder had not put into place an organized retreat that could have possibly had a better outcome in defending the road to the nation’s capital.  Hence the battle became known as the Battle of the Bladensburg Races. I only have of my ancestor, William Earp, his general index record that supplied his rank and regiment.  It is hard to say what his initial reaction would have been as the retreat ensued.  Being an officer, I would hope that he would have, with due diligence to try and not disgrace himself in this time of confusion.  Some soldiers went home to defend their loved ones, but not having a record or even a story to support any suppositions makes it difficult at best to know the outcome of an ancestor’s actions. 

The same cannot be said for John Timanus and how his company reacted. It is well known that even though the 5th regiment was exposed to the full weight of the British onslaught due to the retreat of the other regiments, the 5th regiment held their ground for some time, fighting with bravery and distinction.  Eventually they were still overwhelmed and made an organized retreat.  This regiment also participated in the Battle of North Point. Due to eye witness accounts of the other regiments, the shame of this military action did not bode well for the American morale of the soldiers, their commanding officers or the country. 

On the night of the 24th of August, the British invaders took control of Washington, D.C. and burned several government buildings, including the U.S. Capitol and the White House.  Many valuables of the White House, including the famous portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, were saved by Dolly Madison and others before the White House was burned.   

It does appear there was one saving grace…the thunderstorm that saved Washington, D.C.  Four days after the British burned many buildings in the capitol, a very severe thunderstorm, possibly a hurricane, extinguished the flames of the burning capitol.  A tornado also took aim at British soldiers and American civilians alike and possibly caused the British to retreat, although there is debate about the British retreating in this manner. 

After the storm, an encounter was noted between British Admiral George Cockburn and a female resident of Washington.  

“Dear God! Is this the weather to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?” enquired the Admiral. “This is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from our city”, the woman allegedly called out to Cockburn. “Not so, Madam”, Cockburn retorted. “It is rather to aid your enemies in the destruction of your city”, before riding off on horseback. 

The British Fleet, commanded by Admiral Cockburn and the British land troops, commanded by Major-General Ross made their way back to their ships.  The British had also sent part of their fleet to Alexandria, Virginia and Georgetown.  Alexandria surrendered without a shot fired.  After the British ransacked and looted the merchants in Alexandria, the British turned their attentions on Baltimore, hoping to give a crippling blow to the already demoralized Americans.   

Little did they know what lie ahead for them. Baltimore was more than prepared for the arrival of the British, and my 5 times great-grandfather Jesse Timanus and his 5 brothers were a part of the military contingency waiting to defend Baltimore with their lives.  

Major-General Robert Ross, the British commanding officer, in charge of the British, now had his sights set upon Baltimore as his “winter quarters”, and boasted as much, saying “…with the force he had, he would go where he pleased in Maryland”. 

Being forewarned of this, the citizens and militia of Baltimore, made considerable additions to the existing defensive fortifications already in place.  Some of the troops under the command of General Winder were collected, Rodgers and Perry were already in Baltimore, and more volunteers came to the city’s aid from other parts of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Baltimore Brigade was taken as a whole into the service of the United States and given to the direction of Major-General Samuel Smith, of the Maryland militia. 

On Saturday, September 10, 1814, information came that British ships were ascending the bay, and on Sunday morning, September 11, 1814, the ships were seen at the mouth of the Patapsco River, 40 to 50 ships in all. 

Now, here are my Timanus ancestors at the Battle of North Point and Bombardment of Fort McHenry as follows. 

First Major George Timanus, 36th regiment, Jessop’s Company, Maryland Militia 

Captain Charles Timanus, 36th regiment, Jessop’s Company and 1st regiment, Jameson’s Company, Maryland Militia 

Ensign Henry Timanus, 51st regiment, Amey’s Company, Maryland Militia 

Private John Timanus, 5th regiment, Sterett’s Company, Maryland Militia 

Private Jesse Timanus, 36th regiment, Jessop’s Company, Maryland Militia 

Jacob Timanus is registered as a participate in the Battle of Baltimore by the Baltimore Genealogical Society, even though a service record was not found for him. 

The Timanus brothers are a part of what’s known as “the Old Defenders”. Defenders’ Day has been celebrated on the 12th of September every year in Baltimore for more than 150 years. 

Six Timanus brothers ready to fight for and defend their homeland and their city, beginning with the Battle of North Point. 

The following accounts were sourced from Wikipedia and from the eye witness account of Samuel Dewees. Sammy the fifer, as he was known, was a company musician, attached to the 15th regiment, Maryland Militia. Stationed at Hampstead Hill, now known as Chinquepin Hill, witnessed the battle aftermath of North Point and the bombardment of Fort McHenry, as well as giving his accounts of Major George Timanus. 

Here begins the account of North Point. 

General Ross’s army consisted of 3,700 troops and 1,000 marines landing at North Point at the end of the peninsula between the Patapsco River and the Back River on the morning of September 12, 1814, and began moving toward the city of Baltimore.  

Major General Samuel Smith of the Maryland militia anticipated the British strategy, and dispatched Brigadier General John Stricker’s column to meet them. Stricker’s force consisted of five regiments of Maryland militia, a small militia cavalry regiment from Maryland, a battalion of three volunteer rifle companies and a battery of six 4-pounder field guns. Stricker deployed his brigade halfway between Hampstead Hill, just outside Baltimore, where there were earthworks and artillery emplacements, and North Point. At that point, several tidal creeks narrowed the peninsula to only a mile wide, and it was considered an ideal spot for opposing the British troops before they reached the main American defensive positions. 

Stricker received intelligence that the British were camped at a farm just 3 miles from his headquarters. He deployed his men between Bear Creek and Bread and Cheese Creek, which offered cover from nearby woods, and had a long wooden fence near the main road. Stricker placed the 5th Maryland Regiment and the 27th Maryland Regiment and his six guns in the front defensive line, with two regiments (the 51st and 39th) in support, and one more (the 6th) in reserve. He placed his men in mutually supporting positions, relying on numerous swamps and the two streams to stop a British flank attack, all of which he hoped would help avoid another disaster such as Bladensburg. 

The riflemen initially occupied a position some miles ahead of Stricker’s main position, to delay the British advance. However, their commander, Captain William Dyer, hastily withdrew on hearing a rumor that British troops were landing from the Back River behind him, threatening to cut off his retreat. Stricker posted them instead on his right flank. 

At about midday on the 12th, Stricker heard the British had halted while the soldiers had a meal, and some sailors attached to Ross’s force plundered nearby farms. He decided it would be better to provoke a fight rather than wait for a possible British night attack. At 1:00 pm, he sent Major Richard Heath with 250 men and one cannon to draw the British to Stricker’s main force. 

Heath advanced down the road and soon began to engage the British pickets. When Ross heard the fighting, he quickly left his meal and ran to the scene. His men attempted to drive out the concealed American riflemen. Rear Admiral George Cockburn, second in command of the Royal Navy’ American Station who usually accompanied Ross, was cautious about advancing without more support and Ross agreed that he would leave and bring back the main army. However, Ross never got the chance, as an American rifleman shot him in the chest. Mortally wounded, General Ross turned his command over to Colonel Arthur Brooke and General Ross died soon thereafter. 

Colonel Brooke reorganized the British troops and prepared to assault the American positions at 3:00 pm. He decided to use his three cannons to cover an attempt by his 4th Regiment to get around the American flank, while two more regiments and the naval brigade would assault the American center. The British frontal assault took heavy casualties as the American riflemen fired into the British ranks, and lacking canister the Americans loaded their cannon with broken locks, nails and horseshoes, firing scrap metal at the British advance. Nevertheless, the British 4th Regiment managed to outflank the American positions and sent many of the American regiments fleeing. Stricker was able to conduct an organized retreat, with his men firing volleys as they continued to fall back. This proved effective, killing one of the British commanders and leaving some units lost among woods and swampy creeks, with others in confusion. 

Not all the militia regiments performed with equal distinction. The 51st Regiment and some men of the 39th broke and ran under fire. However, the 5th and 27th held their ground and retreated in good order, having inflicted significant casualties on the enemy. Only one American gun was lost. 

Corporal John McHenry of the 5th Regiment wrote of the battle: 

Our Regiment, the 5th, carried off the praise from the other regiments engaged, so did the company to which I have the honor to belong cover itself with glory. When compared to the [other] Regiments we were the last that left the ground… had our Regiment not retreated at the time it did we should have been cut off in two minutes. 

Brooke did not follow the retreating Americans. He had advanced to within a mile of the main American position, but he had suffered heavier casualties than the Americans. As it was getting dark, he chose to wait until Fort McHenry was expected to be neutralized, while Stricker withdrew to Baltimore’s main defenses. 

Meanwhile, Sammy the fifer was lying low in the entrenchments with his drummer and along came Major George Timanus with baskets of bread and liquor and ordered the sergeants to give food and drink to every man.  The major asked for Dewees, and he was told that the fifer and drummer had picked up muskets and were in the entrenchments.  The major called for the fifer, “Dewees, Dewees”! Sammy answered him. The major asked him “What are you doing here”?  The fifer answered him “I thought we would make some music and fight a little too”. The major bade the fifer and drummer to join him with something to eat and asked for them to play Yankee Doodle. 

On the other side of enemy lines, Colonel Brooke prepared for a night assault on Hampstead Hill, while the British fleet fired upon Fort McHenry.  Later that night, Colonel Brooke cancelled his plan of attack upon seeing the fortifications of the hill, with General Stricker’s forces, along with Major George Timanus, and about 22,000 other men, waiting for them with 100 cannons pointed in their general direction.  The British fleet would need to subdue Fort McHenry before additional land forces could help Brooke’s troops take the hill. 

At 3 a.m. on September 14, 1814, it was apparent to Colonel Brooke that Fort McHenry’s fortifications were withstanding the bombardment from the British fleet, and he made the decision to retreat and ordered his troops back to the ships.  

By early morning, the fort still stood with very little damage. 

Anchored with the British fleet in the harbor was a truce ship, The President, and onboard, held was Francis Scott Key, a Georgetown lawyer, who had been sent with John Skinner, prisoner exchange agent, to negotiate the release of Dr. William Beanes, a civilian prisoner of war. Though Beanes had been set free, they were not released until after the Battle and were forced to witness the battle from behind enemy lines. After 25 hours, and 1,500 to 1,800 cannonballs being fired at the fort, the bombardment ended. Major Armistead ordered a huge flag, made for the fort by Baltimorean Mary Pickersgill, and her 13 year old daughter, to be flown. It is this flag that Francis Scott Key saw and penned the poem “The Defense of Fort McHenry” which would later be renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” and become The National Anthem of the United States of America. 

One last battle would ensue in New Orleans that would finally end the war with Great Britain. 

After the Battle of Baltimore, the life of my 5 times great-grandfather is in question.  In the 1820 census, I found Ruth Timanus, Jesse’s wife with children (two daughters that were 10 to 15 years old), which tells me that Jesse Timanus must have passed away prior to the census. 

Does this mean that Jesse died during the battle?  I simply do not know at this time.  Many out there are confusing this Jesse Timanus with his nephew, Jesse Timanus, son of Charles Timanus and Jane Lester.  I have addressed this confusion in another post. 

There was one more ancestor of mine who was present at the Battle of Baltimore and died in Baltimore… 

Private Joel Ferree, pronounced “Free”, who was in the 2nd regiment, Ritscher’s Company, Pennsylvania Militia. He died the 24th of September, 1814 in Baltimore, Maryland just about a week after the retreat of the British forces. 

If you wish to know if your ancestor was an Old Defender, you can do an internet search on Old Defenders list, Baltimore Genealogical Society. Also, you may have an ancestor who participated in a Pennsylvania or Virginia regiment. 

In honor of all those who fought and sacrificed so much in the War of 1812, I wanted to take this opportunity to make mention of my wife’s ancestors who also fought and defended our nation at this critical time. 

They are as follow… 

Private Seaton Coleman, 79th regiment, Greenbriar County, Virginia Militia 

Private Robert Kennan, 4th regiment, Boyd’s Company, Virginia Militia 

Private Henry Willis, 3rd regiment, United States Riflemen, Virginia Militia 

Private Pleasant Davis, 87th regiment,  Virginia Militia, Captain William L. Abraham and Major Thomas Hill commanding 

Here are the sources for the information given 

The Fall of Washington, DC – Sources and excerpts from A.J. Langguth, Union 1812, in 2006; Anthony S. Pitch, The Burning of Washington, in 2000 

The Battle of North Point – Sourced from Wikipedia 

Sourced from “A History of the Life and Services of Captain Samuel Dewees”, written (in part from manuscripts in the hand writing of Captain Dewees) and compiled by John Smith Hanna, printed by Robert Neilson, 1844 

Special thanks to the following people and to the organizations that have provided support in the past and the on-line information they have provided: 

Shawn Gladden, Executive Director of the Howard County Historical Society, Maryland 

Chuck Lewis, Howard County Historical Society, Maryland 

The State of Maryland Archives 

The War of 1812 Society 

The City of Baltimore Historical Society 

The Maryland Historical Society 

The Baltimore Genealogical Society 

And Cheryl, my beautiful wife whose love and support keeps me going daily. Love you Sweetie! 

5 thoughts on “The Old Defenders

  1. I must admit that I know little about the War of 1812. I do remember about Dolly. Could you tell me which Henry Willis you are referring to for “Private Henry Willis, 3rd regiment?” His wife’s name perhaps? I know about Private Pleasant Davis, though I haven’t been on Fold3 yet to research their records for him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story Brian! Wonderfully told. Wonder the ages of the Timanus boys were at the time of the fight.
    Another reminder of the many brave folks who have stood for our count.


    • Hello Art, Thank you so much! When I discovered the Timanus family back in 2013-2014, it truly amazed me that 6 brothers would be fighting at the same time, but after more research, there were plenty of families that were fighting for our country and its’ freedom! Thank again so much! I truly wanted to them honor, as well as all of those that fought!


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