A respected archaeologist leading a dig around historic Todd's Inheritance in Baltimore County has found new evidence that buttresses accounts that British troops burned the original house to the ground before they departed America in the fading days of the War of 1812.
The first comprehensive scientific examination at the site has uncovered other pieces that historians and county residents hope will shed more light on the house's role in the pivotal Battle of North Point in September 1814.
A team headed by Donna J. Seifert - who has investigated digs at sites from the French, English and Spanish colonial periods and 19th-century America - completed a weeklong excavation around the Todd house yesterday. The team will take its findings to a Virginia laboratory for a monthlong study.
Bits of charred wood found near the stone foundation of the original house "makes consistent the available documentation" that the invading army torched the structure after its defeats on North Point Peninsula and outside Baltimore, Seifert said.
Other accounts say the Todd house held a strategic view of the Chesapeake Bay, which helped the withdrawing British decide to burn the house.
Period pieces such as pipe stems, stoneware, nails and bricks were also uncovered, said Seifert, of John Milner Associates Inc. in Alexandria, Va.
"We now go to the laboratory with the items to clean, identify and prepare them for permanent curation," she said yesterday.
Seifert's historical detective work is part of a $650,000 effort to restore the Todd house and adjoining family cemetery with state, county and private funds. When complete, the refurbished property - one of Maryland's first land grants in the 1660s - will become a museum and educational center.
A $25,000 grant from Save Maryland's Treasures supported the dig, said Patricia Winter, chairwoman of Friends of Todd's Inheritance, a private group heading the restoration.
The Battle of North Point was fought by U.S. citizen-soldiers against the British as a delaying action to allow completion of fortifications around Baltimore.
Until now, there was some dispute that the Todd house was where lookouts for the First Baltimore Hussars were stationed to notify defenders in Baltimore that the British were headed ashore.
Triumphant after burning the capital in Washington, about 4,000 British troops were cocky and itching for a fight when they landed near what is now Fort Howard VA Medical Center.
They marched past the Todd farm early on Sept. 12, 1814, on their way to the battles of North Point and Hampstead Heights.
Two days later, the repelled and broken invaders marched back down North Point toward their fleet anchored in Old Road Bay, stopping at the Todd house to set it ablaze.
The British commander, Maj. Gen. Robert Ross, was killed by two teen-age snipers, Harry McComas and Daniel Wells.
The invaders' naval bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry also was a failure. Two months later, the British signed a peace treaty with the United States.
Residents along North Point still talk proudly of the battle, which they consider no less important than the midnight ride of Paul Revere in 1775. Defenders' Day, Sept. 12, has been a Maryland state holiday since 1851 and is celebrated with re-enactments, fairs and lectures.
Kathy Lee Erlandson Liston, an archaeologist and historian who has published many papers on Todd's Inheritance, said she was "thrilled" about Seifert's excavation. "The dig is long overdue."
"There are many myths connected to the Todd house and perhaps this dig will clear up some of them," she said.
One myth, she said, is that word sent from three soldiers of the First Baltimore Hussars was the only bit of intelligence that U.S. commanders had about the British invasion.
Research shows, Liston said, that local forces knew about the British presence long before a messenger took off for Baltimore from the Todd farm. Documents, including the Congressional Record, show a network of scouts and spies along the shores of the bay raised the alarm for the detachment at Todd house. The word from North Point underscored the urgency of shoring up Baltimore's defenses.
"Another nagging piece of misinformation is that the Todd house was built with brick imported from England," Liston said. "Not true. The British didn't do such things and the bricks used in the Todd house were made on the farm or in nearby Baltimore."
The Todd house was rebuilt around or outside its original stone foundations in 1833 and enlarged in brick in 1841, according to state tax assessment records. The house remained in the Todd family for 11 generations.
By last year, years after the Todds had sold the property, the house and the cemetery had fallen into disrepair.
County officials appealed to the state for help while local preservationists organized to save the site. A year ago, the state bought the 4.3-acre property for $285,000. It leases the property to the preservation group for $1 a year.
During the past week, Seifert and her assistants used the tools of archaeologists - various shovels, mason trowels, dustpans, paint brushes and implements the size of dental picks.
"We have been looking for patterns in our digging," Seifert said. "As earth and rock layers change colors, it tells us something."
The diggers carefully unearthed 18 to 24 inches of organic subsoil around the entire foundation.