The Maryland Historical Society is mounting the largest display… (Kenneth K. Lam )
A mural of a 19th-century warship marks the entrance to the newest exhibit at the Maryland Historical Society. The chasseur, or clipper, resembles the craft a Fells Point merchant sailed to London in 1814 to put the British on notice.
Actually, "Wild Tom" Boyle, the skipper, vowed to blockade the entire country with his one sturdy ship.
Such bravado was not uncommon in the era when a fledgling country was testing its mettle, said Burton K. Kummerow, director of the society, which he calls "Maryland's attic."
"In Full Glory Reflected: Maryland during the War of 1812" opens Sunday at the society's gallery on West Monument Street. At the core of the exhibit is the thin, yellowing paper on which Francis Scott Key wrote "Defence of Fort McHenry," later known as "The Star-Spangled Banner." It is encased in glass and only shown 10 minutes of every hour. A copy fills in for the remaining 50 minutes.
'You can see the few changes Key made, but this is the final version with 'in full glory' in the second of the four verses," Kummerow said. "This piece is our greatest treasure."
Visitors will see portraits of war heroes painted by Rembrandt Peale, one of the Baltimore family's well-known artists. Scenes from city taverns, which were the popular gathering places, and many other images that depict life in the city line the gallery walls. Living-history actors will portay many of the characters and give added insights into the times.
Paintings show Baltimore's trade ships under construction and plying the oceans. Shipbuilding was a major industry, and once built, the ships became a major source of the city's wealth. So when the British impressed American sailors into service and confiscated cargo from merchant ships, the new nation declared war in June 1812.
"We had 17 vessels, the tiniest Navy," said Kummerow. "Britain had hundreds of ships. Yet we declared war."
Great Britain unleashed its might on its former colony. Its ships sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and destroyed much in their path. The exhibit includes images of the White House burning, reproductions of the prized furnishings that were destroyed and newspaper accounts of the war. The society is also showing two battle scenes painted by Thomas C. Ruckle, an Irish immigrant who fought alongside Maryland militiamen.
"Since he participated, we can say these paintings are fairly accurate depictions," Kummerow said.
The last image on the gallery tour is the photograph taken of the surviving defenders on the steps of Druid Hill Mansion more than 50 years after the war. Even the drummer boy, whose drums are in the background of the photo, is a white-haired old man. It is titled "Old Defenders of Baltimore."
Information: http://www.mdhs.org or 410-685-3750.