Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Doctor, the Lawyer, and the National Anthem

by C.J. Chase
With no territory gained or lost, America's War of 1812 would be all but forgotten but for one major consequence — “The Star Spangled Banner.” Enter the unlikely catalyst for America’s future national anthem.
Dr. William Beanes was born January 24, 1749 on a large estate in Prince Georges County, Maryland. He learned medicine by apprenticing with a local doctor and used those skills in the General Hospital at Philadelphia during the American Revolution. By the summer of 1814, the 65-year-old physician owned a gristmill, extensive property, and the largest house in Upper Marlboro, the Prince Georges county seat, where he served as an elected official.
On August 16, 1814, 22 British vessels invaded the Chesapeake Bay, the large body of water between the U.S. mainland and the eastern portions of Virginia and Maryland. Fear that the British would attack Maryland’s capital Annapolis prompted state government officials to move records inland from the city to Beane’s Upper Marlboro home, about eight miles east of Washington, DC. But the British bypassed Annapolis, instead targeting the nation's capital.
With the British army marching through his town, Beanes invited Major General Robert Ross to use his home. What better way to protect the state archives (and Beanes’ home) from a British bonfire than to have the general staying on the premises!
After routing the American forces at Bladensburg on the afternoon of August 24, the combined British army and naval forces entered Washington, DC, unopposed. Captain Thomas Tingey, the American in charge of the Washington Navy Yard, torched the supplies stored there lest they fall into enemy hands. The British soon copied his example, burning public buildings including the Capitol, the President’s House, and the Treasury building. A summer breeze carried the flames to nearby residences, sending homes up in flames. From forty miles away, Baltimore residents watched the fires light the night sky.
Capitol after the fire

Unable to hold the city and fearing an American counteract, Ross ordered his army to fall back to the Chesapeake Bay, once again passing through Upper Marlboro. But not all of them returned. Over 100 men vanished, many of them deserters who decided to remain in America rather than sail back to Britain. With some of these deserters now pillaging local farms, residents decided to act. Former Maryland governor Robert Bowie, Dr. Beanes, and several other men set about capturing the stragglers. They had imprisoned six of them in the county jail when one escaped and returned to General Ross.
An angry Ross sent a detachment to Upper Marlboro where the soldiers arrested Beanes, Bowie, and two others. A swap followed, with the British getting their deserters back in exchange for three of the Maryland men — all of them except Dr. Beanes. No one knows why Ross refused to release Beanes. Historians speculate Beanes may have offered Ross some sort of pledge during their earlier meeting. Whatever the reason, Ross had the old man detained in the brig of the HMS Tonnant.
Beanes' influential friends began to pressure the American government into negotiating for his release. But American General John Mason feared that exchanging the old doctor for captured British soldiers would encourage the British to take civilian hostages. With official channels moving too slowly for Beanes’ friends, his neighbor Richard West decided to try a new tactic. He asked the assistance of his wife’s brother-in-law — a Washington lawyer named Francis Scott Key.
Key and John Skinner, the American prisoner of war exchange agent, received President James Madison’s permission to negotiate for Beane’s release. General Mason organized their transportation and also compassionately arranged for them to deliver letters from wounded British prisoners. Sailing on the Royal Oak under a flag of truce, Key and Skinner reached the British fleet on September 7 and joined Ross on the Tonnant where they presented him with the letters from his soldiers and their petition for Beanes’ release.
Despite the Ross’s lingering anger with Beanes, he agreed to free the old doctor, in large measure to express his appreciation for the letters. However, the Tonnant was already enroute to the planned British assault on Baltimore. With the three Americans now aware of the impending attack, the British were understandably reluctant to release them until after the battle. And thus, on the night of September 13, 1814, Francis Scott Key, along with Skinner and Beanes, watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry from the midst of the British fleet.

Major George Armistead, commanding officer of Fort McHenry, had commissioned an extra-large flag – 30 feet by 42 feet – to fly above the garrison. From eight miles away, the three Americans waited for news. Would the British take Baltimore like they had taken Washington? On the morning of September 14, Skinner, Key, and Beanes saw that star-spangled banner by the dawn’s early light. Inspired that the flag was still waving, Key wrote the poem that became the American national anthem.
News of the American victory reached Europe during the peace negotiations in the autumn of 1814 and ended Britain's hope of gaining territorial concessions. Three months after the failed assault on Baltimore, the two countries finalized the Treaty of Ghent, which returned their relationship to status quo ante bellum.
Have you or someone you've known been an unexpected eyewitness to history-in-the-making?

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Redeeming the Rogue is an August, 2011 release. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at cjchasebooks.com


  1. okay, where did my comment go?

    I'll repeat. I loved this post. It gave me goosebumps! On my last trip to the Smithsonian, I was thrilled to see THE star spangled banner on display. What a great story, CJ about a fascinating period in our history.

    On a previous post, I shared with you all about how my parents witnessed the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. History in the making - very sad history.

  2. Deb, how sad to see the Challenger explosion. I wonder if the tragedies are what we are most likely to remember. Perhaps the full impact of "good" turning points in history doesn't become evident until much later.

  3. I can't say I ever eye-witnessed history, except seeing 911 unfold live on television.

    I tend to witness crime instead. Might be why I've been drawn to mystery.

    Nice post! I can see why you chose this time period to set your novel.

  4. Your novel opens right after this war, doesn't it? I was trying to remember the other day.

  5. Next year (oh please Lord let next summer be a little less hectic) I hope to go to the War of 1812 Reenactment at our local history museum. Sometimes to add to the fun, there's a bit of Jane Austen thrown in. Love this time period. okay I love 18th and 19th century, colonial right up to the civil war, and I'm starting to love the latter part of the century as well.

    I'm thrilled with all the new historicals coming out this year, and the fact that REDEEMING THE ROGUE will be sailing into stores very soon!

  6. Barb, I didn't even witness 9/11 via television. I was home by myself and had everything turned off (radio, email). I didn't know anything was happening until my mom called to ask if I'd heard from my dh, who worked in Washington.

    Interestingly, dh worked on the Washington Navy Yard back then--the same Navy Yard mentioned in my post. (The one the commander burned so it wouldn't fall into British handsin 1814.) On 9/10/01, George W. Bush had been on the base.

  7. Dina, yep. My novel is set after the war, although the plot really revolves around the Treaty of Ghent. And my heroine was in Washington when the British burned it.

    I had signed up for a history day, and then I couldn't remember what I was going to write about. Searched through my bookshelves, which tend to be skewed towards certain time periods. I found some of my War of 1812 references and decided they were obscure enough to be entertaining. I'd have put in the Canada connections for Anita, but the post was long enough. Maybe another time...

  8. Deb, thanks for the plug!

    We went to Fort McHenry a few years ago. (Right before we moved out of the DC area, I think.) It's surprisingly small.

    I have a fondness for 17th century history. I've written one novel in the early 1600's and then I plotted another set against Bacon's Rebellion (1676). Unfortunately, I seem to be a little out of the mainstream -- at least, editors seem to think so and they won't buy my 17th century settings. Maybe I'll have to console myself with a Bacon's Rebellion blog post some time.

  9. I love the story of The Star Spangled Banner. And this war has been rather overlooked in fiction. I'm glad your book is set during this time, CJ. I must get a copy!

  10. DeAnna, it's kind of interesting that the Napoleonic Wars in Europe are a popular fictional setting and yet the War of 1812 isn't. The language is the same. The clothing styles are the same.

    Time to change that!

  11. Interesting post, CJ. Like Deb, I saw the Star Spangled Banner at the Smithsonian--it gave me goosebumps.

    Looking forward to reading your novel!

  12. OK, 'fessing up because I feel dumb. How many other people think the Star Spangled Banner came about during the Revolutionary War, not the War of 1812? *sigh* I must have been absent that day.
    Thank you for improving my education, Mrs. Chase. : )

  13. Thanks, Susanne.

    Blogger ate my first reply. I've seen the flag at the Smithsonian too -- but it was ages and ages ago. I seem to always be at either the Air and Space or Natural History museums when I'm in DC, probably because I have boys who'd rather see rockets or dinosaur fossils.

  14. Well, Niki, I did say it was probably the most forgotten war -- especially when one considers the war lasted 2 1/2 years and the country was invaded. You'd think a little matter like an invasion would get more attention in history class.

  15. The war is not forgotten by those of who are tall ship--Age of Fighting Sail--devotees.

    As for watching history in the making, I think all of us have; it's just what will end up in the pages of history that is up for grabs beyond our lives.

    I keep thinking how frustrated future historians are going to be that we have deleted emails now instead of all those letters written in the past.

  16. Laurie Alice, do you want to hear a story about "deleted" letters that will make you want to bang your head against the desk?

    My husband's great-grandfather fought in the Civil War. (He's the youngest of the youngest of the youngest, so there's a 125 year spread between his great-grandfather's birth and his.) Great-grandpa wrote lots and lots of letters to the woman who became his wife after the war.

    After he died, his widow went to live with a daughter and her family. They thought it was really embarrassing the way she would re-read those old letters. (She was going senile and would say things like, "George is coming home.") So, after she died, they threw away the letters.

    Argh! Fortunately, they missed 3, but there had to be hundreds that got thrown away.


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