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Photo of Major General Samuel Smith

Maj. General Samuel Smith

History of Baltimore County

 

County Name

Baltimore was named for Cecilius (Cecil) Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore and the proprietor of Maryland, who in turn took his title from his barony estates in Longford County, Ireland.

 

 

Brief County History (1650 to 1854)

 

By the 1650's when settlement began, Baltimore County was primarily a geographical entity more than a political one. Its territorial limits consisted of Baltimore City, Cecil and Harford Counties, as well as parts of Carroll, Anne Arundel, Frederick, Howard and Kent Counties. The legal origin of Baltimore County is not known, but it was in existence by January 12, 1659, when a writ was issued to the county sheriff. Formal county boundaries were mentioned when Cecil County was formed out of Baltimore County in 1674. Thus early county history is more a story of the settling of northern Maryland than a history of the county. Most of the early land grants were situated along the coastal region. Since few if any roads existed, the navigable waterways such as Back and Middle Rivers of the seventeenth century carried most commerce and transportation. The Gunpowder Falls area became a choice area for land grants. "Old Baltimore" on the Bush River (in what is now Harford County) became the first permanent county seat. In 1712, Joppa near the mouth of the Gunpowder River became the second county seat and a thriving tobacco port. In 1768, as Joppa's commercial influence faded the influence of the port of Baltimore Town, now known as Baltimore, resulted in it being named the county seat. Baltimore separated from Baltimore County in 1854. The city remains an independent jurisdiction. In 1854, Towsontown, now known as Towson, became the current county seat. The cornerstone of the courthouse was laid on October 19, 1854.

 

 

Battle of North Point in the War of 1812 (September 12 to 14, 1814)

 

After the invasion and burning of Washington, DC in August 1814, Rear Admiral George Cockburn reloaded the British troops of Major General Robert Ross to prepare for seizing Baltimore, a chief privateering nest in the United States. The location of Baltimore made it necessary to defend the city from both land and sea attack. Major General Samuel Smith was placed at the head of the city's defenses. The Baltimore harbor defenses rested on Fort McHenry. On September 11, 1814, the British fleet appeared off North Point in Baltimore County. The British strategy was to approach the city from the North Point and enter Baltimore by way of Hampstead Hill, now known as Baltimore's Patterson Park.

The attacks by land and water would be simultaneous.

Smith ordered General John Stricker's 3rd Brigade of about 3,200 militia down the North Point Road to the narrow neck of the peninsula. A stronger fortified line ran along Hampstead Hill. Stricker intended to execute a delaying action along North Point Road before withdrawing into Hampstead Hill's fortifications.

 

On the morning of September 12, Major General Ross' troops advanced slowly yet confidently up North Point Road. Ross predicted that the American militia would run when fired upon and initially they did pull back. However, significantly a major casualty was General Ross. Legend has it that two sharpshooters, Daniel Wells and Henry McComas, made Ross their target. Whether they actually fired the shots will never be known. The boys fell almost immediately to British bullets. A monument immortalizes their valiantry. Carried to the rear, Ross died a few hours later.

 

The British forces advanced and that afternoon, Colonel Arthur Brooke, Ross' second in command, charged. The center and right wing of Stricker's line held before retreating to the reserve units a mile behind the lines. Stricker then moved his forces to the fortification on Hampstead Hill to reorganize.

 

 

Colonel Brooke, lacking confidence in his new position, halted his troops. The British fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, maneuvered into the Patapsco River in preparation for the attack on Fort McHenry. While the fleet fired on Fort McHenry during the day, Colonel Brooke prepared for a night assault on Hampstead Hill. Brooke was again certain that the militia would flee. Later that night he cancelled the plan upon seeing the fortification. Admiral Cockrane's fleet would need to subdue Fort McHenry before they could help the land forces take the Hill. The tactic failed. The dawn of September 14, immortalized in our National Anthem, showed the success of the American defense. September 12 continues to be celebrated as a Maryland legal holiday, Maryland Defender's Day. An annual reenactment of the battle takes place at Fort Howard Park, Edgemere, Maryland.

 

 

Source: Neal A. Brooks and Eric G. Rockel. A History of Baltimore County.
Friends of the Towson Library, Inc. Towson, Maryland. 1979.