Overshadowed in history by the American Revolution and the Civil war, the war of 1812 is none the less an important part of the history of the United States. A part of that history may have recently been discovered in the Patuxent River, undisturbed for almost 200 years.
In 1979 a Patuxent River Submerged Cultural Survey team came upon a wreck with a quantity of artifacts onboard. The artifacts were buried in the mud beneath the murky waters of a quiet section of the river. Divers brought up a set of surgical scissors, a grog up with the engraved initials “C.W.” The cup is believed to have belonged to the flotilla cook, Ceaser Wentworth. Additional artifacts include, a gunner’s pick, a clay pipe, glass pharmaceutical bottles, a ceramic jar, a dead eye metal and wood fastener, a set of carpentry tools and other artifacts.
While the actual name USS Scorpion has not yet been discovered on any of the artifacts, work continues, and those important artifacts may be uncovered.
It all started when US Commodore Joshua Barney sailed his fleet of sixteen gun boats out of Baltimore with the intention of confronting the British. The British, at that point were making it nearly impossible for the US Navy to prevent the British from raiding ports in Baltimore, Norfolk and Washington, DC because they were blockading Chesapeake Bay. It is known, through historical records, that on June 1, 1814 that US Commodore Joshua Barney’s flotilla made its way up to the shallow head waters of the Patuxent River in Maryland during the war of 1812. The flotilla, including the USS Scorpion had been chasing the lead British ship, the HMS St Lawrence.
The strategy was that US Commodore Barney would attack with 16 to 18 boats in the hope the British would chase their attackers. Then Barney would head to the shallow Patuxent River and escape. The plan was to divert the British from attacking Washington DC and allow time for the US to build up its defenses of the capitol. This game of cat and mouse was played all through the summer until finally Barney’s luck ran out. His fleet was trapped. There was no escape, Barney ordered Lt Solomon Frazier to scuttle the US fleet moment before the arrival of British Rear Admiral George Cockburn. Instead of capturing the fleet and the crew, Cockburn arrived in time to watch the 16 to 18 ships of the flotilla being blown up in quick succession, their crews having escaped by onto land. They then marched to the Battle of Bladensburg where they engaged until they ran out of ammunition. At that battle Commodore Barney was wounded an taken prisoner by the British.
On June 1, 1814 US Commodore Joshua Barney’s flotilla made its way up to the shallow head waters of the Patuxent River in Maryland during the was of 1812. The flotilla, including the USS Scorpion had be chasing the lead British ship, the HMS St Lawrence. At that point the British Navy knew they had the US flotilla trapped and set up a blockade of the river.
Research has shown that Commodore Joshua Barney led a flotilla of eighteen ships, and that Scorpion was eventually scuttled and burned to prevent British capture when a British fleet blockaded the flotilla. With his fleet scuttled, Barney marched his men to the Battle of Bladensburg as the final bastion of resistance prior to the eventual conflagration of Washington on August 24-25, 1814 by British forces. The engagement with the British near Bladensburg ended with the crews from the flotilla running out of ammunition and Commodore Joshua Barney’s capture as a prisoner after suffering a bullet wound. The War of 1812 ended with the signing of The Treaty of Ghent in 1815.
The normally quiet section of the Patuxent in recent months has been teaming with marine archaeologist, diving equipment barges, and all sorts of experts. All the activity has been created by Underwater archaeologists who have been excavating two, six ft by ten ft test units in an attempt to identify what part of the shipwreck they are on. Over the next two years, the archaeologists will continue their testing of the site to help direct the placement of a coffer dam in 2012. The cofferdam, a temporary watertight enclosure, will allow the archaeologists to excavate the wreck as a dry site.
The information and artifacts discovered in the murky waters of the Patuxent will then become a part of the
the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail and Byway as America commemorates the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. These findings will further supplement Maryland’s extensive contributions to the international celebration, estimated to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Maryland and generate more than $1 billion in tourism spending over the 32-month bicentennial period.
J. Rodney Little, State Historic Preservation Officer and Director of the Maryland Historical Trust said, "Commodore Joshua Barney was a bright light of both America's fight for independence and the War of 1812 and the archeological investigation of his flagship, Scorpion, provides an unparalleled opportunity to reach into the past and bring him into the 21st century. The knowledge gained from this project will endure beyond the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812 and enrich both present and future generations,"
Admiral Jay DeLoach, Director of US Naval History and Heritage Command said: “One of the most significant discoveries we hope to complete during the 2012 War of 1812 bicentennial is the documentation of the ship’s unknown architecture. Historically, Scorpion was redesigned and reconstructed several times, yet the final configuration of the ship remains undocumented. Our underwater archeology team hopes to recover lanterns, early surgical instruments, personnel effects, and ship supplies. Indeed, this project will greatly broaden our comprehensive understanding concerning the advancement of naval warship technology during the War of 1812,”
The war of 1812 which played out in the from the great lakes to Cheaseapeake is at last beginning to get the attention it deserves in a large part thanks to the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration. For more details visit:
It is important to remember that our national anthem was written during the war of 1812. It was on September 13, 1814, that Francis Scott Key wrote a poem which was later set to music and in 1931 becomes America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The poem, originally titled “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” was written after Key witnessed the Maryland fort being bombarded by the British during the War of 1812. The new morning at daybreak he was struck by the sight of a lone U.S. flag still flying over Fort McHenry. He put pen to paper and captured that impression when he wrote words of the “Star-Spangled Banner”: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”