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Book Excerpt: Baltimore celebrates ‘National Jubilee’

The citizens of Baltimore awoke Saturday morning July 4, 1812 to the sounds of cannons and bells ringing, but for the first time in nearly a fortnight, the gunfire that followed was only ceremonial.

The city’s festivities began with a tribute to George Washington in the Theatre on Holliday Street and then a formal procession to Howard’s Park, northwest of the city. Yankee Doodle played in the background as the mayor and fellow dignitaries gathered on stage before a sizeable crowd and, after opening prayers, heard a recitation of the Declaration of Independence.

Lt. Col. Levi Winder, a prominent Federalist, gave an oration, which was reportedly well received even by the Republican dominated crowd. Winder did not specifically mention the ongoing violence in the city, but commented on the spirit of liberty, calling it “a fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame; lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”[i]  The message was subtle but distinct.

Contemporary accounts in both the Federalist and Republican press emphasized the harmony of the day’s events with many references to the bipartisan nature of the festivities. The Federalists even agreed to shift the time of their Washington tribute to accommodate the larger citywide procession. But if “concord and unanimity” were the mottos of the day, not all of Baltimore was listening.

In Fell’s Point, the local Republican party committee met at Pamphilion’s Hotel for their neighborhood’s July 4th celebration. After a “sumptuous” dinner, patrons joined in a series of toasts, which, as was often the practice, were later recounted in the local newspaper. Among the patriotic paeans were toasts to former President Jefferson, the Army and Navy, and surviving patriots of the Revolution –– all accompanied by music, cheers and gunfire salutes.  

Mixed in with the ceremonial gunshots were a few warning shots, including a toast to “Unanimity among all citizens; may our internal foes meet their just reward…” followed by a rendition of Rogue’s March, a traditional melody for criminals and dishonored soldiers. Another toast was raised to “the internal enemies of our country. May they be rapidly exported without benefit of drawback.”[ii]

Still, the nation’s 36th birthday, with such a patriotic celebration of the Constitution, liberty and freedom, did offer the city a reprieve from nearly two straight weeks of violence –– at least locally. The nation remained under declaration of war and hostilities with Great Britain were heating up. It was just days later when Baltimore residents first learned of a planned attack by U.S. General William Hull against Canada, then a British colony. The attempted invasion was one of the first major military actions of the war.

 Back in Montgomery County, Alexander Hanson was ready for an invasion of a different sort. He had spent the past few weeks plotting a return to Baltimore to revive his newspaper. Rather than dissuade or intimidate him, the mob violence had stiffed Hanson’s resolve and he vowed to defend the free press at any cost.

The celebrated tenets of liberty and freedom were about to be put to the test –– and this “war” was also just beginning.

— Reprinted from Chapter Three of Mobtown Massacre

Image credit: “View of Baltimore from Howard Park” by George Beck courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.


[i] Niles Weekly Register, 11 Jul. 1812, p. 305-308.

[ii] American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, 8 Jul. 1812, p. 2.

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Alexander Hanson and the Mobtown Massacre by Josh S. Cutler