Part 1: Historic Charles Town
Gerard William Wittstadt, Jr., Esquire (c)2021
Chapter 2: Charles Town and the American Revolution
Centrally located between Philadelphia and Annapolis, Charles Town played its role in the American Revolution. Nathaniel Ramsay, by all accounts, is the most famous gentleman from Charles Town to serve in the Continental Army. Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, on May 1, 1741, he graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1767 and moved to Charles Town, becoming a member of the Cecil County Bar.
His first wife, Margaret "Jenny" Jane Peale, was the sister of the famous American portrait painter Charles Wilson Peale. The Ramsays purchased the large brick mansion on Lot 45 from John Ross Key, the father of Francis Scott Key, who wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" while onboard a British warship as it bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1812.
Nathaniel Ramsay was a lawyer, although he did not regularly appear in court, as he is said to have preferred settlement to litigation. He was a member of the Whig Party and a member and leader of the Charles Town Council of Safety (the patriot body established to organize Maryland's military forces for the Revolution), having signed the Declaration of the Freemen of Maryland. He was a delegate from Cecil County to the Maryland Convention at Annapolis in 1775.
Commissioned a captain in the Third Maryland Regiment on January 14, 1776, Ramsay served under Colonel William Smallwood in the Maryland Line, first to leave Maryland for action at the Battle of Long Island. In this battle Ramsay gained the attention of General Washington, who commented that then Major Ramsay and his men saved the Continental forces and the cause of independence from a crushing and possible defeat.
On December 10, 1776, while encamped at Valley Forge, Ramsay was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His wife, Jenny, joined him at Valley Forge that winter, where she stayed with other members of the Maryland Line.
General Washington again relied on Ramsay at the Battle of Monmouth Court. After the British Army evacuated Philadelphia and began their march toward New York, General Charles Lee encountered the enemy at Monmouth Court, New Jersey, and gave the order to retreat. Washington, appearing at the front line, personally called upon Ramsay: "I shall depend on your immediate exertions to check with your regiments the progress of the enemy till I can form the main Army." Colonel Ramsay, who was then in command of the Third Maryland Regiment, answered Washington's call to duty: "We shall check them." James McHenry, aide to General Washington, wrote this quote as a note in the margin of page 472 of Volume III of his copy of John Marshall's The Life of George Washington (ed. Philadelphia, 1804). McHenry was at Washington's side when he gave those orders to Colonels Stewart and Ramsay. In violent hand-to-hand combat that ultimately resulted in an American victory, Ramsay was injured and taken prisoner. Lieutenant Colonel Ramsay would have been bayoneted had not a British officer seen and recognized that Ramsay wore a Masonic ring.
Located on the Centennial Monument in the Park at Freehold Borough, near Monmouth Battlefield, the plaque here portrays Ramsay's hand-to-hand combat with the 16th Light Dragoons. This was an exceptional demonstration of bravery as Ramsay and the Third Regiment of the Maryland Line held the Dragoons' attack at Monmouth.
In a letter dated June 29, 1778, from Colonel Otho H. Williams to Dr. Phil Thomas, Colonel Williams wrote an eyewitness account of the Battle of Monmouth, in part: "Officers (particularly Dickenson) of great repute in the military line, Coll. Weston is dangerously wounded-Lieut. Coll. Ramsay of Maryland having his party repulsed cover'd their retreat & stood personally the charge of a Body of Horse, he kill'd the first man wth. His sword but finding himself hew'd at all quarters with their Broadswords and receiving the full charge of powder & c of a pistol aslant his right check surrender'd prisoner of war. The enemy left Monmouth Court House abt. 12 o'ck last night leavg. Coll. Ramsay on his Parole who just came in. The General sent me with his Comps To Coll. Ramsay wch I took great pleasure in delivering." (From the General Otho Williams Papers, Maryland Historical Society. Copy from Michael Adelberg, December 5, 1994. Transcribed February 1995 by Garry Wheeler Stone, Historian, Monmouth Battlefield State Park.)
(From the General Otho Williams Papers, Maryland Historical Society. Copy from Michael Adelberg, December 5, 1994. Transcribed February 1995 by Garry Wheeler Stone, Historian, Monmouth Battlefield State Park.)
(Nathaniel Ramsay, by Charles Willson Peale, circa 1790, courtesy of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Hagerstown, Maryland.)
In 1783, Ramsay and his wife moved to Baltimore, and later to Annapolis, although they maintained a plantation near Charles Town, having acquired on March 11, 1786, part of Anna Catherine Neck and Carpenter's Point. He served twice as a Representative of Maryland to Congress, having been elected in 1786 and again in 1788. "Jenny" Ramsay died in 1788, leaving no children. Two years later, on January 7, 1990, Ramsay married Charlotte Hall and together they had five children. On October 6, 1790, Ramsay purchased a 400-acre plantation called "Clayfall" near Carpenter's Point. That same year, President Washington appointed Ramsay as the first United States Marshal for the District of Maryland. Thereafter, in 1794 Ramsay served as Officer of the Port of Baltimore. He served as a pallbearer at the funeral of President Washington.
Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Ramsay died on October 23, 1817. His obituary in the Baltimore Newspaper Press read as follows: "Died on Friday morning, the 23rd of October, Col. Nathaniel Ramsay of Baltimore, who in the Revolutionary War distinguished himself as a brave, meritorious, and humane officer. He was loved and esteemed by all the Army, particularly by the great, good and discerning man, General Washington. At the battle of Monmouth, when our army was pressed by the enemy advancing rapidly, Gen. Washington asked for an officer. Col. Ramsay presented himself; the General took him by the hand and said, 'If you can stop the British ten minutes (till I form) you will save my army.' Col. Ramsay answered, 'I will stop them or fall.' He advanced with his party, engaged and kept them in check for half an hour, nor did he retreat until the enemy and his troops were mingled; and at last, in the rear of his troops, fighting his way, sword in hand, fell pierced with many wounds, in sight of both armies."
Buried in Baltimore at the Westminster Burial Ground at the First Presbyterian Church, Nathaniel Ramsay's tomb, in disrepair today, reads, "In Memory of Col. Nathaniel Ramsay, who departed this life October 23, 1817, aged 76 years, 7 months and 27 days."
In 1793, James Peale visited Carpenter's Point and painted a portrait of three ladies, next page, entitled "Ramsay-Polk Family at Carpenter's Point, Maryland," shown here courtesy of Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, New York.
The subjects, from left to right, in this portrait are Mrs. Ruth Ellison Polk; Miss Eleanor Brooke Hall Heath, and Miss Charlotte Hall.
The Carpenter's Point fishing shores. Notice the sheds, men mending fishing nets, two sloops at harbor, rows of barrels of salted shad and herring, and the men talking. The three men talking on the shore are possibly the husbands of the three sitters, as they appear dressed accordingly, whereas the others appear to be common laborers. Looking closely, Charles Town can easily be seen behind the ships. Charles Town's wharf can be seen, and the large white building is, most likely, the three-story stone warehouse at the wharf. This is historically significant as there are no other known drawings or pictures of the warehouse, only written descriptions found in the town's historic documents. The warehouse was, indeed, a large building; one that could be seen several miles from the fishing shores at Carpenter's Point. Shown also are other buildings in Charles Town, the identification of which is difficult, although it is also likely that Colonel Ramsay's brick mansion in town is portrayed.
Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs. Ramsay enjoyed a stately mansion at their plantation. Unfortunately, the home was burned many years ago and all that remains today of the place this hero of the American Revolution called home is a pile of rubble.
Carpenter's Point has always been known in history for its fishing shores, but it was also reputed in the early 1800s for its fine ducking shores as well, specifically the hunting of Canvasback ducks. After the death of Colonel Ramsay, the Ramsays' plantations at Carpenter's Point passed to his eldest son, William White Ramsay, and his wife, Eleanor Brooke Hall, who is pictured in the 1793 portrait by James Peale. William White Ramsay wed Ms. Hall on March 6, 1816. The farm remained in the family until about 1824.
On January 8, 1824, William White Ramsay, who was by this time living in Charles Town proper, placed this advertisement in the National Gazette Literary Register offering for sale the farm at Poplar Point and the Carpenter's Point Fishery.
It is interesting to note that as early as the Ramsays owned Carpenter's Point it enjoyed a reputation for its Canvasback hunting. "The waters washing those shores abound with fish and wild fowl. A person of ordinary skill could easily make the interest of the money that will be taken for them, by the sale of Canvasbacks alone, without exercising the virtue of self-denial, as there are no better shooting grounds at the head of the Bay, than around those shores." [It would be good to attribute this quote to someone. If you can't attribute it, then please change the period after "hunting," just before the quote, to a colon.]
The town itself saw some action during the Revolutionary War involving the British Navy. Local militia under the command of Captain Michael Rudolph captured a British man-of-war. Apparently, Captain Rudolph and others approached the ship in the dark of night, and when stopped by the officer of the deck asked if anyone aboard wanted to buy some chickens. In the moment of surprise, Rudolph and his men captured the officers and crew and later paraded the captured sailors through the streets of the town. There is some evidence to support the theory that Michael Rudolph left America and traveled to France, where he assumed the name "Michael Ney," better known in history as "Marshal Ney," a member of Napoleon's Army.
The town wharf was a supply depot for the Continental Army during the War, and military supplies were kept at the warehouse. Also, there is some evidence that British warships bombarded the wharf and warehouse as a diversionary tactic while General William Howe landed at Elk Neck on August 25, 1777. It was at Elk Neck that General Howe, Lord Cornwallis, and nearly 18,000 troops aboard 300 ships made a landing and marched through Head of Elk (Elkton) and engaged the American troops at Brandywine and moved on to take Philadelphia.
Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) was the brother-in-law of Nathaniel Ramsay, and spent a considerable amount of time with the Ramsays, both at their home in Charles Town and the plantation at Carpenter's Point. Peale was born in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, in 1741. At the age of nine years he traveled to Annapolis, where he worked as an apprentice to a local saddler. He traveled to London in 1767 to study art, returning to Maryland in 1769. After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Peale was commissioned a first lieutenant and fought at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. In about 1776, Peale and his family lived with the Ramsays in Charles Town for about a year. It was during this period that Peale was traveling throughout Maryland and Pennsylvania painting portraits, including the portrait of Nathaniel Ramsay, which at one time was displayed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In the winter of 1777-1778, he was with Washington at Valley Forge, where he continued to paint portraits of the officers of the Continental Army. Peale also spent time with his sister and her family at Carpenter's Point. His friendship with Colonel Ramsay flourished and the two, along with Captain Bobby Polk, began to experiment with gunpowder and saltpeter and the manufacture of explosives near Charles Town.
Charles Willson Peale went on to be instrumental in the establishment of the Museum of Natural History, having himself unearthed the remains of a mammoth, displaying it along with taxidermy and his portraits of the American Revolution.
(Charles Willson Peale/Self-portrait/ Oil on canvas c. 1791/National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.)
Charles Willson Peale painted hundreds of portraits as he traveled throughout Maryland and Pennsylvania, including President Washington and each of the country's next six presidents. It is said that his famous portrait of George Washington was painted at the Ramsay plantation at Carpenter's Point.
James Peale (1749-1831) likewise spent time with the Ramsays at Carpenter's Point. Peale biographer Charles Coleman Sellers indicates that in the year 1793, James Peale "fled [from the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia] with his family to the Ramsays' at Carpoint, only to be pursued thither by the disease. His youngest daughter, but a year old, died, while little James barely escaped with his life. At the Point, they were joined by Raphaelle [Peale] Sellers." Charles Willson Peale, Vol. 2: Later Life, 1790-1827 , p. 54.
Whether this famous portrait of George Washington was completed at Carpenter's Point is not known. However, it is known that President Washington traveled the road through Charles Town, known as the "Old Post Road," on many occasions, recording the following entries in his diary:
"May 8, 1785, breakfasted at Charles Town."
"August 9, 1795, lodged at Charles Town."
"September 9, 1795, lodged at Charles Town."
(George Washington, ca. 1779-1781, Charles Willson Peale, Oil on Canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, gift of Collis P. Huntington.)
There were, of course, others in Charles Town who served in the Revolutionary War. The 1790 Census reported that there were approximately 260 residents of Charles Town; the heads of families were William Anderson; ElizabethAnderson; John Adair; Edward Beazeley; Betsy Brunfield; James Bailey; Edward Brunfield; Richard Bennett; David Cunningham; Arthur Cunningham; Robert Cather; Abraham Cazier; James Cunningham; Tere Collins; Agnes Ferguson; Mary Ferguson; Margaret Grand; John Grast; Andrew Grubb; Margaret EveGinther; William Graham; Rachel Gernish; Rose Gilmore; Patrick Hamilton; Capt. William Houste; Alexander Hassan; Sarah Hederick; John Hudaburk; George Hamilton; Sarah Jackson; Peter Jacquette; Samuel Kilpatrick; William Linton; Doctor Hugh Montgomery; Henry Miller; Robert McCormick; James McMeans; William Merideth; Alexander McCullough; Ann McCracken; Sam McGill; Samuel McNair; Nathan Norton, Esquire; John Northerman; Jeremiah Oldham; Jonas Owings; Joseph Severson; George Simco; James Templin; Edward Thomas; Samuel Thompson; Andrew Wilson; James Wylie; Elizabeth Winchester; Dorcas Woodsworth; James Welsh; and Thomas Yeomane. Of the total residents, 66 were "free white males fifteen years and upwards," 53 were "free white males under fourteen years," 115 were "free white females including heads of families," 6 were "all other persons," and 23 were slaves. Of these names, it is known that David and Arthur Cunningham and Dr. Hugh Montgomery served in the War.
(Above, Cecil County Militia 1776-1782 Lee's Legion, 1976 by Frank l. Adams.)