The battle for Baltimore –as immortalized by Francis Scott Key’s Star Spangled Banner– only tells the story of one of the many battles that contributed the fledgling United States’ epic victory in the war of 1812. In fact dozens of communities across the country played roles both large and small. Maryland’s contribution came to be known as The Chesapeake Campaign.
Marking the Bicentennial of The Chesapeake Campaign, communities across Maryland are participating in celebrations, reenactments and bringing history to life a part of Star Spangled 200.
My family and I were thrilled to be among the invited guests of Star Spangled 200, hosts of a two year long “moving” celebration that highlights the communities who of Maryland who played a part in winning the war, and Talbot County, Maryland who welcomed us to the city of St. Michaels’ celebration.
“The rocket’s red glare…” is far from the whole story.
Lights glow in the distance along the banks of the Chesapeake. The British have sailed up the bay in search of shipyards to pillage and destroy. From the decks of their ships, these lights serve as beacons, marking their target. What they don’t know is that the patriotic citizens of small town of St. Michaels, Maryland have hung lanterns in the trees just beyond the town as a decoy, one that fooled the British and saved the shipyard.
Or so the story goes.
Historians have differing opinions on the truth of the tale of the Lanterns of St. Michaels. Though walking down the hundreds year old cobblestone streets of this little village –trees laden with lanterns ready to be lit with great ceremony as the sun goes down– I choose to believe in the notion of the few rising up, with only ingenuity on their side, to claim victory.
The town of St. Michaels has become a transport back in time. We find ourselves surrounded by ladies in colonial finery, militia bravely manning the cannons and a town so believing in the rights unalienable that they have staked their entire way of life on defending them. This living history sweeps my family and me way on adventure through time to the present day.
Lighting of lanterns and the a cacophony of cannon fire mark a weekend of historical reenactments, and the remembrance the role this small town played in the war of 1812.
Pure Americana charm, present day St. Michaels is a seaside hamlet dotted with interesting shops, good food, an abundance of things to do and a laid back feel that also lends itself to doing little, if nothing at all.
We stayed as guests of the Wades Point Inn. A historical home, built in 1819 and owned by several generations of the Kemp family (Thomas Kemp being the shipbuilder who owned the very shipyard the British had hoped to destroy) prior to the current owners acquiring it 30 years ago, the Inn is nestled along the water with a gorgeous, panoramic view of the Chesapeake.
When we first arrived we were a bit shocked to find out there was no television in any of the rooms. The shock quickly wore off as we explored the village, played vintage board games and explored the grounds together. Honestly, it was rather magical.
Each morning we’d wake to the heavenly smell of fresh pastries from the kitchen. Each night we’d sit in chairs and watch the sun sink beneath the sea. The kids even stopped complaining about the poor WiFi connection. How is that for magic?
An alchemy of another sort was found in the stone ovens of Ava’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar. From those ovens sprang a goat cheese pizza that my picky eater devoured. I was lured by the heavenly combination of locally sourced blue cheese and house-made chips.
Just a few blocks over I found a little bit of Italy on the shores of Maryland. Simpatico offers a huge selection of Italian wines, olive oils, ceramics straight from Tuscany and a staff so welcoming I felt like I was back in Buonconvento, Italy!
I’d happily brave the sometimes near standstill traffic of Chesapeake Bay Bridge just to go back here for a meal and shopping.
Food, wine and history aren’t the only draws of St. Michaels either. The town also serves as home for Watermen, those who make their livelihood harvesting from the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. An entire culture and way of life is unique to the Watermen of this area.
Captain Ed Farly, skipper of the Skipjack, H.M. Krentz and his deckhand Pete took us on an educational adventure around the bay where we learned about the endangered livelihood of Watermen as well as the damage being done to the health of the bay oysters they harvest.
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum provides these tours as a way to educate the public, they also make for a great family activity. The museum is a one of a kind experience, featuring a campus of buildings that tell the story of the life, history, unique environment and future of the Chesapeake Bay. Kids of all ages will enjoy hands-on exhibits and a bounty of activities, I highly recommend a visit. Though it may take several to see all they have to offer.
Though St. Michaels Day only comes once a year, a visit to St. Michaels anytime makes for a great family trip or even that rare parents’ getaway.
Just like the Star Spangled Banner is only a small part of the War of 1812 story, so is the Battle of St. Michaels. That said, through September of 2014 cities across Maryland will be celebrating their role The Chesapeake Campaign.
Visit StarSpangled200.com for more information on upcoming events (many of them are FREE!), and plan some fun and educational travel to Maryland.