5 SEPTEMBER, 2014: On this date, 200 years ago in 1814, Francis Scott Key and Colonel John Skinner set out from Baltimore Harbor in a boat hired from a Mr. Ferguson of Fells Point, flying a flag of truce. Their object was to locate the British fleet, en route to Baltimore from the Potomac River, and gain an audience with Admiral Alexander Cochrane. Held as a prisoner on his flagship, HMS Tonnant, was a doctor friend of Key’s and other influential men in Washington City who had pressured the Army to attempt his release. Col. Skinner held the position of “Agent for Prisoners” in the American Army and through this role, was well-known to Admiral Cochrane. The men hoped to negotiate the release of Key’s friend, Dr. William Beanes, who had been captured while treating wounded soldiers of both sides at the Battle of Bladensburg some days previous. Beanes was elderly and those who knew him were concerned that continued incarceration would injure his already questionable health. Key, a lawyer of some regard in Washington City, offered his services to Skinner with the hope he might be able to prevail in the event the colonel failed. Beanes was the only prisoner held on Tonnant and his freedom lay solely in the Admiral’s hands.
The men knew roughly where the British fleet was as well as where it was headed; coast watchers along the Chesapeake informed the “powers that be” in Baltimore of the fleet’s location and the British had announced loudly to any who would listen what their intentions were.
It took the”truce boat” a couple of days to get alongside Tonnant; I will continue this saga on the appropriate days in the future. We are rapidly approaching the bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner and the Battle of Baltimore and I will tell that story as appropriate.
“The sea finds out everything you did wrong!” - Francis Stokes