TANGIER ISLAND – American troops took back this island from the British Saturday – 198 years too late.
|Flushing them out from the marshes. By Paul|
It was all in fun, of course, but the event was staged to call attention to Tangier Island’s important role in the War of 1812,
Tangier had been a thorn in the American side during the War. The British invaded the island in early 1813 and used it as a base from which to stage raids against towns and shipyards up and down the Chesapeake Bay.
They throttled commerce on the bay, seizing ships sailing from Baltimore, Washington and Norfolk,
|Militia soldiers interrogate "redcoat" prisoners Ken|
Castelli, left, and James Tyler. By Paul
A newspaper account in the New York Evening Post, begins, “The principal station of the enemy in our Bay is Tangier Island, but they continue a line of cruisers of light and large vessels from thence to Lynhaven (sic) Bay. . . .a part of them continually hovering close in along the shores of New Point Comfort to the mouth of the Rappahannock River.”
British Navy Commander George Cockburn chose Tangier for its protected harbor and strategic location. At the south end of Tangier, his troops set up what they called Fort Albion. It included a garden, 18 head of cattle, officers’ quarters, a 100-bed hospital, barracks, a church, breastworks and eight 24-pound cannon. As many as 1,200 troops crowded the low, marshy waterfront.
One report says that many liberated slaves who joined the Corps of Colonial Marines were trained here. The corps aided the Royal Marines in a number of engagements in the bay. But conditions in their camp were deplorable. One local newspaper reported that “the crews there are very sickly with the flux, the water being brackish and bad. . . .”
Tangier was also a refuge for escaped slaves who were too old to fight, and women and children. Many of them were sent to Bermuda and other British colonies.
Here on the island, the British built rocket barges, small, shallow-draft boats from which rockets could be launched. It was from such vessels that rockets, glaring red at night, were fired at Fort McHenry. The wood for boats, for the fort and for fuel denuded what trees there were on the south of the island. However one section of woods, which was used for Methodist camp meetings, was left intact.
It was from here that the British in September 1814 launched their attack on Baltimore. They may have departed with heavy hearts because a Methodist preacher they had come to trust had dared to warn them that God wasn’t on their side.
Rev. Joshua Thomas, known as “parson of the islands,” was living on Tangier during the occupation. As the British were about to board their ships for Baltimore, the commander asked him to exhort his men – and got the sermon he would just as soon not have heard.
In “Preaching to the Enemy,” Thomas wrote, "I warned them of the danger and distress they would bring upon themselves and others by going to Baltimore with the object they had in view. I told them of the great wickedness of war, and that God said, 'Thou shalt not kill!' If you do, he will judge you at the last day; or, before then, he will cause you to 'perish by the sword.'
"I told them it was given me from the Almighty that they could not take Baltimore, and would not succeed in their expedition.”
He was right. In the attack, the British bombarded Fort McHenry at the entrance to Baltimore Harbor. BUT after 25 hours of “bombs bursting in air,” the fort held, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the poem what became the Star Spangled Banner.
What if the British, remembering Thomas’s warnings, decided to turn back? That would make little this little island much more than just a footnote to this part of American history.