1812 Celebrations Promise Boom and Bling

May 3, 2013

The British navy launched its “Chesapeake Campaign” two hundred years ago this weekend, looting and burning and creating economic havoc in towns along the Bay. Now, state and local officials see the celebration of the bicentennial of that campaign as a tool to spur economic development. Dominick Murray, Maryland’s economic development secretary, says it will be an opportunity to bring more visitors to the state. He says “Sailabration,” the kick-off event last June that brought 18 tall ships from 14 countries to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, drew 1.5 million people and poured $166 million into the state’s economy.

Statewide, tourism supported 130,000 jobs and generated $4.7 billion worth of trade last year. Murray says that with the 1812 celebrations spreading throughout the state, that number can’t help but go up.This weekend, Havre de Grace has a full schedule of events to commemorate the British burning that town in one of the first acts of the Chesapeake Campaign. City Councilman Bill Martin says they’re expecting between 15,000 and 20,000 visitors for a weekend of tall ship visits, parades, concerts and re-enactments, generating an estimated $800,000 to $1 million in trade. John and Susan Muldoon, owners of the Vandiver Inn on Union Street, say the War of 1812 dinner they’re planning, with a menu of foods from that era, has long been sold out.

But Havre de Grace isn’t the only town staging events this weekend. A troupe of community theater regulars is re-enacting the Legend of Kitty Knight in Georgetown on the Sassafras River.As the story goes, British Admiral George Cockburn, fresh from torching Havre de Grace, got caught in a cross fire from militia on the Kent and Cecil county banks as he sailed up the river with marines on board. Seriously annoyed at this, he loosed his marines first on the Cecil County side to burn, pillage and plunder, then turned his attention to Georgetown. 

By that time, most of the Georgetown residents had fled, except for Kitty Knight, who lived alone in a house her father left to her at the top of a steep hill overlooking the river. She confronted Cockburn, scolded him and sent him packing. Why? Well, that’s anyone’s guess. Maybe the admiral had had enough for one day. John Carroll, director of the show, says town fathers hope the 1812 events, combined with the annual Dogwood Festival in nearby Galena, jump start the usual summer season, when the population of the tiny village nearly triples.  “We’re hoping to get a lot of folks energized to get their boats in the water and come in here and starting spending their money in our region,” he said. “Get a jump on the season.”

Carroll, head of the Sassafras River Business Council, says they hope visitors will pump some $30,000 into the local economy. That may not seem like much compared to Havre de Grace’s numbers, but it’s a question of scale. That’s a lot of money in a tiny community of small retail shops.Yet he and David Craig, the Harford County Executive who lives in Havre de Grace, agree there’s more to this than one weekend in May. They hope that people who come once will like what they see and come back again; and again and again.

This story is part of our series “Rockets’ Red Glare: The War, the Song and Their Legacies,” made possible by a grant from Star Spangled 200, a national bicentennial in Maryland.