On April 28, 1813, a detachment of British troops under Adm. George Cockburn landed on Spesutie Island. Congress had declared war on Britain on June 19, 1812. A Royal Navy fleet had come to blockade the Chesapeake and conduct raids on centers of commerce along the waterways.
Havre de Grace fishermen were busy at the island setting nets for the spring run of shad, so town residents must soon have known about the British presence. The troops occupied the 2,300-acre island and took livestock, paying $16 a head for cattle and $3 a head for sheep. Using the island as a forward base, they sailed up either the Elk River or the Susquehanna and burned a place named Frenchtown, according to varying reports.
A community called Frenchtown existed between Perryville and Port Deposit. The British were fired on from Havre de Grace on their way back to Spesutie. At this provocation, about 400 British troops landed at Havre de Grace on May 3 and burned the town.
Today, the spirited defense by a small group of citizens is celebrated each year in Havre de Grace.
[Source: Havre de Grace: an Informal History, edited by Peter A. Jay; research by Harford County Public Library]