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Guest at Carroll County's birthday recalls role in the War of 1812

On Jan. 19, Carroll County will celebrate its 175th birthday. For the occasion, the Historical Society of Carroll County is inviting everyone to a party with cake — and a conversation with Dr. William Beanes.

If you know your history, you are aware that chances are slim to none that Beanes is really going to appear in Westminster for the birthday celebration. That's because — Oh say can you see? — he died on Oct. 12, 1828.

Beanes will be represented at the birthday party by Paul E. Plamann, a senior staff member at Fort McHenry National Monument. Plamann will, according to the Historical Society, help us discover Beanes as a, "lesser-known, but very important, figure in the story behind the 1814 British attack on Baltimore and the writing of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'"

Beanes can tell the story best — after all, he was there. He was the gentleman arrested by the British shortly after the Battle of Bladensburg on Aug. 24, 1814.

This was the phase of the War of 1812 in which the British exhibited dreadful manners and burned the White House and several other prominent buildings in Washington, D.C.

Beanes was subsequently held prisoner on one the warships in the British fleet that later took part in the Battle of Baltimore and the bombardment of Fort McHenry on Sept. 13 and 14, 1814.

I'm sure by now you are putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Francis Scott Key, who hailed from Terra Rubra, near Keysville in what is now Carroll County, was an attorney living in Georgetown. He was a good friend of Beanes.

Key received permission from President James Madison to negotiate the release of Beanes from British Gen. Robert Ross.

This is how Key found himself in the Baltimore harbor near Fort McHenry, and witnessed the British attack there. Historians will forever quibble over the details, but according to the National Park Service, "Key started to write the first words of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' as the British terminated their attack against Fort McHenry. During his return to Baltimore, Sept. 14, Key added lines to his poem, and that night revised and completed the original draft … in Baltimore."

Banking on history

Another lesser-known story of Carroll County's role in the War of 1812, the Battle of Baltimore and the bombardment of Fort McHenry, is the saga of how Westminster ended up with one of the first banks chartered in Maryland as a direct result of the events in Baltimore in September 1814.

According to a number of sources — including old history accounts from the former Union National Bank and research for the Historical Society by historian Jay Graybeal — "When the British, under General Ross, threatened Baltimore in 1814, many of the bankers of the city fled with whatever silver, gold and paper money they possessed, and sought shelter in some of the nearby towns and villages.

"Among the banks that moved most of its assets to a place of comparative safety was the Commercial and Farmers' Bank. It sent Mr. John Walsh to Westminster in charge of the funds, stocks and bonds, and during his stay as agent of the bank he opened a small office of 'Discount and Deposit' (in a) two-story brick building located at 249-251 East Main Street in Westminster," writes Graybeal.

"After the British scare was over and Baltimore was found to be intact, the Commercial and Farmers' Bank moved its assets back to Baltimore.

'The people of Westminster, however, having had some idea of the convenience and facilities of banking, were loath to have the office of 'Discount and Deposit' closed. They induced Mr. Walsh to remain, and in 1816 the legislature incorporated the Bank of Westminster, from which time all banking history of Westminster begins…"

This year's 175th Carroll County birthday party will take place Jan. 19, at 7 p.m. in Holy Cross Hall, at the Church of the Ascension, 23 N. Court St. Westminster. Free parking is available in the lot on Ralph Street. Admission is free admission.

For more information, call the HSCC at 410-848-6494.

When he is not marching around the house, waving the flag and singing "The Star Spangled Banner," Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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