British troops invaded a nearly empty Capital city on August 24, 1814 during the War of 1812. Prior to the invasion clerks in the House of Representatives were frantically trying to find carts and oxen to evacuate the records of Congress safely out of the city. This letter, sent to the Clerk of the House on September 15, chronicles the actions of the two men left in the Clerk’s office who were in charge of removing as many records as possible. The clerks were only able to get one cart of manuscripts and papers out of the office before the Capitol went up in flames. Among the items lost were committee manuscripts from the 13th Congress, the secret journal of Congress, petitions submitted to Congress before 1799, and the private accounts and vouchers of the Clerk of the House. The Clerk forwarded this letter to the Speaker of the House on September 20 asking for a committee to be created to handle the investigation of the burning of the Capitol.
Letter to Patrick Magruder, Clerk of the House, 9/15/1814, HR 13A-D15.2, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
The Burning of Washington
Two hundred years ago on August 24 and 25, 1814, British troops occupied Washington, DC and burned the Capitol, the President’s house, and other public buildings during the War of 1812.
"It would seem from this extraordinary movement that a serious attack somewhere in Virginia or Maryland, is contemplated by the Enemy."
General Records of the Department of State. National Archives Identifier: 6207548
In this letter William Lambert shares information about large ships seen passing up the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as well as an additional force and his fear of an imminent attack in Virginia or Maryland.
The new exhibit, Congress and the War of 1812, Part 1, at the Capitol Visitor Center is on display until October 2014. We’ll post highlights from the new exhibit all week.
On June 4, 1812, the House of Representatives voted 79–49 for a declaration of war against Great Britain. After making minor changes to the declaration, the Senate approved it by a vote of 19–13 on June 17. The bill gave the president “the whole land and naval force of the United States” to execute the war.
Senate Changes to the House Declaration of War, 6/17/1812, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives
"A Signal Victory"
"U.S. Brig Niagara off the Western
Sister Head of Lake Erie, Sept. 10th, 1813
It has pleased the Almighty to give to the arms
of the United States a signal victory over their enemies
on this Lake. The British squadron consisting of
two ships, two brigs, one schooner & one sloop
have this moment surrendered to the force under
my command, after a sharp conflict.
I have the honor to be
Your Obed. Servt.
Letter from Commodore Oliver Perry to Hon. Wm. Jones, Secy. of Navy, September 10, 1813
Early in the War of 1812, the Americans lost control of Detroit and Lake Erie to the British and their Native American allies. The U.S. Navy sent 28-year-old Oliver Hazard Perry to Lake Erie to build a squadron and retake that important waterway.
On September 10, 1813, the Americans defeated the British on Lake Erie. Commodore Perry declared the naval battle “a signal victory.” In a war marked by early failures, this victory secured Ohio and the territories of Michigan and Indiana. It also provided a needed boost in national morale and marked a rare surrender of a complete Royal Navy squadron.
With a crew that Perry once described as “a motley set, blacks, soldiers and boys,” the Americans met Britain’s powerful Royal Navy on Lake Erie. A flag flew above Perry’s ship, the Lawrence, emblazoned with the words “Don’t Give Up the Ship.” This battle cry was the dying command, in an earlier battle, of Perry’s friend Capt. James Lawrence (for whom the ship was named).
In the middle of the battle, however, Perry abandoned the Lawrence because it had become disabled and two-thirds of its crew were casualties. Refusing to surrender, Perry was rowed to the Niagara and then commanded his squadron to an unprecedented victory. After the battle was won, Perry wrote a short report about the victory in a letter to Secretary of the Navy William Jones, shown here.
Perry’s Letter will be on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives through September 19, 2013.
"We have met the enemy and they are ours…"
Battle of Lake Erie. September 1813. Oliver Hazard Perry, standing. Copy of engraving by Phillibrown after W. H. Powell, published 1858.
An American squadron commanded by Oliver Hazard Perry defeated a British naval force 200 years ago in the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. The victory secured American control of the lake for the remainder of the War of 1812.
Perry’s Letter to the Secretary of the Navy announcing “A Signal Victory” is on display at the National Archives through September 19. (Ed note: Updated 9/10/2013)
“…when the attack was made on the City of Washington and on the City of Baltimore, the citizen soldiers were in service without pay or rations, several months in each of the years 1812-1813 and 1814. And it is for the consideration of those service that your memorialists think they are entitled to 160 acres of Land each.”
Memorial of the “Association of Defenders of Baltimore in 1814” for a grant of 160 acres per man as remuneration for services in the war, 02/17/1853
The Java in a Sinking state, set fire to, & Blowing up. The Constitution at a distance… repairing her Rigging &c. in the Evening of 29th December, 1812.
Copy of aquatint by N. Pocock, engraved by R. & D. Havell after sketch by Lieutenant Buchanan, 1814.
200 years ago today, USS Constitution defeated the HMS Java after a 3 hour engagement, her second major victory of the war following the battle with HMS Guerriere in August earlier that year.
6,487 books: $23,950. Rebuilding A National Library? Priceless.
Report from the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress regarding the precise terms of the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s library, 11/01/1814
After much of the collection was destroyed during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson sold the 6,487 volumes of his personal library to rebuild the Library of Congress.
Regarding the Capture of H.B.M. Frigate Macedonian by U.S. Frigate United States, 10/25/1812
…She is a frigate of the largest class, two years old, four months out of dock, and reputed one of the best sailers in the British service…
200 years ago today, the frigate USS United States, commanded by Commodore Stephen Decatur, captured the HMS Macedonian, after an hour and a half engagement.
(Reportedly Decatur and the captain of the Macedonian, John Carden, had met previously and bet a beaver hat to the victor if they ever met in battle. However, there is no mention of the hat in Decatur’s report.)
First launched 215 years ago October 21, 1797, the USS Constitution remains the oldest commissioned naval warship afloat. This sail plan was recently treated in the preservation lab, as highlighted during the Preservation 2012 conference.
Today we mark the 200th anniversary of the USS Constitution’s defeat of the HMS Guerriere in which she earned the name “Old Ironsides” for the cannonballs that bounced over her sides. An 1890 tracing by A H Dutton of her sail drawing is in the lab. Treatment will remove pressure sensitive tape and stains from the tracing linen, made from a drawing by Charles Ware in 1817.
On Sunday, the USS Constitution sailed across Boston Harbor to commemorate the battle, for the first time since the bicentennial in 1997 of its launching.
On 18 October 1812, U.S. sloop of war Wasp captured HM brig Frolic during the War of 1812.
This reproduction of an aquatint in colors was drawn and engraved by F. Kearny, from a sketch by Lieut. Claxton, of the Wasp. Published by C.P. Fessenden, No. 7 N. Seventh St., Philadelphia. NHHC image NH 43040. Print from the Beverley R. Robinson Collection. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland.
(Note: the National Archives has a similar copy of this print in our holdings but the version here is a higher quality scan.)
A National Archives treasure is on loan to the National Portrait Gallery. The Treaty of Ghent (ratified American Original, TS 109) is exhibited in the NPG’s current show, “1812: A Nation Emerges.” NARA conservators have requested that light levels on the Treaty be kept to a minimum during the exhibit in order to extend the life of this document. This bound Treaty will be displayed open from June 15, 2012 through January 27, 2013. However, midway into the show a conservator will turn a page in the Treaty to reveal a new opening. This practice further reduces the risk of damage from light. Here you can see the pages of the Treaty currently on display.
200 years (and 12 days) ago, the USS Constitution defeated the HMS Guerriere, earning her venerable nickname “Old Ironsides.”
Not in Boston to see her in person? This restored sail plan is on display at the National Archives through September 3.
We’re commemorating the War of 1812 bicentennial with a free display of a restored sail drawing of the USS Constitution. Sail maker Charles Ware drew the ship with all its sails unfurled in 1817.
You may know the USS Constitution as “Old Ironsides,” a nickname earned during the War of 1812. During the battle with the British warship HMS Guerriere, a crewman saw 18-pound iron cannonballs bounce off her hull and said, “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!”
The USS Constitution is the world’s oldest commissioned ship. It is still afloat and open for tours in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
The drawing goes on display through Monday, September 3 (Labor Day). Stop by and see it!
In preparation for the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the official parchment act of war between the United States and Great Britain, signed June 18, 1812, underwent conservation treatment by Senior Conservator Morgan Zinsmeister in the Archives I conservation laboratory. James Madison’s signature is visible on the left and Henry Clay’s is on the right.
Treatment included surface cleaning to reduce grime, reducing adhesives along the top edge from a previous binding, and finally, overall humidification and flattening on the suction table. Humidification and flattening greatly reduced creases and undulations as seen in raking light photos of the record before (above) and after (below) treatment.