I have the honor to acquaint you that having yesterday gained information of the Depot of Flour…being with some Military and other Stores situated at a Place called French Town, a considerable distance up the River Elk. Rear Admiral George Cockburn to Admiral John Warren, April 29, 1813.
The first British landing incursion in Maryland occurred at Frenchtown and Elk Landing (Elkton), Cecil County on April 29, 1813. Thirty-six years before in August 1777, three hundred British warships, carrying 15,000 British and German Hessian troops had anchored off Elk Landing, fifteen miles above Frenchtown, then marched north to Philadelphia. That winter while General Washington’s continental army encamped at Valley Forge, the British occupied and entertained themselves in hospitable and warm Philadelphia.
In late April 1813, British warships again sailed up the Chesapeake towards Frenchtown a prosperous commercial port on the Elk River, a mile below Elkton on the upper bay. (Located on Frenchtown Road off Route 213.)
Frenchtown Gun Battery was an unfinished earthen battery mounted with four 6-pounder field guns which commanded the river channel at the Lower Wharf Landing, The battery was commanded by Captains Edward Oldham and William Garrett of the local militia all under the command of Major James Sewall of the 49th Maryland Regiment. He hastily assembled thirty to forty militia stage drivers and merchants along the Frenchtown waterfront as citizens began removing store goods, livestock and personal valuables into the back country.
April 29 – At 7 a.m. British barges advanced upon the town. While the militia “made a brave but ineffective effort to intercept their advance” the militia quit the battery and retreated. A Private Jess Ash offered his assessment, “I met the enemy in company with perhaps 40 others at Frenchtown, where the [British] crews of 11 barges, proved too strong for our resistance, and which caused our retreat, without effecting anything.” By 1:00 p.m. the British had captured and destroyed the town. Amidst the destruction were large quantities of U.S. army clothing, saddles, bridles and other cavalry equipage destined for the American army in Canada.
From Frenchtown the British moved onto Elkton but were repulsed by several earthen artillery redoubts along the river approach.
British ships that anchored nearby in the Elk River were HMS schooners Highflyer, Mohawke and Fantome, Arab, Lynx, Dolphin and Racer, and ships-of-the-lines Marlborough and Dragon from which the British barges had launched their attack.
Sources: George Cockburn Papers, Library of Congress, MSS 17576, Reel 4, Containers 6-7; Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser, April 30, October 1, 1813; Donald G. Shomette, Lost Towns of Tidewater Maryland, (Centreville, Md.: Tidewater Publishers, 2000), 254; “Extract from the Journal of H.B.M. tender Highflyer, April 28 -May 6, 1813.” Baltimore Patriot, October 18, 1813; (George Cockburn Papers, Library of Congress, MSS 17576, Reel 4, Containers 6-7); Alexandria Gazette, May 5, 1813.