On September 7, following the capture of Washington on August 24, the British consolidated their naval and military forces at Tangier Island, Va. The British fleet, consisting of ships-of-the-line, frigates, sloops, schooners, troop transports, and bomb ships sailed up the Chesapeake – an armada of fifty warships.
At 1:30 p.m. on September 10th the alarms guns at Forts Madison and Severn were fired and church bells tolled as the British fleet, stretching to the horizon made their passage past Annapolis. “They could be distinctly ascertained from the haziness of the weather.” Panic overtook the city as residents gathered their belongings in wagons, militia companies assembled on the town greens, as express riders carried the news to Baltimore and Washington. The offices of the Maryland Gazette have all been called out for the city’s defense. Militia look-out posts on the Patapsco River ten miles northward raised their signal flags to like flags in Baltimore. The broad pennants of three British Admirals – Cochrane, Cockburn and Malcolm flew from the mastheads of His Majesty’s Ships Marlborough, Albion and Tonnant. Two weeks before in a letter to President Madison, Vice Admiral Cochrane declared his intention “to destroy and lay waste such towns and districts upon the coasts as may be found assailable.” Annapolis would be spared as the British sailed northward towards Baltimore.
Maryland and Virginia militia companies began to march to Annapolis, then to Baltimore. Seven days later, with defeat at Baltimore and the last major campaign in the Chesapeake, Annapolis for the last time witnessed the passing of the Royal Navy.
Sources: Maj. Barney to Samuel Smith, September 10, 1814, Maine Portland Gazette, September 19, 1814.