Following the Battle of North Point and the death of Maj. General Robert Ross, the British army under Col. Arthur Brooke advanced on the morning of September 13 towards the outskirts of Baltimore west on the Philadelphia Road (Rt.40) along Herring Run. It was within this area three miles east of the American main defenses on Hampstead Hill (Patterson Park) that Col. Arthur Brooke and Rear Admiral George Cockburn reconnoitered the American lines, finding themselves at the gates of Baltimore of three country estates. They halted on the highland heights (present site Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital).
Joseph R. Foard (1765-1869). The British immediately began to reconnoiter and visit the farms in the area. The heights offered Colonel Brooke and Admiral Cockburn an unobstructed view of the American lines before them. First they visited the 245 acre farm of Joseph R. and Mary Foard’s farm fronting on the north of the Philadelphia Road. Foard served as second lieutenant in Capt. Jehu Bouldin’s Independent Light Dragoons. Along with neighbor and fellow dragoon Thomas Kell, Foard had barely escape the day before near North Point by the British advance guard sending his servant to warn his family to leave and go north to safety with relatives. No sooner had the household departed than a house servant, having tarried too long, barely escaped as the British approached the farm firing at him. The British advanced guard took procession of the farm shooting the cattle in the field. Finding a militia uniform in the house, the British cut it into pieces and began to destroy the household furniture.
Within two weeks of the battle Foard posted a newspaper notice declaring “Having sustained very heavy losses and damage in my Household Property, from the depredations committee upon it by the British army…” he asked any citizens if any of his property had been found to return it. The British continued next to the country estate of Lt. Thomas Kell whose family also had departed for safety.
Judge Thomas Kell (1772-1846). Lieutenant Kell’s estate of “Orangeville” was situated on a high knoll with a commanding view of Hampstead Hill situated at the present intersection of North Point Boulevard and Pulaski Highway. Here Colonel Brooke and Admiral Cockburn and their officer’s staff made temporary headquarters. Admiral Cockburn related “I not know what kind of a hole Baltimore is in, for I can see the very eyes of the people and yet cannot do execution.”
Lt. Colonel Joseph Sterett (1773-1821)- Lt. Colonel Joseph Sterett and his wife Molly Harris’s 260 acre estate of “Mount Deposit” lay to the north of Judge Kell’s estate along the Philadelphia Road, two miles east from Baltimore, overlooking Fell’s Point and the harbor. At midnight on September 12, Colonel Sterett having returned with his regiment from the North Point battlefield made arrangements to remove his family. He then took post on Hampstead Hill within sight of his estate along with the gathering militia and federal forces. As Col. Brooke and Admiral Cockburn surveyed the American defenses before them, their commissioned officers and accompanying soldiers took leisure on Sterett’s estate. A British subaltern and four fellow officers decided to venture forth.
“About a couple of hundred yards in front of videttes, stood a mansion of considerable size, and genteel exterior … That a place so neat in all its arrangements, and so well supplied with out-houses of every description…When a crowd of stragglers, artillerymen, sappers, sailors and soldiers of the line, rushed into the hall. In a moment, the walls of the building re-echoed with oaths and exclamations, and tables, chairs, windows, and even the doors, were dashed to pieces, in revenge for the absence of food… through a chasm in a brick wall under ground, the interior of a wine cellar, set round in magnificent array, with bottles of all shapes and dimensions. In five minutes, the cellar was crowed with men, filling in the first place, their own haversacks, bosoms …In less than a quarter of a hour, not a single pint, either of wine of spirits, remained…”
Col. Sterett’s daughter, Louisa remembered vividly: from the family narratives the events that took place at “Surrey” on September 12-13, 1814: “Fearing that the outrages and atrocities perpetrated by Cockburn and his men might be repeated… the family coach and large farm wagon made their exit by the west road as the British entered on the east by [Judge] Kell’s woods.”
A colored woman Ellen Smith and her children seized what family valuables and secreted them to their slave quarters when British officers denied any soldiers to enter the negro quarters. On a sideboard three officers, Captain Brown, Wilcox and McNamara of the Royal Marines left an inscription on the parlor mantel; “Captains Brown, Wilcox and McNamara, of the Light Brigade, Royal Marines, met with everything they could wish for at this house. They returned their thanks, notwithstanding it was received through the hands of the butler in the absence of the Colonel.”
Today the structural two story remains of “Surrey” still survives in northeast Baltimore, boarded up once used as a community center.
Sources: The Sun, October 18, 1866; April 10, 1869; Sept. 12, 1903; Sept. 12, 1888; Baltimore American & Commercial Daily Adv., September 29, 1814; Baltimore Gazette , November 26, 1831; Judge Thomas Kell (1772-1846) was a Judge Circuit Court and later Maryland Attorney General (1824-1831); The Torch Light and Public Adv., (Hagers-Town, Md.), October 25, 1827; A Subaltern in America; Comprizing His Narrative of the Campaign of the British Army, at Baltimore, Washington, &c.,.by George Robert Gleig (Baltimore: E.L. Carey & a. Hart, 1833), 153-154; The Sun, September 12, 1888.