Fell’s Point: Prize of the Chesapeake

A Baltimore Privateer, c. 1812 (Maryland Historical Society)

Fell’s Point, founded in 1730 by William Fell attracted by its deep water proximity to agricultural mills and abundant forests, became an influential commercial and shipbuilding seaport. In 1797 the Point was incorporated with Baltimore Town and Jones Town to the west to form the City of Baltimore. The port grew wealthly from its exports and imports of flour, tobacco and coffee and the trades of early 19th century seafarers, maritime artisians, sea captains and merchants.

Letters of Marque and Reprisal – On July 26, 1812, the U.S. State Department issued official Letters of Marque and Reprisal “to destroy and hender the mercantile trade of Great Britain.” Such letters authorized shipowners to convert their schooner rigged vessels into legalized privateers under the auspices of the U.S. During the war 126 private armed vessels sailed out of Baltimore, the largest number from any US port.

The Chasseur The most famous was the Chasseur that in 1814 sailed off the coast of England declaring by proclamation the entire coast of the British Isles under “a strict naval blockade.” The audacity of this single ship brought the indignation of the renown insurance firm of Lloyd’s of London, the merchants of Glasgow, Liverpool and London upon the Royal Navy to subdue these Baltimore privateers that weaked economic havoc on their mercantile trade. The Chasseur returned unscathed to Baltimore on March 15,1815 and as she sailed into the harbor she was greeted as “the pride of Baltimore.”  Today a replica design of The Pride of Baltimore II sails once more.

Merchant’s Coffee House – Throughout Fell’s Point there were numerous coffee houses. Here citizens, sea captains and politicians gathered for the latest news, foreign and domestic. Adjacent to one was the office’s of Hezekiah Niles’ Weekly Register the nation’s foremost influential weekly news magazine of its day, chronicleing the political, agricutural, war corresponce and events around the world. It remains an indispensable resource chronicle for historians for the War of 1812.

Today, Fell’s Point National Historic District is a vibrant working waterfront community of 18th and 19th century residential and commercial stores along its cobblestone streets and alleys.

Sources: The Fell’s Point Story by Norman G. Rukert (Baltimore: Bodine & Associates., 1976);

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Published in: on April 19, 2011 at 2:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

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