George Roberts was not only one of the few defenders’ to have his portrait taken by a photographer, but he also provides a unique connection as one of the African-American maritime defenders on the high seas, known as privateersmen during the War of 1812.
In the fall of 1812 he served onboard Captain Richard Moon’s privateer Sarah Ann and was among six American seamen accused of being British subjects and taken prisoner when the Sarah Ann was captured by HMS Statira off the Bahamas on September 13, 1812. Captain Moon denied that they were British:
“George Robert [sic], (a coloured man and seaman.) This man I had not an opportunity of questioning; but I know him to be native born of the United States and of which he had every sufficient document, together with his free papers. He entered on board the Sarah Ann at Baltimore where he is married.”
Eventually, Roberts and the other American seamen were released. After the war it is unknown what trade he had as a freeman, or if he continued serving onboard various merchant vessels from the port of Baltimore. What is known is that he was allowed to participate as one of the Old Defenders’ of Baltimore of 1814 during parades commemorated the anniversary for many years.
“…throughout his long life he was always highly though of by the citizen soldiery…his carriage was erect, and he never appeared on parade except in uniform, and it was one of his highest aspirations to still be considered one of the defenders of his native city… He served during the war under several [privateer] commanders, and generally at sea, and he had in the service many hair-breath escapes. ”
Another Old Defender Gone.- For a number of years past an aged colored man, named George Roberts, has been allowed to parade with the military of the city on all occasions of importance; and was generally mounted as servant to major-general of the division. He died on Monday night, at the advanced age of ninety-five years, at his residence, at Canton. Old George was among thoise who took up arms in defense of the city of Baltimore in 1814, and throughout his long life was always highly thought of by the citizen soldiery.
Though laboring under the weight of so many years, his carriage was erect, and he never appeared on parade except in uniform, and it was one of his highest aspirations to still be considered one of the defenders of his native city should the necessity have arrived to take up arms in its defense. The deceased was one of the crew under the command of Capt. Thomas Boyle, of this city, in the privateer Chasseur, when Capt. Boyle declared the coast of Great Britain under blockade. He served during the war under several commanders, and generally at sea, and he had in the service many hair-breath escapes.
Sources: Niles’ Weekly Register, November 14, 1812; “Another Old Defenders Gone,” The Sun (Baltimore), January 16, 1861..
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