Annapolis: Diplomatic Port of Entry & Colonel John Stuart Skinner

On the evening of March 12, 1813, a British courier, Mr. Moore arrived in Annapolis on board the British packet Francis Feeling, Capt. Anthony Bell. Mr. Moore, that evening dined with Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832) at his town house. It was during this meeting that Carroll learned and thus informed his son that “the significancy of the place [Annapolis], and its being the station for flags of truce, will except it from that calamity [of war].” Thus Annapolis was designated an official port of entry, securing the state capitol from any acts of aggression.

In 1807 John Steuart Skinner (1788-1851) an Annapolis planter and lawyer was appointed notary public representing Maryland, who served as secretary for a republican meeting held at the State House on May 30, 1812. Their resolution was to “express in a public manner their sentiments on the present posture of affairs with Great Britain,” and to draft resolutions representing the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

On July 6, 1812, Congress approved “An Act for the Safe Keeping and Accommodation of Prisoners of War” that was followed by a “Provisional Agreement, for the Exchange of Naval Prisoners of War” on November 28 with the British government. In March 1813 Skinner was appointed colonel as agent for the U.S. State Department and for U.S. flags-of-truce for dispatches and prisoner exchange. His first mission came on February 27 when the British Packet, Francis Feeling entered Annapolis harbor under the guns of Fort Madison for dispatches to be received or sent between the U.S.Government and the British naval forces. It would be one of many such missions carried out by Skinner during the war that would enable him to acquire a diplomatic friendship with Rear-Admiral George Cockburn.

That fall Colonel Skinner was ordered to Baltimore with a U.S. Navy purser’s commission for those U.S. vessels being built in Baltimore and for the U.S. Chesapeake Flotilla. In September 1814 he would accompany lawyer Francis Scott Key on a diplomatic mission to the British fleet to secure the release of a Dr. William Beanes held on board HMS Tonnant. On Sept. 8 he and Skinner were transfered to an American flag-of-truce vessel, the President and together witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry (Sept. 13-14) that became the inspiration for a new national song, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In the years following, Skinner became the most influential editor in America for several agricultural journals he founded among of which was The Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil. He became the president of the Maryland Jockey Club and postmaster for Baltimore (1816-1849). He died on March 21, 1851 and is buried in Westminster Church burying ground in Baltimore. 

Sources: Charles Carroll of Carrollton to his son, March 12, 1813. Unpublished Letters of Charles Carroll of Carrollton…Ed. Thomas M. Field (New York: U.S. Catholic Historical Society, 1902); “Biographical Notice of John S. Skinner,” by Benjamin P. Poore The Plough, the Loom, and the Anvil, (New York, 1855).

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