Tall Ships And 200 Years

And now for something completely different.

The tall ships were in Baltimore this month. It’s an annual event, but this year also marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the young United States was unhappy with Great Britain’s maritime actions. British ships were seizing American ships and impressing American sailors into the British navy. The British also were restricting US trade with France and inciting Native American groups to resist US westward expansion.

USS Constellation, Baltimore, 15 June 2012

Like most of Europe, Great Britain was at war with Napoleon at the time. In 1812 Napoleon was busy with another part of the world. Any Russians in the audience are familiar with that bit of history. (Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was written to commemorate the Defense of Moscow against Napoleon, not for the American War of 1812, despite our appropriation of the piece for our Independence Day celebrations.)

For various reasons, Great Britain decided this was the time to return the upstart United States to colony status. Not surprisingly, the United States didn’t share this view and declared war. I can’t say the US army won the war. Before the peace treaty was ratified, it won no major battles. But the Merchant Marine was another story. Once fully armed and able to defend themselves, American ships taught the mighty British fleet a thing or two about naval warfare. Caught again fighting too many wars on too many fronts (as they were during the American Revolution), Great Britain was forced to back down and sign another peace treaty with the United States. That one has lasted—to both countries’ benefit.

Communications being what they were, news of the peace treaty was slow to reach Louisiana. And in January 1815, American ground forces finally won a decisive battle against the British in New Orleans. There was just one problem. The peace treaty had been ratified two weeks before. The war was already over. Oops. Oh well, it became a great bit of American history and launched the political career of one Andrew Jackson.

Today, most Americans know little about the war. It gets more coverage in Maryland (and Washington, DC) because much of the action took place here. The British did burn the White House, after all. And our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, was written by Francis Scott Key as he watched the British ships fire on Fort McHenry in Baltimore. The troops at the fort held their ground. When dawn broke, the American flag still flew high.

(By the way, the Star Spangled Banner is in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Despite what many tourists think, it is not “the Betsy Ross flag” from the American Revolution. Please don’t spread that myth to your children if you visit.)

Some of my ancestors served in the War of 1812. My great-great-great grandfather Allen McDowell was an army private. I doubt he saw much action. My great-great-great-great grandfather John Thomas was a Major General (and was at New Orleans). Had he not been ill, he would have commanded his troops from the field instead of giving orders to his adjutant from a hospital sick bed.  Some years later, one of Allen’s sons would marry one of John’s granddaughters. Just a little personal background. 🙂

The ships in Baltimore were a great sight. Unfortunately, most of the American ships were over at Fort McHenry, and we were at the Inner Harbor. Most of the ships we saw were from Latin America. But they were still fun to visit. I hope you’ll enjoy the photos.

Cuauhtemoc (Mexico), Baltimore, 15 June 2012

I love the juxtaposition of such a historic ship with the modern city

Gloria (Colombia), Baltimore, 15 June 2012

The Colombians handed out candy when you boarded and disembarked.

Stop snickering—not that kind! 

Cisne Branco (Brazil), 15 June 2012

 Another contrast of traditional sailing vessel and a modern city

Dewaruci (Indonesia), Baltimore, 15 June 2012

We couldn’t tour this one because it was closed for visiting dignitaries

Guayas (Ecuador), Baltimore, 15 June 2012

The Guayas docked next to the National Aquarium

60 thoughts on “Tall Ships And 200 Years

  1. Hi. Your post today evoked memories for me. When my daughter was just 16 she sailed on one of the tall ships from Spain to Ireland in a Force 10 storm. Apparently the entire body of youngsters ranging in age from 16 (she was the youngest) to about 20 were hanging over the sides saying goodbye to the contents of their stomachs. What a nightmare for the crew! Anyway she returned home safely having had a taste of adventure and she has never stopped seeking it since.

    Today there was a beautiful tall ship sailing off of the Dorset coast with most of her sails up. That was a truly majestic sight.

    Regards and thank you for my trip down memory lane.


    • Oh, I’d love to see one of these beauties under full sail. We didn’t even try to brave the crowds in Baltimore on the days they sailed in and out of the harbor. The estimates were for a million visitors during the week they were here. And with such beautiful weather, I’ll bet there were more.

      I can’t imagine being on such a ship in a large storm. If I remember correctly, it was the original Pride of Baltimore that was lost in a race during a freak “microburst.” But on smooth seas? What an adventure that would be!

      Did your daughter keep sailing, or was that experience haning over the side enough for her?


      • Indeed she did keep sailing and went on to teach both it and windsurfing as her summer jobs during university. It just goes to show that you can’t keep a good woman down.


        • Good for her! I don’t think I have what it takes to “learn the ropes,” but I’m impressed by people who do. I enjoy being a passenger, though. 🙂


  2. Those are gorgeous photos! Looks like the weather was beautiful for viewing the ships.

    You’re right–I’ve never known much about the War of 1812. The part about New Orleans was a great detail to hear about. Thanks for sharing your historical knowledge!


    • It was a perfect day—not too hot, a nice breeze, and low humidity. The War of 1812 is a “forgotten” war, even though it was our second war for independence. But other than the Mid-Atlantic, most of the land battles were fought on frontiers with few residents. So you don’t have the commemorations of battlefields like you do for the Revolution and Civil War.

      The Battle of New Orleans is an interesting footnote in history. 🙂 If only the telegraph had been invented by then….!


  3. Very interesting post and absolutely fabulous photographs, JM! 🙂 There is a Tall Ships comp that travels through Stornoway… Not the same thing, I realise, but it’s a big deal over here. 🙂


    • If we’d shuttled over to Fort McHenry, some of the racing tall ships were there along with some European naval ships. There would have been more camera candy! But there’s only so much time in a day. 🙂 Maybe next year, though!

      I’d love to see any tall ship under full sail. That must be a beautiful sight! So I bet your competition is something to see, too. 🙂


  4. I enjoyed your blogging deviation. My knowledge of history is sad. I like to blame my former history teachers–very dull orators. 😉 Had they put in personal bits and lovely photos like you did, I might have retained more. 🙂 Sounds like it was a great day.


    • Oh yeah, why do so many teachers make history boring? It can be fascinating! But too many get hung up on dates and places. They forget, or never realized, history is about PEOPLE. Get students to use their imaginations and think about what they would have done. Have them talk to their parents and grandparents and find out who some of their ancestors were.

      In this technological age, somebody could make a computer game that let you put yourself or ancestors into it. You can be the SIMS at Gettsyburg or Waterloo…. 🙂


      • You are spot on–history is about people. Make the lessons reflect such. Luckily, teachers are doing this more now. My son’s history class curriculum looks wonderful–history as seen by different cultures, genders, etc. The way it should be. Not just dates and war info from a white male point of view. 🙂


        • Well, that’s good to hear! I went to a very progressive middle school for 6th and 7th grades. I had a class called “Herstory” one semester. It was probably curriculum shattering at the time. 🙂 But there is certainly more to the past than white males (especially of the silver-haired Anglo-Saxon protestant variety).


    • Sometime a writer has to get out and do other things. 🙂 You never know what the Muse could come up with…. A chance person in that Cisne Branco photo has an idea simmering in my brain…. 🙂


  5. Great photos! And I think it’s neat that you actually know so much about your own family’s history. My family only immigrated to the US around 1890-1900, so information about them any farther back has been difficult to find.


    • Knowing my family background makes history much more interesting to me. My dad’s side is easier to research, having been in the US for so long. But I’m first-generation American on my mother’s side and know little about her ancestors. Not speaking or reading any of the languages doesn’t make it easier, either. Someday, maybe…. But genealogy has taken a back seat to novel writing since 2009. Careful, though, if you get into it—talk about addictive! 🙂


      • I agree, genealogy is addictive. Every time I pick it up again, I wonder why I ever stopped. Language is a barrier for me, too, even when it comes to the American records of my family. It’s painfully obvious that the records were made and transcribed by those who didn’t speak the same language as my ancestors. I’ve seen some pretty horrible misspellings of their names.


        • When I saw how “creative” people in the past were with McDowell, I could better understand how bad it could be with more “foreign-sounding” names. There were some butcherings of my mother’s maiden name!


  6. This is interesting even if you are all “traitors to the crown” 🙂 My wife loves ships, had we been on the East coast I have no doubt we would have been there (we did an east coast road trip on our honeymoon). Good way of putting some background and context to the pictures.


    • I hoped English readers wouldn’t be too ruffled by the lighter tone I took. 🙂 And, of course, what might the Queen say of you moving to this side of the pond? 😉 I’ve enjoyed my visits to the “left coast,” but I am partial to the Atlantic side of things. So different from what I grew up with in mostly-landlocked Illinois.


      • Well the right side has more history primarily because it is closer to Europe, so I think that has made that side a bit more interesting in terms of places, though I think there is little difference in terms of scenery, as there are beautiful places to visit on either side.


        • You definitely have the advantage of scenery options in California. Being able to swim in the ocean in the morning and then drive up to the mountains to ski in the afternoon is quite a perk.


  7. This post really brought back memories!!

    I may have mentioned it before, but we lived in Fairfax VA from 1983-1988 and took many a day trip to the inner harbor (annapolis, too…my FAVE!!!) Seeing your pic of the ship docked by the Aquarium has me remembering LOTS of fun times, and my BIG hair…eeekkkk!!! better left forgotten! hahahahahahahaha!! Anyway, your photos are gorgeous, but the geneology and history you shared is equally great!

    History was my favorite subject throughout school, and because of that I spend a lot of time browsing the resources and subject matter at http://teachinghistory.org/ . I heartily recommend it to everyone (and the free fullsize posters they offer ain’t bad either! 😉 )

    I really enjoyed this post! 🙂


    • I was hoping people wouldn’t fall asleep with my history lesson in this one! 🙂 So I’m very glad you and others enjoyed it!

      Annapolis is great, too, once we figure out where we’re going and get safely parked. 🙂 It is the most confusing city for driving I’ve ever seen, especially near the old center. I guess Boston could be worse, but I’ve never been there, so I can’t say for sure. 😉

      I love history, too, which probably isn’t surprising for an archaeologist. That’s part of what I love about the Maryland-Virginia area—there’s so much of it that is still all around us. It’s so easy to hop down to Mt. Vernon or up to Antietam…. And, of course, everything in DC. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll have to check out the link—sounds like a good one! 🙂


  8. it was so nice of you to show the tall ships moored in the city where i was born! hope you are well and enjoying summer…

    David in Maine USA


    • This is actually the first time we’ve gone to see them. I don’t think it will be the last. Doing well and having a hard time believing next week is the 4th of July already. Summer temperatures and humidity have arrived, although we get a small break the next few days. From your haiku recently, it sounds like summer has reached Maine, too. Hope you’re able to enjoy it from a nice coastal position. 🙂


    • I’m glad you enjoyed the story with the photos. I was a little afraid people would be turned off by a history lesson, even a short one with a bit of humor in it. I want to try a few different posts now and again to try to keep things fresh. I’m never quite sure how they’ll go over….


    • I think you’ll have to leave those beautiful mountains of yours to see them. 😉 Sailing on one would be amazing. Unless I got caught in the Force 10 storm that writelindy described above! But I’d hop aboard in a second if I knew the weather would be good. 🙂


  9. Nice history lesson. Would love to tour the ships, if I’m ever in the areas at the right time.
    I’m from Louisiana so I’m a little familiar with the battle of 1815.


    • Thanks for stopping by and visiting! They do get around to a number of ports, so if you do cross with them, I’d definitely recommend a visit. I’m truly impressed by sailors who could “learn those ropes.” I’d make a mess of it, for sure. Louisiana’s probably the only state outside of Maryland and Virginia that knows much about that war. I’ve visited New Orleans a few times and love its history (and food and music….).


  10. Beautiful photos! I saw the Tall Ships when they were in NY a few weeks ago—I would have loved to have seen them in Baltimore too with the 1812 anniversary. And my husband is from B’more so he’s been dragged to Fort McHenry more times than he’d care to count!


    • It’s hard to take a bad photo of such impressive subject matter. 🙂 And the humidity was low, so the sky was such a pure blue — no gray haze anywhere. A beautiful day for using the camera.

      We’ve only made the trip to Fort McHenry once. But if we ever play tour guide for visiting family and friends, there could be more trips. 😉

      Thanks for the follow — when I get a chance, I’ll be visiting your blog!


  11. Great post, JM. History is one of my favorite subjects, particularly American history. The War of 1812 is the kind of topic teachers mention in passing. They should devote more time on it, as it was our second war for independence. If we had lost it, things would be quite different.

    I love the Louisiana tidbit. I had actually forgotten that piece of it. Thanks for jarring my memory. I also loved your personal history to go along with the story. I’m sure I had relatives who fought in it, as I had relatives fight in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. This is something I need to ask my mother–she’s the geneaology buff of the family.

    Great pics. You were lucky to have such a fun time. 🙂


    • I think the only thing I learned in school about the War of 1812 was the fact that it happened and the Battle of New Orleans was fought after it was over. But it strikes me as a huge “What If” event. What if the British had a decisive edge? Would France and other countries have come to our aid? Or would they have let the British regain control? I’m sure there’s an “alternate history” novel in there!

      I’ve got Revolutionary War and Civil War ancestors, too. Reading their pension applications is a real window into the past. And some of that info may sneak into some of my fiction — heavily disguised, but adding a touch of realism to some characters’ doings. 🙂


  12. I’ve seen those ships and they are amazing. And imagine having to climb the masts in a wind, ship pitching around on stormy sea…

    Pictures are excellent and give perspective on how tall they really are.


    • Ooh, I could never take that kind of work. I would fall overboard for sure, after losing every meal I ate that day before the storm came up!

      I’ll play it safe and stick to admiring them in the harbor. 🙂


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