The History of the Town of Colmar Manor, Maryland
In 1632, George Crawford was given a tract of land in the area by King Charles I of England. Crawford's son, Cecelius, who was also known as the second Lord Baron of Baltimore, took possession of the land after his father's death and encouraged settlement upon it. Exactly who settled there at that time is uncertain, although the land on which Fort Lincoln Cemetery is situated was part of the original grant from Lord Baltimore to George Conn and remained in the Conn family for more than 200 years. It is believed that a Spring House was erected on the Conn land-grant in 1683 (discussed later in the article), making it one of the oldest structures in Maryland.
By the late 1700's Bladen'sburg, which included some land on the west side of the Anacostia River, was a thriving port town.
|1782 Rochambeau map showing the roads to Annapolis, Snowden’s Iron Works, and George Town.|
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In the early 1800s, the Baltimore and Washington Turnpike (Bladensburg Road) offered easy access from Washington to Bladensburg and beyond. On August 24, 1814, British troops advancing toward Washington, D.C., met resistance from American forces under the command of Brig. Gen. William H. Winder. The subsequent dash resulted in the American troops making a hasty retreat toward Washington D.C. Commodore Joshua Barney and a contingent of Marines and sailors fought a rearguard action on the heights (now the Fort Lincoln Cemetery) of what is now the Fort Lincoln Cemetery. Barney was wounded and captured. Many soldiers on both sides were killed on the battleground around Bladensburg and what is now Colmar Manor.
By 1861, it was another war that brought military forces to the area. During the Civil War, the land that is now Colmar Manor belonged in part to the Shreve Estate. It was there and on the same heights where Commodore Barney had unsuccessfully fought the British 47 years earlier that Union forces constructed a fort to serve as apart of the Ring of Civil War Union Forts to defend the City of Washington, D.C.
Because Abraham Lincoln visited the heights often and partook of the cold water from the Old Spring House, the fort was named Fort Lincoln. During the war, the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery Battalion and Company E of the 4th Colored-troops reportedly encamped in and around the fort.
Fort Lincoln Cemetery, Colmar Manor, Maryland
There are three historically significant spots located on the Fort Lincoln Cemetery property. The first is one of the oldest colonial-era structures in the state of Maryland, the Old Spring House. The second is the location of the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812 which is located in the cemetery marked by a plaque. And the third historical spot is the Civil War defense, Fort Lincoln, an earthworks fortification marked today with cannons.
The Old Spring House
The Spring House, built on the spot of a natural spring, is the oldest standing building on the cemetery property and maybe the oldest structure still standing in Maryland. Tradition says a Spring House was erected on the George Conn property in 1683, however, the Spring House was probably not constructed until around 1765 after one of Conn's kin actually bought the land.
The Spring House served two purposes, first to keep leaves and dirt away from the spring water, which was sometimes thought to have healing powers, and to keep milk, butter, and other dairy products cool. The cool spring water was fed into a trough inside the structure—in this case just 300 square feet—where it cooled the air. The thick stone walls kept heat from escaping.
President Abraham Lincoln visited the heights (now the Fort Lincoln Cemetery) often meeting with troops to discuss strategy, sitting under the old oak tree, and drinking the cold water from the Spring House.
Today, the spring still feeds cool water through the inside of the Spring House.
The Location of the Battle of Bladensburg during the War of 1812
The Battle of Bladensburg was fought in Maryland on August 24, 1814, and this British victory left Washington D.C. perilously open to the British invasion. The embarrassing defeat of American forces under General William Winder allowed British Army Officer Robert Ross’ men to subsequently march into nearby Washington D.C. and set fire to public buildings, including the presidential mansion (later to be rebuilt and renamed as the White House) over August 24th and 25th. Devastating American morale by destroying the very symbols of American democracy and spirit, the British sought to swiftly end an increasingly unpopular war.
Though neither side had gained a clear advantage in the first two years of the War of 1812, that changed in the spring of 1814 when Britain was able to disentangle itself from fighting France in the Napoleonic Wars. After Napoleon’s exile in April 1814, British forces could be replenished with thousands of veterans. These soldiers were different than the soldiers Americans had faced in Upper Canada; these men had fought against Napoleon and his Imperial Guard and wanted a quick end to this war against a young country.
British military leaders drew up a plan to decisively end the war, crafting a strategy to take control of the New England states and focus an attack on New Orleans, thereby separating north and south by cutting off critical transportation routes in both regions. In addition to destroying American trade, the British also planned to degrade American morale by arranging attacks on coastal cities such as Washington, Baltimore, Charleston, and Savannah.
With this in mind, General Robert Ross arrived in Maryland, fresh from the Napoleonic Wars. Despite having recently been wounded in February at the Battle of Orthes, Ross returned to take charge of British troops on the east coast. Ross marched his 4,500 men from Benedict, Maryland towards Washington, D.C. with a goal of weakening American resolve.
American General William Winder organized his forces, believing that Washington, D.C., and Baltimore would need to be defended. Because Bladensburg, just northeast of D.C., was key to both Washington and Baltimore’s defense, Winder deployed across the roads that led into the young nation’s capital. Though Winder had around 6,500 men at his disposal, most of his men at Bladensburg were poorly trained militia and their resolve would crumble in the face of the war-weary British.
Though Americans positioned themselves well against an attack with artillery covering a bridge over the eastern branch of the Anacostia River, they were overwhelmed when the British attacked at noon on August 24th. Fording the river above the bridge and beating back troops who defended the bridge, British General Ross’ 4,500 men steadily advanced against American artillery and rifle fire, gaining control of the west bank. Under heavy British pressure, the left flank of the American line of defense crumbled. As the left flank was enveloped, Americans fled the scene. Their general, Winder, had not prepared a plan for American retreat and his panicked men ran from the battle instead of maneuvering in a controlled retreat to defend Washington D.C. against the impending attack. With American forces scattered, the road to America’s capital was now wide open.
As the British marched into Washington in 1814, they held in their memory the bitter date of April 27th1813—the day Americans had burned of the Canadian capital, York. They carried vengeful appetites as they entered Washington, D.C. the evening of August 24, 1814.
President Madison and his cabinet had fled the city, Dolly Madison and White House slave Paul Jennings famously saving critical relics of their new republic, among them a portrait of George Washington. It was a good thing that the first lady and Jennings saved these symbols of American democracy as British forces wasted no time in setting the presidential mansion, the Capitol, the Treasury, and the War Office ablaze in the evening of August 24th.
The embarrassing defeat at Bladensburg, coupled with the destruction of Washington, D.C., depleted American morale. For both sides, the Battle of Bladensburg helped usher in a conclusion to a costly and frustrating war.
|Detailed Map of the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814.|
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The burning of Washington went down in history as the only foreign attack on the nation’s capital until the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
The cemetery property was an active part of the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds until 1820.
The Bladensburg Dueling Grounds
The general reason for dueling was almost always the same–a man in public life felt that his honor and ability to command respect in public life had been impugned, leading him to believe that the only way to defend this reputation was to challenge his antagonist to a duel.
A small creek meanders toward the Anacostia Riveron the north side what is now the Fort Lincoln Cemetery. The creek is sandwiched between two hills and was lined with many trees. It was along this creek, according to various accounts, that “gentlemen of the area have settled their political and personal differences since 1732."
The Dueling Grounds, as the area came to be known, is a small spit of land, a fraction of its original size, along Dueling Creek, formerly in the town of Bladensburg, Maryland, and now within the town of Colmar Manor, just to the northeast of Washington, D.C. Dueling Creek, formerly known as '"Blood Run" and "The Dark and Bloody Grounds," was a tributary of the Anacostia River, which used to be called the East Branch Potomac River.
From 1808 the grove witnessed approximately 50 duels by gentlemen, military officers, and politicians, settling "affairs of honor." A formalized set of rules and etiquette, called "the code duello" was usually enforced by the duelers and their seconds. The exact number of duels and the names of all the participants who fought at the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds may never be known because surviving records are obscure, the events are not well documented, and, dueling was illegal. Following the Civil War, dueling fell out of favor as a means of settling personal grievances and declined rapidly; the last known duel was fought there in 1868.
One of the most famous disputes of the 19th century was between Commodore Stephen Decatur and James Barron, which was settled there on March 22, 1820. Decatur, who had gained prominence during military operations against the Barbary Pirates off of North Africa in the early 1800s, and Barron, who had lost his command by a court-martial in 1807 and was stripped of his Commodore title, had been feuding for over 13 years. After exchanging angry letters and insults during that time, Barron finally challenged Decatur to a duel.
The code of the duel required that the combatants be accompanied by friends, known as seconds. The seconds arranged for the duel's location and the form of the duel, which included the choice of the weapon. On March 22, 1820, Barron brought a set of 50 caliber Holmes Percussion pistols to Bladensburg; however, the seconds decided to use Decatur’s instead. Both men were wounded, Decatur, the U.S. naval hero, later died at his home in Washington D.C.
The Union Civil War Fort Lincoln (1861-1865)
By 1865 the Ring of Civil War Union Fort defenses of Washington D.C. was said to include some 68 named fortifications, 93 detached batteries, 20 miles of rifle pits, blockhouses at three key points, and 32 miles of military roads. At the beginning of the civil war, there was only Fort Washington, a single fort protecting the city. Click to read the Fort Lincoln article.
The Fort Lincoln Cemetery
Fort Lincoln Cemetery was chartered in 1912 by an act of the Maryland General Assembly. The first burial occurred in 1921. The 176-acre property was historically significant long before it became a cemetery.
|Grounds at Fort Lincoln Cemetery.|
The property was an active part of the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds until 1820. Fort Lincoln an earthworks fortification was established in 1861 to help protect Washington D.C.
|Fort Lincoln Cemetery Garden of Ascension.|
Horace W. Peaslee designed Fort Lincoln’s Little Church, which was built in 1929. The church, designed in the form of a cross, contains eight stained-glass windows portraying the “Seven Ages of Man,” as depicted in Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It.” The rear cloister of the church contains individual or family vaults for those who prefer entombment. There is a small bell tower with a bell to the left of the junction of the cross. The sanctuary, with its manual organ, serves for baptisms, weddings, anniversaries, Sunday concerts, and funerals. The lower chamber of the church is the crematorium. The Little Church building won an architectural award from the Board of Trade.
|Fort Lincoln Cemetery Little Church.|
At the cemetery entrance, a floral clock was built in 1938. The clock contains a face of 32 feet in diameter, of which 28 feet is planted surface. It runs using a highly accurate Seth Thomas electronic timekeeping mechanism. The numbers are 21 inches high and 12 inches wide. The minute hand weighs 300-350 pounds and is 18 feet 4 inches in length. The hour hand weighs 200-250 pounds and is 14 feet 9 inches long.
|Fort Lincoln Cemetery Floral Clock.|
At the original entrance is an old gatehouse and office. The gatehouse was built in 1919, was designed by Horace W. Peaslee. The gatehouse was torn down after 1978 to build the Fort Lincoln Funeral Home. The administration building was built in 1972 near the newer cemetery entrance.
|Fort Lincoln Cemetery Tranquil Oaks Cremation Garden.|
|Fort Lincoln Cemetery Tranquil Oaks Cremation Garden.|
The Community Mausoleum was built in 1947 and sits just behind the Little Church. A wing was added in 1952, which has a small 100 seat chapel. Above the front entrance is a beautiful carving that depicts the Biblical story of Abraham entombing his wife, Sarah. The stained-glass windows of the chapel include colorful scenes from Arthurian literature and the "Quest for the Holy Grail." Other stained-glass windows through the mausoleum were created by Henry Lee Willet, and depict Christian stories and children’s poems. Opposite the second floor entrance is a monument made of Indiana limestone commemorating the August 24, 1814 Battle of Bladensburg stand by the Marines under the command of Commodore Joshua Barney.
The Liberty Bell
Near that mausoleum sits a 1976, Bicentennial, replica of the Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell at Fort Lincoln Cemetery is a half-size (22¼" diameter, 23½" height, and weighs 290lbs) Christoph Paccard Bell Foundry replica that was cast in 1976. The foundry, now in its seventh generation, began in 1796. The 1976 replica bells can be distinguished from the 1950 bells by their ornamental surface crack and lack of a serial number.
NOTE: The original Liberty Bell is located in the Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although no immediate announcement was made of the Second Continental Congress's vote for independence—and so the bell could not have rung on July 4, 1776, related to that vote—bells were rung on July 8 to mark the reading of the United States Declaration of Independence. While there is no contemporary account of the Liberty Bell ringing, most historians believe it was one of the bells rung on the 8th. After American independence was secured, the bell fell into relative obscurity until, in the 1830s, the bell was adopted as a symbol by abolitionist societies, who dubbed it the "Liberty Bell."
|The Liberty Bell at Fort Lincoln Cemetery is a half-size (22¼" diameter, 23½" height, and weighs 290lbs) Christoph Paccard Bell Foundry replica that was cast in 1976.|
District of Columbia-Maryland Boundary Markers Map
A 1790 Act established that 40 boundary markers be placed at the District of Columbia-Maryland line to set aside land as the seat of government. The survey was begun by Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant and completed by Major Andrew Ellicott. After the Virginia sandstone markers were placed in 1792, a variation in the original land survey was detected to discover the Northeast Number 7 boundary stone was wholly on Maryland land.
|Boundary Stones Map of Washington D.C.|
The Daughters of the American Revolution placed an ornamental iron fence around this stone and others around 1916 to protect them from damage.
|Boundary stone in a protective cage, the early 1900s.|
The older half of Fort Lincoln Cemetery contains traditional grave sites with headstones and a few private mausoleums. The newer sections are laid out according to the memorial park concept. Here, religious and historical gardens contain markers set flush to the earth.
The Battery Jameson Civil War Fortification
A 190-foot section of Battery Jameson, a Civil War fortification built-in 1862, still stands on the Fort Lincoln Cemetery grounds. The cannons that were originally installed in the fort are no longer there, but 12-pound boat howitzers designed by John Adolphus Bernard Dahlgren, known as the father of American Naval ordinance, cast around 1863, were placed on the Fort Lincoln grounds in 1921.
|Battery Jameson earthworks, Fort Lincoln.|
The Great Lincoln Oak Tree
The Fort Lincoln Cemetery land was home to the great “Lincoln Oak,” a majestic tree under which President Abraham Lincoln met with troops during the Civil War. In 1991, lightning hit and killed the nearly 500-year-old tree. Cemetery management planted a new white oak tree at the site and installed a plaque commemorating the original tree.
There is a 13-foot high bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in thoughtful meditation, looking thin and war-torn. Created by Andrew O’Connor, a noted Lincoln scholar, and sculptor. It was commissioned by the Rhode Island Lincoln Memorial Commission for the State House, but they were never able to raise enough funds to pay for it. The status sat in a foundry until 1947 when it was placed at Fort Lincoln Cemetery.
|Statue of Abraham Lincoln at Fort Lincoln Cemetery.|
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.