On September 16, 2023, Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine will celebrate Defenders’ Day, Baltimore’s oldest holiday commemorating the successful defense of Baltimore from British attack in 1814. During the War of 1812, free and enslaved African Americans helped in the successful defense of Baltimore against the Royal Navy and British Army. The defense of the city was a community endeavor and despite their many differences, Baltimoreans united in the defense of their hometown.

After the burning of Washington on August 24, 1814, British commanders in the Chesapeake turned their sights on Baltimore. Home to 50,000 residents, Baltimore was the third largest city in the United States, one of its largest ports, and the home port of many privateers. African American men served in the U.S. Navy and often as privateers. African American men and women also helped dig trenches and build fortifications at Hampstead Hill (Patterson Park) to stop the British Army’s land assault.

During the Battle of Baltimore, many African American men also manned the guns of the city’s harbor defenses including those at Fort McHenry. On September 14, 1814, after a 25-hour bombardment, the fort’s Defenders raised a 30’x42’ American flag over the fort as the Royal Navy withdrew from the assault. The courage of Baltimore’s Defenders inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  

Fort McHenry’s new Assistant Superintendent Robert Stewart has long felt a connection with the story of African Americans in the Chesapeake during the War of 1812 and hopes all Baltimoreans will find a connection with their community’s history when they visit the park. A native of Trinidad, Robert moved to Baltimore at the age of seven. After a visit to Fort McHenry soon afterward, he was made a “Junior Ranger,” setting him on his career path. After graduating from Randallstown High School, Robert went to Coppin State University, participating in “The Coppin Man” program facilitated by Brandon Scott before he was mayor. He volunteered with the National Park Service while completing his degree in history and secondary education. Graduation found him serving as a park ranger at Fort McHenry and Hampton National Historic Site, before moving on to become an education specialist and acting director of interpretation at Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Alabama and the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Selma, Ala. He also served as the acting director of interpretation at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe, Ohio and Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Before returning to Baltimore he also served as the superintendent of the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument.

Raised in Baltimore County, Robert is excited to return home and reconnect with the community, family, and friends. He hopes the work he does in the National Park Service will help him to give back and inspire the community that helped to mold and guide him through his youth. With his wife Angela (who also works for NPS), the two are looking forward to sharing their knowledge and love of history with whomever they encounter. “Defenders’ Day is Baltimore’s holiday,” says Stewart, “I hope kids can connect with these stories and create their own legacy in history like the Defenders did.”  

For more information on the Defenders’ Day events at Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine, go to https://cms.nps.gov/fomc/planyourvisit/defenders-day.htm

Baltimore Times
Click Here to See More posts by this Author