When January 6, 2021, happened many news reporters were saying “This is the first time in history that the U.S. Capitol has been overrun!” Meanwhile, I was screaming at the TV that they were wrong. The British took control of Washington City, the name of the city before it became Washington, D. C., on August 24, 1814. I knew this previously, but the facts were still fresh in my mind because the event plays a part in my latest release, Captain Stanwick’s Bride: A Tragic Character in Classic Lit Series Novel. After their first capture of Napoleon in April 1814, the British turned their sights on the American front and what was known as the War of 1812. Up until that time, the British had been too busy with Napoleon to address fully the goings on in the United States. However, thinking the war on the Continent was finished, the British had more than enough time and men to do the job proper.
The Smithsonian Magazine tells us, “In the 19th century, the Canadian historian William Kingsford was only half-joking when he commented, ‘The events of the War of 1812 have not been forgotten in England for they have never been known there.'” This was not exactly true. [War of Words] “In the 20th, another Canadian historian remarked that the War of 1812 is ‘an episode in history that makes everybody happy, because everybody interprets it differently…the English are happiest of all, because they don’t even know it happened.’ “The truth is, the British were never happy. In fact, their feelings ranged from disbelief and betrayal at the beginning of the war to outright fury and resentment at the end. They regarded the U.S. protests against Royal Navy impressment of American seamen as exaggerated whining at best, and a transparent pretext for an attempt on Canada at worst.
It was widely known that Thomas Jefferson coveted all of North America for the United States. When the war started, he wrote to a friend: ‘The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching, and will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next, and the final expulsion of England from the American continent.’ Moreover, British critics interpreted Washington’s willingness to go to war as proof that America only paid lip service to the ideals of freedom, civil rights and constitutional government. In short, the British dismissed the United States as a haven for blackguards and hypocrites.” Therefore, as the British Navy took up positions along the Eastern seaboard of the United States, on 24 August 1814, British troops marched on Washington City. Prior to the British entrance into the U. S.’s center of government, the Battle of Bladensburg was fought in Maryland on August 24, 1814, and this British victory left Washington City perilously unguarded.
The embarrassing defeat of American forces under General William Winder allowed British Army Officer Robert Ross’s men to march into nearby Washington City and set fire to public buildings, including the presidential mansion (later to be rebuilt and renamed as the White House) over August 24 and 25. This British success, at first, devastated American morale by destroying the very symbols of American democracy and spirit, and the British sought to swiftly end an increasingly unpopular war. As the American militia left Washington City without protection, the British entered the city with little resistance. However, they found that the American President James Madison and his wife, along with key members of government had fled to safety in Maryland. The British supposed ate the meal meant for those who lived and worked in the Presidential Mansion (now called the “White House”). The British ransacked the mansion and set it on fire.
From History.com, we learn, “According to the White House Historical Society and Dolley [Madison]’s personal letters, President James Madison had left the White House on August 22 to meet with his generals on the battlefield, just as British troops threatened to enter the capitol. Before leaving, he asked his wife Dolley if she had the ‘courage or firmness’ to wait for his intended return the next day. He asked her to gather important state papers and be prepared to abandon the White House at any moment. “The next day, Dolley and a few servants scanned the horizon with spyglasses waiting for either Madison or the British army to show up. As British troops gathered in the distance, Dolley decided to abandon the couple’s personal belongings and instead saved a full-length portrait of former President George Washington from desecration. Dolley wrote to her sister on the night of August 23 of the difficulty involved in saving the painting. Since the portrait was screwed to the wall, she ordered the frame to be broken and the canvas pulled out and rolled up. Two unidentified ‘gentlemen from New York’ hustled it away for safe-keeping. (Unbeknownst to Dolley the portrait was actually a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s original).
The task complete, Dolley wrote ‘and now, dear sister, I must leave this house, or the retreating army will make me a prisoner in it by filling up the road I am directed to take. Dolley left the White House and found her husband at their predetermined meeting place in the middle of a thunderstorm.” They eventually found refuge for the night in Brookeville, a small town in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is known today as the ”United States’ Capital for a Day.” President Madison spent the night in the house of Caleb Bentley, a Quaker, who lived and worked in Brookeville. Bentley’s house, known today as the Madison House, still stands in Brookeville. [“Brookeville 1814”. [Maryland State Archives.] The sappers and miners of the Corps of Royal Engineers, under Captain Blanshard, were employed in burning the principal buildings. The soldiers burned the president’s house, and fuel was added to the fires that night to ensure they would continue burning into the next day.
The following day, Rear Admiral Cockburn had the building housing the National Intelligencer, a newspaper that regularly criticized Cockburn, destroyed brick-by-brick. He also ordered all “C” type buildings burnt to the ground. The British had hoped to find money in the U.S. Treasury Building, but all they found was old records. The Treasury Building, the Blodget Hotel, which housed the U.S. Patent Office, the U.S. Department of War building, etc. were ordered burned, although some records and buildings were saved.
Four days after the attack on Washington City began, a sudden, but providential storm (possibly a hurricane) arrived in the area, putting out the fires. It spun off a tornado that made its way down what is now Constitution Avenue, supposably lifting two cannons into the air and dropping them down again several yards away. It also killed several dozen British soldiers and American civilians alike. The storm drove the British from the city and back to their waiting ships, which had suffered a good deal of damage.
“There is some debate regarding the effect of this storm on the occupation. While some assert that the storm forced their retreat, [The War of 1812, Scene 5 “An Act of Nature”, History Channel, 2005] it seems likely from their destructive and arsonous actions before the storm, and their written orders from Cochrane to “destroy and lay waste”, [Cruikshank, Ernest (2006) . The Documentary History of the campaign upon the Niagara frontier. (Part 1-2). University of Calgary. Archived from the original on May 27, 2011.] that their intention was merely to raze the city, rather than occupy it for an extended period. Whatever the case, the British occupation of Washington lasted only about 26 hours. Despite this, the ‘Storm that saved Washington,’ as it became known, did the opposite according to some. The rains sizzled and cracked the already charred walls of the White House and ripped away at structures the British had no plans to destroy (such as the Patent Office).
An encounter was noted between Sir George Cockburn and a female resident of Washington. “Dear God! Is this the weather to which you are accustomed in this infernal country?” enquired the Admiral. “This is a special interposition of Providence to drive our enemies from our city”, the woman allegedly called out to Cockburn. “Not so, Madam”, Cockburn retorted. “It is rather to aid your enemies in the destruction of your city”, before riding off on horseback.”
“Yet, the British left right after the storm completely unopposed by any American military forces. What makes this event even more serendipitous for the Americans is that, as the Smithsonian reports, there have only been seven other tornadoes recorded in Washington, D.C. in the 204 years since with probably a similar rare occurrence in the years prior to this event.” [Peter Snow. “When Britain Burned the White House” 2012] Although President Madison and his wife were able to return to Washington only three days later when British troops had moved on, they never again lived in the White House. Madison served the rest of his term residing at the city’s Octagon House. It was not until 1817 that newly elected president James Monroe moved back into the reconstructed building.
Allen, William C. (2001). “Destruction and Restoration, 1814–1817”. History of the United States Capitol: A Chronicle of Design, Construction, and Politics.
Pitch, Anthony S. (1998). The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814.
Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. pp. 49-50. Smithsonian Magazine
Captain Stanwick’s Bride is set against the backdrop of this war between the British and the Americans. My hero, Captain Whittaker Myles Stanwick, is a British soldier being held prisoner at Fort McHenry, outside of Baltimore. My heroine, Miss Beatrice Spurlock, is a woman caught between two worlds, for her mother is a Powhatan Indian “princess,” modeled after my 6th great-grandmother, and her father is a Scottish surgeon, modeled after “Princess Elizabeth’s son, practicing in America because his marriage to a “heathen” has driven him from his homeland. Spurlock has been forced to abandon his surgical practice to serve the American forces. In that period, many British citizens living in the United States were forced to leave their homes and move into clusters where they might be watched by American soldiers.
Here is a short excerpt from Chapter 2 when Whit and Beatrice first meet. Enjoy… 15 November 1813 Fort McHenry, Maryland
It had taken his party eighteen days of hard travel to reach Fort McHenry. Whit pitied those who would follow, for the nights, and even some of the days, in the mountains had been bitterly cold, but, thankfully, snow free. He and his men and numerous officers from other units had huddled together, sharing blankets and body heat, even though cleanliness had long since left their persons. They had worn the same clothes for nearly seven weeks, and body odor would make them easy prey for predators in the wild.
“Line up,” an American soldier ordered as Whit and his men stepped gingerly down from the wagons. “Most seriously injured at the front. Sort yerselves out.” The soldier waited while Whit and the other officers arranged some fifty plus British soldiers in some sort of order.
At length, the American shouted, “Listen. I shan’t repeat meself. You’ll stand before the clerk presentin’ him yern name, rank, next of kin, and the location of yer home. Then you’ll be seen by the camp doctor—some of you may be sent for treatment. You’ll be given new clothes to wear, meaning shirts, socks, and the like, and then assigned to quarters, meaning the tents you see before you. Some of you will be released immediately in an exchange for arn soldiers. Others will be here until . . . well until yer not.”
* * *
“Your name?” an American sergeant asked.
“Whittaker Stanwick,” he replied.
It had taken more than an hour for him to reach this critical point in the line. They had been brought into the fort itself, three at a time, to be treated by the physician. Like everything else dealing with the military during a war, organization was patchwork at best. Decisions were fluid. He watched as the sergeant scribbled his name into a log book.
“Rank?” The American did not look up from his task.
“Place of birth?”
Whit sighed heavily. He had to remember to break the habit as quickly as possible, for he feared it betrayed his thinking to perfect strangers. He said quickly, “Nothing that a good meal and a bath would not cure. Perhaps some liniment for my knee.”
The sergeant finally looked up long enough to frown his displeasure with Whit’s response. “Speak to Doctor Spurlock for the liniment. Go to the end of the L-shaped hall and wait until they come for you. You’ll see the doc, and he’ll send you on to yer quarters afterwards.” He gestured to the passage behind him.
Whit nodded his understanding and ambled down the long hall, lined with a row of doors on both sides. He had just taken up a stance against the wall where he studied the posted notices when a sound at the other end of the “L” drew his notice. A woman struggled with a soldier. A woman? When was the last time he looked upon a woman not part of the camp whores who followed the army wherever they went. Abandoning his position, despite his ailing knee, Whit took off at a hastened pace to reach the lady. “Halt! None of that!” he declared in his best “captain’s” voice.
The man stiffened, for the passing of perhaps three heartbeats, which was long enough for Whit to step between the American and the woman, shoving her behind him to protect her.
The American attempted to reach around him, but Whit easily blocked the man’s hand. “Ladies are not to be mauled,” he hissed.
“She ain’t being no lady, so tell the Injun to keep her filthy hands off me,” the man protested. “I don’t need none of her potions and elixirs.”
“It is only a bottle of liniment,” the lady responded, anger underlining her tone.
Whittaker eyed the American soldier with disdain and received a like form of contempt in return.
The man pointed an accusing finger at the woman. “Just stay away from me. I know what your type do to the likes of honest men.” The American stalked away, mumbling a series of complaints along the way.
It was then that Whit turned to look upon the woman. Eyes the color of storm clouds met his. A wealth of hair, as dark as coal soot marked with strands of red, wrapped in a tight braid at the nape of her neck, framed an oval-shaped face that displayed both relief and frustration at the same time.
“I beg your pardon, ma’am. I did not mean to handle you so roughly.” Whit thought to offer her a bow, but he knew the Americans did not customarily bow and curtsey, as did those in Great Britain. “I am Captain Stanwick.”
“Miss Spurlock,” she murmured.
“As in Doctor Spurlock?” he questioned. Surely the Americans had not employed a female to treat the prisoners.
“My father,” she responded softly.
Ah, he thought. That makes more sense. Whit tilted his head to the side to study her. “Pardon my forwardness, miss,” he said. “Your accent is laced with bits of the Brit.”
She smiled up at him, doing something to his heart, but he could not name the emotion. “Most Americans maintain the language they learned at their mother’s knees. That is accept those from France, Germany, and various other countries on the Continent.”
Whit frowned. “Yet, you are not part of the majority, miss. Am I correct?”
“In truth, sir, I speak my mother’s language quite fluently.” She sounded as if she were teasing him, and Whit did not know exactly what to think of the young woman. Her eyebrow rose in challenge. “Even though ‘most’ Americans do not understand my mother’s language.”
A new reality arrived. He surmised, “Ah, the private’s reference to ‘Injun.’”
She stiffened as if expecting his disdain, but the woman did not look away from his countenance, indicating her strength of character. Whit found he admired her determination. “Yes, my mother was the equivalent of your British term ‘princess’ of the Powhatan tribe, just as was her mother.” She did not say, just as I am, but the woman’s meaning was implied. “From my last name, you might determine my father is a Scot,” she observed in what appeared to be mild amusement.
“Or someone from Germany,” he countered. Whit discovered his lips twitched in hopes of a smile, which he denied. “I must confess, other than Tecumseh and his braves, and Roundhead and his warriors, I have encountered few Indians upon the American continent. Certainly, none of the Powhatan tribe.” He knew he blushed in awkwardness. “I fear it is very telling of my character that I never bothered to learn more than a few words of Tecumseh’s language.”
Before either of them could say more, a red-headed man in the coat of a gentleman stepped into the hall. “Stanwick.”
“Here,” Whit and Miss Spurlock said together.
Whit presented a nod of farewell to the lady and turned to where the man waited.
“Come in,” the man looked down again to the paper he held in his hand. “Captain Stanwick.”
Whit stepped around the man to enter the small office. Meanwhile, the doctor looked to his daughter. “Are you well, my dear?”
“Perfectly, sir,” Miss Spurlock answered. “Captain Stanwick simply admitted he knew nothing of the Powhatan language.”
“Rightly so,” the doctor announced. “Did you explain to the good captain the Algonquian language of tidewater Virginia has been considered extinct for five and twenty years?”
“Our conversation was interrupted, sir.” Whit could hear the childlike perversity in her tone, and he smiled, despite the inappropriateness of the act.
“No mischief, Beatrice,” the doctor warned as he turned to enter the office, pointedly closing the door behind him and offering a slight bow. “I must apologize, Captain, if my daughter attempted to bam you.”
Whit returned the man’s bow. “Nothing of the sort, Spurlock. I simply stepped in when another refused Miss Spurlock’s offer of liniment.”
“Bloody idiots!” Spurlock growled in frustration. “They distrust me because I am a British subject, who was ‘foolish,’ their word, not mine, enough to marry the most beautiful woman I had ever encountered. They distrust my daughter because they fear all Indian tribes. Think them ‘savages.’”
Whit sat in the chair the man indicated. “Then you have always lived in America? Odd as it may sound, although I know those who founded this country were, customarily British citizens or the descendants of British citizens, when ordered to Canada for the war, I never considered I could be fighting my own. I fought the French on the Continent with Wellington. I suppose I assumed everyone to be of the like of the Frenchies. It is not as if I encountered many French descendants in America, despite your daughter mentioning something to that effect. However, until this journey, I have not been a part of the British forces that occupied strongholds in the ‘States’ proper” He did not know why such an admission was disconcerting, but he found a distinct tightening of his chest as he said the words.
Spurlock commented as he sat, “I suppose you ignored those in French Canada.”
Whit chuckled at his own expense. “Yes, I did not consider the French who aided the Indians across the border as enemies of the British.”
“It sounds as if you have spent more than a few years in the army,” Spurlock observed.
Whit shrugged, embarrassment creeping up the back of his neck. “I should likely have found other employment by now; yet, you know men do not enjoy change. A woman embraces it, but we prefer constancy.”
“My late wife would have disagreed with you,” Spurlock countered. “It was my Elizabeth who did not want our family to live in Great Britain. I should never have taken her and Beatrice there. I foolishly missed my home in the lowlands when I should have realized Elizabeth was all the ‘home’ I required.”
Whit felt continuing this conversation would be too personal. Therefore, he asked, “How did you come to serve at Fort McHenry?”
“I returned to America when Beatrice was but ten. We thought to settle again in New York, but Elizabeth was ill and wanted to spend her final days with her family close at hand; therefore, we came to Virginia. When she passed, we moved, and I opened my office in Richmond. However, with the hostilities, I lost patients who feared to have a British-trained surgeon tending them.” Spurlock scowled in apparent frustration. “I have been assigned to ‘duties’ here by the American government. I serve Fort McHenry and Fort Babcock, an earthen gun battery about two miles removed to the west. It was only recently constructed. The Americans do not exactly trust me, but they require my skills, for physicians and surgeons with experience are in short supply.”
“Your tale is unexpected,” Whit remarked.
“In many ways, I fared better than most of my acquaintances in New York, so it is probably best that my wife and I did not return there. The American Marshal for the District of New York initially required several hundred British citizens to register as such. Later, British heads of households who lived in New York and had applied to be naturalized American citizens, also were required to report to the marshal, a man called Peter Curtenius. The number quickly rose to fifteen hundred.
“As the war progressed, those citizens in the larger towns and cities were removed to the rural areas of the state. They were simply made to quit their homes and their livelihoods for no reason except the matter of their birth. The Army has provided me and my daughter a small cottage along the main road from Baltimore, but, as you can imagine, I spend a great deal of my time in this small office and the surgical tents set up outside the actual fort. I treat both the American wounded and the captured British soldiers.”
“I had no idea,” Whittaker admitted.
Spurlock shrugged his response. “I am grieved to have spoken so bluntly to a stranger. Such is truly not my nature, nor is it a concern of yours. I simply become so annoyed by all these questions of loyalty. I am a surgeon. Dear God, I have sworn to do my best by my patients! I would treat any man who came before me, foe or enemy, with as much care as I would treat my own daughter, if she required it.” He paused briefly to compose himself. “Thank you for tolerating my rant; however, you did not deserve to know my dudgeon.”
“I am not offended, Spurlock,” Whit said in honest tones. “I would prefer to know what to expect. This is all very new to each of us.”
The surgeon nodded his acceptance. “Tell me of your ailments, Stanwick.”
“My knee pains me when I stand too long, and, if I was to speak the truth, my feet are in poor shape,” Whit explained.
Spurlock chuckled, “Most men I see would be happy to own the boots I noted on your feet. They do not realize how uncomfortable Hessians can be. Terrible when they become wet.” He made notations on the paper before him. “Allow me to examine your knee for any major injury, and then we will go from there.”
Captain Stanwick’s Bride: A Tragic Characters in Classic Lit Series Novel
[Arriving February 19, 2021]
“Happiness consists more in conveniences of pleasure that occur everyday than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.” – Benjamin Franklin Captain Whittaker Stanwick has a successful military career and a respectable home farm in Lancashire. What he does not have in his life is felicity. Therefore, when the opportunity arrives, following his wife’s death, Stanwick sets out to know a bit of happiness, at last—finally to claim a woman who stirs his soul. Yet, he foolishly commits himself to one woman only weeks before he has found a woman, though shunned by her people and his, who touches his heart. Will he deny the strictures placed upon him by society in order learn the secret of happiness is freedom: Freedom to love and freedom to know courage? Loosely based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish” and set against the final battles of the War of 1812, this tale shows the length a man will go to in order to claim a remarkable woman as his.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY! I HAVE 4 eBOOK COPIES OF “CAPTAIN STANWICK’S BRIDE” AVAILABLE TO THOSE WHO COMMENT BELOW. THE GIVEAWAY WILL END AT MIDNIGHT EST ON THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2021. THE WINNERS WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 28.