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June 18: The War of 1812

June 17, 2015

sticker-neufchatelIn the nearly three-year war between the U.S. and Great Britain that broke out on this date in 1812, several contributions by American Jews (of whom there were some 10,000 in the country) stand out. John Ordronaux, commander of two private warships, is said to have captured or destroyed thirty British merchant ships, outrun seventeen British warships, and sunk five British ships. Captain Mordecai Myers of the 13th Pennsylvania Infantry rescued more than two hundred men and their military supplies from wrecked ships in Sacketts Harbor on Lake Ontario. Uriah Phillips Levy, future commodore of the U.S. Navy (and guardian of Jefferson’s Monticello), saw his first naval battles, helping to destroy twenty-one British ships. The bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, described in “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was withstood by thirty Jews among 1,000 soldiers and volunteers in the garrison. What was the war about? Defense against British naval bullying and impressment of American sailors into servitude aboard British ships — and Native American resistance to white American expansion into lands to the west of the thirteen original colonies. British military forces were tied up in the Napoleonic War, which spared the young United States the full brunt of British naval superiority. The clearest consequence of the war, among the few clear consequences, was crushing defeat for the “frontier” Indians of Tecumseh’s Confederacy. The Seminole of Florida would be next.

“One story that has often been retold is that the Jewish defenders at Fort McHenry ‘ate kosher.’ This most likely stems from... [the fact] that as a volunteer militia company, each member of Nicolson’s Fencibles was responsible for providing his own rations. Mendes recounted how ‘every morning at about six o’clock a small covered cart left the northwest corner of Howard and Market Streets for the Fort, with food sent by their families for the members of the company.’ ... Adding further fuel to this story is the fact that another Jewish defender at Fort McHenry, Samuel Etting, was the son of Solomon Etting, a trained kosher butcher. To date, however, our extensive research into the Cohen Family has not been able to substantiate the fact that kosher rations were actually part of the food delivery.” —The Jewish Museum of Maryland