Dr. William Beanes and the Privateers

Presented By: Doctor Robert Arnold


            William Beanes was born in Croome, Prince Georges County, Maryland, on January 24, 1749.  Hs parents had emigrated from Scotland and were owners of a large estate.  Beanes, who spoke with a Scottish accent all of his life, studied medicine under one of the medical men in the neighborhood.  On November 25, 1773, he married Sarah Hawkins Hanson, the niece of John Hanson who was the president of the First Continental Congress.  In 1779, Beanes bought property outside the town of Upper Marlboro and established his medical practice.  He was very successful and became the areas’ largest landowner and owned the only mill.

             Dr. Beanes was a civic-minded individual who was involved in local medicine and politics.  He supported Boston’s resistance to the Coercive Acts.  He served in a general hospital after the Battle of Lexington, and in 1814, the Battle of Washington, D.C.  He was one of the founders of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, a predecessor of the State Medical Board.  He helped establish the Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church in Upper Marlboro, and was elected as its first Senior Warden.  He was one of 3 elected officials in Prince Georges County and had posted a bond for a lottery to build a public school and library.  He was active in training apprentices and one of his students, John Magruder, wrote a Dissertation on Gastritis to acquire his Degree of Doctor of Physick and recognized Dr. Beanes in his dissertation.

             His relationship with John Hanson provided him with an entrée to the state and federal politics of that area.  On two occasions he stored the Maryland State Records on his farm.  Both times Annapolis was spared and his farm was not, but the records remained intact.  He was inducted into the Price Georges count Hall of Fame when it was established in 1975.

             Despite Dr. Beanes civic and medical accomplishments, he is remembered because of one event in which he played a passive role.  This event began on a pleasant afternoon in August 1814 when Dr. Beanes and several of his guests were sitting around the springhouse enjoying the cold water and “Baltimore Tea” supplied by Beanes.  The worlds of Beanes and the British Army where about to collide.  The British army had landed at Benedict, Maryland, and marched to Upper Marlboro where they found the town deserted, except for Dr. Beanes.  General Ross made Dr. Beanes’ home his headquarters.  (Encyclopedia of The War of 1812, Heidler and Heidler, pp. 20).

             Dr. Beanes was a courteous and friendly host, possibly because he was hiding the Maryland State Records.  After capturing, looting and burning Washington, the retreating British army came back through Dr. Beanes estate.  Six British stragglers were at Beanes when an altercation arose and Beanes had the six arrested, charged with disturbing the peace and jailed.  One of them escaped, returned to the fleet and told General Ross what had happened.  Ross was furious, sent a contingent back to free the prisoners and bring back Beanes and his guests.  The guests were freed, but Beanes was kept and the family hired a Washington lawyer, Francis Scott Key, to try and arrange Beanes freedom.  Admiral Cochrane and General Ross were steadfast in their plans to court martial Beanes, but relented when Key read several letters from British soldiers telling of the fine medical care they had received from Beanes. Ross agreed to let Beanes go, but decided to wait until he attack on Baltimore was over.  General Ross was killed and the British army was stymied at the outskirts of Baltimore.  (The War of 1812, John K. Mahon, pp. 306)

 Col. Brooke was commanding the British and realized that he needed naval support.  Cochrane made the attempt, but could not get past the fort.  When Cochrane sent word to Brooke, the British army called off the attach and retreated to the fleet.  This was early in the morning.  Beanes and Key were on the truce boat and the only light was from rockets and artillery.  The bombardment stopped and they had to wait for the morning light to see if the fort had held.  Beanes asked Key several times if he could see whether the flag as still there.  Key wrote a poem “The Defense of Baltimore” which was put to music and became the National Anthem.

 Why this Happened

             I now digress to the year 1678 when a Quaker family, Robert and Elizabeth Kemp, immigrated to this country and settled on a farm in St. Michaels, Maryland.  They began building shallow water boats and one of their descendants, Thomas Kemp, left St. Michaels to seek his fortune in Fells Point.  He married a young lady, Sophia Horstman, from Anne Arundel County, and started a shipyard.  The Quakers in that area had been building shallow watercraft for 100 years.  They developed a hull design, which pressed the water down instead of plowing through it, (American Sailing Ships and Their History, pp. 42).  Weight and air resistance were kept to a minimum by having one flat deck, no head and a round tuck to reduce drag.  The sail plan was extraordinary with two large masts, which were set farther back and a long bowsprit, which was supported by a gammon knee.  Drawing from Marestiers’ “Memoire sur les Bateaux a Vapeur”, American Sailing Ships and Their History.

 Lateen sails were fitted with a topsail on the foremast and three large jibs on the bowsprit.  The results were ships of 250 tons that were the fastest and most mobile ships in the world, which could be sailed with a crew of 8 men.

             These ships were famous all of the world and saw service n the opium trade in China, as slavers and for any other practice where speed was essential.  When a buyer bought a clipper, he also hired a local crew because these ships were difficult to sail.  This crew either trained a replacement crew or sometimes, if the price was right, remained with the ship permanently.  This practice persisted for several generations resulting in a local cadre of the best sailors in the world for shallow draft ships.  One of the most famous of these was Gustavus Coyningham (Cuningham).  The first ship that he served on was the Charming Betty.  He later was captain of the Surprise.  He was known as “Le Terreur des Anglais”.  He seized 60 British vessels.  A British spy was quoted about the Revenge, “She is the fastest sailer (sic.) known, and I do fear she will be sore trouble” (Revenge was Coyningham’s second ship).

             During the Revolutionary, these ships and their crews captured 2,296 British ships with a value over $50,000,000. 

             The political and financial consequences were so great that England ordered Cornwallis to Yorktown to seal off Chesapeake Bay.  The French had anticipated this move and secretly brought in some long-range siege guns, and when Cornwallis fell into the trap, his army was forced to surrender and the war was over (not because of the loss of the Army, but because of the failure to close Chesapeake Bay and stop the Privateers).

             Privateer constructed and the ability of the Eastern Shore sailors to sail them reached a peak in 1805.  Seven years later the United States declared war on England.  The United States Army performed so poorly that it did not win a major battle during the entire war.  The Navy had 18 ships against 800 English ships.  The privateers evened the odds. Some 526 ships registered as Privateers and sand or captured between 1500 and 2500 British ships.  By 1814, the British were losing 3 ships every day.  Captain Thomas Boyle in the Chasseur had issued his famous proclamation where he declared England to be blockaded by his ship, and nailed this to the door of Lloyds of London.

             Lloyds quit writing insurance and the English merchants had informed Parliament of their intention to quite shipping unless this situation changed.  The British Navy then came up with the convoy system.  The credit for breaking this must go to Edward Veazey with his ship “The Lawrence”.  This was probably the fastest ship in the world and Veazey would sail into a convoy and draw the British warships into chasing him downwind fro 5 or 6 miles, then make a sharp tack and with 150 men on the windward rail, would speed back to the convoy, leaving the British warships struggling to catch him.  The first time he tried this, he successfully captured 8 merchant ships and made his getaway.

             Napoleon had been defeated in April 1814, and England turned her full attention to the United States.  A Council of War was held, presided over the Duke of Wellington, who told them that this war was not winnable.  The British was to punish the United States with coastal raids while negotiating a Peace Treaty, capture New Orleans, declare the Louisiana Purchase null and void and start a new country based on the Louisiana Purchase (Picture History of the United States Navy, Roscoe and Freeman, pp. 379).  This was the situation during the summer of 1814.

             Dr. Beanes spent the rest of his life on Academy Hill in Upper Marlboro.  His wife died on July 1822, and Dr. Beanes died on October 12, 1828.  There were no children or any other descendants.  This is probably why there are no pictures of dr. Beanes today.  In 1913, a society was formed to restore Beanes’ tomb in time for the Centennial Celebration.

            Historical markers identify the site of his home.  At the present time there is a William Beanes Highway, a William Beanes Elementary School and a William Beanes Community Center.  There are no known medical publications by Dr. Beanes.




  1. Admiral Cochrane had encouraged the slaves to revolt and join the British Forces.  About 3000 did so and they were divided into 2 groups.  The first went with Cochrane to Halifax where they remained as a distinct black enclave for 150 years.  The other group went with Admiral Cockburn to Bermuda and their descendants still remain there.
  2. Key was so incensed by the actions of the blacks that the third verse of The Star Spangled Banner is so anti black and anti British that President Roosevelt prohibited its being played in public.  This verse is frequently deleted in modern tests.
  3. The best cannons were made at the Georgetown foundry on the Potomac River.  The cannon maker promised God that he would build a church if his cannons made it in time for Perry to defeat the enemy.  After a mad dash across Pennsylvania the cannons were instrumental in defeating the British, as their range and accuracy were superior.  True to his word, the cannon maker built The Foundry Methodist Church at Georgetown.  The Conestoga wagon drivers boasted “Philadelphia to Pittsburgh in 20 days”.
  4. Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours came to America with his 2 sons to escape the French Revolution.  He returned to France, but his 2 sons remained.  They were avid hunters and made their own powder because the local powder was so poor.  At the Battle of Lewes, the du Ponts filled a wagon with powder, arriving just as the militias’ powder ran out.  That was the beginning of the du Ponts’ long association with American armed forces.  The militia at Lewes had no cannon balls and gathered the British ones fired at them and fired them back at the Poiters (from Sea to Shining Sea, Robert Leckie, pp. 313).
  5. Thomas Boyle survived the war as a wealthy man.  Privateer captains such as Boyle would make about $10,000. a month.  He started a shipping company and was lost at sea 10 years later.
  6. Major Armistead was the Commander of Fort McHenry and his wife was in labor during the siege.  When the Dawns’ Early Light appeared, Major Armistead was the proud father of a baby girl.  Armistead died in 1818 at the age of 38 of heart disease.
  7. The flag was 30 feet x 42 feet. It was made by a local seamstress, Mary Young Pickersgill and her 13-year-old daughter.  She had to use the malt house of a local brewer to make it.  So many people wanted a souvenir of it that there are no remnants of the original flag.
  8. In 1851, the New York Yacht Club decided to enter the All England Yacht Race.  This was the most prestigious event in England.  They hired George Steers to build the yacht “America”.  George Steers’ father, Henry Steers, had been a famous builder of clippers and George was familiar with the characteristics of clippers.  The result was a combination of all of the best features of the old Baltimore Clippers.  The sails were made of a heavy machine woven cotton while the British ships used linen sails made by Ratseys’, an advantage for the American.  The King of England and his entourage were observers, and when the first ship was spotted, the King asked who it was.  When told it was the America, he then asked who was in second place.  The spotter’s famous answer was “No ones’ in second place”.  The America served as a blockade-runner during The War Between the States.
  9. When the war ended, there were about 70 clippers on the high seas.  These were all taken to South America, Cuba and the Caribbean Islands for smuggling and slave trading, including the Chasseur, the original Pride of Baltimore.
  10. The privateer “General Armstrong” with Captain Sam Reid was in Fayal, Azores when the European half of the British invasion force bound for New Orleans put in.  Although it was a neutral port, the British attached the General Armstrong. Captain Reid scuttled his ship and escaped, but not before they had put up such a fight that it took 2 weeks for the British to repair the damage.  This added 2 weeks gave Andrew Jackson enough time to build up the defenses of New Orleans and historians are undivided in the opinion that this one fact proved decisive (Picture History of the United States Navy, pp.397).  When Captain Reid returned to America, a grateful nation presented him with a silver service, a sword and a permanent job as harbormaster of New York.  He published a signal code for U.S. vessels and designed the present flag.  He sued the British government for destroying his ship.  The case spent 70 years in the British courts before being decided in his favor.