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Far from the National Mall, a new piece of Washington history is being uncovered. Local dig teams say they’ve found the site of a little-known battle from the War of 1812. We’ll learn more about that battle and find out what’s being uncovered from the soil near Bladensburg Road along the DC-Maryland border.
- Acqunetta Anderson Director of STEM and GIS, Benjamin Harrison Society; dig organizer
- Noel Broadbent Archaeologist, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History;
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoshua Barney isn't exactly a household name, but Joshua Barney is a key figure in the history of Washington, a man who led a last-ditched effort to keep the British out of the nation's capital during the War of 1812. It was called the Battle of Bladensburg, and members of a local dig team now say they may have found the remains of that crucial battle. The dig site at Bladensburg Road and Eastern Avenue at the D.C.-Maryland border is far from the city's more famous historical sites. And volunteers working at the site are hoping the artifacts they're uncovering will renew interest in a little known dramatic piece of Washington history. Joining us in the studio to discuss it is Aqunetta Anderson, a dig organizer, director for STEM, that is The Science, Technology and Engineering and Math, and GIS, Geo Information Spatial Software of the Benjamin Harrison Society. Aqunetta, thank you for joining us.
MS. AQUNETTA ANDERSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Noel Broadbent. He is an archaeologist with the Smithsonian Institution and National Museum of Natural History. Noel Broadbent, thank you for joining us.
MR. NOEL BROADBENTThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIFirst of all, give us the Cliff Notes version, if you will, of the War of 1812. Why it was fought? Who was involved?
BROADBENTWell, President Madison declared war on the British in 1812. They were pressing American sailors into naval service. By 1813, the British were in the Chesapeake Bay terrifying and terrorizing the tidewater residents of Virginia and Maryland. Joshua Barney, who was a revolutionary war hero, had a somewhat tarnished reputation. He was in his mid-50s but he organized -- ended up organizing the Chesapeake Flotilla, which was about 18 vessels and barges and galleys and so forth, and they basically harassed the British. They couldn't take them on directly. He ended up on Aug. 16 burning his own ships to prevent capture and hauling cannons, two 18-pounders and three 12-pounders, to the site of the battle.
BROADBENTNow, the British had come up the Eastern arm of the Chesapeake, which was the Anacostia, and landed at Bladensburg and crossed the Bladensburg Bridge there. The -- General Winder, who wasn't really sure where they were heading, met them with about 5,000 troops. And, of course, the British had just come from Waterloo. They were well-trained and they came marching down the road. And the American troops took flight. The British referred to this as the Bladensburg runs. But the third line of battle was where Joshua Barney had his cannons and his marines and this is where they engaged them very successfully. In fact, it was the most honorable part of that whole battle.
NNAMDIHowever, even though they engaged them, Joshua Barney was ultimately wounded and taken prisoner in the battle which preceded the British capture of Washington, Aqunetta?
NNAMDIYour organization works with young people and teaching them how to use maps, it's my understanding. How did you realize that there might be something worth exploring at the site where you're now digging?
ANDERSONWell, actually, the history began in 2005 when I worked on a committee to prepare the commemoration of the American Revolutionary War, the 225th anniversary. And following that commemorative celebration, we -- Benjamin Harrison Society started to prepare for the upcoming 200th year anniversary for the War of 1812. We conducted historical research. And from that historical research, we discovered additional historical maps. And we decided to -- rather than to complete the study ourselves, we decided to engage students from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia in the study. So we taught them how to use GIS, geo information special system, and how to overlay historical maps using the coordinate system using the GIS software to determine locations of not only battles but other historical events and battles that may have occurred within the District of Columbia, like the civil war and the march of Washington-Rochambeau, Lauzun's Legion's trail through the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIWhere were you when I was in high school? Noel Broadbent, how were you brought into the process?
BROADBENTWell, Aqunetta called me. We were discussing this actually in the waiting room. I think it was late spring, and she called for help. She needed a professional archeologist who could manage this excavation. The Smithsonian does excavations all over the world and this was a wonderful opportunity to support a grassroots effort in our own backyard. So I volunteered and I volunteered -- got volunteers from the museum. We have other volunteers and we dig on Saturdays have been digging since basically last spring.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you have questions about our region's role in the War of 1812 or maybe you've got questions about archeology or mapping? If so, call us, 800-433-8850, or send us an email to email@example.com, a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. Noel, so tell us about the artifacts you found so far and their significance.
BROADBENTWell, I have to actually begin before then because we have two parcels of land. One is a park service land and that's on the north side of Bladensburg Road, and the other side belongs to the District of Columbia and it's slated for development. And, unfortunately, a lot of this land has been disturbed by recent development. In fact, there was a gas station now across the street. But we began by mapping the surface, of course, topographic mapping. And then with help of USDA, we did magnetic conductivity or EMI prospecting, which is to identify anomalies in the soil using this method. And both sides of the street were studied. James Doolittle and Amanda Moore of USDA did that.
BROADBENTThen we did quarrying, which is to say a 3 1/2-inch core was pushed down through the soil to give us an idea of what depth our potential cultural levels could be at and also disturbance. And, unfortunately, we found there was up to five feet of recent fill which had covered a lot of the site. However, in the southeast corner of this parcel, the National Park Service Parcel, we found fairly undisturbed deposits and that's where we're finding artifacts. Now, what we've mostly focused on has not been stuff but really features. We found a foundation for a building, which could be a barn or a stable, we're not sure. It's 40 feet long and 20 feet wide. It's surrounded by a brick wall, which is not a foundation. We found planks, wooden planks, at 47 meters below the surface. So we have a floor there as well. So we're looking at that. The only date that we can really assign to the artifacts are nails, square-cut nails, which would date to about the early 19th century, which would be correct as far as the battle is concerned. We could have deeper deposits, but that's what we have so far.
NNAMDISo what's leading to the speculation that that building that you found could be where Joshua Barney stored his guns?
ANDERSONWell, let me tell you...
ANDERSON...the story. Joshua Barney, during the Battle of Bladensburg -- history tells us that the Battle of Bladensburg occurred in Maryland. But looking at the historical maps and overlaying that historical map over today's map using GIS, it actually shows us that the battle occurred not only in Maryland but across the Eastern Avenue line in the District of Columbia. And history, as written by the Army in the 1980s, they were actually looking for the barn where Joshua Barney stood during the battle, shooting his 18 and 14 pounders, back over to Maryland, at the British. And of course the British retracked it back over to Maryland and then came back again and eventually overtook Joshua Barney and his men. But what we're hoping is, what Noel is stating, that this is the barn. Everything is showing that it -- there's a great possibility. It hasn't been proven yet, but this is something that the archaeological team would have to determine, if this, indeed, is the barn. And a little further east of the barn, there is a stream, which was considered in history as Barney's spring. So we also not only found the floor of a unidentified building at the moment, but we also have located the stream.
NNAMDIYou used some pretty sophisticated tools -- Noel was talking about this earlier -- to including ground penetrating radar, it's my understanding, to find the site and its artifacts. Tell us a bit about that.
ANDERSONWe used students from the environmental science class from Woodrow Wilson High School last fall, I believe. And they came out with their teacher, Dr. Wilder (sp?), and some students from Maryland and Virginia was there also. They used a GPR.
NNAMDIGround penetrating radar.
ANDERSONYes, along with Dr. Doolittle (sp?), I think that was.
BROADBENTYes, Dr. Doolittle.
ANDERSONYeah. And the students actually conducted this research with the assistant of Dr. Doolittle. And this is the main purpose, is to teach students how to use technology and integrate engineering and mathematics into their studies. So we also used this dig as an opportunity to engage students in our field school on the weekends. So the students will partner with mentors in their given fields, like in Dr. Broadbent's field, and learn their profession so that they may, perhaps, major in that field in college.
NNAMDIAqunetta Anderson is a dig organizer and the director for STEM technology and GIS at the Benjamin Harrison Society. Tell us a little bit more about what the Benjamin Harrison Society does.
ANDERSONBenjamin Harrison Society is a nonprofit organization, and our main mission is to teach history and to teach science, technology, engineering and math to students in urban areas, mostly disadvantaged students, and to prepare them to enter into college with the skill -- with the skills and the knowledge to not only attend college but to be successful and graduate from college.
NNAMDIHow long has it been in existence?
ANDERSONBenjamin Harrison was originally developed in 1924, and then it went out of business and we reactivated it in 2005.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now. Here is Bryan in Westminster, Md. Bryan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Bryan. Are you there?
BRYANYes. Thank you, Kojo. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
BRYANThanks. Great show. I have a comment about Joshua Barney and a question. I think if you're mentioning Joshua Barney, it has to be mentioned that he was instrumental in introducing Napoleon's brother, Jerome, to the Patterson family in Baltimore and ended up marrying Elizabeth Patterson. And I don't know if you know the whole story, but Napoleon didn't let them back into the country. He broke up the marriage and gave -- he married Jerome to I think it was the queen of Wurttemberg, and, you know, he had that all lined up before, you know, this all happened. And then she went over to London and had a child, and of course it was bad publicity for Napoleon. But that was the Patterson family. And the question I have is -- I had always read that the British came up at Patuxent River. In fact, it was in the news, like last year, that they had found a landing site, and that the river actually moved maybe like a mile or so. But the landing site was found, and I'd like to clarify that to the guests. They came up at the Anacostia River, and I thought it was always the Patuxent.
BROADBENTWell, actually, they chased Barney up to Patuxent, and he abandoned his ships there and scuttled them. And then they came around and came up the eastern arm with their troops. So they're both -- both of those statements are correct. But they landed the troops. They weren't quite sure where they were going. General Winder thought they might be going to Annapolis or something, but they came around to Bladensburg. And now they landed their 5,000 troops. And these were the veterans of Waterloo. They had just come from Waterloo, just defeated Napoleon, and they scared the life out of the American Resistance. And as I said, they mostly ran, except for Barney who held his ground, and with those guns, repulsed them three times until they finally overwhelmed them. Barney run out of ammunition, was wounded in the fight. And then he died actually from complications.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that the British actually offered Joshua Barney medical treatment after this battle.
BROADBENTYes, that's correct. Actually, the British general came up to him and said -- not only had he admired the bravery of these blue jackets -- they're mostly marines and also is his flotilla men, but he -- and he paroles him on the spot. But Admiral Cockburn said they've given us the only fighting we have had. And then Barney was later awarded a sword by the City of Washington for his...
BROADBENT...efforts at that battle.
NNAMDIAnd did he die from wounds that he contracted in that battle as far as we know?
BROADBENTComplications. It was in 1818 that he died. But it was complications from the wound that basically killed him.
NNAMDIHow about Bryan's story about Napoleon's brother Jerome and the (laugh) Patterson family. Do we know anything about that?
ANDERSONI've heard just as much as Bryan stated, though. I totally agree with Bryan that that was a really interesting story there. And I -- it did have an impact on Napoleon's ability to be a leader.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Bryan. Here is Gary in Washington, D.C. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GARYJust -- first, just a couple of quick notes. You know, there once was a circle on Pennsylvania Avenue next to the Anacostia River called Barney Circle. And also, I had always heard the term Bladensburg races...
GARY...not Bladensburg runs. But my question is about Barney. Was he in anyway associated with the District of Columbia other than this one event? And -- or was he a Marylander or Virginian 'cause he keeps talking about Maryland and Virginia and everything else. But -- and also were any of the other people involved with his troop citizens or residents of the District? Thank you very...
ANDERSONWhen you say other people, other troops -- sorry -- can you be more specific?
GARYThe troop -- I'm talking about -- I said the other people with his troops at the time of the battle at Bladensburg.
NNAMDIThose who are fighting alongside him?
ANDERSONJoshua Barney was a Marylander. So he's actually from Maryland.
NNAMDIOh, he was from Maryland.
ANDERSONHe was not a Washingtonian. But -- and general...
BROADBENTYou're quite right. It was the races. It was not the runs. They were running and the British referred to it as, of course, almost a race from the battlefield. But you're correct in that.
ANDERSONAnd the reason they said the races was because -- we don't want to really hit on Maryland. But when the British came in, the Baltimore Brigade, they started to actually run because they had taken a look at all of the soldiers that was approaching the battlefield, and they felt that they overwhelmed. So that is why they called it the races.
NNAMDIAnd what's going to happen to this site in the future? Who owns it? And what's his future?
ANDERSONOn the west side is going to be developed into townhomes in Ward 5 by the Fort Lincoln Development Corporation. But they have agreed to allow Benjamin Harrison Society to consult with the developers in developing a monument to the commemoration of this historical battle in the District of Columbia and the defense in Washington, which was also the burning of Washington, because they also...
ANDERSON...burned the Capitol and the White House.
NNAMDIThe British certainly did. Is this a project that members of the public can get involved in?
BROADBENTWell, certainly you can visit. We're going to be excavating only until the end of October. But we will be there on Saturday, the 9th, the 16th and the 23rd from 10 to about 3 in the afternoon. And if the public wants to come and visit the site, they're most welcome to that. It's right at the intersection of Bladensburg Road and Eastern Avenue. So it's easy to get to.
NNAMDISaturday the 9th, Saturday the 16th, Saturday the 23rd of October from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can visit the site at Bladensburg Road and Eastern Avenue. Noel Broadbent is an archaeologist with Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. Thank you for joining us.
BROADBENTThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd Aqunetta Anderson is one of the dig organizers. She is the director of STEM and GIS at the Benjamin Harrison Society.
ANDERSONAnd, Kojo, may I add. I'm also the chairman for the Washington, D.C. Bicentennial -- War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. So I wear several hats. And this is also part of that effort to educate.
NNAMDIThank you for joining us. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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