Upcoming Exhibitions

The Book of Joseph
April 22 – June 3, 2018

Inescapable: The Life
and Legacy of Harry Houdini
June 24, 2018 – January 21, 2019

The character of Mendes I. Cohen

Now Available for Performances


Colonel Mendes I. Cohen: War of 1812 veteran, member of a prominent Jewish family in nineteenth century Baltimore and adventurous traveler. This living history character will portray Cohen as an old man – the last survivor of Nicholson’s Artillery Fencibles, sharing the incredible events of his life.  Cohen was a fixture around Baltimore into his 80s.  He was often seen walking along North Charles and Baltimore Streets and loved to share stories of his adventures, especially the Battle of Baltimore, with friends and passersby.  Veteran actor Grant Cloyd, who also performs as artist Saul Bernstein will share Cohen’s story in this manner, interacting with the audience and answering questions both during and after performances.


Brief Bio:

Mendes I. Cohen, born in Richmond, Virginia in 1796 to German Jewish immigrants, moved to Baltimore in 1808 with his mother and siblings.  They chose to settle in Baltimore because the city, a bustling port and hub of trade, offered unparalleled economic opportunity.

Mendes at American Art

Portrait of Mendes Cohen, 1818 by Joseph Wood. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

As a teenager, Mendes I. Cohen served at the Battle of Baltimore as one of 60 volunteers in Joseph Hopper Nicholson’s Artillery Fencibles in 1814.  Decades later, as the last living survivor of his artillery company, Cohen was known to regale Baltimoreans with stories of the famous battle until his death in 1879.  But the Battle of Baltimore was just the beginning of many adventures in Mendes Cohen’s long life.  Other experiences speak to the role he and his family played in helping to build the city of Baltimore, his dedication to his Jewish heritage, as well as his patriotism and particular relationship to the Star Spangled Banner.

Cohen’s brothers were successful bankers who also ran a lottery which funded many public improvements in Baltimore, including the Washington Monument.  In 1821 their lottery venture became the subject of a groundbreaking Supreme Court case, Cohen vs. Virginia, which ruled that federal laws take precedent over state laws and that the U.S. Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction and final ruling over any national court case.

Mendes I. Cohen. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

Mendes I. Cohen. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society.

After working in the family business for several years, Mendes I. Cohen spent the 1830s traveling throughout Europe and the Middle East.  His adventures included surviving shipwrecks, meeting with foreign dignitaries, attending the coronation of Queen Victoria, trekking by camel through the Sinai desert, and being the first U.S. citizen to visit Jerusalem. Cohen was also the first American to raise the Star Spangled Banner on the Nile River, using a flag he made himself based on his memories of the Battle of Baltimore.  An avid Egyptologist and numismatist, Cohen amassed one of America’s finest collections of Near Eastern antiquities as well as a world renowned coin collection. The antiquities, later donated to Johns Hopkins University, form the basis of the university’s celebrated Egyptology collection.

When he returned from his travels, Cohen held numerous positions in government and civic life.  He was an aide to Governor Thomas Veazey, served in the Maryland House of Delegates, and was a director in the Fireman’s Insurance Company. He also helped to found Maryland’s earliest Jewish charity, the Hebrew Benevolent Society.

Grant Cloyd portrays Mendes Cohen.

Grant Cloyd portrays Mendes Cohen.

Grant Cloyd has worked with numerous theater companies in and around the DC/Baltimore area including Rep Stage, Source Theatre Festival, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, Venus Theatre, 1st Stage, Spooky Action Theater, Synetic Family Theatre, Wandering Souls Faction of Fools, and The Washington Rogues of which he is a company member. Grant has also been seen in television commercials, independent short films, industrials, and print work. He is a 2008 graduate of the SMCM Theatre/Film program and has additional training from Mamet’s Atlantic Acting School.




This project was made possible in part by a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council, through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Maryland Humanities Council. This project has been financed in part with State Funds from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, an instrumentality of the State of Maryland. However, the contents and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority.

This character is made possible through the additional generous support of:

David Berg Foundation

Homer and Martha Gudelsky Family Foundation

David and Barbara B. Hirschhorn Foundation


Morris Schapiro + Family Foundation, Barbara Katz


Earlier research used for this project was made possible through the support of:

 Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Foundation for the Enrichment of Jewish Education


Mendes Cohen is now available.

Living History Program performances are available for schools, public and private events and can take place at the Museum or outside venues. The cost for the living history program is $300 plus mileage reimbursement at $0.50/mile. To schedule a Living History performance or to learn more, please contact Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator, at ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org or call 443.873.5167. 

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