Mendes Cohen and the Battle of North Point

Posted on September 11th, 2014 by

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The City of Baltimore is abuzz this week gearing up for the 200th anniversary celebration of the historic Battle of Baltimore in 1814, the scene where Francis Scott Key got his inspiration for the words of our nation’s anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.   We have been gearing up for our own celebration of the Jewish presence during that battle and the opening of the A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit.  This past weekend, our own amazing living history character, the “ghost” of Mendes Cohen had his first performance at The Defender’s Day Celebration at North Point located at Fort Howard Park.

The beautiful view at Fort Howard Park!

The beautiful view at Fort Howard Park!

Mendes Cohen takes the stage!

Mendes Cohen takes the stage.

North Point is situated at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay just east of the Patapsco River leading to Fort McHenry.  The Battle of North Point occurred a few days prior to the strike on Fort McHenry on September 14, 1814.  On September 12, 1814 over 4,000 British troops landed at North Point, Maryland. The plan devised by the British was to march towards the City of Baltimore and to capture the port city.  The British had already captured and devastatingly burned the nation’s capital, Washington D. C. in late August.  The British were hoping to repeat their success with a similar attack on Baltimore.

The audience is enraptured!

The audience is enraptured!

Under the command of Major General Robert Ross, troops and supplies were unloaded upon the Maryland shore at North Point. A rather small force of just over 250 Maryland volunteers, led by Brig. Gen. John Stricker, commander of the 3d Brigade of the Maryland militia met the marching British troops at North Point in an attempt to delay the British advance towards Baltimore. Ultimately, the British failed in capturing Baltimore.  The land attack failed and  Fort McHenry withstood the heavy British bombardment by sea.  Francis Scott Key watched the proceedings at the fort and wrote the words to the Star Spangled Banner, which eventually became the U.S. National Anthem.

Re-enactors walk along the water's edge.

Children in period wear walk along the water’s edge.

The Defenders Day celebration was complete with re-enactors both from the British company- The Wellington Fencibles led by Major General Robert Ross and the Maryland militia led by General John Stricker.   Re-enactors helped stage the actual battle that occurred at North Point, but also highlighted how people lived during the early 19th century.  Women and children were present in period clothes, showing teaching visitors about daily life during the time.

Mendes introduces himself.

Mendes introduces himself.

The highlight of the morning was our own “ghost” of Mendes Cohen, taking stage and sharing with the audience his recollections of the Battle of Baltimore in 1814.  This was the first performance “on the road” for professional actor, Grant Cloyd, and he did an amazing job!

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More pint-size re-enactors!

Be sure to check out the Amazing Mendes Cohen exhibition that opens this weekend at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Check the website often www.jewishmuseummd.org to learn about all of the amazing programming and the upcoming performances of the living history character, the “ghost” of Mendes Cohen that will take place in connection with the exhibit.

Don't miss the opening, THIS SUNDAY, September 13th, 10am - 5pm!

Don’t miss the opening, THIS SUNDAY, September 13th, 10am – 5pm!

ileneA blog post by Education Director Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Did the Jewish Defenders of Fort McHenry Eat Kosher?

Posted on April 24th, 2014 by

Among the defenders at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814 were several Jewish militiamen, including members of Baltimore’s elite Jewish families, the Cohens and Ettings. The Cohens arrived in Baltimore in 1807 when Judith Cohen, a widow with seven children, moved the family from Richmond in search of better economic opportunities. Three of her sons – Jacob, Philip, and Mendes – joined a volunteer company charged with the defense of Baltimore, Nicholson’s Artillery Fencibles, under the command of Capt. Joseph Nicholson, Chief Judge of Baltimore County.

Many years afterwards, Mendes Cohen shared his recollections of his participation in the Battle of Baltimore with his nephew, Benjamin. He vividly recalled such details as the fact that he overslept on the morning of the British attack on Fort McHenry and awoke to find that his brother, Philip, had left without him. Mendes hurried to join him at his post. As he raced through the streets of Baltimore, he caught a view from Federal Hill of the British fleet just off of North Point entering Baltimore’s harbor.

Painting, “Bombardment of Fort McHenry” by Peter Rindlisbacher, Courtesy of the artist.

Painting, “Bombardment of Fort McHenry” by Peter Rindlisbacher, Courtesy of the artist.

One story that has often been retold is that the Jewish defenders at Fort McHenry “ate kosher.” This most likely stems from Benjamin Cohen’s written account of his conversation with his uncle where Mendes recalled 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.”  The Cohen brothers received a large stone jug filled with coffee that was kept warm through “a cover of carpet…that always arrived good and hot.”  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.

Members of the JMM staff are hard at work on The A-mazing Mendes Cohen, an exhibition exploring the extraordinary life of Mendes Cohen and his family that is scheduled to open September 2014.

Opening in September 2014!

Opening in September 2014!

As with all our exhibits, the development process necessitates a tremendous amount of research. We are fortunate to have access to the treasure trove of primary sources pertaining to the Cohen family, thanks to our partnership with the Maryland Historical Society which houses dozens of relevant archival records including the letters that Mendes sent home while traveling throughout Europe and the Middle East

Letter, 1829, courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

Letter, 1829, courtesy of Maryland Historical Society.

Despite our extensive research, however, we still have several unanswered questions about the Cohens. We are continuing our efforts to delve into the family’s history in an attempt to answer some of these questions. Stay tuned to see what we find!

deborahA blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts by Deborah, click hereTo read more posts about Mendes Cohen, click here.

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