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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Get Your Stamps!

Posted on July 15th, 2013 by

 Baltimore National Heritage Area War of 1812 Bicentennial Passport Kick-off!

 Did you know the Jewish Museum of Maryland wants to stamp your passport? Your 1812 Bicentennial Passport that is! Come on by, see the exhibits and get a very special stamp created just for this fun (and educational) program happening all over the city. Check out the press release below for more details!

1812 Passport


1812 Bicentennial Passport and Commemorative Coin Program

June 18, 2013 (Baltimore, Md.) —The Baltimore National Heritage Area officially launched its 1812 Bicentennial Passport and Commemorative Coin Program at the Maryland Historical Society with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and fifth-grade students from the Patterson Park Public Charter School.

The Passport and Coin Program invites visitors and residents to explore all of the 1812 sites, attractions, programs, and events as Baltimore and the state of Maryland commemorate the War of 1812 Bicentennial. Participation in the program is free.

“We are very pleased to offer this program in partnership with our heritage sites and attractions to students and the general public,” said Jeffrey Buchheit, executive director of the Baltimore National Heritage Area. “It benefits everyone. It’s an exciting way for residents and visitors to explore our city’s history and it helps drive visitation to our city’s historic sites.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake presented fifth-grade students from Patterson Park Public Charter School with commemorative coins at the kick-off event. The students successfully completed a year-long course of study on the history surrounding the War of 1812, visiting sites and attractions during their journey. The Mayor also thanked the program’s funder, The Dorothy L. and Henry A. Rosenberg, Jr. Foundation, by presenting Mr. Henry A. Rosenberg, Jr. with an honorary commemorative coin.

To receive a commemorative coin, participants must acquire 10 unique stamps in their passport from participating sites and participating events.  A full list of sites and programs can be found at www.facebook.com/1812passport. Of the 10 stamps, four are mandatory in order to receive a commemorative coin: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, Maryland Historical Society, and the Inner Harbor Visitor Center. Participants can then choose from a list of other sites and programs in order to complete their passport. Instructions for receiving a commemorative coin can be found at www.facebook.com/1812passport and www.nps.gov/balt.

The mission of the Baltimore National Heritage Area is to promote, preserve, and enhance Baltimore’s historic and cultural legacy and natural resources for current and future generations.  For more information regarding the 1812 Bicentennial Passport program, visit www.facebook.com/1812passport.  Visit www.nps.gov/balt for more information about the Baltimore National Heritage Area. 

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Drawing from History

Posted on June 27th, 2012 by

A blog post by Education Intern Lisa Perrin.

Paper dolls are very dear to my heart. I collected them obsessively as a child and fretted endlessly about whether or not to cut them out. I loved the costumes and the potential for storytelling in each paper doll book. And I did not realize it at the time, but I was learning. Paper dolls shaped my sense of history. When I think of the Civil War era I envision hoop skirts and mutton chops. I can picture the straight silhouettes of the 1920s and the flared, tailored dresses of the 1950s. Knowing about the styles of those eras has helped me better understand them in a grander sense.

An example of a paper doll I was commissioned to make for the Mutter Museum gift store in Philadelphia, PA of Dr. Mutter, for whom the museum is named.

It will come as no surprise that I began to make my own paper dolls inspired by history and literature. I also sold them through an online Etsy shop and discovered that many people feel a special connection to this simple toy. During my education department internship interview with the Jewish Museum of Maryland I mentioned my passion for making paper dolls. I was met with a great sense of enthusiasm and an idea for a project. I was asked to create a series of paper dolls representing famous Maryland Jews to be used as learning tools. I am very excited because I know of very few paper dolls depicting Jewish people.

A working sketch of my first paper doll: Mendes Cohen, a Jewish man who served in the war of 1812.

My hope is to make paper dolls that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds as a unique and fun way to educate them about the history of the Jewish people in this state.

Stay tuned for updated posted on my progress!

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