As Search for War of 1812 Forts on Elk River Goes On, A Young Man Recalls Visiting the Place 100 Years Ago

1877 Atlas of Cecil County from Library of Congress showing area of Fort.

Since we’re hearing a lot about the War of 1812 this week during the Sailabration in Baltimore, I’ve been thinking about some of the really old, local narratives I’ve examined.  The conflict that found the enemy sailing up the Elk River has fascinated generations born long after the enemy sailed away.  Terrestrial and underwater archaeologists have arrived in the skirmish field to dig in the ground and jump into the river, searching for clues to that time so long ago.  Treasurer hunters have scoured the soil looking for relics from that frightful April in 1813.   And scribes penned recollections about visiting the Fort in an era when there were no longer any first hand memories and the stories were getting passed down through the ages.  Whatever the case, those earthen redoubts garrisoned by local militia have intrigued curious types since the British sailed away from our waters.

Let’s look at one the accounts, that of a Boy Scout visiting the defensive position in 1912.  In 1976 F. Rodney Frazer drew a sketch of the location of Fort Defiance as he recalled the visit from the top of the 20th century as a tenderfoot scout.  The Owl Patrol, “a unit of the first troop of Boy Scouts in Elkton,” went on an expedition to the bend in the Elk River to scrutinize the Fort Defiance site “and the place where the chains were placed across Elk River to thwart the British.”  It was May when these excited youngsters floated down the calm waters from Elkton in Scoutmaster Standley Evans’ boat, the Wabum.  “Opposite Fowlers’ shore we waded in mud on the banks of the thoroughfare to where three decaying piles remained and I sawed off a section for evidence.”

According to Frazer, a deed from Eli Pierson to David Short in 1856 said in part:  “A parcel of land on the northward side of the Elk River, a short distance . . . from an old fort known by the name of Fort Defiance, which is contained within the following courses and distances.  The 30 foot bluff overlooking Elk River, as indicated on accompanying map and now owned by Robert L. Campbell was the site of Fort Defiance,” the local historian recalled in 1976.

Such were the recollections of youth from an old man who visited the Fort that saved Elkton from the fate of Frenchtown, Havre de Grace, and Georgetown.   F. Rodney Frazer, a local historian, was born in 1897.  He wrote an Elkton history, “Parts of Elkton In 1918 As I Remember It.”

The Fort Defiance Marker was erected in the 1960s. Based on his visit to the Elk River fort in 1912, Rodney Frazer questioned the placement of the modern marker.

1976 drawing by F. Rodney Frazer recalling a visit in his youth.

Google earth map showing the area sketched by Rodney Frazer

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