The first Monday in May was always a burdensome one for Charlestown property owners. On that day in spring, citizens traditionally came forward to pay the annual tax levy. But in 1813 there was a worrisome feeling in the county’s oldest municipality that had nothing to do with forking over a little hard-earned cash for the public treasury.
The designated date for the collection was May 3, 1813, and the minutes of the President and Commissioners note that this state-of-affairs was occasioned by an alarm the British gave the people. Hours earlier English Marines had stormed into Havre de Grace. After taking possession of the place and plundering the stores of all worth taking they set fire to the town, “The British have laid in ashes the beautiful village of Havre-de Grace! The war has now come to our own doors,” a newspaper headline declared.
Having heard the news and seen the flames in the western sky as the enemy destroyed another waterfront town, most residents departed, while only two commissioners remained. Those officials, John N. Black and George Benjamin, finding no one wanting to settle debt and lacking a quorum agreed to reconvene at a safer time. Here’s the way it’s recorded in the official minutes: “The appointed day happened to be in the time of the alarm by the British ships in our bay, it therefore thought proper to appoint another day for said debtors to appear and settled said debts.:
The visit by the enemy is explained in the “Early History of Charlestown,” by Darlene McCall. “Since a fort existed in Charles Town the British sailed to the harbor. A storm had washed down the fort earthworks and most of the people had fled to remote places out-of-town. The British troops searched Charles Town but reportedly there was no resistance or confrontation. . . . The day that the British came to Charles Town was the designated time for residents to pay their taxes. When the taxpayers did not appear to pay their debts, the commissioners concluded that it was probably attributed to the British ships in our bay and altered the due date.”