Chesapeake Bay’s last War of 1812 battle

Battle of the Ice Mound was last War of 1812 battle on Chesapeake Bay

for david's siteHere is a chapter from Delmarva Legends & Lore to mark the anniversary of the last War of 1812 battle in Maryland, which took place at Taylor’s Island, Maryland

When American and British forces clashed at Parson’s Creek near Cambridge, they didn’t realize that the War of 1812 had been over for several weeks.
Peace commissioners had signed the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve, 1814. The British, weary of their long war in Europe against Napoleon, were eager to end hostilities. And the young United States had found it wasn’t so easy to achieve a clear victory. Both nations were glad to put the conflict aside. Unfortunately, it would take weeks for word of the treaty to reach North America, considering that news only traveled as swiftly as the swiftest ship.

The news came too late to prevent the Battle of New Orleans on January 15. Thousands of British would be killed or wounded in a battle that cost fewer than one hundred American lives. This victory would eventually propel Andrew Jackson to the White House.

For the British and Americans still fighting on Delmarva, news of the peace would also come to late to stop a battle — although one on a much smaller scale than at New Orleans.

The winter had been a hard one on Chesapeake Bay, with ice clogging the creeks and rivers. On February 7, 1815, that ice proved to be the undoing of a British vessel and its young commander.

Lt. Matthew Phipps was probably foraging for supplies or else on a scouting expedition to keep an eye on American activities. The two vessels under his command were “tenders” or ship’s launches from the HMS Dauntless. But these were no mere rowboats. Phipps’ launch was equipped with a twelve-pound cannon and a smaller swivel gun. Accompanying Lt. Phipps were a midshipman, twelve sailors, three Royal Marines, and an African-American cook named Becky.

At some point, this British expedition ran into trouble when it became stranded in ice that had been built up by the wind and tide to form the “Ice Mound” that gave the battle its name. Watching from shore, Americans saw that the British were ensnared. Quickly, they assembled the 48th Regiment of Maryland militia, commanded by Lt. Col. John Jones.

Trapped in the ice, the British must have made an easy target for the Americans firing from shore. The British fought back, but Lt. Phipps must have realized the futility of his position, exposed in open boats while the Americans picked them off. He surrendered to save the lives of his men.

It must have felt like a tremendous victory to beleaguered American forces. The captured British were marched victoriously to Easton, with the cannon dragged along as a trophy of war. Seven days later, word finally arrived that the War of 1812 was over.

The British were released, but the Americans kept the cannon. It was nicknamed “Becky” for the cook and “Phipps” for the hapless Royal Navy lieutenant who had been captured. The “Becky Phipps” cannon was fired on special occasions over the years, until it finally exploded when too much powder was loaded at the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson (or possibly Grover Cleveland). A local family retrieved the shattered pieces and reconstructed the cannon, where it can be seen today under a pavilion at Taylor’s Bridge. These days, the cannon isn’t fired anymore, but it serves as a reminder of that final War of 1812 battle on Chesapeake Bay.

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The good kind of writer’s block

Thank you to Harford Heart magazine and writer Vonnie Winslow Crist for the wonderful article! You can read it at the link here:

Harford Heart article pic

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Eastern Shore Writers to offer $1,000 book prize

State of DelmarvapageThe Eastern Shore Writers Association announces that it will award a $1000 prize for the best book written by a Delmarva writer in 2015. The award is open to all categories and genre of books including fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Two Honorable Mention Awards will also be cited. Participants must be full-time or seasonal residents of the peninsula.

The organization’s president Gerald Sweeney says, “The Delmarva Book Award has been designed to honor and encourage local authors. That aligns with the mission of the Eastern Shore Writers Association to enhance the quality of writing from the bay to the ocean. The prize should spur new works of art.”

The contest’s judge is a lifetime resident of the Eastern Shore, David Harper Jr. who grew up on a small family farm near Preston, where he is grateful to be raising two children with his wife, Christy.  Educated at The University of Richmond and at Washington College, for the past ten years David has taught English literature and composition at Chesapeake College. In addition to directing the Honors Program, he serves as Co-Advisor for The Beacon, a student-published literary magazine that celebrates the artistic expressions of local students. In choosing a winner he will be assisted by a group of readers

Enduring themes in David’s teaching include encouraging students to draw inspiration for writing from Shore life, while also challenging students to engage with divers texts in order to better understand their unique personal histories and perspectives.

“Subject matter will not be limited to works about Delmarva,” Sweeney said. “Our Shore is home to an astonishing array of people and global influences, yet I suspect the winning entry might contain a salty flavor.”

The contest will open on January 1, 2015 and close on November 15. Awards will be made in December of next year.

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Remembering the Spanish flu epidemic in Cecil County

Nurses in Elkton in 1919.

Nurses in Elkton in 1919. Image courtesy Historical Society of Cecil County.

This is the time of year when everyone seems to be coming down with something and flu season is in full swing. From the files, I came across some research about the Spanish flu epidemic in Cecil County, Md., nearly 100 years ago. This was going to be a chapter in “Delmarva Legends and Lore” but it never quite came together.

The Spanish flu that struck worldwide in 1918-19 is often cited as the deadliest outbreak of the disease in modern times. An estimated 20 million to 50 million people died of the flu or complications such as pneumonia.

Even rural Cecil County was affected, with Spanish flu hitting hardest in the fall of 1918 into early 1919. All told, the Spanish flu or the pneumonia that was a secondary infection killed 157 Cecil County residents.

According to an article by Greg Birney in the Fall 2003 Cecil Historical Journal, Spanish flu became so rampant that the Cecil County Board of Health ordered all public gatherings suspended. Schools around the county, including West Nottingham Academy, were closed. Nearby Delaware College (now the University of Delaware) was turned into a hospital, according to Birney, with 135 cases of flu among the 425 students. (Interestingly, several cases of the most recent flu were reported at UD.)

The flu struck at the height of World War I, but the draft was canceled in Cecil County rather than send local sons to be among the 24,000 young men who died of Spanish flu in military camps nationwide.

In Philadelphia, the city experienced its deadliest day on record, with 289 people dying of the flu on Oct. 6, 1918.

The death rate from Spanish flu and pneumonia here in Cecil County was smaller, but no less tragic for the community. All through October 1918, the front page of the Cecil Democrat newspaper was filled with the obituaries of local people claimed by the epidemic.

The Cecil County Board of Health reported: “… a number of patients critically ill, with our list of physicians greatly reduced by war service, and several of those left in the county themselves suffering from influenza, the situation is exceedingly grave …”

From the death reports in the Cecil Democrat, it is clear that the disease did not just attack the old and frail. Most of the death notices were for Cecil County residents in their teens, 20s and 30s. For example, the Cecil Democrat of Oct. 5, 1918 carried an obituary for William P. Rowan, 36, of Elkton, a former farmer and lately employed “at the new Government plant at Perryville.”

The flu victims included Miss Maud S. Winchester, 34, of Frenchtown, and John Dawson of Perryville, 42. Many of the working men who died left behind wives and children, which meant a devastating loss on an emotional and financial level. Without a strong family support system, poverty might loom after the death of the breadwinner.

News also filtered home of local men who died of flu while serving in the military. The Cecil Democrat reported the fate of one soldier from Elkton, Sgt. Frank C. Groetzinger, age 25, who succumbed at Camp Greenleaf in Georgia.

The epidemic in Cecil County ended by late February 1919, with the Spanish flu virus disappearing as mysteriously as it had arrived.

(Thanks to the Historical Society of Cecil County for help with researching this article. The Cecil Democrat from 1918 is available there on microfilm.)

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Upcoming events for 2015

IMG_5772Upcoming events in 2015

This list will be updated throughout the year, but here is what’s coming up so far. Hope to see you there!

January 24—Book signing at CCEA Gala, Schaefer’s Canal House

February 28—Bay to Ocean Writers’ Conference, Chesapeake College

April 14—Workshop for teen writers, Chesapeake City Library

April 21 6:30 pm—Keepers of the Light talk, North East Library

May 12 6:30 pm—Civil War Legends & Lore, Rising Sun Library

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More mystery in historic Chesapeake City

House FBIn case you missed it, the Cecil Whig newspaper and website published another Chesapeake City mystery featuring the characters from “Delmarva Renovators.” Tom and Mac first appeared in “The House that Went Down with the Ship,” which is an old house renovation mystery novel set in Canal Town.

What follows is the opening from the “mini-mystery” that appeared in the Whig’s pages. At the end of the excerpt is a link that takes you to the entire story. Enjoy!


The House that Got a Lump of Coal for Christmas

Forget the reindeer and sleigh—in Chesapeake City, Santa Claus is comin’ to town by boat.

And not just any boat, but a 1958 Chris Craft with a gleaming mahogany hull. In the Chesapeake Bay region, an antique boat is a lot easier to find than reindeer.

But even with a pretty sweet ride, Santa was late.

“Where the heck is he?” asked Mac, stamping his large feet to say warm. Mac and I had joined the crowd in Pell Gardens for the arrival of Santa and the lighting of the town Christmas tree—which wasn’t a tree at all but a giant pyramid of crab pots decorated with green lights.

I was on my second cup of hot cider, but it wasn’t doing much to fend off the December chill blowing in from the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and town harbor. “Let’s take a walk and check out some of the houses,” I suggested, eager to escape the cold.

Santa’s arrival in Canal Town coincided with the annual Holiday House Tour, when many homes in the historical district were open to the public. The town had grown up around the canal back in the 19th century. Some of the more modest homes had been built for canal workers using planks salvaged from barges and boats. Grander homes had risen along with the fortunes of those who had businesses connected to the canal. In its heyday, the canal had almost been like an intracoastal version of the internet, connecting people and commerce. With so much rich history, each old house had a story to tell.

For our online home improvement show, “Delmarva Renovators,” we had been in and out of a few of those wonderful old houses. My name is Tom Martell, and I’m the producer of the show. Mac is our master carpenter. The rest of the crew was off for the holidays.

We were just passing the Metz House (built in 1854 as the home of Jacob and Sarah Metz) when we heard a very un-Christmas-like scream.

“What was that?”

“I’m no Santa, but it sounds like someone is being naughty!”

We ran inside, only to be met by another scream. A shriek, in point of fact. And no wonder. There on the parlor floor was our Santa, right down to his bright red suit and gleaming boots. His fake beard was askew. His hat had come off, revealing a balding pate. Clutched in his hand was a cookie. One thing was clear—Santa was dead as Christmas tree lot on December twenty-fourth.

I’ve always been a detail person. You don’t fix up old houses and produce a home improvement show without sweating the small stuff. There was nothing peaceful or pretty about Santa’s death. Even his fingers seemed twisted in a final rictus of pain. A bit of foaming spittle spilled from the corner of his open mouth. On a table nearby stood a glass of milk and a plate of cookies. Snickerdoodles, to be exact. A hand-lettered card beside the plate said, “For Santa.”

Mac tends to eat in stressful situations. He started to reach for the cookies. “Don’t,” I said.

“I don’t think Santa will be needing any of these,” Mac said.

“That’s not the point,” I said, looking down at the Jolly Dead Elf. He still clutched a half-eaten snickerdoodle in his hand. “What if the cookies are poisoned?”

“Who would want to poison Santa?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it?” I asked.

Mac rolled his eyes. This wasn’t the first time we had gotten caught up in solving a murder in Canal Town. These old houses looked quaint, but there had turned out to be a few skeletons in the closets—and in the walls.

You can read the entire story by following the link below:

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Ship of Spies sets sail!

Ship of Spies mock up coverIt’s anchors aweigh for the next book of The Sea Lord Chronicles series!

“Ship of Spies: The Sea Lord Chronicles” continues the adventures of Alexander Hope, an ensign in the Royal Navy during an alternative history of the Napoleonic Wars in the Age of Sail.

Three weeks after Alexander single-handedly sinks three attacking Napoleonist ships, he awakens in a strange room to find that an assassin is about to stab him. He narrowly escapes by gryphon to the vast estate of his friend Lord Parkington. Together, the boys return to HMS Resolution, but Alexander does not get a warm welcome. Instead, the crew and even some of the officers are suspicious and jealous of his new powers as an elemental who can command the sea.

Instead of resuming his duties as a Royal Navy ensign, Alexander is assigned to find the thief who stole something mysterious from an American diplomat aboard the ship. He finds himself dodging more assassins, storms, lies and spies in a mission every bit as dangerous as what he encountered in “First Voyage.” A climactic battle with a Napoleonist ship that seems just as interested in the diplomat’s mission as the thief aboard HMS Resolution will test all of Alexander’s abilities and bring him to the attention of a dangerous new enemy.

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Upcoming talks for Fall 2014

Healey waterfrontUpcoming talks

Great Storms of the Chesapeake talk, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, Md., October 30, 2014 at 5:00 pm 

Keepers of the Light talk, Chesapeake City Branch Library, Chesapeake City, Md., November 17, 2014 at 6:30 pm

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Beach Bodies gets a headline: Making the cut for beach reading


By Ken Mammarella

The News Journal


To the list of potentially fatal risks at the beach – such as riptides, lighting and sunstroke – add being kidnapped for your kidneys.

That’s the premise of “Beach Bodies ($14.99 on Amazon), the first comic thriller and 13th book by David Healey, a college professor from Chesapeake City, Maryland.

The novel focuses on Nick Logan, a 6-foot-2, “square-shouldered” former police officer who left the crimes of Baltimore for the peace of western Maryland, and Sarah Monahan, a blond officer with “a sinewy, athletic body” who favors the music of “women who stood alone against the world.”

The mystery is not who’s stealing the kidneys: The book opens with henchman Fat Boy and the anarchist Grubb taking an accident victim to the money-mad doctor who’ll harvest them. The question is if and how they’ll be caught. And if and how Logan and Monahan will fall in love.

Healey said he first finished the novel in 1996. It was called “Chop Shop” back then and set in Wilmington. He got an agent from the manuscript, but it was deemed “too local” to be published.

With a nudge from someone at Browseabout Books noting how few mysteries occur at the beach and amid wrenching change in the publishing industry, he decided to rework it. He liked the main characters, and they’re there, but the book was “rewritten for the 21st century” and moved to Rehoboth Beach.

Key scenes are set on the Boardwalk and the Junction & Breakwater trail. The quiet of the marshes, the behavior of beach cops (“what do you do, arrest people for wearing sneakers with dress socks?”) and the delicate nesting habits of plovers also matter.

But definitely fictional are Southern Delaware General (where Dr. Karl Kreeger slices out the kidneys from a basement operating room), the Mermaid Zone (a shopping plaza where decidedly unvacationlike stuff occurs) and the goth band Dog Smell.

Healey gives himself a one-sentence cameo and draws from decades of beach visits to give it that local feel. He also uses his experience as a reporter and editor in Elkton, Maryland; Middletown; and Oxford, Pennsylvania to make fun of modern media, with sloppy attire and outlandish questions.

On, fictional News Journal reporter Jorge Alvarez interviews Logan, and the smart-aleck and distinctly Delaware qualities of “Beach Bodies” comes through in his favorite beach food: “It’s hard to beat a slice of boardwalk pizza at 1 a.m. There’s just something primal about a slab of dough and cheese and sauce on a summer night.”

Despite the ick factor of so many deaths, the book is “not gory or grisly,” he said. “It’s a little bit fun.” And despite how he uses the concept in his plot, Healey wants to be an organ donor. “It’s a cool concept that your organs will have an afterlife.”

After someone at Browseabout Books remarked that few mysteries occur at the beach, David Healy reworked the original novel and self-published.

Healey said that he has four or five complete manuscripts from his early days as a novelist, but they will not follow “Beach Bodies” in being reworked. “They’re training exercises. They didn’t turn out that well, but that’s OK because I learned from them.”

He has also learned a great deal about publishing.

“For me as a writer, Amazon has been a great opportunity,” he said, noting that he self-published this novel, which he calls “my contribution to summer reading and enjoyment at the beach.”


This article was first published in the Crossroads sections of The News Journal (A Gannett Publication) on June 25, 2014. You can view the original article at the following link:

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D-Day memories 70 years later

ImageBack in July 1998 I went to see the new Tom Hanks’ film “Saving Private Ryan” with a group of Cecil County (Maryland) veterans who had been at D-Day. The idea was to get a reaction to the film from guys who had been there. For me, the story became one of my most memorable newspaper assignments because it was such a moving and humbling experience.

A lot of the guys—mostly in their 70s—hadn’t been to a movie theater in years. I remember that a couple members in the group walked out and left during the opening scene, which is very graphic.

After the movie, we all went and got coffee to talk about the movie compared to their own D-Day experiences.

“It was quite a job,” said Donnie Preston of North East. “We lost a lot of men.”

According to the local WWII vets, there were 37 men from Cecil County who served at D-Day. Many were in the same unit, which is something that doesn’t happen today.

Most of Cecil County’s men who hit the beach about 7:30 a.m. June 6 were members of the 115th Regiment, which was part of the 2nd Battalion of the 29th Division. Five county men lost their lives in the next few days. Many of the others were wounded, including Preston, who spent two years in hospitals after being hit by machine gun fire.

On the beach that day along with Preston were Otis Ferguson of North East and Lawrence Whitlock of Red Point. Edgar Startt of North East and Church Wehrle of Elkton were there, too.

Those on the beaches weren’t the only area men who were part of D-Day. Some, like Joe Lofthouse of Elkton and Ralph Kelly of Aberdeen, dropped behind German lines with the 101st Airborne. Ralph McCool was an Army Air Corps navigator who helped bomb German positions. James L. Lockhart of North East hit the beach with the 115th Infantry, 1st Battalion. Jack Deibert of Colora came ashore on “D plus 10” with 50 clerks under him to oversee personnel records.

When we left the theater, we discovered that someone had left a note under the windshield wiper of a veteran’s car—the anonymous person had likely noticed the 29th Division license plate.

“I went and saw Pvt. Ryan also,” the note said. “It was a great show. In case you haven’t heard it lately I would like to tell you and your friends—Thank you.”

What I remember most from that experience was that these were great guys. Sadly, many of them have now passed away in the intervening years, but I am thinking of them today 70 years after D-Day.

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