Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Frisby Harris (b. circa 1796 - d. ?)
MSA SC 5496-050643
War of 1812 Escaped Slave, Calvert County, Maryland, 1814


The slave of William Harris in Calvert County, Frisby Harris was born around 1796. William Harris may have hired out Frisby's labor to Dr. John H. Beall of the same county, since the eighteen-year-old slave was living on Dr. Beall's property in 1814.1 His property stood on God's Graces Point overlooking the Patuxent River, on the western border of Calvert County.2 The point was later the location of Leitch's Wharf, as shown in an 1865 map.3

On July 15, 1814, under the orders of Rear Admiral George Cockburn, Captain Joseph Nourse sailed the British frigate Severn up the Patuxent to reconnoiter the river and raid the area.4 Frisby Harris escaped with British troops the following day. He was "active in the aid he gave them in their work of plunder and wasting," first by helping the British loot Dr. Beall's furniture on the day of his escape.5 The British also carried off thirteen hogsheads of tobacco from the farm and burned down the manor house.6

Frisby Harris immediately joined the British as a soldier under Captain Nourse.7 On July 19, 1814, Robert Yoe saw Frisby "acting as an officer" when the British burned down the Calvert County courthouse and jail in Prince Frederick.8 Twenty-four-year-old Barbara Fowler,9 another witness at the burning, reported that she saw Frisby "in company with said troops with a sword by his side."10 Captain Nourse later wrote to his superiors that his men had also succeeded in "releasing one Black man confined for endeavoring to escape to us."11

William Harris's agent, D.A. Hall, later described Frisby as "a slave of so useful abilities" and of such "zeal" as a British soldier, that news of his promotion to Corporal in the Colonial Marines came as no surprise. Hall further stated that Frisby was worth five hundred dollars at the time of his escape.12

On August 12, 1814, Captain Nourse wrote to Rear Admiral George Cockburn that "I have sent by the Manly all our Blacks except such as I keep for guides and who are in training for Soldiers also two Vessels laden with Tobacco and the one with Wood, and an armed Tender with blacks also." Frisby's rank as corporal suggests that he was among the soldiers who remained on the Severn.13

Unfortunately, Harris's whereabouts after the War of 1812 are currently unknown. The name Frisby Harris did not appear on the lists of refugee slaves on Tangier Island, Maryland, or in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the British sent many African American refugees.14


1.     Claim of William Harris, Case 773, Case Files, compiled ca. 1827 - ca. 1828, documenting the period ca. 1814 - ca. 1828. *ARC Identifier 1174160 / MLR Number PI 177 190*. National Archives, College Park.

2.     Henry Gannett, A Gazetteer of Maryland, Bulletin 231, Series F, Geography, 39 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904) 36.

3.     Calvert County District 2, Simon J. Martenet, Map of Calvert County, 1865, Huntingfield Collection, [MSA SC 1399-1-75].
3.     "Leitch's Wharf," CT-1194, Maryland Historical Trust. Inventory of Historic Properties.

4.     Robert Malcomson, Historical Dictionary of the War of 1812 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006) 107.
        Michael J. Crawford, ed., The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History, Vol. 3 (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 2002) 281.
        David Curtis Skaggs, Oliver Hazard Perry: Honor, Courage, and Patriotism in the Early U.S. Navy (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006) 159.
        Donald Shomette, Tidewater Time Capsule: History Beneath the Patuxent (Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishing, 1995).

5.     Claim of William Harris.

6.     Crawford 157.

7.     Ibid.

8.     Ibid.
        "Calvert County, Maryland: Historical Chronology," Maryland Manual On-line, Maryland State Archives,

9.     U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) for Miss Barbara Fowler, 1820, Calvert County, District 2, Page 7, Line 4 [MSA SM61-65, M 2062-2].
        U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) for Barbara Fowler, 1850, Calvert County, District 2, Page 38, Line 23 [MSA SM61-132, M 1492-1].

10.   Claim of William Harris.

11.   Qtd. in Crawford 157.

12.   Claim of William Harris.

13.   Crawford 161.

14.   Thomas M. Bayly, No. III, Bayly's List (RG 76. Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitration. Records of the Mixed Claims Commission: Miscellaneous Records. National Archives, College Park).
       "Halifax List," African Nova Scotians: in the Age of Slavery and Abolition, Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management,

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