Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Richard Frisby (b. circa ? - d. circa ?)
MSA SC 5496-050715
War of 1812 Claimant, Kent County, Maryland, 1828


Richard Frisby lost four slaves, William, Solomon, Peregrine and Ephraim, to the HMS Menelaus as it was anchored in the Upper Chesapeake Bay off Poole's Island in Kent County on August 30, 1814.  Under the command of Captain Sir Peter Parker, the Menelaus (38 guns) was cruising the Bay to prevent local militia units from Maryland's Eastern Shore assist with the preparations of the defense of Baltimore.  Captain Parker was ordered to capture, when possible, the small units of American soldiers, to burn  farm houses along the shore, and to harass the people in every way possible.[1] Along with the four slaves, Mr. Frisby also had bushels of wheat burned by the British officers who raided his 422-acre estate in Fairlee Creek, suffering total losses of about $6,000.[2]

Richard Frisby purchased many slaves during the first decades of the 19th century.  In 1802, Frisby bought seven negro men from James Frisby for five shillings.[3]  A few months later, he purchased four men and two women from Darius Copper for ₤20.[4]  In 1806, Frisby purchased a negro boy named George from Samuel Comegy for ₤50.[5]  In 1808, Frisby purchased a negro woman Susan and her child Richard for $250 from Daniel M. Curtain.[6] However, the Frisbys fell on hard times in 1810.  Richard Frisby was indebted to Benjamin Chew of Philadelphia to the effect of $1,795, and was forced to give eight slaves to Chew in order to fulfill the debt.[7]  Each of these transactions list the slave's name, but aside from an Ephraim listed among those sold to Benjamin Chew, none of the other slaves taken by the Royal Navy in 1814 were named.

On the night of August 30, the Frisby slaves were all taken "with force" from his farm by the Royal Navy and put aboard the frigate.[8]  This was confirmed by Joseph T. Mitchell who was a prisoner on the Menelaus at the time.[9]  Richard Frisby happened to be in Baltimore when the raid occurred, working for the Committee of Vigilance and Safety, preparing Baltimore for the British arrival and was appointed to secretary of the eastern precincts of the city.  Frisby was also a vocal supporter of Major General Samuel Smith being named commander of the forces used to defend Baltimore.[10] 

The Royal Navy received information from the Frisby slaves about the location of the local militia unit.  The British were told the American camp was just one-half mile inland and a force of about 200 soldiers.[11]  In actuality, the 21st Maryland Militia Regiment, under the command of 54-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Reed, moved inland and were organized on a tree line about five miles away in the town of "Belleair" (modern day Fairlee).[12]  Some scholars, in respect to explaining the gross miscalculation of the militia's location, believe that the Frisby slaves intentionally lied to the British.[13] 

The Royal Navy landed in Kent County at midnight on August 31, 1814 with about 230 men.  150 of the soldiers were armed with muskets, the rest with pikes, cutlasses and pistols.[14] Sir Peter Parker is said to have wanted "a frolic with the Yankees before I leave them."[15] After marching through the wooded landscape, the Maryland Militia ambushed the British soldiers as they approached an open field known as Caulk's Field or Moorefield.[16]  The skirmish lasted less than one hour; the Royal Navy suffered 13 deaths and three wounded, compared to zero deaths and only three wounded for the Americans.  Among the dead was Sir Peter Parker who was shot in the leg by a sniper that was hiding in the trees as the British approached the field.[17]

The following day, under a flag of truce, Lt. Col. Philip Reed negotiated the exchange of prisoners, which apparently was not a "peaceful task."[18] The deposition of James A. Buchanan on behalf of Richard Frisby notes that Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane accommodated the American in an effort to recover the four slaves that were taken away a few days prior.  Admiral Cochrane gave a deponent and ordered to receive the slaves if possible, but later learned that they had already been sent down the Chesapeake Bay.[19]

In the 1828 claim, Richard Frisby provided the names, ages, and approximate value for each of the four slaves that were stolen.  William was 25-years-old and worth $440; Ephraim, 22-years-old, had a value of $460; Solomon was 20-years-old at the time of the event and the most valuable at $500; Peregrine was the youngest at 17-years-old and worth $200.[20] John Quincy Adams was the United State's Secretary of State at the time the claim was heard, and ruled that Richard Frisby's slaves were in fact stolen by the Royal Navy, and rewarded $1,120 compensation to Frisby for the slaves lost (assigning a set value of $280 per slave).[21]

We know that Richard Frisby continued to own land in Kent County, but lived primarily in Baltimore County after the War of 1812.  In 1822, in order to payback a $12,000 debt to the President, Directors and Company of the City Bank of Baltimore, Richard Frisby released over 1,100-acres of land on Fairlee Creek in Kent County, 40 slaves, 20 horses, a 450-acre farm on Worton Neck, 240-acres of land in Lower Church near Chestertown, and 3 lots located on East Street near Jones Falls in the City of Baltimore to the bank.[22] Richard Frisby does not appear on the Kent County Tax Assessment List after this date (however, in 1821, he is listed in Kent County's 1st District with almost $12,000 of personal and real property).[23] No will or inventory have been found for Richard Frisby in either Kent or Baltimore County records as of yet.

[1] Percy Granger Skirven, Kent's Part in the War of 1812: "The Battle of Caulk's Field" August 31, 1814, (Baltimore, MD: Meeting of the Kent County section of the Eastern Shore Society, 1914), 3.

[2] Frederick G. Usilton, History of Kent County, Maryland 1630-1916, (Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc, 1994), 44; Michael Owen Bourne, Historic Houses of Kent County, An Architectural History: 1642-1860 (Chestertown, MD: Historic Society of Kent County, Inc.), 405.  "Big Fairlee" was sold from James Lloyd to Frisby and Henry Waller in 1807 for 5 shillings in hand, and $10,548 for 253 acres on the west side of Fairlee Creek as described in Kent County Courts (Land Records) 1807-1809, James Lloyd to Richard Frisby and Henry Waller, Liber BC 5, folio 130 [MSA CE 118].

[3] Kent County Court (Chattel Records) 1804-1809, C1035.  Richard Frisby from James Frisby.  TW Liber 1, Folio 483.

[4] Ibid, Folio 505.  Richard Frisby from Darius Copper.

[5] Kent County Court (Chattel Records) 1798-1804, C1035.  Richard Frisby from Samuel Comegys.  TW Liber 2, Folio 100.

[6] Ibid, Folio 316.  Richard Frisby from Daniel M. Curtain.

[7] Kent County Court (Chattel Records) 1810-1814, C1035. Richard Frisby to Benjamin Chew.  BC Liber 3, Folio 33.

[8] Claim of Richard Frisby, Kent County, Case No. 862, Case Files, CA 1814-1828, entry 190, 1828, Record Group 76, National Archives, College Park, MD, page 5.

[9] Ibid.

[10] William M. Marine, The British Invasion of Maryland, 1812-1815 (Baltimore, MD: Society of the War of 1812 in Maryland, 1913), 134-6.

[11] Marine, The British Invasion of Maryland, 117; Skirven, Kent's Part in the War of 1812, 4.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.; Usilton, History of Kent County, 45.

[14] H. Niles, ed., The Weekly Register, Vol. 7 (Baltimore, MD: The Franklin Press, 1814), 11.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Caulk's Field was a part of a 1,600 acre tract known as "Arcadia" and was in the possession of John Moore. After he died in August 1812, it was transferred to his nephew, Isaac Caulk, hence the two names.  Information found in Uliston's History of Kent County, Maryland, 55.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Claim of Richard Frisby, Kent County, Case No. 862, entry 190, page 8.

[19] Ibid, page 1, 7 & 13.

[20] Ibid, page 11.

[21] Ibid, page 16.

[22] Kent County Courts (Land Records), 1819-1822,  Richard Frisby, Liber WS 3, folio 429-435 [MSA CE 118-40].

[23] Kent County Commissioners of the Tax (Assessment Ledger) 1813-1822, C1022, 1822, page 3.  The exact total value of Richard Frisby's property equaled $11,829 in the 1st District, with $200 of property assessed in Chestertown (page 1).

Researched and written by Ryan Cox, 2012.

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