Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

George R Roberts (b. ? - d. 1861)
MSA SC 5496-51750
War of 1812 Sailor 

image courtesy of The Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD
 

 IMAGE: Portrait of George Roberts, 1861, Z24.2560, Courtesy of The Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD.

Biography:

George Roberts was a free black sailor during the War of 1812.  A native of Baltimore, he was aboard Captain Richard Moon's privateer schooner Sarah Ann (72 tons, Commission #329) at the outbreak of the war.1  In September 1812, the Sarah Ann fell into a skirmish with two British men-of-war, the Rhodian and the Variable.  After a short chase, Moon's Sarah Ann was captured by the HMS Statira and sent to Bermuda. On the island, six members of the crew were accused of being British subjects, and were then sent to Jamaica to await trial for treason.2  It was noted by Captain Moon in Jamaica that all but one of the seamen were native-born Americans, and that he feared that the men were to be "tried for their lives."3   Captain Moon was questioned about the sailors as to the place of their nativity.  Moon says that Roberts was "native born of the United States and of which fact he has every sufficient document, together with free papers.  He entered aboard the Sarah Ann in Baltimore where he is married."4  After more correspondence between the countries' diplomats, which was quite common during the war,  the sailors were released and escaped execution.5

After Roberts was released from prison in the Caribbean, he continued to fight the British on the open seas and it is believed that he served as a gunner on Captain Thomas Boyle's schooner Chasseur (356 tons, Commission #665) in February 1813.6  The Chasseur is most famously known as being the vessel that, alone, enforced a blockade of all of Britain in 1814.  Captain Boyle sent a proclamation with a released prize ship, and ordered that the proclamation be posted on the door of Lloyd's of London, the famous shipping insurance market, proclaiming that the Chasseur was enforcing a total blockade of British waters. After taking dozens of prizes with a total value in the millions, as the Chassuer returned to the Port of Baltimore, it was dubbed "Pride of Baltimore" upon her return to the city on April 8, 1815.

George Roberts quickly adjusted to civilian life after the war.  In June 1815, Roberts purchased 67 Ann Street, on the corner of Gough Street, in Fells Point for $150 and an annual rent of $11.25.9   After living in the residence for 4 years, Roberts sold his home to Francis Monmonier for the same rates and terms as it was purchased by Roberts in 1815.10   George Roberts does not appear to have made any more land purchases, but he does show up in the 1820 U.S. Federal Census living in Ward 1 with one free colored female between the ages of 26 and 44 (perhaps this is Elizabeth, his wife).11  Roberts is found in the 1827 directory living as a sawyer on the north side of Mulberry Street, west of Pearl Street just north of Lexington Market.12  Roberts also appears in the 1829 Matchett Directory, this time he is noted as being a labourer living on Hoffman Street west of Ross Street in modern-day Upton.13   Robert's residence is confirmed in the 1830 Federal Census as he is found living in Ward 12 with a free colored woman between the ages of 36 and 54, and a free colored girl between the ages of 10 and 23 years.14  In 1840, George Roberts returns to the Fells Point area and is found residing in Ward 1.15  In Matchett's 1842 Baltimore City Directory, George Roberts is still in Fells Point living on Happy Alley south of Fleet Street.16  George Roberts does not appear in the 1850 Federal Census, but he is still in Ward 1 in 1860, this time living with a 50-year-old black woman named Dianna.17

There is some debate over the age of George Roberts when he dies.  A number of Baltimore newspapers publish his obituary in January 16, 1861, as he was a celebrated local veteran of the War of 1812.  The Baltimore Sun published his obituary under the title "Another Old Defender Gone," and although there is no evidence that George Roberts was present in the city during the British bombardment of Ft. McHenry, the fact that Roberts was able to participate in the anniversarial celebrations of the event speaks volumes to his reputation.18    On the same day, The Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser advertised that George Roberts was 85-years-old when he passed (10-years younger than the age noted by the Sun), however, praises in the obituaries were similar: he had been a brave sailor, a gunner on Captain Boyle's Chasseur, his contributions to the defense of Baltimore during the battle, and that he was an upstanding citizen.19  


Endnotes:

1.  Jerome R. Garitee. Republic's Private Navy: The American Privateering Business as Practised by Baltimore during the War of 1812 (Middleton, CT:  Wesleyan University Press, 1977) 252.

2.  John Philip Cranwell and William Bowers Crane. Men of Marque: A History of Private Armed Vessels out of Baltimore During the War of 1812 (New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1940) 90.

3.  Hezekiah Niles and William Ogden Niles.  Niles Weekly Register, Volume 3. 14 November 1812, 172.

4.  Ibid, 173; Basilica of the Assumption - Baltimore City (Marriage Records) Register IV [M1517-2] MSA SC 2707, George Roberts and Elizabeth, free negroes, June 6, 1805.

5.  Cranwell and Crane, Men of Marque, 90.

6.  Garitee, Republic's Private Navy, 253

7.  Thomas C. Gillmer. Pride of Baltimore: The Story of the Baltimore Clippers, 1800-1990 (Camden, ME; International Marine, 1992) 29.

8.  Cranwell and Crane, Men of Marque, 376-77; Niles, "American Prizes" Niles Weekly Register, Volume 7. 15 April 1815, 111.

9.  Baltimore County Court (Land Records) George R. Roberts from John Guirvy, June 19, 1815, WG 131, 1815, MSA CE 66-181, folios 351-52.

10.  Baltimore County Court (Land Records) George R. Roberts to Francis Monmonier, October 8, 1819, WG 153, 1819, MSA CE66-202, folios 721-23.

11.  U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) George Roberts, 1820, Baltimore City, Ward 1, MSA SM61-63, SCM 2064, page 27.

12.  Baltimore City, Baltimore City Archives (Baltimore City Directories) 1827 Matchett's Baltimore Director, BCA BMS 18-13, page 221.

13.  Baltimore City, Baltimore City Archives (Baltimore City Directories) 1829 Matchett's Baltimore Director, BCA BMS 18-6, page 271.

14.  U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) George Roberts, 1830, Baltimore City, Ward 12, MSA SM61-83, SCM 66, page 455.

15.  U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) George Roberts, 1840, Baltimore City, Ward 1, MSA SM61-98, SCM 4712, page 29.

16.  Baltimore City, Baltimore City Archives (Baltimore City Directories) 1842 Matchett's Baltimore Director, BCA BMS 18-3, page 460.

17.  U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) George Roberts, 1860, Baltimore City, Ward 1, MSA SM61-179, SCM 7203, page 340.

18.  "Another Old Defender Gone." Baltimore Sun 16 January 1861.

19.  "Died." Baltimore American and Commercial Advertiser 16 January 1861.

Researched and written by Ryan Cox, 2013

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