A War of 1812 Prank

One of my favorite souvenirs from our years sailing Chesapeake Bay waters was a small book from St. Michaels, Maryland, The Town That Fooled The British. Besides detailing day-to-day activities and preparations for war and telling the story of saving the ship-building community from British attack, it told about Jacob Gibson’s Prank.

In April 1813, Mr. Gibson farmed Sharp’s Island (now mostly sunken). The British sized the island, imprisoned Mr. Gibson, and confiscated his cattle and sheep. However, they shortly released him and even paid him for the animals.

A few days later, Jacob Gibson, who was well known for his practical jokes, must have been feeling his oats. He and some of his slaves rowed and sailed a barge up Broad Creek toward St. Michaels, about fifteen miles away. He tied a red bandana to the mast, and when they neared St. Michaels, he ordered one of the sailors to beat on an empty rain barrel. (It might have been on a bright, moonlit night.) The videttes (mounted sentries) rode to alert the town. The residents grabbed their stores of food and animals and vacated the town while the St. Michaels Patriotic Blues (the local militia) stood ready to fight the enemy. Fortunately, they recognized his boat, and since Jacob was a quick talker as well as a big joker, he escaped without bodily injury. However, he did give the town two six-pounder cannons as a peace offering.

And, those cannons may (or may not—let’s not forget these stories were passed down by word of mouth before they were written down) have been helpful in the later defense of St. Michaels.

 


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