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.