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The War of 1812:

America’s Forgotten War

May 1, 2012 - May 31, 2012

curated by
Alexander Johnston

The year 2012 marks the two–hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812, which was fought between the United States of America and the British Empire from 1812 to 1815. War was declared in 1812 as a consequence of tensions between the two nations over international trade and American expansionism, although initial support for the war split sharply along party lines. The war, which saw the burning of the nation’s capitol, quickly became a struggle for survival on the part of the United States. The war’s cessation essentially allowed for a return to the status quo, but it also bolstered a sense of national identity, prompted increased American expansionism, and marked the last time that the two nations engaged in open warfare. Although sometimes regarded as American’s second war for independence, the conflict has largely faded from public memory, becoming one of America’s forgotten wars. The items on display document the war as experienced and perceived by civilian noncombatants, as seen in their personal correspondence and in the printed newspapers which provided them with updates on the progress of the war.

John Read

Autograph letter to Thomas Meredith, 1 May 1812. Samuel Meredith papers.

In this letter Read, a lawyer and senator from Pennsylvania, writes to Thomas Meredith (b. 1779), his brother-in-law and business partner, about the looming threat of war. At the time, he thought Congress would favor an embargo over open warfare. Meredith would later serve as an officer in the American Army during the War of 1812.

John Crumby

Autograph letter to Eliza [Crumby], 14 October 1814. John W. Claghorn Papers.

John writes from Buckston to his sister, Eliza, who is living in Boston. He describes the “outrageous” conduct of the British forces that he witnessed at Hampton: “they entered all the dwelling homes & plundered & destroyed every thing, I must confess I had a better opinion of the British troops, but they plunder and destroy without discrimination – so much for this ‘just & necessary War.’”

John Crumby

Autograph letter to [Eliza Crumby], 21 September 1814. John W. Claghorn Papers.

In this letter Crumby describes the British advance and plans for an attack on Boston: “An attack on Boston is very confidently expected by English gentlemen at this place, but I would not give myself any alarm about it. It is all a matter of conjecture. Should it however take place I hope they will meet with a proper reception and not march triumphantly into a conquered town as they have of late done; I hear great preparations are making at Boston and am very glad that the spirit of 76 is not yet extinct.” Crumby was writing from East Machins, which had recently been captured by the British.

W[illia]m Granger

Autograph letter to Joseph Bringhurst, 16 July 1813. Bringhurst–Shipely–Hargraves Family Papers (“Rockwood Archives”).

This letter provides an example of opposition to the war being waged. Granger writes that war “is always deprecated by me as the greatest of evils,” and weighs in on Bringhurst’s desire to resign from his government office in opposition to the war. He offers the consolation that Bringhurst’s current position at least does not have a direct involvement in the war effort: “If you go into the Treasury or revenue branch your aid is more direct; even in the judiciary you would have to confiscate the property of innocent persons.”

The War. New York: S. Woodworth & Co., 1812–1817.

The War was a weekly newspaper, edited by Samuel Woodworth (1784–1842) which was devoted to reporting the events of the War of 1812 as they unfolded.

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