Famous Virginians of the War of 1812
George Armistead was the most famous of five brothers that served during the War of 1812. The Armistead's were from Newmarket, Caroline County, Virginia and George was born on April 10, 1780. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army at the age of 19 and was a Captain of artillery by June, 1812. On May 27, 1813, he aided in the capture of Ft. George along the Canadian border and was detailed to carry the British flags captured in that battle to Washington D.C., presenting them to President Madison. From there, Armistead was given command of Fort McHenry, a key position in the defense of Baltimore harbor. Knowing the importance of Baltimore as a ship building center, Armistead worked feverishly on improvements to the Fort and adjacent defensive works. His leadership during this time inspired his troops and the city's population. With long lasting consequences, Armistead ordered made "a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance." This 42x30 foot fifteen star flag flew over Fort McHenry following the twenty five hour bombardment by British ships on September 13-14, 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became the U.S. National Anthem. For his heroism and leadership, Armistead was brevetted a Lt. Colonel by President James Madison. Unfortunately, Armistead never recovered from illnesses he suffered throughout the siege of Ft. McHenry, and he died in 1818 at the age of thirty-eight.
James Barbour was born in Barboursville, Orange County, Virginia on June 10, 1775. He served as deputy sheriff of Orange County and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1794. In 1796 he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and eventually became its Speaker. In 1811, Barbour lost his bid for the governorship of Virginia, but was appointed to the position on January 3, 1812 following Governor William Smith's death in a fire. As the country faced imminent war with Great Britain, Barbour quickly called for increases in Virginia's defenses. He supported a larger Virginia militia, toured the Tidewater region to inspect the harbors, pledged his own money to support Virginia's defense, and answered calls by the Federal government for state troops to boulster the national Army. Barbour was reelected in 1812 and was the first Virginia governor to live in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond. On December 1, 1814, Barbour was voted to the U.S. Senate by the Virginia legislature. He was instrumental in assisting his friend President James Madison in passing a bill supporting a national bank, and was elected President Pro Tempore of the Senate in 1819. President John Quincy Adams appointed Barbour as Secretary of War in 1825. He died at his family home in Virginia on June 7, 1842.
William Henry Harrison
President William Henry Harrison was born in Berkeley, Virginia on February 9, 1773. Contrary to later popular perceptions of a frontier background, he came from an aristocratic family. His father served as a delegate in the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence and was governor of Virginia from 1781-1784. William Harrison attended Hampden-Sydney College and then studied medicine in Richmond before gaining appointment to the U.S. Army in 1791. He served with General Wayne in the Ohio River Valley during the Battle of Fallen Timbers before resigning his commission in 1798, becoming the Secretary of the Northwest Territory and its first delegate to the U.S. Congress. He served twelve years as the Governor of the Indiana Territory before returning to military service as hostilities with local tribes intensified with the approach of the War of 1812. On November 2, 1811, tribes affiliated with Chief Tecumseh attacked Harrison and his troops along the Tippecanoe River before being repulsed. Harrison was then named commander of the Army in the Northwest and given the rank of Brigadier General. On October 5, 1813, he led his forces against a combined British and Native American force during the Battle of the Thames. The British were forced to retreat, Chief Tecumseh was killed and Native American resistance in the Northwest Territories crumbled. Following the war, Harrison was celebrated as a national hero and nominated to be President by the Whigs in 1840. He won by a landslide, but died of pneumonia within a month of taking office, on April 4, 1841.
Dolley Payne Todd Madison
The daughter of Virginia parents and husband to a U.S. President from Virginia, Dolley Madison was actually born in New Garden, North Carolina on May 20, 1768. Her family moved back to Virginia in 1769 and then to Philadelphia in 1783. Dolley married John Todd in 1790 and they had two sons. In the fall of 1793, a yellow fever epidemic struck Philadelphia, killing John and their youngest son. In 1794 she met James Madison, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives who she married in September of that year. Following his time in Congress, James moved Dolley and her oldest son John Payne Todd in to his family home at Montpellier, in Orange County Virginia. In 1801, President Thomas Jefferson asked Madison to be his Secretary of State, and the family moved to the new capital of Washington D.C. Dolley became the life of the capitol – hosting elaborate dinner parties, welcoming foreign dignitaries and quietly advising her husband on political matters following his election to the presidency. When British forces defeated American troops at the Battle of Bladensburg, Dolley rallied efforts to save White House valuables, including the famous Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington. Escaping just ahead of the British, Dolley returned to the torched White House after British troops withdrew. Following his presidency, James and Dolley Madison move back to Montpelier, where James died in 1836. Dolley worked to organize her late husband's papers before moving back to Washington D.C. in 1837. Loved by many in the capital, she was supported by friends and family in her later life as her son squandered the family's money. Dolley died at the age of eighty-one on July 12, 1849.
President James Madison, often called the "Father of the Constitution", was considered one of the greatest political minds of his age. He was born in Port Conway, King George County, Virginia, on March 16, 1751, and spent much of his youth on his father's plantation (Montpelier) in Orange County. After attending the College of New Jersey (later named Princeton), Madison helped draft the Constitution of Virginia and the Virginia Declaration of Rights. He served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Continental Congress. Seeing the difficulties of governing a nation under the Articles of Confederation, Madison proposed the "Virginia Plan" while a member of the Constitutional Convention. The plan called for a central government with checks and balances, states that maintained strong powers, and understood natural rights for the individual citizen. Madison, with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, published the Federalist Papers, a series of newspaper articles that explained and supported the tenants of the Constitution and helped ensure its ratification by the states. To balance the Federalist demands for a strong central government, many called for guarantees of individual rights, which Madison helped frame into our Bill of Rights. In 1794, Madison married Dolley Payne Todd, his wife for forty-one years. As President Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, he helped arrange the Louisiana Purchase and the explorations of Lewis and Clark. Elected President in 1808, James Madison became the fourth U.S. President. Sectional differences and foreign policy issues challenged his administration from the outset. Having split from the Federalist Party, Madison disagreed with demands from the predominantly New England politicians who called for a centralized National Bank and a federal government with powers that he felt were outside of the Constitution. New England merchants whose trade was dependant on access to British ports were slow to anger over British trade policies and the impressments of U.S. sailors. With diplomatic efforts frustrated, President Madison asked Congress for a Declaration of War against Great Britain. The War of 1812 was a mix of stunning American victories and defeats, with the U.S. gaining far less advantage than many Americans had thought probable at the outset. Federalists often called it "Mr. Madison's War", but failed to gain politically from the conflict, which ended in February, 1815. Elected to a second term during the war, Madison led a reinvigorated nation. Sectional differences temporarily eased and the economy boomed as the nation spread westward. The Madison's retired to their Montpelier estate following the end of his second term in 1817. President Madison attended the 1829 Virginia Constitutional Convention and served on the University of Virginia's board of visitors before passing away at Montpelier on June 28, 1836.
James Monroe was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia on April 28, 1758. He attended the College of William and Mary, but gave up schooling to become an officer in the 3rd Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line. He was wounded at the Battle of Trenton in 1777. Following the Revolutionary War, Monroe was elected as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1782 and served in the Continental Congress. He was an anti-Federalist, opposing the ratification of the Constitution because it provided too much power to the central government and lacked protection of individual rights. Monroe became a Jeffersonian Democratic Republican and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1790. President Washington appointed him Minister to France in 1794. Having strong sympathies with the French Revolution and opposed to the Jay Treaty which favored relations with Britain over France, Monroe was recalled to the U.S. He served as governor of Virginia from 1799-1802 and then was sent back to France by President Jefferson to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. He served as Minister to Great Britain from 1803-1807 and negotiated the Monroe-Pinkney Treaty. This extended the Jay Treaty for another ten years and increased U.S. trade interests, but failed to end the British policy of impressing U.S. sailors. For this reason, President Jefferson refused to send the treaty to the Senate for ratification and relations with Great Britain began deteriorating. Monroe again returned to Virginia, serving in the House of Delegates and as governor until 1811, when newly elected President James Madison appointed him Secretary of State. With military failures resulting from a lack of leadership, Madison asked Monroe to take on the additional duties of Secretary of War, which he held from October 1, 1814-February 28, 1815. Monroe was elected as the fifth President of the United States and proved his political prowess by selecting a talented pool of cabinet officers from across the country. This helped maintain the "Era of Good Feelings" and he was elected to a second term in 1820. The slowly brewing sectional debate that would rip the country apart during the American Civil War was temporarily forestalled under Madison's administration with the Missouri Compromise in 1820. This allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state, but outlawed slavery north and west of Missouri's southern border. But, Madison's most notable accomplishment as President was the Monroe Doctrine, which he framed with Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. In an address to Congress on December 2, 1823, the tenants of the Monroe Doctrine were explained – the United States would support newly formed countries in the Americas while opposing any new colonization or influence by European nations in the Western Hemisphere. This was a monumental statement for the time and would become the political foundation of America's expansion across North America. Monroe left office in 1825 and lived at the University of Virginia until the death of his wife Elizabeth in 1830. He then moved to New York to live with his daughter and her husband, until his death on July 4, 1831.
General Winfield Scott's career as a U.S. Army officer spanned more than fifty years. Born near Petersburg, Virginia on June 13, 1786, Scott attended the College of William and Mary before studying law in a private practice and joining the Virginia Militia. In 1808 he was commissioned as a Captain of artillery in the U.S. Army. During the War of 1812, Scott became known for his heroism and was promoted quickly through the ranks. On October 13, 1812, Lt. Colonel Scott led an attack on British forces at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Lacking the support of state militias who refused to enter Canada, Scott was forced to surrender. Paroled, he soon returned to the battlefield as a Colonel and was wounded leading the capture of Ft. George on Lake Ontario. Brevetted a Brigadier General in March, 1814, Scott led an American Brigade at the Battle of Chippewa on July 5, 1814 and made a heroic stand against British troops at the Battle of Lundy's Lane on July 25. Struck with a bullet that shattered a bone, Scott sat out the remainder of the War of 1812, but was brevetted as a Major General for his heroism. Scott led troops in Florida during the second Seminole War and oversaw the removal of the Cherokee Tribes during the controversial Trail of Tears. During the Mexican-American War, Scott led the amphibious landings at Vera Cruz and the march on Chapultepec, capturing that citadel on September 13, 1847. In 1852, Scott was chosen by the Whig Party as a candidate for the presidency, but he lost to the Democratic nominee Franklin Pierce. Although a Virginian, Scott's last days of service were spent in command of the Union forces at the outbreak of the American Civil War. Contrary to popular opinion of the day, Scott foresaw the war as a long struggle that would cost tens of thousands of American lives. As Commanding General of the Army, Scott developed the "Anaconda Plan", which envisioned blockading Southern ports and a series of campaigns to divide the Confederacy into submission. Age and politics convinced Scott to resign in late 1861. He died in West Point, NY on May 29, 1866.
Born on November 24, 1784, in Orange County, Virginia, Taylor spent most of his childhood in Kentucky, eventually making his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was appointed a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army on May 3, 1808 and was promoted to Captain in 1810. He served extensively in the Indiana Territory during the War of 1812. Scott led the defense of Fort Harrison against an attack by Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and commanded the 7th Infantry at the Battle of Wild Cat Creek. Following the War of 1812, Taylor fought in the Black Hawk War and the Seminole Wars. During the Mexican-American War, Taylor became a national hero with victories at Palo Alto, Monterrey and Buena Vista. In the 1848 presidential election, Taylor won a close election as the Whig nominee. Although a southern slave holding President, Taylor was firmly opposed to secession and threatened military action against any states that attempted to separate from the Union. He encouraged settlers in New Mexico and California to avoid disputes surrounding slavery by drafting constitutions and applying for statehood without first becoming a territory. Taylor died in office on July 9, 1850.