The African American seaman George Roberts was a native of Canton. He served on board Captain Richard Moon's privateer Sarah Ann at the beginning of the war and was among the six American seamen accused of being British subjects and taken prisoner when Sarah Ann was captured by HMS Statira off the Bahamas on September 13, 1812. Captain Moon denied that they were British and wrote that in regard to "George Robert [sic], a coloured man and seaman, I know him to be native born of the United States ... He entered on board the Sarah Ann in Baltimore where he is married." According to the Niles' Register, the Charleston cartel who owned the vessel took twelve British prisoners and held them hostage in retaliation. Eventually, Roberts and the other American seamen were released.
Roberts later served as a gunner aboard Captain Thomas Boyle's Chasseur, dubbed the “Pride of Baltimore.” Even though he had served most of the war at sea, Roberts was counted among the "Old Defenders" of Baltimore and paraded with the Old Defenders each September 12 in the annual commemoration of the saving of the city, and in other military fetes. He died in January 1861, and his passing was noted in the local newspaper:
“Another Old Defender Gone.--For a number of years past an aged colored man, named George Roberts, has been allowed to parade with the military of the city on all occasions of importance, and was generally mounted as servant to the major-general of the division. He died on Monday night, at the advanced age of ninety-five, at his residence, in Canton. Old George was among those who took up arms in defense of the city in 1814, and throughout his long life was always highly thought of by the citizen soldiery. Though laboring under the weight of so many years, his carriage was erect, he never appeared on parade except in uniform and it was one of his highest aspirations to still be considered one of the defenders of his native city should the necessity have arrived to take up arms in its defense. The deceased was one of the crew under the command of Capt. Thomas Boyle, of this city, when Capt. Boyle declared the coast of Great Britain under blockade. He served during the war under several commanders, and generally at sea, and he had in the service many hairbreath escapes” (Baltimore Sun, January 16, 1861).
Excerpt from Eshelman, Ralph. “Maryland War of 1812 Battlefields, Selected Skirmishes, Encampments, Earthworks and Riot Sites; A partnership between the American Battlefield Protection Program—National Park Service, Maryland Tourism Development Board, and Maryland Historical Trust,” Appendix 1. December 2000.
Learn more about African Americans soldiers of the War of 1812.
Fells Point Visitor Center
Maryland Historical Society
Pride of Baltimore II
George Robert embodies the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission's theme of Unity: Marylanders have always been an especially diverse people, who have led the nation when working together for a common purpose. Learn more about the Commission and its mission, goals, and themes.