Capt. Lt. John Stricker

Capt. Lt. John Stricker
by: By JohnStricker, Jr.
Maryland Historical Magazine, September 1914, vol. 9, No. 3, 209-218

This man has sometimes been confused with Lieutenant John Stricker; they may have been related but this line of research has not been pursued. The surname was and is common in Pennsylvania; the very similar Strickler has also caused difficulties but it is supposed they were distinct families.

John, born in 1759, was the eldest son of George Stricker (1732-1810) and his first wife Catherine (Springer) of Frederick County, Maryland. The family, of Swiss origin, had gradually migrated northward from North Carolina in the pre-Revolutionary period. George Stricker served on the Frederick County Committee of Observation in 1776, and on 3 January 1776 was Captain of the Ninth (Light Infantry) Company of General William Smallwood’s First Maryland Battalion. On 17 July he was commissioned by the Continental Congress Lt. Colonel of the German Regiment of Maryland and Pennsylvania, Colonel Nicholas Hausegger, but resigned on 29 April 1777. From 1779 to 1780 he was a delegate from Frederick County to the Lower House of the Maryland General Assembly, but from about 1775 till the time of his death he lived at “McMechan’s Bottom”, near Wheeling, Ohio County, Virginia, now West Virginia; there he died on 29 November 1810.

His son John Stricker was enlisted as a Cadet in the German Regiment in 1776 at the age of seventeen. Although the regiment saw some action around New York it was first committed at Trenton on 26 December 1776, speedily followed by the Battle of Princeton on 2 January 1777. However, early in 1777 John Stricker enlisted as a Sergeant in the Fourth Continental Artillery; presumably his status as “cadet”, not a recognized army rank, permitted him to do this. If he held this enlisted rank it was but briefly, as he was commissioned Third Lieutenant or Ensign in the artillery on 1 April 1777. His entire Revolutionary career was with the Fourth Continental Artillery. The artillery served as required in detachments whose history usually cannot be determined. Stricker’s son, John, Jr., in 1837 recognized this, and reconstructing his father’s services, said of them,

Portions of his regiment were frequently detached to the Armies in different quarters, and partook largely of the dangers of the Revolution. In the important battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, German Town, Monmouth, Springfield and others not now recollected, he was personally engaged and also accompanied General Sullivan on the expedition against [the Iroquois] Indians. Reluctant at all times to speak of himself, nothing more than is here stated, is known of his services,…

Thus his son; nothing more will be attempted here.

Stricker was regularly promoted, but the lack of artillery rolls makes reconstruction difficult. A record states that he was paid as a First Lieutenant from 1 April 1780; the only certain date seems to be that he was made Captain-Lieutenant on 11 February 1780. He was retained in the Arrangements of 1781 and 1783, and was finally retired on 17 June 1783.

On 4 October 1783 Stricker signed the “Philadelphia Roll” of the Society of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania at the Philadelphia Barracks. He signed also the “Parchment Roll” and the “Pay Order of 1784”. When he removed to Baltimore, Stricker became associated with the Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland, his son was admitted to membership there in 1821, and the descendants thereafter maintained the Maryland connection.

On 10 October 1783 Stricker married Martha, the daughter of Gunning (1747-1812) and Susanna (Jacquett) Bedford, thus becoming the brother-in-law of Lieutenant Joshua Barney [an Original Member of the Society]. The officiating clergyman was the Rev. Dr. James Sproat of the Pine Street Presbyterian Church, the father of Captain William Sproat [an Original Member of the Society]. Both Stricker and Barney took up residence in Baltimore soon thereafter and began a mercantile business. If not before, at least from his move to Baltimore Stricker became closely identified with “Democratic”, i.e., anti-Federalist politics, a departure from the usual pattern of the political sentiments of most Pennsylvania officers. By 1789 the firm of Stricker and (James) Beatty was engaged in the lucrative Baltimore trade in wheat and flour from the back country of Maryland and central Pennsylvania. To further his flour enterprise Stricker owned at least one mill-seat on Jones Falls. When a destructive fire destroyed many wharves and warehouses in Baltimore’s harbor on 28 May 1799 Stricker was one of the principal losers. His son afterwards said, “…he was ultimately successful, and realised a competent if not affluent estate.”

Stricker continued to concern himself with military matters: about 1792 he raised “The Independent Company” of militia in Baltimore. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 affected Maryland as well as Pennsylvania and when a call issued for Maryland militia to march west, the now-Colonel Stricker commanded the pride of Baltimore, the “Dandy” Fifth Regiment. In 1807 he became Brigadier General of the Third Brigade of Maryland Militia. In spite or because of Stricker’s civic and military prominence, in 1812 he was involved in a disgraceful episode of Baltimore’s history in which he does not appear to advantage from any viewpoint. Some simplified explanation must here be given:

In 1812 James Madison, a Jeffersonian, Democratic-Republican, was President of a country bitterly divided over relations with England: the South and West were represented in Congress by capable “War Hawks”, while the commercial, maritime East, by and large, was opposed to war with Britain, and Maryland was similarly divided in its sentiments. Congress declared war on Britain on 18 June 1812, and on 20 June Alexander Contee Hanson, Jr., editor of The Federal Republican, published in Baltimore a vituperate editorial denouncing the declaration. Two days afterwards his printing office was demolished by a mob, but on 27 July Hanson published an editorial bitterly critical of the Baltimore authorities for not protecting him and his property. Expecting more trouble, Hanson fortified his house and collected a “garrison” which included such prominent Federalists as Colonel Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, General James McCubbin Lingan, Lieutenant George Winchester (all members of the Society of the Cincinnati), and perhaps as many as forty-five others. He appealed to General Stricker, head of the city militia, for protection.

On the evening of 27 July the anticipated mob gathered before the house. The “garrison” sent out warnings that they were armed and prepared to resist violence, but it increased, stones were thrown and finally the besieged fired, aiming, it was said, over the heads of the attackers. The mob dispersed, only to return with courage sufficient to storm the house. When they did so, one of them was killed and others wounded. This was finally violence enough for Stricker to send his nephew Major William B. Barney to the spot with a “party of horse” in the early hours of the morning of 28 July. Extended parlaying ensued, and the mob brought up a cannon which, however, Barney prevented being fired. At six o’clock on the morning Mayor Edward Johnson and General Stricker appeared. They proposed that the defenders surrender under guard and be taken to the jail for safety. The Hanson party objected to what they regarded as an arrest for defending private property against mob attack. Finally, however, largely because of the persuasion of General Lee, the defenders did surrender and were escorted to the jail, about nine o’clock in the morning. John Stricker accompanied them amid a shower of paving stones from the mob; he was struck by one and almost lost an eye.

The most controversial part of these events was yet to come. The mob dispersed, and Stricker saw fit to dismiss the militia, but throughout the day Baltimore was filled with reports that a more deadly attack would be made on the jail that night. On 12 August, The Federal Republican reported, retrospectively,

General Stricker and Mr. Johnson [the mayor] being informed of the intended massacre, an order was obtained in the legal form to call out the military for the protection of the jail….Gen. Stricker accordingly ordered out the fifth regiment (commanded by Col. Joseph Sterrett, a brave man, and to be relied on in all situations,) but directed expressly that they should be furnished with blank cartridges only. This part of the order might very well deter, and no doubt did deter many of the well-disposed militia from turning out….The Brigadier General himself, after his solemn pledge of his word and honor as an officer and a man in the presence of God, did not appear. He was not to be seen with the troops, and if seen in the streets at all, it was in his common dress with a rattan in his hand. He nowhere showed himself as the commander of the militia, made no call in person on the troops or the citizens to rally around him, but contented himself with barely doing what was required of him, according to the strict letter, by ordering out a part of the militia, and rendered that order futile and nugatory, or worse, by combining it with an order to come without effective arms.

This account was from a hostile source, but Stricker’s conduct does seem inexplicable. About sundown on that day the mob began to gather at the jail, and Stricker and the Mayor, addressing them, thought they had a promise to disperse. Stricker, on his way home, dismissed two troops of militia that had been stationed nearby in case of need. This news was immediately known to the mob which no longer hesitated in attacking the jail. The event was summed up,

Finding that the militia had left, [the mob] stormed the building, overpowered the jailer and, with clubs and other weapons, set out to massacre the unarmed and defenseless prisoners. One was killed immediately, eleven others were brutally beaten and tortured. Eight, presumed to be dead, were thrown out in front of the jail. They were saved only by lying still. Its appetite for blood sated the mob departed from the scene leaving its victims in agony behind. “Light Horse” Harry Lee never recovered from the terrible beating he received. Following this unhappy incident, the bloodiest and most brutal in Baltimore’s history, members of the mob were brought to trial. But all of them were acquitted.

And it should also be added that charges brought against the Hanson defenders were likewise dismissed at a subsequent trial in Annapolis.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this bloody incident, General Stricker was soon to find himself in the way of redeeming his reputation, if such were necessary. On 4 February 1813 a British fleet commanded by Rear Admiral George Cockburn entered the Chesapeake Bay and in April began slowly moving north. On 16 April Baltimore expected an attack which did not come, but on 3 May Cockburn’s fleet appeared before Havre de Grace, at the very head of the Bay, and plundered and burned the town, about fifteen miles from the Pennsylvania border. In July British ships entered the Potomac River. To oppose the British Navy, the United States Navy had sixteen ocean-going vessels, several of which were disabled. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison put their faith in defensive gun-boats of which the country had about two hundred in 1812. To counter the British moves in the Bay, Stricker’s brother-in-law Joshua Barney [an Original Member of the Society] was offered the command of a flotilla of twenty-eight gun-boats, manned by about nine hundred men. What he did with them has already been recounted supra.; here it will only be repeated that the only effective defense of the City of Washington in August 1814 was that mounted at Bladensburg, Maryland, by Commodore Joshua Barney.

About a month later Barney’s brother-in-law Stricker mounted a similar, but more effective, defense of Baltimore. In August 1814 a British squadron under Sir Peter Parker sailed northward toward Baltimore which the British called the “Nest of Pirates” because of the city’s effective privateers. Parker never made it: on 30 August he was killed by Maryland militia at the Battle of Caulk’s Field in Kent County, Maryland. On 24 August the defenses of Baltimore were put into the hands of General Samuel Smith, the defender of Fort Mifflin in the Delaware River in October 1777. On 11 September the British fleet arrived at the mouth of the Patapsco River, the entry to Baltimore harbor, for an attack both by land and sea on the town. To counter the advance overland General Smith sent John Stricker with eight thousand men to reconnoitre east of the town. At North Point on 12 September the British began landing troops commanded by Major General Robert Ross, who had defeated Barney at Bladensburg and burned Washington.

As the British advanced up the Point, Ross was shot off his horse by two of Stricker’s sharpshooters. Ross was succeeded in command by Colonel Arthur Brooke who continued the advance. The “Battle of North Point” ensued, with American losses of twenty-four killed, one hundred thirty-nine wounded, and fifty prisoners. The British reported forty-six killed and three hundred wounded. “Defenders’ Day”, 12 September, a legal holiday in Maryland, memorializes that battle. Afterwards, Stricker followed Smith’s battle-plan and fell back to the American lines on high ground east of Baltimore in present-day Patterson Park. When the British came up they found facing them twenty thousand Americans manning very professionally designed fortifications. Brooke asked for additional help from his fleet, but during the rainy night that followed he found that none would be forthcoming and he withdrew to the ships. Brooke could get no help because the attack on Baltimore from the sea had begun on Tuesday 13 September with the bombardment of Fort McHenry. The attack lasted twenty-five hours, and some eighteen hundred shells were thrown into the fort, but only two American were killed. Early on Wednesday 14 September 1814 the dawn’s early light revealed to Francis Scott Key the Star-Spangled Banner yet waving. In commemoration of Baltimore’s victorious defense, portraits of John Stricker, Samuel Smith, and Joshua Barney were commissioned by the city, and they hang today in the Peale Museum of Baltimore.

Stricker’s career returned to its civil course after 1814, when both Smith and Stricker resigned their commissions during one of those disputes over rank and precedence in which the military then indulged themselves. From 1801 to about 1811 Stricker was United States Naval Agent for the Port of Baltimore, further evidence of Democratic favor. Although elected to the Maryland Senate in 1821 he declined to serve. He became President of the Bank of Baltimore and was prominent among the Baltimoreans who received Lafayette in the city in October 1824. A grand fête was given “The Nation’s Guest” at Fort McHenry, where he was entertained in the marquee used by Washington during the Revolution. On 23 June 1825 General Stricker died suddenly: “He was one of the most amiable and best of men”. He was buried with military honors; his remains were afterwards removed to Westminster Presbyterian Churchyard at Fayette and Greene Streets, Baltimore, where lie buried Edgar Allen Poe and other notable figures of local, state and national history. There were eleven children of the marriage but the only son to survive infancy was that John Stricker, born 26 July 1800, who was found drowned on 23 December 1837.