Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Story of the Star Spangled Banner and the Life of John S. Skinner, July 5, 1854

jULY 5, 1854

The Story of the Star Spangled Banner and the Life of John S. Skinner[1]


            We have received a biographical sketch of this distinguished son of Maryland, from which we make some extracts below, together with the prospectus of a plan for raising a monument to his memory, and for securing an annuity to his widow, who is said to be in destitute circumstances. The important services which Mr. Skinner rendered to the cause of agriculture in the State, as well as his advocacy of the intellectual improvement of our citizens, constitute a powerful appeal to their sympathy:

            John Stuart Skinner, (named after his uncle) was born on the 22nd day of February, 1788, and was reared upon his father's plantation. Often have we heard him relate, with particular yet mournful dust, his juvenile labors and picking cotton, or pulling blades, were journeying on a "tackey" with leather to the shoemaker, yarn to the weaver, or cloth to the tailor. Tobacco in corn were his father staple crops, but it was the old gentleman's rule to raze everything used on his plantation, with the exception of iron, sugar and coffee. The land thus became acquainted with the practical details of spinning, weaving, canning, distilling, milling, and blacksmithing, all of which were carried on at home. This impressed his mind, at an early age, with the axiom that all industral[sic] pursuits inclined to cluster around the plow, and that agriculture prospers as other occupations yield to its attraction. Among other excellent works put into his hands by his father, was a pamphlet showing the exhausting tendency of shallow plowing, written by a strong-minded Quaker, named Moore. It first led him to regard agriculture as an intellectual pursuit, replete with philosophy, and susceptible of being improved by the application of science.

In the fall of 1813, Mr. Skinner was ordered to remove his offices to Baltimore, and before he was fairly established there, he was offered a purser's commissioned by the Sec. of the Navy. This unexpected honor he at first declined, having no taste for a nautical life, and supposing that any moment he would be liable to be order to see. But he accepted, on being informed that the object of the government in appointing him was to secure his services at Baltimore, where two sloops of war and a flotilla of gunboats were fitted out. When the flotilla was equipped, the expenditures were very heavy, as Commodore Barney was upward of 1000 men under his command, but Mr. Skinner performed his arduous duties to the end of the war, and for years afterward, to the entire satisfaction of the government, as well as its counting officers. He was frequently detailed to act as a judge advocate on courts-martial, and one the warm friendship of the gallant defenders of our flagging that hour of peril.

            At the approach of the British forces upon Washington, Mr. Skinner Road 90 miles in the night, and first announced to the government their March, after having warned Commodore Barney, previously, of their hostile intentions. By way of retaliation, the "redcoats" earned the valuable buildings on St. Leonard's-creek estate, for which he never sought any reimbursement from Government, although compensation was granted for property destroyed on a neighboring plantation, at the same time, and by the same forces.

            A few weeks later, Mr. Skinner went down the bay on an official visit to Adm. Cockburn, to negotiate for the exchange of some gentlemen who had been captured from their plantations. He was accompanied [by] Francis S. Key, Esq., and they of course sailed under a flag of truce. But on reaching the squadron, they found the enemy on the point of sailing to attack Baltimore, and were politely informed that they could not return until the city was taken. Meanwhile, they would be welcome on board the flag–ship, or they could remain on board the yacht in which they came, on "parole." Choosing the latter the British commander took away their sales, and sent a card of sailors on board of the yacht. Here Mr. Skinner, and his friend remain during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, to the annoyance of their guard, who wish to dessert, but were restrained by the "prisoners." The British not succeeding in their attempt, the gentleman had their sales restored, and were permitted to return to Baltimore, with apologies at their detention. Immediately on landing, they went to the old "Fountain Inn," on Light street, where Mr. Key wrote that justly-admired song, the "Star-Spangled Banner."— It was a literal description of their feelings during the night of the bombardment, when the rockets and the bombs betokened the assaults of the enemy, and of their patriotic joy when in the gray light of early dawn they saw the starry ensign and waving in proud defiance. Mr. Skinner, ere the song was completed, saw its beauties, and obtaining Mr. Keyes permission to have it published, two copies of it to the printing offices of the morning papers. Ere long, it resounds through the public like a recovered echo of Thermopylæ — it's notes (like those of the Marsellaise hymn in France) finding in accompaniment in the throbbing of every American heart.

            In 1816, (being still and for years after purser on the station,) Pres. Madison appointed Mr. Skinner postmaster of Baltimore, then the third city in the Union. This office, which was one of labor and of high responsibility, he held for twenty-three years when he was removed by President Van Buren, in accordance with his "system." Meanwhile he declined the territorial judgeship from Mr. Madison, and the post of secretary of state of Arkansas from his warm personal friend Mr. Munroe[sic] — Messrs. Adams and Jackson each honored him with the appointment of visitor of the West Point Academy, and his re-nomination as postmaster of Baltimore by the latter, just before his term expired, and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.

            Agriculture, at this period, was at a low ebb in the Middle States. After the conflicting armies of Europe wearied with the conflict had turned their swords into plough shares, the prices of American bread-stuff naturally declined. — The soil was becoming gradually exhausted, especially in Maryland, whose tobacco crops had paid so many of the drafts for foreign supplies during the revolution. No other Commonwealth in the world is so beneficially bounded and indented by navigable water — or so abounds in calcareousand other rich fertilizing substances  — where is so capable of easy culture and recuperation. Yet in a few years after the silver-toned trumpet of peace echoed along her shores, Maryland fell into an agricultural paralysis. Answer sons grow up, they moved away to "wear out" in its turn the fertile prairies of the West, and the old homestead mansions, often sadly out of repair, restore me with old maiden daughters, many of them were so beautiful and so excellent that no change could have improved them— save a change of name.

            An ardent lover of his native State, and sensibly alive to her stagnant condition, history Skinner had the sagacity to foresee that a continuation of this position of things must be productive of consequences not only ruinous but destructive. And able series of papers, signed "Arator," (from the pen of Col. John Taylor, of Carolina,) that him to investigate the subject, and the avidity with which these essays were red, the published in book form, addition after addition, led him to conceive the idea of establishing an agricultural paper. Happy thought! Every political party, every religious sect, every prominent business locality use the mighty engine of civilization— but the farmers, that immense majority of citizens, had no "organ." In supplying this want, Mr. Skinner supplied the first germ of modern agriculture, which thenceforth began to store up Phoenix-like, from the ashes of a wrong popular judgment.

[1] Maryland State Archives. "Planter's Advocate", July 5, 1854. Collection. MSA SC 3415: msa_sc3415_scm3597-0115  [accessed on the web at]

Transcribed by John Peter Thompson, July 3rd, 2014.
[2] Maryland State Archives. "Planter's Advocate", July 5, 1854. Collection. MSA SC 3415: msa_sc3415_scm3597-0115  [accessed on the web at]

Transcribed by John Peter Thompson, July 3rd, 2014.

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