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The War of 1812

Perilous Choice

U.S. troops were soundly defeated at the Battle of Bladensburg. The British pursued the fleeing Americans into Washington, D.C., and set fire to many buildings including the White House and Capitol. This defeat marked one of the low points of the War of 1812.

Mendes originally joined the 27th Regiment under the impression that he would be joining the defense of D.C. When Mendes realized this was not the case, he joined another militia.

“When the public buildings at Washington were burned the light of the conflagration was plainly seen by Cohen and his comrades at the fort.” - from Mendes I. Cohen’s obituary, The Baltimore Sun, May 8, 1879

Capture and burning of Washington, D.C., by the British, 1814, North Wind Picture Archives.

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Defending Baltimore

When Mendes found out that the 27th Regiment was not heading for Washington, D.C., he decided to enlist in a different unit. Along with his brothers, Philip and Jacob, Mendes joined a volunteer company charged with defending Baltimore – Nicholson’s Artillery Fencibles, under the command of Capt. Joseph H. Nicholson, Chief Judge of Baltimore County.

“Is there an American sword that will not leap from its scabbard to avenge the wrongs and contumely treatment under which we have so long suffered? No, my countrymen, it is impossible. Let us act with one heart, and with one hand; let us show to an admiring world, that however we may differ among ourselves about some of our eternal concerns, yet in the great cause of our country, the American people are animated by one soul and by one spirit….”  - Joseph Hopper Nicholson, chairman of a pro-war group (and President of the Farmer’s Bank of Baltimore) in a speech delivered at Baltimore’s Fountain Inn, May 6, 1812

Would you be stirred by these words and take up arms to defend your nation?

Jacob Cohen’s Payroll, Muster Roll and membership card, Fencibles, 1814. Although he was a member, Jacob missed the famous battle at Fort McHenry while tending a sick relative in Philadelphia. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society and the Baltimore City Archives.

Keeping Kosher?

As a volunteer militia company, Nicholson’s Fencibles were responsible for providing their own rations. In his later recollections of the Battle of Baltimore, Mendes described how it worked.

“Every morning at about six o’clock a small covered cart left the northwest corner of Howard and Market Streets for the Fort, with food sent by their families for the members of the company.” The Cohen brothers received a large stone jug filled with coffee under “a cover of carpet…that always arrived good and hot.” 

- Mendes Cohen (as told to great nephew Benjamin Cohen)

It is often said that Fort McHenry’s Jewish defenders, including Mendes and Philip Cohen, and Samuel Etting, “ate kosher.” The fact that Samuel’s father Solomon was certified in kosher butchery supports this story.

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