The Town That Fooled the British

From Annapolis Past Port
1832 Map of Virginia and Maryland

St. Michaels, Maryland is known as "The Town That Fooled The British" during the War of 1812 by placing lanterns in trees and on ship masts to cause the British to overshoot the town during an early morning attack. This story began with one of St. Michaels favorite sons, Thomas Kemp, Jr. (1800-1890), a thirteen year old boy at the time of the 1813 British attack. Seventy-three years later in 1886 during an interview for the Baltimore American newspaper, three years before his death, Kemp stated, “Lights were placed at night upon trees and masts of vessels.” His father, Captain Joseph Kemp, commanded the St. Michaels Patriotic Blues, who garrisoned a small cannon battery during the 1813 attack.[1]

The issue with Kemp's story is that by the time the British arrived and opened fire, it was already mostly light out, and several cannonballs and grapeshot hit multiple houses in the town. [2][3]

There are no known contemporary accounts of the lanterns story. The Battle of St. Michaels was a surprise attack by the British, and began the morning of August 10, 1813.

The legend has been retold in children's books[4].


  1. Eshelman, Ralph E.; Sheads, Scott S. (2013). Chesapeake Legends and Lore from the War of 1812. The History Press. ISBN 978-1-62619-071-9
  2. National Park Service. "The Town that Fooled the British?" National Park Service Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, Last Updated 19 May 2020,
  3. Eshelman, Ralph E., and Burton K. Kummerow. "In Full Glory Reflected: Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake." Maryland Historical Society, 15 July 2012, ISBN-10 0984213546.
  4. McCully, Emily Arnold. "The Battle For St. Michaels." I Can Read, 2002, ISBN-10 0064442780