Letter From Charles Simms To His Wife Nancy Simms On An Event In The City Of Alexandria

September 3, 1814

The city of Alexandria had already surrendered to the British; this letter describes an event that could have resulted in damages to the city.

Alexandria September 3rd 1814
My Dear Nancy
The British Squadron began to fall down the river yesterday morning and was not as low as the Fort this morning, except one Vessel which the day before yesterday went down in the neighbourhood of the white House, and a pretty heavy firing has been kept up this morning in that neighbourhood. Mr. Cook has gone into the vicinity of the White House and on his return will be able to give you a full account of the state of things there. 

Alexandria has so far had a most providential escape. It is impossible that men could behave better than the British behaved while the Town was in their power, not a single Inhabitant was insulted or injured by them in their persons or houses. Your fear that something might occur to provoke them to fire the Town was not ill founded. — The Day before yesterday Capt. Porter, Lieutenant Creighton and Lieutenant Platt, naval officers rode into Town like Saracens and seized on a poor unarmed (British)Midshipman, a mere stripling, and would have carried him off or killed him had not his neck handkerchief broke. This rash act excited the greatest alarm among the Inhabitants of the Town, Women and children running and screaming through the Streets and hundreds of them laid out that night without Shelter.

 I immediately prepared a message to the Commodore explaining the manner and circumstances of the insult and sent it on board by Mr. Swann and Edmund J Lee. While I was preparing the message One of the Captains rushed into the parlor with the strongest expressions of rage in his countenance bringing with him the midshipman who had been so valiantly assaulted by those Gallant Naval Officers. I explained to him by whom the outrage was committed, that the Town had no control over them; and ought not to be held responsible for their conduct, and I was at that time preparing a message of explanation to the Commodore. He said it was necessary that it should be explained, after which his fury seemed to abate and he went off.

Before Mr. Swann and Mr. Lee got on Board the Signal of Battle was hoisted and all the Vessels were prepared for action when Mr. Swan and Mr. Lee made their explanation & the Commodore said he was satisfied and ordered the signal of Battle to be annulled, thus the Town was providentially preserved from destruction, by the accidental circumstance of the midshipman’s neck handkerchief giving way for had he been killed or carried off, I do not believe the Town could have been saved from destruction.

I do not consider the Town perfectly safe yet If the British Vessels should be prevented from passing the white House they or some of them may probably return here, and wait until troops sufficient to drive off the militia etc at the white House shall come to their relief from Patuxent, and in that case this part of the country will become the seat of war. I cannot therefore wish your return until we are in a more quiet State…..

I am your affectionate husband
Ch. Simms

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