Military Wiki

John Adams Webster (1789–1877) was a captain in the United States Navy, who, as a young third lieutenant, heard the sound of the British oars as its small flotilla approach Fort McHenry in Baltimore, September 13, 1814. He remained in the battle in spite of being wounded twice and received commendations for this from the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland.[1] It was during this battle that Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner”. Webster remained active in his military service serving as a captain in the Revenue Service until his death.[2]

Early life

John Adams Webster was born at Broom's Bloom, his family's ancestral home, on September 19, 1789, in Harford County, Maryland. His parents were Samuel Webster and Margaret Adams. At the age of 14 he joined the merchant marine and traveled to many foreign ports.[3]

Battle of Baltimore

When the War of 1812 broke out, Webster was a third lieutenant under Captain Joshua Barney, and a year later when Barney was given a flotilla of gunboats to resist the British on the Chesapeake Bay, Webster became sailing master of one of the small vessels. After engaging the British in the Patuxent River, Webster, in company with other flotilla officers, led his men to Bladensburg, where he again fought the British on August 24, 1814. Webster was engaged in several more battles and ended up in command of a six-gun battery located on the “Ferry” or middle branch of the Patapsco River, west of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Along with Fort Covington, still further to the west, the battery was set up to prevent a possible British landing in the rear of Fort McHenry. “At daybreak on September 13th, the British opened their bombardment, but the six-gun battery was completely out of range. Webster and his men could only remain alert. About 11 p.m. in a pouring rain, Webster made his rounds and ordered his guns loaded with 18-pound balls and grapeshot. Then he wrapped himself in a blanket and stretched on the breastwork to rest. About midnight, he heard above the beat of the rain, the sound of muffled oars splashing through the water. Rousing his men, they saw about 200 yards off, tiny gleaming lights and Webster aimed each of his six guns and gave the order to “fire”. The British landing barges returned the fire, Fort Covington's guns opened fire and within minutes every American cannon was in action. The action lasted for over an hour, and the British retreated.”[4] Lt. Webster had been wounded but remained on his post. For his heroic action, the Citizens of Baltimore gave him a sword bearing an inscription commemorating the event. A photograph of the sword is posted on the Maryland Archives website.[1] Later the State of Maryland presented him with another sword.[2]

Middle years

On February 8, 1816, John Adams Webster married Rachel Biays, daughter of Colonel Joseph Biays and Elizabeth Clopper. They would have eleven children and build a house on family land in Harford County, MD, calling it Mt. Adams.[5]

On November 22, 1816 President Monroe appointed him captain in the Revenue Service, which position he held until his death. He was located in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1819 to 1830, in New Bern, North Carolina, for a few months, then on to Norfolk, Virginia, from late 1830 to 1842. In 1842 he was stationed in Wilmington, Delaware, and a year later he was sent to New York. After that Captain Webster did short duty back in Baltimore, then on to Newport, Rhode Island; New Orleans, Louisiana; and back to New York. In 1847, he was appointed to take charge of a fleet of eight revenue vessels to cooperate with the army and navy in their operations on the Rio Grande, against the city of Vera Cruz in the War with Mexico. Then he served in San Francisco, California, from July 1851 to August 1856.[6]

It was in San Francisco that Webster “had under my control on board the U.S.R. Bark Polk, seventeen Japanese,” who had been plucked from the sea by those aboard the American freighter Auckland. He befriended one of them, Joseph Heco, and recognized his potential to help with Perry's efforts to open Japan. “One of the members is a boy about 16 years. He is very intelligent and the best-conditioned youth I ever saw.”[6]

Later years

John Adams Webster retired to his home in Maryland and spent his later years writing the story of his life. His wife Rachel died in 1869. Webster died at his home, Mt. Adams, on July 4. 1877, and was buried beside his wife in the family burying ground.[5][unreliable source?]


  1. 1.0 1.1 <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-08. Retrieved 2020-02-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Neglected Hero of Fort McHenry, by Harold r. Manakee, Baltimore Sun, August 30, 1964.
  3. Biographical Cyclopedia, 1879, page 474.
  4. The British Invasion of Maryland 1812-1815, by William M. Marine, Tradition Press, 1965
  5. 5.0 5.1 Family genealogical records.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Biographical writings of John Adams Webster in various years.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).