Today: McKeldin 10:00AM - 09:00PM

New exhibit showcases history and culture of historic Bladensburg, Maryland

Timed to coincide with festivities celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, Hornbake Library at the University of Maryland will offer a sneak peek of its new exhibit that highlights the history and culture of Bladensburg, once the busiest seaport in the state of Maryland.

Just a few miles from the center of the College Park campus,  Bladensburg was the site of an embarrassing defeat on August 24, 1814, that led to the capture by the British of Washington, D.C., and the burning of the White House and other federal buildings.  

A defeat of the British three weeks later in Baltimore inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner.

Diaorama of historic Bladensburg,Maryland

The exhibition features rare books and documents from the collections of the University of Maryland Libraries, including an historic map of the Chesapeake region created in part by Thomas Jefferson’s father. A pair of pistols on loan from the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis underscores Bladensburg’s reputation as “dueling ground,” where politicians settled disagreements with bullets.

Once a thriving tobacco port, Bladensburg was a center of industry and commerce. After the battle, the town’s reputation soured because of its associations with military defeat and illegal dueling.

Bladensburg was close to Washington, D.C., but beyond the reach of federal authorities, and that made it a prime site to wage a duel, explains curator Douglas McElrath.  About 50 duels occurred there before about 1850. The duels also contributed to the town’s sordid reputation as a haven for drunkards and gamblers. “Bladensburg was the place to go to get in trouble,” McElrath says.

Weekend festivities in Bladensburg include tours of historic buildings, the dedication of a monument at Monument Park, and reenactments by living history performers. Free shuttles and parking at the University of Maryland College Park (Lot 1/Campus Drive) and Landover Metro Station (Bus Bay B) will be available.

Hornbake Library, home to special collections and the University Archives at the University of Maryland, is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  See