Major Exhibit Opens May 11 At CBMM—Navigating Freedom: The War of 1812 on the Chesapeake

CBMM_NavigatingFreedom_Exhibit_May11 (400 x 303)A new major exhibit entitled Navigating Freedom: The War of 1812 on the Chesapeake opens Saturday, May 11 at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) in St. Michaels, MD. The exhibit’s opening coincides with the bicentennial of the British attack on St. Michaels, which occurred in 1813.

This exhibit explores the impact of the War of 1812 on the people of the Chesapeake­­––black and white Americans, militiamen, Baltimore merchants, and British sailors who found opportunity or misfortune amid the conflict. Their diaries, artifacts, portraits, and articles reveal their personal stories, and the ways the War of 1812 on the Chesapeake challenged American ideas about freedom.

While traditional interpretations of the conflict tend to focus on major land and naval battles, illustrious American and British heroes, and the political machinations of nation against nation, the Navigating Freedom exhibit explores the transformation, impact, and legacy of the War of 1812 through the lives of the men and women directly affected by the political, economic, and emotional upheaval.

The sources of these accounts of national struggle are the product of new research from a variety of collaborators including CBMM’s Center for Chesapeake Studies (CCS), the Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery in Maryland program, Pulitzer-prize winning historian Dr. Alan Taylor, and Hirelings: African-American Workers and Free Labor in Early Maryland author and professor Dr. Jennifer Dorsey, among others.

A team of expert curatorial and design professionals led by Rich Beard, Laura Friedman, and Ken Yellis translated the extensive original research into an exhibit that dynamically connects the visitor with the War of 1812 as seen through the perspective of Chesapeake Bay folk across the social and economic spectrum. The exhibit includes the stories of slaves who became free and settled in Nova Scotia as British citizens, shipbuilders in St. Michaels, a captured Quaker mother and her small children, British and American naval commanders, plantation owners who traded with the enemy under the protection of a white flag, and their slaves who guided the British through the waters of the Chesapeake.

In addition, CBMM partnered with Washington College’s GIS lab to generate a 3D virtual flyover of the Battle of St. Michaels, as well as maps highlighting the cultural landscapes of the area, which will be incorporated into the new exhibit. Additional stories, research, and activities will be shared with the public beyond CBMM’s campus through an interactive online exhibit, curriculum materials, teacher workshops, and a selection of public programs for all ages.

The Navigating Freedom exhibit received more than $110,000 in support from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and a Star Spangled 200 grant from the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission.

The exhibit continues through 2015 and is free for CBMM members or with museum admission, which includes access to the 1879 Hooper Strait Lighthouse and numerous exhibit buildings over 18 waterfront acres in historic St. Michaels, MD.

For more information, call 410-745-2916 or visit

In photo:  “Admiral Cockburn burning & plundering Havre de Grace on the 1st of June 1813.” Attributed to William Charles, circa 1813. Hambleton Print Collection. Reprinted with permission from the Maryland Historical Society.