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Dr. William Wroten

Delmarva Heritage Series

* Governor Faced Hard Problems

Salisbury Times - July 18, 1962

For sometime it was said that the wartime governors of Maryland usually came from the Eastern Shore, and for a majority of the wars in which the United States was involved, the governors did come from the eastern side of the Bay.

But none of them ever had the difficult problems which faced Gov. Levin Winder during the War of 1812.

The Winder family was one of the old colonial families of America. John Winder came to Virginia in or before 1665, but soon moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he became an influential landholder. At that time he held minor civil offices in Somerset County, and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the militia. His son John married Jean Dashiel, and their son William married Esther Gillis, two more old and influential families of the lower Shore.

Levin, the son of William and Esther, was born in Somerset County on September 4, 1757. Educated to a limited degree in the local schools, Levin was preparing for a career in law when the Revolutionary War put an end to his studies. He soon joined the patriots in the fight against the British, and although he was only 18 he was commissioned a first lieutenant in 1776. Before the end of the year he was a captain in the 4th Regiment of the Maryland Line; a major on April 17, 1777, and lieutenant colonel on June 3, 1781.

When he retired from active service in November, 1783, Winder did not return to the study of law but became somewhat of a southern planter near Princess Anne. And, like most of the country gentlemen of that period he devoted much time to politics. Being what one might call "a born politician," Winder entered political life in 1806 when elected to the House of Delegates. As a member of the Federalist Party he served three successive terms of one year each. During his last term, the executive branch and the State Senate were both controlled by the Republican Party, but the House of Delegates had a Federalist Majority. And under this division of party power, Levin Winder was chosen Speaker of the House.

AS A STRONG Federalist, Winder was a bitter opponent of the national policies of the Republican Party and the declaration of war with England in 1812. Seemingly, during this period the two parties were almost equally divided in Maryland, with the Republicans usually able to gather just enough strength to control the governorship. The Republicans probably would have continued this control in 1812 if it had not been for a riot which took place in Baltimore. Some Republicans were so angry at an anti-war editorial in a Federalist paper that they attacked the editor, and brawled with friends of the Federalists.

Because several were killed and many others wounded, the people were outraged at this prevailing spirit of lawlessness. The affair proved to be boomerang to the Republican Party, and when the General Assembly met in 1812 to choose the governor of Maryland, Levin Winder defeated Gov. Bowie (who was a candidate for re-election) by a vote of 52-29. Winder was re-elected in 1813 and 1814.

Gov. Winder was in a very trying position; his party had been and was still opposed to the war which had broken out with England. This state of affairs along with political reasons doubtlessly led to a noticeable lack of harmony between the State of Maryland and the Federal Government. It seemed quite clear to the Marylanders that the administration in Washington was going to ignore the defenses of Maryland.

WINDER, although an anti-war governor, was concerned chiefly with protecting the people and property of the bay shores from enemy attacks. The damages done to British commerce by the famous "Baltimore Clippers" had made the bay area, especially Baltimore, a prime target for the British fleet. Winder appealed to the secretary of war first, but his request was evaded; turning next to President Madison, he received a still unfavorable response. The Federal Government was quite willing to give aid and protection to Virginia and other Republican States, but little or none to the Federalist State of Maryland. Winder remarked, "Virginia has but to ask and she receives; but Maryland, for her political disobedience, is denied."

Fortunately, Maryland had in Gov. Winder a man of courage, fight, and action. Maryland should be very proud of the leadership shown by Winder in that difficult situation. When the British fleet approached the Chesapeake in 1813, Winder, realizing that Maryland must rely upon her own resources, called a special session of the General Assembly. Following Winder's leadership, the Assembly appropriated large sums for the protection of the bay area, and the people rallied with patriotic fervor to the defense of their native State.

ON BOTH sides of the bay the local militia was active; from the mouth to the head of the Chesapeake, the British attempts at invasion were repulsed with relatively small losses of life and property. Probably the highlight of action by Maryland was the frustration experienced by the British at North Point and Fort McHenry. And, on the other hand, probably the low mark experienced by Americans during the war was the failure of the Federal Government to repel the British advance upon Washington, D. C.

After completing his three one-year terms, Gov. Winder returned to his farm and temporarily retired from politics. The call of public service was so great, however, that within a year he was serving in the State Senate. Gov. Winder was also very active in the Masonic Order. One authority has written:

"Hardly secondary to Winder's claim to fame because of his administration of state affairs are his relations with the Masonic order. Always active in the interests of this influential secret order, he filled the office of the grand master of Masons in 1814 and 1815. His name occupies a position of large importance in the story of this organization in America, and much of its early success was the result of his faithful and untiring labors in its behalf."

Winder died in Baltimore on July 1, 1819, and his body lay in state at Westminster Church for two weeks. After that the remains were sent to Somerset County for burial. But there is a mystery as to the place of burial. Harry C. Dashiell and several others of Somerset County have been searching for some years trying in vain to locate the tomb of Gov. Levin Winder, one of the greatest and most important leaders that Maryland has ever produced.


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