Nova Scotia Archives

A Nova Scotian Observer at the Burning of Washington, August 1814

Letter from Dr. John Fox, Assistant Surgeon, HMS Majestic, Chesapeake Bay, to his father, Cornelius Fox.  5 September 1814. — Page 2 of 4: 27 x 34 cm.   Nova Scotia Archvies MG 100 vol. 35 no. 105 (accession no. 1983-279).

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It is Impossible for me to describe the beauty of this place. It took us the whole day to come up the River on the Brink it is Beautifully laid out and Cultivated Apples, Plumb, Pear & Peach Orchards without number the Houses were all deserted by the Inhabitants & Cattle of all descriptions running wild about the Fields – Boats go on shore from the different Ships and shoot oxen sheep Calves &c which they bring off without molestation — In case the owner makes his appearance to claim the admiral has given an Order to the respective Ships to pay the Prices he has stipulated Viz Beef 25/ Per Cwt Sheep 10/ &c &c &c –

Having about 6000 of Lord Wellingtons Troops & our Naval Force being adequate to any thing that might be required we made an attack upon the City of Washington on the night of the 24th the Advance Guard Consisted of the 85th part (of which will some of the wounded we have on Board) A light Brigade of the 44th the 4th & 21st with A Battalion of Marines & Sailors — The American army were drawn up in Admirable Order but after the first round were put in great Confusion & disorder, only about 2000 of ours Engaged an army of 8000 Exclusive of those in ambush which they completely routed, & put great numbers to the Sword the Americans made A bold Stand at first but Seeing the Gallant 85.th advancing with chargd Bayonets headed by Major Genr Ross they retreated with great Precipitation and left our Troops (at this time Joind by those in Reserve) in quiet and peace possession of their Capital which they burned to the Ground beginning with the house of Congress War & Intelligence Office Mr. Maddisons house the Dock Yard &c until a General Conflagration ensued.

transcribed by Nova Scotia Archives staff 2014



Dr. John Fox, a native of Cornwallis Township, Nova Scotia, was Assistant Surgeon on HMS Majestic. The Majestic joined the squadron of Admiral Sir Alexander Cochran in Chesapeake Bay for the attack on Washington, D.C., by British forces commanded by Major-General Robert Ross. A large part of the city was burned on 24 August 1814.