"before the last war with England, when Salem was a port by itself"
U.S. Frigate Constitution defeats H.M. Frigate Java during the War of 1812
Public DomainU.S. Frigate Constitution defeats H.M. Frigate Java during the War of 1812 - Credit: Anton Otto Fischer

The War of 1812 erupted on 18th June as mounting tensions between America and Britain reached crisis point. Britain was at the time engaged in the Napoleonic Wars and freely rode over American interests by compelling merchant sailors to join in the efforts of the Royal Navy and using the continent as an immense store-cupboard for everything from beef to feed its naval commanders to timber for its impressive fleet of war ships. At the same time, the British colonial powers stood in the way of America’s expansionist ambitions by protecting Native American territories. The ensuing conflict, which was seen as a second war of independence, lasted over two years, finally ending with the American ratification of the Treaty of Ghent on 17th February 1815.

In Salem, the war sounded the death knell for maritime trading. Both the British and the French hijacked its vessels for their own use during the Napoleonic Wars and many seamen were kidnapped and pressed into naval service. By 1815, it had lost about three quarters of its ships. Boston and New York, meanwhile, had taken over as America's major ports, leaving Salemites with the choice of either relocating or following the trend towards manufacturing industries on their native soil.  

American soldiers attack the British forces at North Point, Maryland
Public DomainAmerican soldiers attack the British forces at North Point, Maryland - Credit: US Army, Don Troiani

Explore the Library of Congress' exhaustive collection of documents relating to the War of 1812 here, and watch a documentary on its historical unfolding below.