The more I research local history, the more I discover that, sooner or later, everything will have a Dundalk connection. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I expressed a mild frustration at being unable to answer a reader’s question about the Enchanted Forest amusement park on Route 40 in Howard County. Our definition of “Greater Dundalk,” I pointed out, could not possibly be stretched to include this location, so I was forbidden by longstanding and oft-challenged editorial policy from writing a local history column about it. No local link, no column.
Then I got an e-mail from Tracy Bryan. Ms. Bryan once worked as a secretary for Howard Adler, whom she identifies as the creator of Enchanted Forest. She then added as an aside that Mr. Adler is buried in one of the Jewish cemeteries along German Hill Road. I then got a message from Bob Adams, who assured me that I could do a piece on the park without violating the locality requirement because the tugboat “Little Toot” that plied the lake at Enchanted Forest was built right here in Dundalk at the Baltimore Yacht Co., an outfit that used to be located on Stansbury Road next to the Owens Yacht facility.
Curiouser and curiouser. It seems Dundalk is the birthplace of one of the park’s most beloved icons and the final resting place of its creator. I’ve certainly written in the past about subjects with far more tenuous links to our hometown.
Take Gen. John Stricker, for example. He wasn’t born here. He didn’t die here. He’s not even buried here. His only real link, besides being Joshua Barney’s brother-in-law, was the day he spent here in 1814. But what a day it was.
Born in Frederick Town in 1758, John Stricker was the son of Col. George Stricker, a Swiss immigrant who rose to prominence in the Maryland Colonial Guards. During the Revolutionary War, 18-year-old Stricker first served in a company of volunteers raised by his father to fight the British. He then served as a cadet in Maryland’s German Battalion and later in Col.William Smallwood’s famous Maryland Regiment, the unit that served with such distinction covering the retreat of Gen. George Washington’s army at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights. Outnumbered 10-1 and suffering terrible casualties, Smallwood’s men held their position so that the bulk of the army could escape. This bravery earned the regiment high praise from Gen. Washington. Afterward, the unit was memorialized as the “Maryland Line.”
After the Battle of Long Island, Stricker received his commission and served with Boctar’s Artillery at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. He escorted Hessian prisoners to Frederick and arranged for their captivity in Maryland. According to one account, he was captured by the British and eventually was exchanged and released.
At the end of the war, Capt. Stricker was stationed in Philadelphia. While there, he met and courted Martha Bedford. He married her sometime around 1781. Coincidentally, naval hero and North Point native Joshua Barney married Ann Bedford, Martha’s sister. This union made Barney and Stricker, who were friends, brothers-in-law. They moved with their wives back to Baltimore and went into business together.
Stricker never gave up his commission, though. A few years after the war, he organized the Maryland Militia, which later became the Maryland National Guard. During the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, President Washington ordered Col. Stricker and Gen. Sam Smith to Pittsburgh with a large body of this militia to intimidate the Pennsylvanians who violently opposed the levying of government taxes.
He also participated in Indian campaigns and was eventually promoted to the rank of general.
And then, of course, Stricker showed up in what eventually would be known as Dundalk. After war broke out again with Britain in 1812, Stricker redoubled his efforts to train and drill his men.
His efforts paid off. On a fall day in 1814, Gen. Stricker led more than 3,000 men down the North Point peninsula to face a larger and battle-hardened British force intent on sacking Baltimore.
The commander of this invading force, British Maj. Gen. Robert Ross, had formed a poor opinion of American militiamen, especially after the disastrous Battle of Bladensburg, when virtually all of the militia and regular soldiers broke and ran, and only the sailors and marines under the command of Commodore Joshua Barney held the line.
Ross, therefore, was unimpressed when his aides reported a large force of Maryland militia blocking the road to Baltimore. “I don’t care if it rains militia,” he was reported to have said.
It turns out he should have. Stricker’s snipers whacked Ross from about a hundred yards, and his well-drilled militiamen held the line in a toe-to-toe slugfest with veteran British troops for the better part of a day. Stricker had been ordered by Gen. Smith to delay the Redcoats so that the city defenses could be completed. He did this admirably and withdrew his troops in good order under cover of darkness.
Stricker was deservedly hailed as a hero. He remained a celebrated and prosperous citizen of Baltimore until his death at the age of 67 in 1825. After that, we named a middle school after him.
And, might I add, rightly so.
First printed 12/24/2002