Last week we identified the small graveyard, now gone to dust like its occupants, as the family plot of the Trottens. The four recorded graves belonged to John Trotten (died 1809 at 38 years), Sarah Trotten (died 1856 at 68 years), James Trotten (died 1804 at nine months) and Thomas Long (died 1823 at 16 years).
But who were the Trottens? Interestingly enough, historical anecdotes link them and their house by the little cemetery with arguably the single most important event in our local history. Yes, friends, I have once again managed to work in the Battle of North Point.
When the British outriders moved up North Point in September 1814, several of them stopped at the house, the home of one “Dr. Trotten,” according to several accounts I discovered in the files of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society. While the stories vary, the gist is that, warned of the approach of the British, Mrs. Trotten buried the family’s silver in the garden and planted cabbages to disguise the freshly turned earth. The Trottens then fled to Gatch’s Mill.
One story states that the family left behind their slaves, the doctor’s medicines and liniments and his wife’s homemade “wines and cordials.” According to this account, the British, upon seeing the doctor’s tools and chemicals, feared that the liquor was poisoned, so they compelled a slave named Dick to drink some from each bottle before they partook.
Since the marauding redcoats proceeded to consume the house’s entire stock of spirits, one imagines that Dick felt rather bad the next morning.
Anyway, the stories all agree that the tippling Tommies left a note for the lady of the house that stated, “We have found very good cheer with Mrs. Trotten, and hope she will be at home when we return.”
None of these accounts, however, identify Dr. or Mrs. Trotten. Could the inhabitants of the graves on Sparrows Point be these people whose lives were touched by the events of the War of 1812? Let’s look back a bit further for the answer.
The earliest record of a Trotten in the area was one Luke Trotten who, in 1719, was the administrator of the estate of John Dourant and Samuel Heathcote. He was married three times. His last wife was Elizabeth Body (nee Long), who had also been married twice before (life was short in those days and nobody wasted time dating).
By his first wife, Ruth Heathcote, he had four children. The only son, also named Luke, married Susanna Long in 1754. They had six children, the youngest of which, John, was born in 1771.
So we may cautiously assume that this is the same John Trotten buried 38 years later in the little graveyard in 1809. And the records indicate he had a wife named Sarah. He married Sarah Sollers on March 5, 1793.
So far so good, but when you do the math, trouble arises.
First, while John (son of Luke, son of Luke) Trotten is the John Trotten in the graveyard, he died in 1809 and thus cannot be the Dr. Trotten of the story. Logically, any participation he had in the Battle of North Point in 1814 was, by necessity, in spirit only. Second, while John had a wife named Sarah, it is not she buried next to John. The interred Sarah Trotten was 68 in 1856. If she got married in 1793, she would have been five years old.
But she would have been 26 by the time of the battle.
Another account identifies Dr. Trotten as the father-in-law of “Mr. Jones” at the time of the battle. If this is correct, it indicates that the doctor had a daughter of marriageable age before 1814. Twenty-six-year-old Sarah could not, therefore, have been his first wife if, indeed, she was his wife at all.
My personal theory, backed up by nothing more than doctrinal neatness, is that John Sollers was the doctor. The accounts do not refer to the doctor directly, only his wife. He may indeed have been dead by the time of the battle, but people might still have referred to his home as “Dr. Trotten’s house” five years later. The Sarah buried in 1856 was, under my theory, his second wife of the same name.
Perhaps the first Sarah died delivering the daughter that would grow up to marry Mr. Jones.
I might be right. But, like so many historical mysteries, the complete truth is probably lost and buried, obscured and eroded by time like the graves themselves.
(first published in 2000)
Editor’s note: I have been over this several times and still can’t figure out how I reached the conclusion I made all those years ago. I spent my high school years living in a house in Dundalk that, to this very day, is still referred to by the name of the doctor who was the original owner (and no relation of mine). That much I get. But who the heck is John Sollers? I make a reference to Sarah Sollers, and we all know that the family left its mark on this area, but where did I get the notion that there was someone named John Sollers who was living in the house in 1814? I must have left something out. If anyone can provide the missing piece (if indeed there is a missing piece) I would be most grateful.
Further note (and this is a subject that will be revisited): We recently had a conversation in the Eagle office as to whether the British won the Battle of North Point because, at the end of the day, they held the field. This notion is absurd. Gen. John Stricker was under orders to delay the redcoats for a day so that the defenses of Baltimore could be completed. He was not to fight to the last man. His snipers killed the enemy general and his untried men of the Maryland militia stood toe-to-toe with some of the most experienced veterans on Earth. Not only did they not flee in terror, they inflicted more casualties than they received and they withdrew in good order under cover of darkness after accomplishing their objective brilliantly.
The next day, under Colonel Brooks, who took command because General Ross was, well, dead, the British marched on to Baltimore. Brooks took one look at the defenses at Hampstead Hill (now Patterson Park) and the thousands of entrenched Baltimoreans bristling with musketry, and probably said something along the lines of “bugger this for a game of soldiers.” He withdrew in abject defeat.
You can say the British won the Battle of North Point. But that’s like saying Al Gore won the presidential election. He may have won the popular vote, but I don’t remember him taking the oath of office.