Early History of Hampstead Hill

William Patterson, 1752-1835 [Portrait]

Portrait of William Patterson, 1821.

Beginning in the 1660s, land patents began to be issued for the area on the Chesapeake Bay that became Baltimore City. One of these patents was for lands east of the harbor and included parts of modern day Patterson Park. This parcel, originally patented to Quinton Parker, changed ownership several times and expanded over the subsequent century. By this point, Maryland’s colonial General Assembly established the town of Baltimore. Parker's original parcels kept growing until 1792, when one owner defaulted on payments and the land went up for auction. An an Irish immigrant, shipping magnate, and businessman named William Patterson purchased the 200 acre plot that would become the front lines of the Battle of Baltimore and later the public park that bears his name. As early as 1807, Hampstead Hill became a rendezvous site where local militia convened to celebrate Washington’s birthday, the Fourth of July and other occasions.

The oldest known name for the area (first recorded by Captain John Smith in the early 1600s) is Chinquapin Hill – using a Native American name for a small tree that bore acorn-like edible nuts. The hill overlooking Fell’s Point is one of a series of low ridges that start as north as New York state and come south, paralleling the Jones Falls to the harbor. When the property was coined Hampstead Hill by residents around the early 1800s, the name likley came from London’s Hampstead Heath, a large public green that dates to before 1086. Of course, Baltimore’s Fleet Street and Thames Street owe their names to British counterparts.

View of Baltimore from Chapel Hill

View of Baltimore from Chapel Hill. Brooklyn Museum.

What was Baltimore like in the early 1800s?

Maps and lithographs from the late 18th and early 19th century help to illustrate the development of Baltimore following the Revolutionary War. Baltimore City incorporated in 1797, merging Baltimore Town (located around today’s Inner Harbor), Jonestown (northeast of the marshy delta at the bottom of the Jones Falls, around the Fayette Street Post Office and the Shot Tower), and Fell’s Point (facing Fort McHenry and Federal Hill, across the Patapsco River).

In the fifteen years before the start of the War of 1812, the young city nearly doubled in size and sprawled into the western and eastern precincts beyond the city line. By 1814, nearly 50,000 people lived in Baltimore and the surrounding precincts, among them 5,000 enslaved blacks. Only Philadelphia and New York boasted larger populations and Baltimore had the bustle and bravado of a booming young metropolis. The view from Hampstead Hill included grand country mansions, numerous ropewalks (long wooden sheds used for manufacturing rope), and the pastures and farms of Baltimore County farmers.

Animal bone, nail and ceramic artifacts, Patterson Park

Artifacts from Loudenslager's tavern, 2014.

Archaeologist Jason Shellenhamer with tour group, Patterson Park

Visitors at Loudenslager tavern site, 2014.

Archaeology of Laudenslager's Tavern

In June of 1809, William Patterson leased the hilltop to Jacob Laudenslager and his wife Susan. The couple operated a tavern and butchers shop. Located well away from the core of Baltimore town and its growing number of residents, the location was suitable for the noxious activities associated with butchering.

The Laudenslager's tavern and butcher shop appears on several historic maps of Baltimore, and accounts during the War of 1812 pinpoint it as the field headquarters for the defense effort. Locating the tavern and its buried foundation was a priority of the We Dig Hampstead Hill project. Remote sensing work located the foundation where the maps said it should be.

With this knowledge, the project team excavated the site with hand-dug trenches. From this work, we know the cellar measured approximately 28 ft. by 19 ft. and had an earthen floor and brick walls. 

Many of the artifacts recovered from the trench reflect the daily life inside a tavern - large amounts of bottle glass and several pieces of ceramics. The artifacts reflected a wide variety of eras. Some of the ceramics, for example, were typical of types in use during the 18th century while others were late 19th century. Also found were objects known as stilts that were made of yellowware and were used to separate or raise objects in a kiln.

In addition to the Tavern cellar, test excavations performed to the north and west of the cellar produced a few domestic items, including fragments of tobacco pipes. On maps, this area is shown to likely be a side or rear yard.  

Remote sensing and documentary research suggest that more than one structure existed in the Tavern area over the course of the 19th Century. Unlike the fortifications themselves, the Tavern site saw relatively little soil disturbance. This means that while no evidence of the Tavern exists above the surface, what exists below ground is well preserved.   

While there is still much to learn about the tavern and the host of people associated with it, the archaeological discoveries answer the question of where on Hampstead Hill it was located and provide a starting point for further research.

Early History of Hampstead Hill