The War of 1812: Items from the Collections
of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Massachusetts Historical Society has a rich collection of materials relating to the War of 1812, as it was the first major military conflict that the United States was involved in after the Society's founding in 1791.

Even after the formal conclusion of the American Revolutionary War in which the United States gained its independence from Great Britain, there continued to be constant antagonism by the British over such activities as trade, impressment, and American efforts to expand across its own territories. 

The War of 1812 began on 18 June 1812 and continued until early in 1815. Fought on land and sea, the war stretched both armies from Canada down to New Orleans and beyond. The young American Navy, especially, displayed impressive might and resolve against their much larger and seasoned British counterparts.

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the Society presents the following selection of broadsides, letters, and artifacts.

Capture of the British Frigate Gurriere [sic] by the U.S. Frigate Constitution ...
Engraved by D. Kimberly after painting by T. Birch

The Strong Fast, or, Hypocrisy in the Suds: a Hymn for the Occasion

Bloody News!: General Hull, and the British Frigate Guerier [sic] taken Plummer ...
Broadside Jonathan Plummer

A Happy New-Year to Commodore Rodgers, or, Huzza for the President and Congress ...
Broadside, 1 January 1813

Brilliant Naval Victory: Yankee Perry Better than old English Cider
Broadside, 1813

Huzza for the American Navy!
Political cartoon, engraving by unidentified artist, [1813]

Letter from Joseph Forrest to French Forrest, 22 September 1813

Surgeon's kit used by William Swift, MD, U.S.N., during the war of 1812

"Three Wise Men of Gotham Went to Sea in a Bowl": A Trip to Washington City: ...

Capture of Washington

Letter from John Quincy Adams to Abigail Adams, 24 December 1814

Peace on Honorable Terms to America
Broadside, 1815

A New Song on the Causes--Beginning, Events--End & Consequences of the Late ...
Broadside by Silas Ballou

Shepherd Brooks Saltonstall cannon
Brass six-pounder cannon on a ship-style gun carriage

Exhibition: 18 June - 8 September 2012

Beginning on 18 June 2012, the Massachusetts Historical Society will present an exhibition entitled, "Mr. Madison's War": The Controversial War of 1812.  Many New Englanders were bitterly opposed to the war.  Some maintained trade with Canada and willingly furnished supplies to the blockading British navy.  In 1814, men from Massachusetts joined delegates from other New England states to discuss secession at the Hartford Convention. This exhibition will close on 8 September 2012.

Bicentennial of the War of 1812

Beginning in April 2012 and continuing through 2015, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard will commemorate the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 and The Star Spangled Banner.  Please visit the website, Bicentennial of the War of 1812 to see a list of events, partners, educational activies, and clear historical information (including a timeline and links to historical resources).  The Massachusetts Historical Society is pleased to be included on the web page, The War of 1812: Historical Resources.

Back to top