Sailing the Chesapeake Flotilla consisting of eight barges, the sloop Scorpion, and two borrowed gunboats, Joshua Barney encountered the British between the mouths of the Patuxent and Potomac rivers in May, 1814.
Barney was forced to retreat into the Patuxent, where he remained trapped up St. Leonard
's Creek for much of June as the British pillaged the farms and towns as far north as Lower Marlboro. Determined to break out, Barney launched a surprise attack, aided by ground forces, and escaped upriver to Benedict. During July and the first weeks of August the Chesapeake Flotilla managed to evade the larger British fleet, which burned and harassed the settlements of the lower Patuxent. However, the British forces, now intent on capturing and destroying Washington
, had swelled in size, with the addition of an invasion force from Bermuda
. Their plan of attack was up the Patuxent, then overland through Upper Marlboro to the capital.
On August 19, pressed by the main British invasion force, Barney moved upriver, with orders that if the British appeared, he should scuttle the Chesapeake Flotilla and proceed with his force to defend Washington. Barney left his second-in-command, Lieutenant Solomon Frazier, with the flotilla, along with 120 seamen, at the site of present-day Wayson's Corner---as far upriver as they were able to navigate their ships. On the morning of August 22 the British rounded Pig Point, only to discover Barney's flotilla in an orderly line, being blown up, ship by ship. Sixteen vessels were destroyed before the British captured a single barge and five merchant schooners.
Barney and his men went on to assist at the Battle of Bladensburg, and at the Battle of Baltimore they turned back the British from Fort McHenry. Meanwhile, back on the Patuxent, salvage plans for Barney's flotilla were already underway. A local landowner, John Weems (and later Barney himself), took part in salvaging what he could from the vessels, turning the recovered equipment over to the federal government, which eventually auctioned off much of it. The hulls of the ships, however, would remain mired in river mud for over 150 years. When the new Route 4/Hills Bridge was built in 1990, remnants of Barney's ships were found buried more than five feet below the river bed. After the destruction of the American fleet, the British landed an army a few miles down river of Jug Bay at the town of Nottingham. This force marched on Washington, about 20 miles away. After defeating the American defenders at the Battle of Bladensburg, the British burned Washington and returned to their fleet at Nottingham. They sailed down the Patuxent on August 30 enroute to Baltimore and their unsuccessful attack on Fort McHenry that was immortalized in the Star Spangled Banner.