The Thrilling Story of How the Valiant Kitty Knight Saved Georgetown, 
From the Pen of Mrs. Harriett L. W. Hill, a Scion of One of the Old Families of Kent.

The eyes of one looking for the unique and beautiful would dance with admiration at the romantic story and facts connected with the burning of Georgetown and Fredericktown on the borders of the Sassafras River during the war with England in 1812 and 1813.

This story has to do with the Kitty Knight home now standing at Georgetown.

Miss Kitty Knight was one of the most beautiful and accomplished women Kent County has ever known. She was a great-aunt to Mr. William Knight, of Baltimore, and related to the Knights of Chestertown and Cecil County. Miss Kitty was tall and graceful, with hair dressed high on her head in colonial style and represented as queenly in appearance. She attended one of the great State balls in Philadelphia during a session of the Continental Congress in that city and danced with General Washington.

Mrs. Harriett L. W. Hill has spent much time delving into hidden incidents of history, and says: "The attack is said to have been led by Admiral Cockburn. Mrs. Ireland, an old lady (living in Chestertown when I was a child) related her personal experience at the time the British landed at Georgetown, which place was then her home. Great was the consternation at the rumored approach of the British soldiers. The men of all classes, and boys able to shoulder a musket or use any other weapon, hastily collected, carrying whatever arms they could procure and marched out of the town to meet the foe, and prevent, if possible, his nearer approach.

Only old men, women and children remained to guard their homes and household treasures. From time to time, alarming news came of the continued onward march of the enemy and the firing of guns at length was distinctly heard by the refugees from the town as they hastened in search of a place of safety. This natural desire to escape the impending destruction of their homes was, of course, universal, also the wish to carry away with them as much of their money, silver articles and other valuables as was possible in their hasty flight.

Mrs. Ireland said that only her small children and their nurse remained at home with her; all terribly frightened. She hastened to her stable and harnessed a horse to an old-fashioned, high swung, two-wheeled "gig" such as was used in those days, in which she took her children and their nurse to a thick woods about two miles away from the town, where she left them together, hastening back to her house, catching up her table silver, valuable papers and other small articles, returning with them to the woods and putting them on the ground near her children. Again and again did she make these trips emptying bureau drawers and closets of clothing; taking in her small conveyance anything else she could, urging her horse to his utmost speed each time, thus saving some few of her things from the fire which afterwards consumed the town.

It was a time of great distress to the stricken people, who were experiencing only a common result of warfare. We can readily imagine the inconvenience and loss, the burning of even these two small towns on the Sassafras River caused the inhabitants. These little details help us to realize historical occurrences far more vividly than the bare mention of facts. The story of Miss Kitty Knight, of course, has varied in some minor points, from the number of narrators. I was told that her youth and beauty, added to a stately carriage, made a strong impression upon all who saw her in those days, and that when the British soldier vent from house to house in Georgetown, bearing the command of his officer in charge of the troops for the inmates to vacate their homes, as the torch would soon be applied, Miss Kitty, with head erect and flashing eyes, replied: "I shall not leave; if you burn this house, you burn me with it." This defiant reply being reported to the officer, while some of the houses were already in flames, he came himself to repeat his command. Miss Kitty received him with the same courage, reiterating her resolution not to leave. The young officer was struck with admiration at the daring of the handsome, high-spirited American damsel, feeling that she would keep her word and be immolated if he persisted in his design of a general conflagration. Twice when the attempt was made by British soldiers to fire the house Miss Kitty extinguished the kindling flame. At last, the officer, in deference to her coolness and courage, gave the order to spare the Knight house and the one next to it-both of which are still preserved.

In addition to this story of Miss Kitty Knight's youthful days, I was told later by a friend who knew Miss Kitty well (describing her as continuing to wear in her old age a turban in the quaint and stately style of a bygone fashion), that twenty-five years after our war with Great Britain in 1812, an American gentleman of Kent County, Maryland, traveling in Europe, met the same British officer on the "riviera" who commanded the attack upon Georgetown.

This officer, learning that the American belonged to Maryland, expressed to him his recollection of the incident of Miss Knight's courage saving her home from the torch. Learning that she was still living, the officer inquired particularly about her, and sent her his sincere compliments.


Kitty Knight in Song.


The beautiful river Sassafras
Flows onward in its pride,
Between the level fields of Kent
And Cecil rolling wide.

Fair river, on thy sunny banks
Peach orchards spread their bloom,
Where red men once chased fallow deer 
Beneath the harvest moon.

Along the creeks and reedy swamps,
Where stately cat-tails grow,
The furry muskrat makes his home,
And lazily eaws the crow.

The wild ducks seek their feeding place 
Far from the haunts of men
The water snipe struts proudly free
Along the marshy fen.

Fish hawks, alert upon their nests,
High up a gnarled old tree,
Watch, dip, and plunge-a wriggling perch 
Is caught successfully.

There was a time, there was a time
Full four-score years gone by,
When on these peaceful banks was heard 
The sound of musketry.

When quiet Georgetown on the hill,
And Fredericktown below
Were menaced by a British fleet,
A reckless, dreaded foe.

When loyal Sons of Kent arose,
A gallant little band,
While Cecil, to repel the foes,
Stretched forth a helping hand.

Then valor struggled hard against
The soldiers of the crown,
But Cockburn sent his shot and shell 
Upon the helpless town.

Destruction grim, and ruin then,
Seemed wrangling in the air,
And every heart was beating fast
With terror and despair.

When suddenly a kerchief white
Waved o'er the smoking streets,
The cruel guns a moment ceased
Aboard the British fleet.

A maiden fair, with courage bold,
With spirit pure and high,
Displayed her flag of truce, and all
For poor humanity.

She feared not shell, nor British guns, 
Nor soldier of the king
Her kerchief waved above the smoke, 
Her voice aloud did ring.

"Not for myself I speak," she said,
"Though all my lands are lost,
But for two orphan children,
Whose lives are tempest-tossed."

"Spare them their little homes I plead," 
Her eyes were sparkling bright;
They rested on the admiral,
And-well! they stopped the fight.

Tradition sings a sweet old song,
A song of long ago,
That Kitty Knight, of Georgetown,
Struck then a fatal blow.

An officer was vanquished,
Not by the battery's raid,
But by a dart of Cupid
Shot by a fearless maid.

The British fleet . has sailed away,.
Adown the shadowy past;
Now, only memories drift along
The lovely Sassafras.


May 6, 1813, the streets of Georgetown and Fredericktown, her twin sister across the Sassafras, resounded with the tramp of British soldiery and received a. baptism of fire. About a mile below the old breastworks at Pearce's Point show where the citizen militia made a vigorous defense to the British soldiers as they rowed up the river, having anchored their ships in the Chesapeake off the mouth of the Sassafras. The valuation of property destroyed in Georgetown in this battle was as follows:

Amos Bagwell

Furniture, etc


Smieth & Bagwell, heirs

Shoemaker's shopes


Margaret Downes

Dwelling, etc


Denis Donlevy

Apparel, etc


Thomas Dollis

Furniture, etc


Margaret Jackson

Money, etc


Arthur Nicholson's heirs

Dwelling, etc


Mary Nicholson

Furniture, etc


Joseph Jarvis

Furniture, etc

67.12 1\2

Archibald McNeil



Fanny McNeil

Furniture, etc

109.87 1/2

Philip F. Rasin

Granary, etc


Isabelle Taggert

Furniture, etc


Robert Usilton

Furniture, etc


Mrs. Wilson

Dwelling, etc


William Ireland

Stable, carriage house, etc


Mrs. Bearer

Dwelling, etc


Mrs. Mary Everett

Carriage house


Jacob Roads

Old house


Heirs of Wm. Pope - Tavern House



Miss Staugueses

Brick dwelling, etc


Arthur Nicholson's heirs

Brick dwelling, etc


Isabelle Freeman

Dwelling, etc


Mrs. Mary Henney

Store house


Robt. Elliott

Dwelling, etc


Stephany Congo



Ann Pearce

Kitchen and store house


William Jackson

Kitchen and store house


Inois Spuran

Dwelling, etc


Heir of Alex. Williamson

Dwelling, etc




The two red brick houses which escaped the havoc in Georgetown still stand side by side near the public road, and are two of the most substantial homes in the little town, and are the only historic land marks left of the original town.

The sum total of the property destroyed in Fredericktown was $15,871.07 1/4, making a total of $35,625.88 1/4 destroyed by the British.

Page(s) 64-71, History of Kent County, Maryland, 1630-1916, by Fred G. Usilton, 1916
Transcribed by Nathan Zipfel for the Maryland History and Genealogy Project