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Joshua Barney Sails Again

The Washington Post
6 September 1996

Call it revisionism, if you wish. But an ignominious American defeat at the hands of the British 182 years ago was turned into a valiant, victorious Prince George's tricentennial moment yesterday at the old Bladensburg marina.

With the traditional breaking of a bottle of champagne across her bow, a copy of an American Navy barge scuttled on the Patuxent in the 2 1/2-year War of 1812 was launched on the Anacostia River. It bore the number 19, a bit of whimsy since there were 18 similar barges-of-war commanded by Commodore Joshua Barney.

Barney, as speaker after speaker noted, was the real hero of the day, retreating with the flotillamen on foot from Upper Malboro to Bladensburg, where almost everyone but Barney was routed by the British, who took him wounded as a prisoner of war.

Yesterday, the young people who helped build the barge were hailed a heroes in the tradition of Barney, and the very event itself was touted as emblematic of a hoped for renaissance of the faded "Port Towns" of Bladensburg, Colmar Manor and Cottage City.

It was a day laden with such symbolism, with the seven-ton barge the heaviest symbol. The original boat was powered by 20 oars. This one also has a 65-horsepower outboard engine. But the updating seemed beside the point.

"As a species, there's no artifact that fascinates more than ships, said Louis F. Linden, executive director of a Baltimore foundation that is restoring a sloop-rigged Civil War ship. "These are the artifacts that made our world smaller." But he said there's even more to it: "Messing about in boats is fun."

On September 15, 1996 the barge will participate in a reenactment of a battle that never happened, against the British at Mount Calvert on the Patuxent River. The barge, armed with a single stern-mounted cannon, is the product of a joint effort among the county, the school, local firms and the Living Classrooms Foundation in Baltimore, which supplid the shipwrights who did most of the work.

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