Contemporary drawing of dark-skinned man in War of 1812 army uniform, holding hat and bayonet
While many escaped slaves fought for the British, some, like Private Williams, defended their home.

Quick Facts

Significance:
Infantryman at Fort McHenry
Place of Birth:
Prince George County, Maryland
Date of Birth:
c. 1793
Place of Death:
Baltimore, Maryland
Date of Death:
c. 1814

Born as a slave on Benjamin Oden’s plantation in Prince George County, Maryland, around 1793, Frederick Hall is better known as William Williams – a man of color who fought and died defending Fort McHenry during the 1814 Battle of Baltimore.

Oden took out an advertisement in the Baltimore American and Commercial Daily Advocate on May 18, 1814, announcing Hall, alias Williams, as a runaway. Williams was described as “a bright mulatto; straight and well made; 21 years old; 5 feet 7 or 8 inches high, with a short chub nose and so fair as to show freckles.”

Despite the advertisement, Williams was able to successfully enlist as a private in the 38th U.S. Infantry. Although it was not legal for the United States government to enlist slaves, recruitment quotas left many officers turning a blind eye to possible legal entanglements. Like any new enlistment, Williams was paid a $50 bounty for signing, and a salary of $8 per month.

Williams traveled with his unit to Fort McHenry on September 10, 1814, two days before the British landed near Baltimore. He fought in the Battle of Baltimore on September 13, but infantry reports indicate that he was “severely wounded, having his leg blown off by a cannon ball.” Williams was one of four official casualties of the Battle of Baltimore, later dying of his wounds in a Baltimore hospital.

While many escaped slaves fought for the British during the War of 1812, some, like Williams, defended a home that they would never be a full citizen of.