James McHenry was born in Ireland, came to America, and was an apprentice to Dr. Benjamin Rush. He became the surgeon of the 5th Pennsylvania Battalion and was captured at Fort Washington, NY in 1776. A prisoner for a time, McHenry was paroled in January 1777, and he was officially exchanged in March 1778. Joining Washington’s staff in May 1778, McHenry apparently served as a volunteer “without any emolument.” McHenry served as a well-liked and loyal member of Washington’s “military family,” until August 1780. He then joined Lafayette’s staff and eventually resigned from the army after Yorktown in 1781. Washington wrote of him:
McHenry was later elected to the Maryland senate, served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, and was a Maryland representative during the Constitutional Convention. He became a political ally of Washington and served on his cabinet as the Secretary of War from 1796-1800. James McHenry died at his Baltimore estate in 1816. Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor of “Star Spangled Banner” fame was named for him.
Last updated: February 26, 2015