There is no evidence of the British attack on St. Michaels during the War of 1812. It wasn't that they lacked aim or ammunition: It was the resourcefulness of St. Michaels' residents that left their waterside town virtually unharmed.
St. Michaels was an active shipbuilding center at the time, supplying privateers, blockade runners and barges to the U.S. Navy. According to legend, residents learned that the British planned to attack on Aug. 10, 1813, and devised a plan of their own. They hoisted lanterns to the masts of ships and to the tops of trees, outsmarting the British, who misjudged the location of the town and fired their cannons above it. The only casualty was the Merchant residence -- now dubbed the Cannonball House -- where a cannonball broke through the roof, rolled down the stairs and frightened the dickens out of Mrs. Merchant and her infant daughter.
On the water: This scenic view of the Miles River is courtesy of the Inn at Perry Cabin. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
In time, the residents of St. Michaels stopped building ships and began harvesting seafood. Chesapeake Bay oysters and Maryland blue crabs were caught, processed and shipped by boat and train to Baltimore, Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. In the 1930s, seafood packers were shipping 1 million pounds of crabmeat each year and 12,000 gallons of oysters each week.
The town was and still is an important nexus in Maryland's lucrative seafood industry. But in recent years, it has taken on a resort town identity. St. Michaels has been inundated by upscale seafood restaurants, five-star inns, specialty boutiques, and the thousands of visitors who arrive by car, boat and even helicopter to enjoy them.
It's no surprise St. Michaels is such a popular destination. The town is situated on an elbow of land between the Miles River to the north and Broad Creek -- of James Michener's novel "Chesapeake" -- to the south. You can wander the downtown area without straying far from the expansive blue views.
Economy of crabs: Crab shanties, like this one at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, are a key piece of St. Michaels' history as a fishing town. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
Along Talbot Street, the town's main drag, you'll find not just the best restaurants in town -- but some of the best in the country. , paper place mats and pitchers of Natty Boh were once the norm, but elegant owner-operated restaurants with a national reputation are taking over. The "casually elegant" has received the Award of Excellence from Distinguished Restaurants of North America and has been featured in "Travel and Leisure" and "Gourmet." The is owned by Michael Rork, the former executive chef at the acclaimed in Baltimore. serves French-style cuisine, such as veal stew and mussels in white wine, as well as the Eastern Shore classic fare of lump crab cakes and soft-shell crabs.
Easy access: The Town Dock restaurant has parking for cars and boats. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
Of course, not all restaurants are in the upper stratosphere of price and elegance. The casual is an affordable family restaurant and a late-night hangout complete with pool tables, music and free popcorn. The is a perennial favorite for steamed crabs and harbor views, and seafood is a carryout serving steamed crabs and crab cakes along with fresh seafood, groceries and fishing bait.
Accompaning the proliferation of gourmet restaurants is an array of five-star accommodations. The luxurious , considered one of the best inns in the country, sits on prime real estate along the Miles River. is a true resort, complete with waterfront suites and guest rooms, a harborside pool and whirlpool, and a 56-slip marina. Guests can pamper themselves with herbal bath treatments, massage therapy and facials, take a swim in the indoor heated pool or relax in the sauna. Less resplendent are the , just five miles outside of St. Michaels in Bozman. Boats are available for fishing, crabbing and exploring the waters of Harris Creek, and guests can even steam their own crabs on a propane cooker.
Historical: St. Mary's Square contains a cannon that was used to defend the town in the War of 1812. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
If you enjoy being on the water but don't want to paddle, steer or sail, many operators offer tours. For example, you can learn about the area's history on board the , sip champagne while you take in a Chesapeake Bay sunset from the deck of the Express Royale, or relax aboard Sirius, a modern 36-foot catamaran. For those without sea legs, St. Michaels is relatively flat, making it great for biking. Horseback riding is available at a few miles outside of town.
Shopping is another popular pastime in St. Michaels, and there are stores to suit every taste and interest. personalizes your mailboxes, step stools and birdfeeders into an array of wild and domesticated creatures. , a "unique pet boutique," has everything for man's best friend, including free treats. The popular is a "Christmas Shop for all Seasons," and peddles handmade chocolates, truffles, ice cream and gifts. , an upscale mall with 18 dealers, is a popular destination for antique hounds.
Get some sun: Church Cove Park provides a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of a resort town. (Photo by Patrick Swoboda, Special to SunSpot)
Despite having all the trappings of a resort town, St. Michaels' heritage is still alive and well. The -- one of the most visited sites in town -- chronicles the history of St. Michaels and the Chesapeake Bay. The museum includes the restored 1879 Hooper Strait lighthouse (one of only three "screwpile" lighthouses remaining in the country), a working boatyard, a large collection of decoys and a new interactive waterman's shanty.
In St. Mary's Square, between Mulberry and East Chestnut streets, you can see the cannon used to defend the town during the War of 1812. Visit the to examine a number of local artifacts, including the bell that rang three times a day -- in the morning, at lunch and at quitting time -- to measure the workday for the shipbuilders.
The little town that once fooled an army has matured in a way that is both subtle and sublime. It is a place where you can partake in utter indulgence or delight in simple pleasures, appreciate natural splendors or bask in man-made delights. After visiting St. Michaels, it's easy to see why its long-ago residents protected it -- and hard not to be thankful that they did.