Editor and publisher Hezekiah Niles played an influential role in the Battle of Baltimore: documenting the events for thousands of readers both locally and across the nation. Niles, who came to Baltimore in 1805 to serve as editor of the Evening Post, began Niles’ Weekly Register newsmagazine in September 1811. Though Niles belonged to the Whig party, he distinguished himself among early 19th century newspapermen by vowing to remain nonpartisan in his coverage. The front cover described the paper’s scope as “political, historical, geographical, scientifical, astronomical, statistical, and biographical documents, essays, and facts together with notices of the arts and manufactures, and a record of the events of the times.” The 16-page publication was printed at the Franklin Press, across from the Merchants’ Coffee House—a hub of activity near the busy harbor. The Weekly Register covered both domestic and international news, with government announcements, original reporting, and summaries from other publications.
The Register’s coverage of the War of 1812 included many reprinted letters between government and military officials. Niles shared his own thoughts on the defenses erected at Hampstead Hill at the recommendation of the Committee of Vigilance of Safety: “Baltimore has long been remarked for the patriotism and liberal spirit of her citizens; and her high character for these qualities is fully maintained by the free offering of men and money for the purposes of defence.” The presses only stopped rolling during the battle out of practical necessity: “being disturbed by the enemy, and having every person in the office, a small boy excepted, under arms.” Niles attempted to succinctly describe the “terribly grand and magnificent” Battle of Baltimore the following week.
In the introduction to his compilation of coverage on the Battle, Niles dedicated his work “to remembrance of the Baltimore militia, who met, or withstood, the choicest troops of the foe...and died in defence of their altars and fire sides.” The defenders, he wrote, “preserved this city from plunder and conflagration and all the murdering business of war...outraging the ordinances of God, and the laws of humanity.”
Another major newspaper at the time was the Baltimore American and Daily Advertiser, which had begun publication in Fells Point in 1799 under Alexander Martin. A “descendant” of the Maryland Journal and Advertiser, which William Goddard opened in 1773, the American also paused publication during the Battle of Baltimore. According to 19th century historian John T. Scharf, staff “dropped pen and type, and taking up the sword and musket, met the enemy on the battle-field at North Point.” After a ten day hiatus, the American resumed operations with the printing of “The Defence of Fort M’Henry.”
When Hezekiah Niles retired in 1836, his son William Ogden Niles took the reigns, renamed the publication the National Register, and relocated to Washington, DC. Three years later, a War of 1812 veteran named Jeremiah Hughes assumed ownership. As publishing technology improved and the newspaper industry became more and more competitive, the Register closed its doors in 1849.