When did the War of 1812 begin?
I realize that question is somewhat like asking, "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" Although there's actually a twist to the original riddle, the answer to that question seems self-evident.
However, I do have a reason for wondering about the precise date for the start of the War of 1812: the unexplained disappearance of Nicholas Schneider at a time when one would most expect a father's presence at his child's baptism. Born on April 22, 1812, Maria Augusta Schneider was baptised nearly two months later, an unusual gap in time. And by the time of that June 20 event, the only parent listed in attendance at the Conewago Chapel event was Nicholas' wife Elizabeth.
We've already followed the Schneider family's trail well into the future—Nicholas died in Perry County, Ohio, about 1855—so his absence at his daughter's 1812 baptism in Adams County, Pennsylvania, wasn't due to his tragic loss. But there was that other incident occurring in 1812 which got me wondering: could Nicholas, at his age, have served in the War of 1812?
Thus, the search for some precise information. Thanks to the ample resources online regarding that American struggle, it was easy to discover that the United States declared war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812.
While a June 20 baptism would have followed such a declaration by a mere two days, we need to disabuse ourselves of any notion stemming from a modern way of thinking. With no cell phones, Internet access, or even newswire services accessible to them, it is doubtful that the folks in Adams County, Pennsylvania, would even have been aware of the momentous events that unfolded barely forty eight hours preceding their celebration of the baptismal sacrament.
So what could have caused Nicholas' absence at his daughter's baptism? Once again, a modern mind might wonder whether the couple had separated, but that would not be as likely during that time period. If the declaration of war, half a state's length away from the Schneider home, had occurred two days prior to the baptism, it was not likely the cause of his absence—but another military reason might come into play.
Since the Schneider family lived in Pennsylvania, I wondered whether Nicholas was serving with the state militia at the time. Thankfully, there are many online resources available to check for Pennsylvania—for the state in general, or the war in particular.
There was, however, that other little detail which had puzzled me in researching the migration trail of the Schneider family: the assertion by some descendants that the family had, at one time, lived in Maryland. While one resource mentioned that the trail led from Maryland first, then subsequently to Adams County, Pennsylvania, there was that simple detail of the place of birth for two of the younger Schneider sons: Maryland.
Could the Pennsylvania militia have been on alert that the war was soon to unfold? Or could the Schneider family have already been planning to remove to Maryland, leaving Elizabeth and her newborn child behind while her husband and oldest sons prepared a new home in Maryland?
Knowing the challenge of searching for a surname like Schneider—in addition to being misspelled, often anglicized to either Snider or Snyder—I resorted to searching for Nicholas by his first name and using the letter "S" and a wildcard symbol "*" for the surname. Using that search technique, I scoured a listing of all service records for the War of 1812 at Ancestry.com. On the third page of seven in the resulting readout, I located one sole possibility by the name of Nicholas Snider: a lieutenant who served in Henry Stembel's regiment of the Maryland Militia.
Could our German immigrant Nicholas have served as a lieutenant for the Maryland Militia during the War of 1812? Though that is the only listing for the name I could find, I could not access any further information on that man's service, or even any additional information on the man who led the regiment.
On the other hand, the next child born to Nicholas and Elizabeth was a son—Simon—born not in Pennsylvania, but in Maryland. Still, Simon's December 3, 1813, arrival seems too soon for a family with an absent dad, away for military maneuvers. Yet, there were two details about the family during that timeline that give me pause to wonder. The first is a little fact I stumbled upon while researching the Conewago Chapel in Pennsylania and the family's likely residence in Maryland. The second has to do with what, to me, is an as-yet unsubstantiated claim about Nicholas' own past, long before he and his bride immigrated to America.
Image above from the baptismal records of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, located in Conewago, Adams County, Pennsylvania; image courtesy Ancestry.com.