March 27, 2013

Son of a gun

The term son of a gun is used today as a term of affection or admiration. Originally, this phrase was used as a euphemism for a child born out of wedlock.

As early as the 16th century the British Navy permitted a number of women to live aboard warships. Even before the War of 1812, the British Navy used impressment to ‘recruit’ sailors. These men were typically not allowed to leave the ship, since they may run away, so a number of prostitutes served on ships.
War of 1812 Cannon 
Pregnancy was inevitable and the only place for a woman to have any privacy during labour was behind a screen placed between two cannons. If the child was a girl then the mother and child were put ashore at the earliest convenience. Male babies stayed with the ship, and since it was difficult to accurately know who fathered the child, the newborn was listed in the ship’s log as ‘son of a gun.' 

If you want to learn more nautical terms and see some impressive ships, make sure you head to St. Catharines on June 29 and 30 for the Tall Ships Visit. You will be able to see the Lynx, Unicorn and Pride of Baltimore II along with other 1812 entertainment. Make sure you mark your calendars.

March 20, 2013

Difficulties be damned

Formed in 1685 the King’s 8th Regiment of Foot saw much action in North America. The regiment fought during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, earning the battle honour “Niagara” for their service in the War of 1812.

Before the War of 1812, the regiment fought extensively in Europe before coming to North America in 1768. The King’s 8th performed garrison duty throughout British North America before the American Revolution. During the failed American attack on Quebec in 1775, the regiment fought to defend the area and was one of the first regiments to launch counterattacks into New York. After their service in the American Revolution was complete, the King’s 8th went back to Europe in 1785.
King's 8th Officer

By 1793 revolutionary France declared war on Great Britain and the King’s 8th were soon dispatched to the Netherlands  During the Napoleonic Wars, the regiment saw action in the Netherlands, Spain and Egypt, among other areas. In 1808 the regiment was moved to Canada, and with the outbreak of the War of 1812, they fought at Ogdensburg, Fort George, York, Sackets Harbor, Stoney Creek, Chippawa, Lundy’s Lane and the Siege of Fort Erie, just to name a few. Elements of the King’s 8th also participated in a treacherous winter march from New Brunswick to Quebec City, a distance of 350 miles.

After the War of 1812, the King’s served in a number of different locations before fighting in the Indian Rebellion and the Second Afghan War. Throughout the regiment’s hardships they could always look to their regimental motto, difficulties be damned, for inspiration.

With April fast approaching there are a number of events to mark on your calendar. Two events in particular are the War of 1812 School of the Soldier on April 13 and 14 at Fort George, and the Bicentennial Commemoration of the Battle of Fort York on April 27th. Don’t miss out on these great events!

March 13, 2013

The Creator’s Game

By the time of the War of 1812, lacrosse had been a well established sport among the Iroquois. The Iroquois version of the sport looked a bit different than it does today.

Originally, lacrosse was played by anywhere between 100 to 1,000 men on a field that could stretch for as long as three kilometres. No nets were used but rather a wooden pole was placed upright into the ground. The objective was to hit the ball off the pole in order to score a point. Games could last from sunrise to sundown for two to three days straight.
Natives playing lacrosse

For the Iroquois lacrosse was more than just a sport. Lacrosse involved a deep spiritual involvement for those who played and was often referred to as “The Creator’s Game.” The game was used as a training ground for warriors and was quite violent. It was not uncommon for men to die during the game.

Lacrosse also played an important role in settling disputes among tribes. For the Iroquois this function was important in order to keep the six nations of the confederacy together. 

This Saturday, March 16th, you can visit Fort Niagara to experience a different Iroquois tradition. Fort Niagara will be having a Sugar Maple Walk where you can experience traditional uses for sap and the equipment that was used to turn sap into sugar and syrup. Click here for more information.

March 06, 2013

Willson’s Tavern

Taverns were popular for both soldiers and civilians during the 19th century. Taverns acted as a meeting place for personal and business transactions. During wartime, these establishments could be turned into military outposts, headquarters and event a makeshift hospital. Willson’s Tavern, located near Table Rock beside Niagara Falls, filled this role during the War of 1812.

Willson’s Tavern, also know as Falls House, appeared on maps in 1795 and became a popular stopping place for many travelers. During the war, the widow Deborah Willson ran the tavern after her husband’s death in 1813 and dispensed not only food, drink and hospitality, but also information to both sides. The tavern was popular with both British and Americans because it was regarded as neutral territory by officers, and the fact that the widow Willson had two attractive daughters.
1812 tavern

On July 25, 1814, Lundy’s Lane became a battlefield with Willson’s Tavern serving as a hospital. As American reinforcements passed the tavern on their way to Lundy’s Lane their commander, Jacob Brown, noted that the tavern “was brilliantly lighted up for the accommodation of wounded men.” As the battle raged on Deborah Willson counted 60 wagonloads of wounded men pass by on their way to Chippawa. 

On Saturday, March 9th, you can experience an 18th century tavern at Fort Niagara. They will have food, beverages, live music and historical vignettes. Click here for more information.