September 18, 2013

A long time it appears to me – Prisoner of war

Being captured during the War of 1812 was not a welcome occurrence for officers. However, the treatment of officers in captivity varied greatly from regular soldiers as William Hamilton Merritt’s experience can attest.

On July 25, 1814 during the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Merritt was with the Niagara Light Dragoons during the battle when he got word that Major-General Riall had been taken. Merritt left his unit to report his intentions to attempt to rescue Riall. Upon Merritt’s return to his troops, he was lost in the darkness and smoke on the battlefield and found himself surrounded by the U.S. 28th Regiment. Merritt was quickly transported to the American side of the Niagara were he was joined by 18 fellow officers and 116 privates.

Merritt left a memorandum book highlighting his days as a prisoner. Merritt was paroled to Greenbush, New York, and during his time as a prisoner he visited museums, went to church and had parties with fellow officers and prominent Americans, among other leisurely activities. On August 25, 1814, Merritt wrote “Pleasant Weather. One month since I was made prisoner – a long time it appears to me. Read the Newspaper, strolled, returned and enjoyed a good dinner.”

After three months of being a prisoner Merritt writes, “Three months have passed away since I was made prisoner, and no prospect whatever of an exchange.” He goes on to write about the boredom he faces and that reading books is one of his only salvations. Throughout his time as a prisoner, Merritt wrote to Catherine Prendergast and when he was finally released from the U.S., he married Catherine.

If you want to learn more about prisoners during the War of 1812, you can head to the Jordan Historical Museum on September 21 to listen to author David Hemmings talk about this topic. In addition, on September 19 you can listen to Dan Laroche talk about the Burning of the Niagara in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Click here to find out more about these events.

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