December 18, 2013

Terrific in the extreme – The burning of Lewiston

The destruction of Newark on December 10, 1813 left the British seeking revenge and the opportunity to clear the American side of the Niagara. On December 19, the British quietly captured Fort Niagara in the early morning “bayoneting every American they met” recalled one British officer. The British captured 27 cannons, 3,000 stands of arms, along with massive quantities of ammunition and provisions. In addition, the British managed to capture Fort Niagara’s commanding officer Captain Leonard as he rode into the fort from his home three miles away.
Tuscarora heroes art card

The British, now accompanied by 500 native warriors, moved from Fort Niagara to Lewiston. The British quickly dispersed the haphazard American defenders as civilians rushed out of the town for safety. One refugee saw many escaping,

“some not more than half dressed, without shoes or stockings together with men on horseback, waggons [sic], carts, sleighs and sleds overturning and crushing each other stimulated by the horrid yells of 900 savages on the pursuit, which lasted eight miles [and] formed a scene awful and terrific in the extreme.”

The British burned every house in Lewiston, committing a number of atrocities with their native allies. The Niles Weekly Register, published a year later on December 24, 1814, described the events,

“The British entered the house at Lewistown in which the sick soliders [sic] and wounded lay, and not withstanding all the entreaties, shrieks and cries of the helpless soliders [sic], not a life was spared, and it is reported that the houses were all burned before they were all dead.”

During the fighting, a group of Tuscarora warriors ran to the aid of their neighbours and helped delay the attackers advance, giving time for civilians to flee the chaos. In response, the natives fighting for the British burned the Tuscarora village near Lewiston.

On Thursday, December 19, you can head to Fort Niagara at 5 a.m. to witness the 200th anniversary of the fort’s capture in real time. In addition, at 6:30 p.m. you can head to Lewiston for the unveiling of the Tuscarora Heroes Monument commemorating the brave men who slowed the British advance and helped civilians escape. Click here to find out more about both events.

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