January 29, 2014

The last veteran of the War of 1812 – Hiram Cronk

Hiram Cronk was the last surviving American veteran of the War of 1812 when he passed away on May 13, 1905. Cronk was born in April 1800 in New York State where he helped his family tend the farm and also attended school.

In 1814, the 14 year old Cronk joined his father and two brothers by enlisting with the New York Volunteers serving at Sackett’s Harbor for about 100 days. Despite his youth, and the fact that his fellow soldiers teased him about it, Cronk served with distinction and performed his duty well during a skirmish with the British. For his service, Cronk was awarded a pension of $12 per month.
Hiram Cronk

After the war, Cronk became a shoemaker, and at the age of 25 he married Mary Thornton and the couple had six children. They remained married for 60 years until Mary’s death in 1885. Cronk was a devoted Methodist and a staunch Democrat, voting for Democrat candidates all his life. Cronk attributed his longevity to Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey by taking three spoonfuls a day with meals and he frequently used chewing tobacco. 

Interest in Cronk’s life grew in the early 1900’s when it became apparent that Cronk was the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812. In 1902, Congress increased his pension from $12 to $25 per month and New York State awarded him a special pension of $72 per month. Upon his death in 1905 at the age of 105, Hiram Cronk was awarded a public funeral where an estimated 25,000 people paid their respects. Cronk is buried in Brooklyn, New York. Below is a video of his funeral procession. 

January 22, 2014

An amiable young man – Provo Wallis

Born in April 1791 in Halifax, Sir Provo William Parry Wallis earned many distinctions in his lifetime. Wallis was the longest serving member of the Royal Navy and the last surviving British veteran of the War of 1812.

The Wallis family had a long tradition of Royal Navy service and it was Provo’s father who wanted him to have a naval career.  Provo’s father used his connections to have his son registered in 1795 as an able seaman at the age of four.  Wallis eventually went to England where he recalled starting his ‘real’ naval career in October 1804 serving on the Cleopatra.  Wallis served on a number of vessels before being transferred to the Shannon as a second lieutenant in January 1812. The Shannon’s captain, Philip Bowes Vere Broke, said that Wallis “seems an amiable young man.”
Sir Provo Wallis

The Shannon patrolled the U.S. coast during the War of 1812 and on June 1, 1813 the Shannon was patrolling Boston Harbor when it engaged the American frigate Chesapeake. In a short, fierce engagement the Shannon disabled the Chesapeake and boarded the vessel as the Chesapeake captain, James Lawrence, exclaimed “Don’t give up the ship!” Shortly thereafter the Chesapeake struck her colours and surrendered. During the engagement, the Shannon’s first lieutenant was killed and its captain was badly wounded, leaving Wallis in command of both vessels in hostile waters. Both ships were repaired at sea and preceded to Halifax Harbour, and for his actions Wallis was promoted to commander. 

After the war, Wallis altered between sea duty and periods of inactivity. By 1857 Wallis was in command of the Cumberland as Commander-in-Chief off the coast of South America before being recalled as he was promoted to vice-admiral. This proved to be his last service at sea at the age of 70.

Wallis later served as vice-admiral of the United Kingdom before being promoted to admiral of the fleet. In 1870 the Admiralty introduced a new retirement system that allowed for any officer to remain on the active service list if he commanded a ship during the Napoleonic Wars. Upon reaching his nineties the admiralty encouraged Wallis to retire but he refused saying that he would be glad to go to sea again. Wallis remained on the active service list of the navy receiving full pay until his death in 1892 in Funtington, England at the age of 100. Upon his death many in the Royal Navy were able to finally be promoted.

January 15, 2014

He has made the mist disappear for them – John Smoke Johnson

The War of 1812 produced many well-known native leaders that we think of today, such as John Norton and Tecumseh. However, one lesser-known individual, John ‘Smoke’ Johnson, made a large impact during his involvement in the war and after. 

John ‘Smoke’ Johnson was born a full-blooded Mohawk in 1792 in Upper Canada. His native name, Sakayengwaraton, translates to “he has made the mist disappear for them” and this translation helped earn his better-known name as Smoke Johnson. Johnson was well acquainted with Joseph Brant and they both regularly attended the Mohawk Church near Brantford.
John Smoke Johnson
At the age of 20, Johnson joined John Norton serving throughout the War of 1812. Johnson fought at Queenston Heights, Stoney Creek and Lundy’s Lane. In addition, legend has it that Johnson kindled the fire that burned Buffalo in December 1813. For his service, he was awarded a pension of $20 per month.

After the war, Johnson took a lead role in the Grand River community. He served as a speaker of the Grand River Council for over 40 years, and although he was a staunch Anglican, he served the community by encouraging traditional Iroquois values. Until his death in August 1886 at the age of 93, Johnson remained physically and mentally active in the community earning the title “grand old man” in the Six Nations community.

If you want to find out more about Iroquois involvement in the War of 1812, come out to Old Fort Erie on February 1 for The Niagara 1814 Campaign Symposium where Richard Hill will talk about the Iroquois involvement in 1814. The symposium will also include presentations by Donald and Dianne Graves, and Doug Kohler. Click here for more information and to register.

January 08, 2014

The Harpers Ferry Rifle

The primary weapon for soldiers during the War of 1812 was the musket but some elite units were issued rifles. In the U.S. Army, the Harpers Ferry Model 1803 rifle was the most prominent for their rifle regiments. Before the war, the US produced 4,000 rifles at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. It was a sturdy, short-barreled, heavy caliber weapon. It weighed about nine pounds, was 49 inches long, and was a .54 caliber weapon.

Rifles had grooves machined down the barrel in order to spin the ball and produce greater accuracy. A skilled marksman could hit a target at 200-300 yards or farther. The rifle had better accuracy then a musket, but it was more difficult and longer to load than a musket and it could be less reliable since the grooved barrel could produce more fouling. In addition, the rifle cost more money to make than a musket.
Harpers Ferry rifle
At the beginning of the war, the U.S. had only one rifle regiment in service and this increased to four regiments in 1814. Although riflemen never amounted to more than 10 percent of the regular army, they did play an important role in many engagements. Riflemen helped to establish beachheads at York and Fort George in 1813 and in 1814 they won a decisive victory against the British at Conjocta Creek, just to name a few.

If you want to find out more about riflemen, you can head to Old Fort Erie on February 1 for The Niagara 1814 Campaign Symposium where Doug Kohler will be talking about the American perspective of the campaign. The symposium will also include presentations by Donald and Dianne Graves, and Richard Hill. Click here for more information and to register.