February 18, 2015

The close of a hot and unnatural war

News of peace spread quickly to the Niagara, the region most devastated by the War of 1812. The war reshaped the region on both sides of the Niagara River.

After the war, a new patriotism emerged in Upper Canada. John Beverly Robinson noted that the Americans waged the war “for the purpose of subjugating the Canadas,” the war “had the effect of binding them, as well as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, much more strongly to the Crown.” The war helped to reshape Upper Canadians’ sense of themselves. A visitor remarked,

The last American war forms an important era in the history of Upper Canada, and as such, it is continually referred to by the people, who, when alluding to the time at which any circumstance occurred, say that it happened before or after the war.

On the American side of the Niagara, the economy quickly rebounded. The U.S. side was described as dynamic whereas Upper Canada appeared as a sleepy rural backwater. When looking across the Niagara River to the New York side, John Howison noted: “There, bustle, improvement, and animation fill every street; here dullness, decay, and apathy discourage enterprise and repress exertion.”
Signatories to the Treaty of Ghent

To embrace the success experienced on the American side, some residents on the Canadian side of the Niagara began to enter business deals with their American counterparts. The Niagara District magistrate even began to issue the oath of allegiance to newcomers from America in order to allow them to own land in Niagara. The differences that separated the people on the Niagara during the war quickly began to dissolve as economic benefits brought people closer together again. 

For the native population in Niagara, the end of the war meant it was time to repair the bonds between the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people on both sides of the Niagara. The Grand River and Buffalo Creek chiefs met at Fort George in August 1815 but they failed to resolve their differences as each side claimed to represent the true Haudenosaunee confederacy. After the war, the Haudenosaunee were pressured by Upper Canada and New York to surrender more land and convert to Christianity. 

In the end, the War of 1812 is estimated to have claimed 35,000 lives as a direct result of the war. Only 15 percent came from battlefield deaths whereas the majority died from disease, and for the natives in particular starvation was the biggest killer. The war devastated the Niagara but the emergence of peace laid the foundation for a lasting friendship between nations. Upon hearing of the peace treaty, John Le Couteur typified many peoples reaction by writing, “I am the bearer of the blessed News of Peace at the close of a hot and unnatural war between kindred people. Thank God!”