December 12, 2012

Mischief on Christmas Day

Soldiers saw Christmas as a special day to celebrate with their comrades, and officers were no different. One officer in particular tells of his celebration of Christmas in 1813 in his journal.

Lieutenant John Le Couteur
Lieutenant John Le Couteur wrote on December 25, 1813 about his longing for home, and he remembered a past Christmas spent with his family. In 1813, Le Couteur was invited to spend Christmas Day with Mrs. Robison and her guests. Le Couteur endeavoured to help liven the party by causing some mischief. He managed to borrow a lady’s dress in order to amuse the guests. Le Couteur knocked on the front door and entered dressed as a destitute women requiring aid. The gentlewomen told her sad story to the guests and …

The old Lady Herself [Le Couteur] was completely won and a large sum was preparing for her relief but a certain occasional twinkling in the unfortunate Lady’s eye led one or two of the fair sparklers [to] suspect the truth – a whisper went about and screams of laughter following, the poor Lady had to cut and run.
After this amusement, the guests shared a toast to the glorious capture of Fort Niagara on December 19. After the merrymaking was complete, Le Couteur went on picket between the hours of 12 and daylight. Fortunately, Le Couteur’s friend, Mrs. Robison, sent him a hot supper, which he found “highly acceptable.” 
If you want to see what Christmas was like in a fort, you can visit Fort George and Fort Niagara this weekend for their annual Christmas events. Don’t miss these great events!

December 05, 2012

A soldier’s Christmas

For British soldiers in the 1800s Christmas was seen as a special time of year for the men to celebrate.

For regular soldiers in the British Army, Christmas Day was treated as a Sunday. This meant that most men had the day off and religious services were held. Most soldiers saw Christmas as a special day and attempted to prepare for its celebration. Depending on where a soldier was stationed, many would attempt to accumulate more food for Christmas Day in order to hold a special feast. Many took the opportunity to celebrate the day with their fellow soldiers.
McFarland House plaque
Another advantage to Christmas Day was that men were issued new uniforms. All soldiers in the British Army received new clothing once a year on Christmas Day as a gift from the king. Unfortunately, not everyone received a Christmas gift on time. Do to supply problems, many soldiers did not receive their new uniforms on time and were forced to make do with what they had during the long winters in Upper Canada.

This weekend you and your family can experience Christmas in the 1800s by visiting McFarland House and the Laura Secord Homestead for their annual Christmas events. Also, don’t forget to head to Fort Erie on Saturday for their annual Flames across the Niagara event. 

November 28, 2012

Cold indifference to Christmas

Christmas in 1812 was much different than today. Christmas was treated as a significant day to those living in British North America, but it did not have much pomp and ceremony as today.
Kissing under the mistletoe
Most British subjects would celebrate the Christmas holiday with simple decorations along with dinner and a church service. However, it appears that most Upper Canadians did not treat Christmas as a major event. One English immigrant to Upper Canada in the 1820s observed: “I was much surprised at the cold indifference which most people showed in their observance of Christmas day - with the exception of the then few residing English families, the church was scantily attended.”
In the United States similar attitudes prevailed in certain areas. In the nation’s capital, it was not uncommon for politicians to be working throughout the holidays and even sessions of Congress were held on Christmas Day. It wasn’t until much later that the U.S. government recognized Christmas as a national holiday.
In many ways Christmas during the early 1800s was similar to today in that most families choose to celebrate with their families.
For anyone looking to add some 1812 themed activities to their Christmas holidays, you can visit OldFort Erie and McFarland House, to name a few, for their annual Christmas event this weekend.

November 21, 2012

The forgotten Battle of Frenchman’s Creek

It was Saturday, November 28, 1812 when the Americans made a renewed attempt to invade the Niagara above Niagara Falls at Frenchman’s Creek.
After the failed invasion at Queenston Heights, the Americans amassed a force under the command of Brigadier-General Alexander Smyth. The Americans gained some initial success by dispersing a small British force and spiking the British guns, but soon the American invasion ran into problems. The force sent to destroy the bridge over Frenchman’s Creek did not bring enough axes for the task. After destroying part of the bridge, the Americans were forced to retreat due to incoming British forces from Fort Erie.
Battle of Frenchman's Creek plaque
After learning that the British guns had been spiked, Smyth sent William Winder with a force of about 300 to cover the evacuating troops. However, Winder’s force came under heavy fire soon after landing from over 300 British reinforcements. Smyth attempted to send his 3,000 reinforcements across but only about 1,200 could fit in the boats. With torrential rain and freezing temperatures, Smyth decided to postpone the invasion. Smyth never managed to renew his invasion of Canada before withdrawing his force to winter quarters.
In the end, the British suffered more casualties during the Battle of Frenchman‘s Creek than at Queenston Heights with 17 killed, 47 wounded and 35 missing.
On Sunday, November 25th the Fort Erie Bicentennial Committee will be having a commemoration service for the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek. Don’t miss the commemoration of this historic event. Click here for more details.

November 07, 2012

A Canadian Regiment

During the War of 1812, many British subjects fought to protect Canada; however, Canadians played a big part. One example of an outstanding Canadian regiment is the 104th Regiment of Foot.

The 104th was raised in 1803 as the New Brunswick Regiment of Fencible Infantry. In 1810 they were taken into the army as the 104th Regiment of Foot. In early 1813, the 104th were ordered to make a harrowing trek from New Brunswick to Quebec in the dead of winter.

Private, 104th Regiment
Six companies, totaling about 550 men, endured this winter trek. The men proceeded on snowshoes through the wilderness from Fredericton to Quebec for a distance of 350 miles in 24 days. It was an unusually cold winter with snow falling almost constantly. One man died en route for reasons other than cold weather, and one man was left behind due to frostbite.

Generally, the march began at daybreak and end in the mid-afternoon in order to prepare shelter for the night. This trek is regarded as one of their most memorable feats during the war.

In 1814, elements of the 104th fought at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and the Siege of Fort Erie, suffering many casualties in the process. In 1815, the battle honour of “Niagara” was granted to the flank companies and by 1817 the regiment was disbanded.
On Remembrance Day we remember the sacrifices that men and women endured to protect Canada from those who threatened our freedom. This November 11th, don’t forget about the Canadian veterans of the War of 1812 who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect Canada.

October 31, 2012

He keeps them awake

Sagoyewatha, also known as Red Jacket, was the Seneca War Chief who fought with the Americans during the War of 1812. The name Sagoyewatha means ‘he keeps them awake,’ which refers to his great oratory abilities. The name Red Jacket refers to his favourite embroidered coat given to him by the British for his service in the American Revolution.

Red Jacket fought on the British side during the American Revolution. When the British were defeated, Red Jacket was part of a delegation that met with George Washington. The delegation ceded Iroquois lands in upstate New York to the new American government for their alliance with the British. During the meeting with Red Jacket, Washington presented a peace medal to Red Jacket, which he worn in many portraits.

Red Jacket
Red Jacket was a reformed drunkard who advocated for social harmony through temperance. He rose to prominence due to his personal political talent as an advisor to the hereditary leadership. He managed to outshine the hereditary Peace Chiefs and dominated tribal/village society.

During the War of 1812, Red Jacket decided to keep his warriors out of the war. However, during the British raid in December 1813 along the American side of the Niagara, Red Jacket and his warriors helped to defend people from British attacks. By July 1814 Red Jacket and his warriors fought as part of the American Left Division invading into the Niagara. After the Battle of Chippawa, which saw many Iroquois fighting their own people, Red Jacket sent a peace envoy to the Grand River Iroquois. Red Jacket proposed that the Iroquois on both sides of the Niagara withdraw from the war. Due to Red Jacket’s proposal, many Iroquois on the British side decided to withdraw from the war.

Today you can see a statue of Red Jacket in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. If you are passing through the area, make sure you stop to pay tribute to a brave warrior.

October 24, 2012

Remember, remember, the fifth of November

Many have heard the rhyme: remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot, in reference to Guy Fawkes Night. Guy Fawkes Night usually involves a bonfire of an effigy of Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605.

Guy Fawkes burning at Old Fort Erie
On November 5, 1605 a group of English Catholics planned to blow up Parliament with a massive amount of gunpowder placed in the basement. If successful, King James I would be killed along with the leading Protestant nobility. The conspirators hoped to crush the leading nobility in order to bring a return to Catholicism in England. The plan failed when Guy Fawkes was captured and sentence to be executed.

Days after the failed attempt on King James’ life, people were permitted to hold bonfires to celebrate the king’s survival. In 1606, Parliament passed an act to recognize November 5th as a national day of thanksgiving. Ever since then in England, and many other countries, the tradition of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes lives on. During the War of 1812, soldiers and citizens in Canada celebrated this tradition with bonfires and other festivities.
Make sure you remember, remember to visit Old Fort Erie, Fort George and the Drummond Hill Cemetery, among others, for their yearly Halloween tours.

October 17, 2012


Halloween has many different traditions but perhaps one of the most popular ones involves jack-o’-lanterns. The jack-o’-lantern story has many different variations but many are similar.

Stingy Jack was an unsavoury character who often got into trouble, mainly due to drinking. One day the devil appeared to Jack and said it was time for his soul to descend to hell. Jack asked the devil if he could turn into a coin so that Jack could buy one last drink. The devil agreed but Jack did not buy another drink with the coin. Jack took the coin and placed it into his wallet next to a cross, stripping the devil of his powers. The devil screamed out and promised to never come back for Jack’s soul if released. The devil vanished as Jack released him.

Eventually Jack died and his soul was left in limbo. Jack was too wicked to go to heaven and the devil promised Jack that he would not take his soul. This meant that Jack was forced to wonder the earth in search of a place to rest. The devil mocked Jack by giving him an ember that would always burn the flames of hell. Jack placed the ember in a turnip to help light his way.

As this story became popular in North America, the turnip was replaced with a pumpkin. Today we turn pumpkins into jack-o’-lantern to help light Jack’s way on his never-ending journey.
If you would like to learn more about the traditions of Halloween and hear some ghost stories, make sure you visit Old Fort Erie, Fort George and the Drummond Hill Cemetery, among others, for their yearly Halloween tours.

October 10, 2012

Not one in ten thousand knows your name

This line comes from a song by Stan Rogers called Macdonell on the Heights. Rogers laments that although Macdonell led a charge up the heights to retake the redan battery during the Battle of Queenston Heights, his death from the charge is not remembered by many.

John Macdonell was born in April 1785 in Scotland. At the age of seven he came with his family to Canada where at the age of 23 he became a lawyer. He later earned a seat in the legislature and in September 1811 he was appointed attorney-general.

Macdonell was not loved by all, especially William Baldwin who duelled with the attorney-general, but his position brought him closer to Isaac Brock, who asked Macdonell to serve as his aide. Macdonell was a lieutenant-colonel in the York Militia where he served as Brock’s aide with energy and poise.
Plaque marking the spot near where Macdonell fell

During the Battle of Queenston Heights Macdonell was not far behind Brock, who had left in the early hours from Fort George to the site of the American invasion. It was not long after Brock’s failed advance up the heights that Macdonell led his own desperate charge to retake the redan battery. Macdonell’s small force did push the Americans back briefly, but a musket ball hit Macdonell’s horse, which reared up as a second musket ball struck Macdonell’s back. Macdonell was shot four times but it did not prevent him from attempting to stand and continue the attack. Fellow officers pulled the lieutenant-colonel from the battlefield as the attack failed to capture the redan battery.

The next day, Wednesday, October 14 in the morning Macdonell succumbed to his wounds. The Niagara Bee lamented: “one of the most enterprising men … has appeared and passed away from us like a brilliant meteor in the firmament.” As in life, Macdonell continued to be at Brock’s side in death as the two men were buried together at Fort George on October 16. Even today the two men serve together under Brock’s Monument on Queenston Heights.
Don’t forget that this weekend is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Queenston Heights. Make sure you check out all the activities taking place to commemorate this historic event. Click here for details.

October 03, 2012

Brock's Final Resting Place(s)

The current monument towering over Queenston Heights honouring Isaac Brock is not the first. In 1815, the legislature of Upper Canada approved the creation of a monument honouring the late general. Work started on the monument in 1823 and was dedicated on October 13, 1824, 12 years after Brock’s death. A solemn ceremony took place as Brock and his aide John Macdonell’s remains were removed from Fort George and interred under the new monument.

First monument after the explosion
In 1840, the monument was severely damaged by an explosion. Benjamin Lett, who was said have had republican sympathies, was held responsible for the bombing. Lett managed to escape to the U.S. were he was eventually pardoned after committing nefarious acts. Lett eventually died in Milwaukee after being mysteriously poisoned.
After the bombing, a committee formed to create a new monument. Brock and Macdonell’s remains were removed from the damaged monument and placed in the Hamilton family cemetery in Queenston during the construction of the new monument. The new monument’s cornerstone was laid on October 13, 1853 with Brock and Macdonell’s remains being re-interred under the new monument where they currently rest. The monument officially opened in 1859 with many in attendance.
Town of Queenston from atop the monument

One of the most impressive features of the new monument is a statue of Brock at the summit. From the top, you can see the heights and the Niagara River. During the Queenston Heights events from October 12 to 14, the monument will be open to the public. In addition, guided tours of the battlefield will begin at the monument throughout the weekend. Click here for more information. 

September 26, 2012

The boldest measures are the safest

Isaac Brock is perhaps the most famous War of 1812 figure in Canada. Best known for his charge at Queenston Heights that spelled his end, the general lived by Admiral Nelson’s motto: the boldest measures are the safest. On one occasion this motto helped save Brock’s life, but at Queenston Heights it led to his end.

Brock came from a strong military tradition where four of his brothers served as officers in regular or militia corps. Brock’s brother purchased an ensigncy for Isaac Brock in the 8th Foot in 1785. By 1791, Brock was promoted to captain and transferred to the 49th regiment.

Brock's coat worn at Queenston Heights
Upon joining his new regiment Brock was challenged by one of his fellow officer, who also happened to be a professional duellist. Since Brock was challenged, he had the choice for setting the terms for the duel. Brock decided to go with pistols instead of sabres, to which his friends were shocked that Brock would challenge someone who was considered an excellent shot. Before the duel began the challenger asked Brock how many paces they would take. Brock insisted that the duel would take place at a handkerchief’s distance (an extremely close range). The challenger declined and was later forced to leave the regiment in disgrace. Brock’s boldness helped to save his life and ingratiate him with his fellow officers.  

Brock continued to follow Nelson’s motto when the Americans invaded at Queenston Heights on the morning of October 13, 1812. When the Americans took the heights, Brock led a desperate charge to retake the position. Unfortunately, Brock’s boldness did not work in his favour as he was shot during the assault. Although the British managed to recapture the heights later in the day, their “active, brave, vigilant and determined” general, as Hamilton Merritt described Brock, laid dead.

If you want to see Brock’s boldness in action make sure you visit Queenston Heights from October 12 to 14. Hundreds of re-enactors will take the field to recreate the famous battle that took Brock’s life. In addition, on the October 14th there will be a funeral procession for the general. Don’t miss this historic event! Click here for more details.

September 19, 2012

Black Stump Brigade

During the War of 1812, every colony in North America was required to raise at least one regiment for its defence. In Upper Canada, modern-day Ontario, the Glengarry Light Infantry was raised to defend the colony.

Glengarry private
In February 1812, Governor General Prévost ordered Colonel Baynes to recruit a small battalion of infantry from Glengarry County in Upper Canada. Glengarry country had been settled by a number of men who were in the Glengarry Fencibles, which was a regiment raised by the British army and disbanded in 1804. However, recruiting was not limited to the Glengarry County but was expanded to include all of Canada. Men who signed up were promised four pounds bounty and 100 acres of land at the end of their service. Many of the men who signed up were veterans of previous military service and the majority of the men were Catholics.

Glengarry officer
The Glengarries served as a fencible regiment, which meant that they were similar to regular British regiments but they were only required to serve in Canada. The regiment fought as light infantry in that they were the advance guard on the march and rearguard in retreat. They covered line infantry in battle by protecting the flanks and by harassing the enemy. They often performed reconnaissance duty and fought in the woods alongside native allies. The natives admirably called the Glengarries the “Black Stump Brigade” for their dark uniforms and their skill in forest warfare.
The Glengarry Light Infantry served extensively throughout Canada and fought in many engagements. They fought at the Battle of Fort George, Lundy’s Lane, and the Siege of Fort Erie, to name a few. For their service, the regiment was permitted to have the battle honour ‘Niagara’ on their colours. By 1816 the regiment was disbanded, but this unit, along with other Canadian units, served as the forerunners for the modern-day Canadian forces. If you want to learn more about this regiment, and the group of re-enactors who portray them, you can visit their website.

September 12, 2012

Who won the War of 1812?

Many have asked this question since the end of the War of 1812. Did Canada really win the war since they stopped the American invasion? Did the U.S. manage to win by securing their western frontier and proving to the world that they were a powerful force? There are many factors to consider when asking who won the War of 1812.

Many argue that Canada and Great Britain won the war due to the failed American invasions. The U.S. attempted over a dozen invasions of Canada with all failing to capture Canada. By the end of the war, Canada was secure, the country retained its connection to Britain, and the war laid the foundation for future independence and a lasting peace with the U.S. In addition, the British achieved their aim by holding Canada while fighting in a life and death struggle against Napoleon.

Treaty of Ghent
Some maintain that the U.S. won the War of 1812 by claiming that the U.S. government only attacked Canada as a means to an end. By attacking Canada, the U.S. was attempting to force Great Britain to relinquish their aggressive policies on the high seas, including the stopping of American ships and the impressment of American sailors. With the defeat of Napoleon, the Americans no longer needed to worry about British policies on the high seas since there was no need to continue these British policies.

Another main goal of the U.S. was to stop the British from supplying natives on the American western frontier. With the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, the U.S. guaranteed their future expansion west. Since the treaty did not adequately protect the natives, the American government was able to continue their expansion west. Many historians recognize that the native population was the clear loser in the War of 1812. The natives were not adequately addressed in the Treaty of Ghent and only weak provisions were established to preserve their way of life.

These are only some of the arguments made in order to answer the provocative question of who won the War of 1812. If you want help discovering who won the war you can join the Fort Erie Bicentennial Committee for their Gala Dinner and Great Debate on September 15. David Frum and Roy MacGregor will debate the issues surrounding who won the war. Don’t miss this great event. For more details, please click here.

September 05, 2012

The Coloured Corps

During the War of 1812, a number of Blacks served in both the British and American armies. These men often fought side by side with their white counterparts and frequently distinguished themselves in battle.

In Upper Canada slavery was limited in 1793, which was the first piece of legislation in the British Empire to limit slavery. This act was introduced after an incident in March 1793 when Chloe Cooley, an enslaved Black woman in Queenstown, was bound, thrown in a boat and sold across the river to a new owner in the U.S. Her distress caught the attention of Peter Martin, a free Black and former soldier in Butler’s Rangers. Martin convinced Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe to introduce legislation to ban slavery. Simcoe managed to pass a law that prevented the further introduction of slaves into Upper Canada, but it did not abolish slavery in Upper Canada.

Plaque located at Queenston Heights
In the Niagara Region during the War of 1812 there was a small British unit raised that was comprised of Black soldiers. When the war started Richard Pierpoint, a freed ex-slave who served in Butler’s Rangers, petitioned Major-General Sir Isaac Brock to form an all-Black militia unit. With Brock’s approval a small militia unit formed under Captain Robert Runchey, know as Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men. At the age of 68 Pierpoint served as a private under the command of white officers.

The new ‘Coloured Corps’ fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights where they were mentioned in reports as having been influential in the British victory. In 1813 the corps fought in the Battle of Fort George and by 1814 the unit was converted into an artificer unit where they helped to build fortifications and perform as blacksmiths. After the war, many veterans of the Coloured Corps received land grants in the Niagara.

On October 13 and 14, make sure you make your way to Queenston Heights to see the reenactment of this infamous battle where this corps distinguished themselves. The reenactment will include a morning march from Fort George to Queenston Heights, guided tours, and a battle reenactment at 3 p.m. Click here for more details.

August 29, 2012

A most horrid slaughter

It was a frigid night on December 18, 1813 when the British prepared for a daring attack on Fort Niagara. A British force under Lieutenant-Colonel John Murray waded across the Niagara River and crept upon the shore just below Fort Niagara in preparation for their assault.

The capture of Fort Niagara Plaque
The American burning of Newark (modern-day Niagara-on-the-Lake) precipitated the daring assault upon Fort Niagara. This action saw the destruction of about 150 private homes and forced many inhabitants into the below freezing weather. The burning of these homes has been blamed on a group of former Canadians serving in the U.S. army as part of the Canadian Volunteers.

In retaliation for the burning of Newark, General Drummond ordered the assault on Fort Niagara. The Canadian militia eagerly produced enough boats for the crossing. As the British made it across an advanced guard quickly dispatched with the American sentries and forced their way into the fort. The Americans were caught off guard and suffered nearly 65 dead and 350 captured in the engagement, mostly preformed by the bayonet. Brigadier General George McClure, the commander of the American forces and the one who ordered the burning of Newark, reported, “Our men were nearly all asleep in their tents, the Enemy rushed in and commenced a most horrid slaughter.”

The British victory at Fort Niagara was the first action by the British in their winter campaign that saw the destruction of the American Niagara frontier and the capture of much needed weapons and supplies.    

If you want to see the recreation of this engagement, make sure you visit Fort Niagara on September 1 and 2 for their annual 1812 event. The highlight of the weekend begins on Saturday at 7 p.m. with a performance by the MacKenzie Highlanders Pipes and Drums. Following the performance there will be a battle re-enactment of the British capture of the fort in December 1813. Click here for more details.

August 22, 2012

I ain't afraid of no ghost

Since the War of 1812, numerous ghost stories have been told in the Niagara Region at locations where soldiers died. One story of ghostly encounters occurs at Old Fort Erie.

After the war, many citizens moved into the Fort Erie area to build homes and shops. Since these residents moved in many began reporting stories of ghosts haunting the grounds around Old Fort Erie. One image that was often reported centred around two figures walking on the grounds of the fort. One figure appeared to have no head and the other had no arms. Many wrote-off this story as fiction until a discovery was made in 1987.

During the construction of a home down the road from the fort 28 bodies were uncovered from the War of 1812. These men were once part of the American army that held Fort Erie during August and September of 1814. In this mass grave two bodies stood out. One skeleton was missing its head and another was missing its arms. The story of these two ghosts has a basis in fact.

Jarvis Hanks wrote about his experiences during the Siege of Fort Erie. Since shaving was mandatory in the U.S. army many soldiers would often pair up to shave each other. Hanks wrote of an incident when Corporal Reed sat down to shave Sergeant Wait. As the corporal began, a British cannon ball severed the corporal’s arms and the sergeant’s head. The sergeant was wrapped up in a blanket and buried while the corporal lived only for a few days after.

If you want to hear stories like this and more, make sure you visit Old Fort Erie on Friday, Aug. 24 for their ghost tour. Also, make sure you check out Fort George for their ghost tours on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and you can purchase tickets for their Halloween tours in October.     

August 15, 2012

The Rogue’s March

During the War of 1812, both the British and American armies inflicted various punishments on their soldiers in order to instil discipline. Both sides used different types of punishments during the war.

Cat o' nine tails
For the British, punishments varied depending on the crime committed and the officer in charge. The typical punishment for serious crimes such as murder or mutiny was execution. In Britain during the war, 225 offences warranted the death penalty under the criminal code. For lesser crimes, a commanding officer could decide an appropriate punishment, which could have included flogging, extra duties, embarrassment of a solider, and the payment of fines. The punishment of flogging (usually no more than 300 lashes) could be used to punish soldiers. Flogging often involved the offender being stripped to expose their bare back as they were whipped in front of the regiment.  However, by 1814 most officers were tending to shy away from using the cat o’ nine tails. In fact, Gordon Drummond disliked flogging and urged his commanders to use milder forms of punishments.

In the U.S. army whipping as a form of punishment was abolished by May 1812 in order to entice recruits to join the U.S. army. The typical forms of punishment used in the U.S. army could include payment of fines, ‘running the gauntlet,’ picketing, branding, wearing a ball and chain, confinement to a black hole, and for serious crimes execution by hanging or firing squad. In 1812, only three soldiers were executed, but by 1814 there were 146 men executed. In total about 260 men were sentenced to death during the War of 1812 and 205 were actually executed.

For both armies musicians played a part in punishing regular soldiers. For the British, the musicians often performed the flogging of the men. As well, in both the British and American armies the musicians could play ‘The Rogue’s March’ as part of a soldier’s punishment. Generally, when this tune was played a soldier would be tied-up and led out of the garrison in front of everyone. As the offender reached the gates, the youngest musician could be called upon to complete the disgrace with a ritual kick in the butt.  

If you want to see some musicians in action make sure you stop by Fort George on Aug. 18 and 19th for the Fife and Drum Muster and Soldiers' Field Day. A competition will take place between fife and drum corps from Canada and the U.S., as well as a competition of 1812 drill teams from Fort George, Fort Erie, Fort Malden and Fort York. For more information, please click here.

The Rogue's March

August 08, 2012

A brave and excellent officer – William Drummond

William Drummond was described as above the medium height, dignified appearance, regular and clear-cut features, and a charming expression. At the beginning of the war, Drummond served with the 104th regiment in New Brunswick until February 1813 when the regiment was ordered to move west. Drummond, along with six companies of the 104th, made a hazardous trek through the Canadian wilderness in the middle of the winter. By April 1813, the 104th made it to Kingston after trekking through 800 miles of wilderness. While in Quebec an officer from the Canadian Voltiguers described Drummond as a “brave and excellent officer with many estimable qualities, together with his reputation for courage caused him to be idolized.”

Drummond participated in the ill-fated attack on Sackets Harbor in late May 1813. Although the assault was described as “a scandalously managed affair,” Drummond distinguished himself by rallying his troops during the battle. Drummond managed to escape death during the battle when a musket ball grazed him.

Aside from Drummond’s courage in battle, he was also a great diplomat. Drummond earned the respect of John Norton and his native allies. Norton presented Drummond with strings of wampum beads that he wore until his death. Due to Drummond’s good relationship with the natives, he was often called upon to settle disputes between Norton and the Indian Department.  

Siege of Fort Erie map
With the American invasion of Niagara in July 1814, Drummond was ordered with the two flank companies of the 104th to proceed to the Niagara. Drummond arrived in time for the Battle of Lundy’s Lane where he had two horses killed under him. After the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Drummond participated in the failed British attempt to destroy American supply bases at Conjocta Creek. After this failed assault, the British laid siege to the American held defences at Fort Erie. After a few days bombardment, the British launched a daring assault on August 15, 1814.

As Drummond assembled his men for the assault, he bid farewell to the officers as he believe he would not survive the night. Drummond gave his sword to Surgeon William Dunlop before the assault for safekeeping and opted to carry a pike into battle. As Drummond led his men to the North-East demi-bastion they were repulsed by the American gunners inside. After a few attempts, Drummond and his men managed to take the bastion and began pouring into the fort. As Drummond charged into the fort he was shot dead. One American officer describes the incident:

“an officer advanced as far as the door of the mess house . . . [and] gave us orders to kill him - we shot him down and his party gave back at his fall.”  

After Drummond’s death, the British in the bastion managed to turn around a cannon and began firing into the fort. This action caused the gunpowder magazine in the bastion to erupt in a “a jet of flame, mingled with the fragments of timber, earth, stone, and bodies of men, rose, to the height of one or two hundred feet in the air, and fell, in a shower of ruins.”
Explosion of the bastion during the failed British night assault

The British failed to take Fort Erie that night and Drummond lay dead in the American held fort. The next day as the young drummer boy Jarvis Hanks sees the bodies he notes that Drummond’s body was looted and that one of the American officers purchased his gold watch. William Drummond was buried, along with a number of his comrades, in a mass grave in the ditches of Fort Erie.

If you want to learn more about William Drummond and the Siege of Fort Erie, don’t miss the Siege of Fort Erie on August 11 and 12th. There will be battle reenactments all weekend long as well as a lantern tour after the Saturday night battle. All battles are free to watch! Don’t miss Canada’s largest 1812 reenactment. Click here for the schedule of events.

August 01, 2012

Bayonets are trump

For soldiers during the War of 1812 their time was not always spent performing military drills or fighting in battles. For recreation, soldiers in both armies had a few activities to occupy their time.

Soldiers often liked to gamble by playing various dice and card games. In fact, soldiers were so prolific with their gambling that on a number of occasions men would play dice games just minutes before battle. One officer noted that just before a battle the ground was covered with cards and dice, since it was considered bad luck to carry these items into battle.  

Fort Niagara
For officers their recreational activities tended to be more refined and included activities such as painting, playing an instrument or attending plays. Officers did gamble with their fellow officers, as one embarrassing example from December 1813 highlights. On Dec. 19th in the middle of the night, a British force stealthily overcame the American defences at Fort Niagara. As some American officers played cards, one asked, “What are trump?” A British soldier burst forward and replied, “bayonets are trump!” This story has probably been exaggerated over time, but it does show that games of chance were prolific.

If you want to experience some entertainment involving the War of 1812, make sure you head to Old Fort Erie to see Sparks from a Campfire. The Dominion Repertory Theatre performs this play set during the War of 1812 and tells the story of a young man thrown back into the time of the War of 1812. The play runs from July 28 to Sept. 2, Tuesdays through Sundays at dusk. For more information, please click here  

July 25, 2012

Beyond battle wounds

Soldiers faced many dangers during the War of 1812. Not only did musket and artillery fire threaten soldiers’ lives, but they also faced the greatest danger to a soldier’s life – disease.

During the war, the number one killer came in the form of disease and not from battle wounds. It is estimated that only 15 per cent of deaths during the war came from wounds sustained in battle. The majority of deaths came from infectious diseases such as dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, malaria, measles and smallpox. Many military camps lacked strict sanitation procedures, which led to the increase in disease related deaths.

Plaque honouring 300 soldiers who died in Delaware Park
One American camp where disease was ramped occurred in the winter of 1812 at Flint Hill. The U.S. Army established a camp in preparation for an invasion that did not occur. The men suffered daily from the cold since many were under-dressed for the winter. These soldiers were plagued by poor rations as disease and sickness spread through the encampment due to improper preparations for the harsh winter.  

By November 1812, a U.S. surgeon reported that three to four men were dying each day, and that measles and dysentery were the two deadliest diseases. Today, 300 men are buried in Delaware Park who died during the winter of 1812. These men are currently recognized by a small plaque. The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has started a fundraiser to plant 300 weeping willow trees in memory of the 300 men that died. These trees are meant to serve as a monument to the sacrifice of these men. If you would like to get involved with this campaign, please click here.  

July 18, 2012

Citizen soldiers

During the War of 1812, both the British and Americans used citizens to help serve in auxiliary military units known as the militia. The militia was primarily employed to help move supplies, garrison forts, and was used as auxiliaries to regular forces.

In 1793 the Legislature of Upper Canada passed the Militia Act that required citizens to take responsibility for the defence of their province. The Act required that all males between the age of 16 and 60 perform military service in peace and wartime. They were required to provide themselves with clothing, arms, ammunition and accouterment. Most militia units were not issued military uniforms and were forced to wear their civilian clothing on the battlefield. The lack of uniforms did cause some confusion at times since it was difficult to distinguish between British and American militia in some battles.

James Thompson's Militia Officers Coatee
By 1808 the Militia Act required eligible men to train about two to four times a year. Training mostly consisted of men proving that they could operate a musket, and then there would be a celebration with free beer for the rest of the day. Some men opted to join militia flank companies where men trained for six days a month and could be placed on full time duty for up to six months during war. Of course, certain religious groups could be exempt from militia service by paying a fee of five pounds per year in peacetime, and twenty pounds per year in wartime. By 1812 there were about 11,000 men eligible to serve in the Upper Canada militia, compared to 460,000 men eligible to serve in the U.S. militia.

Janet Thompson's Wedding Dress
Militia officers varied in quality in the Upper Canada militia. Most officers were chosen for their status in the community, such as lawyers, doctors or politicians. Some officers had previous military service in the British military and were chosen for the skill and knowledge that they possessed.

Throughout the War of 1812, the Canadian militia provided a vital role in support of the British Army. Whether it was serving on the frontlines or transporting vital supplies, the British Army would not have been able to function without the support of the Canadian militia.

If you want to find out more about the militia and see some great artifacts from the War of 1812, don’t miss the Grand Opening of the Niagara Falls History Museum. On display will be a militia officer’s coatee belonging to James Thompson. As well, they will have his wife’s, Janet Cooper Thompson, wedding dress on display. Don’t miss this great event! Click here for more details.

July 11, 2012

A mighty ship

In 1814, British naval commodore James Yeo sought to gain supremacy over Lake Ontario. Before 1814, both naval squadrons on Lake Ontario exchanged dominance over the lake. The fact that the Great Lakes are practically landlocked meant that any warships on the Great Lakes had to be built on the Great Lakes. At the start of the war, both the British and Americans converted various vessels on the Great Lakes into ships of war. As the war progressed, both sides built a number of ships in order to gain a permanent dominance over Lake Ontario. 

The importance of Lake Ontario cannot be underestimated. If the Americans had gained complete control over the lake, the British would have probably abandoned all of Upper Canada. With American dominance of Lake Ontario American troops could be deployed anywhere along the shores of Upper Canada.
If the British managed to gain control of Lake Ontario, they would have been able to wreak havoc upon New York State. If this were the case, the safety and security of Upper Canada would have been practically assured.

These thoughts plagued commodore Yeo’s mind. By 1814, Yeo commissioned the creation of a new ship, the grandest and largest ship Lake Ontario had seen – the St. Lawrence. This new vessel was the only ship of the line to be launched in fresh water. The St. Lawrence launched in September 1814 with 112 guns and more than 800 crewmembers. This monstrous ship was larger than Lord Nelson’s flagship Victory. 
The St. Lawrence on her maiden voyage
During the ship’s maiden voyage on October 19, the St. Lawrence sailed through a storm and was struck by lightning. The crew suffered casualties and the ship suffered damage, but the vulnerable gunpowder magazine was not struck and the voyage continued. The St. Lawrence never saw combat but she served her purpose. The American fleet was deterred from entering Lake Ontario for the remainder of the war.

Once the War of 1812 ended, the largest ship on the Great Lakes was unceremoniously decommissioned. The ship served as storage space before it was sunk in Kingston harbour.
If you want to see some period vessels in action don’t miss The Navy of 1812: Sailors on the Lakes re-enactment on July 13 – 15 at Navy Hall/Fort George.  Check out the details here.

July 04, 2012

Why, these are regulars!

The Battle of Chippawa fought on July 5, 1814 was a significant victory for the U.S. Army. Chippawa was the first time in the war that an American force defeated a veteran British force of equal size on an open battlefield. This battle proved that the American Army could not be underestimated.
American Soldier

Why were the Americans so successful at Chippawa? In part, it had to do with Winfield Scott’s grey-coated regulars. The traditional uniform of an American regular during the War of 1812 consisted of a solid blue coat with red cuffs and collars adorned with white lacing. However, due to supply shortages American uniforms during the war became much simpler and often varied in colour. Some American units during the war had brown, green or even red as their military coats. By 1814, Winfield Scoot decided to dress his regulars in grey work coats so that all his soldiers looked uniform on the battlefield.

At the Battle of Chippawa, Scott’s highly trained grey-coated regulars took on the British left flank and managed to maintain its formation even during heavy artillery fire. These grey coats managed to inflict heavy damage on the British left flank, causing the British to withdraw from the battlefield.

American Grey Coat
In Scott’s memoirs he claimed that upon seeing the grey-coated American infantry maintain their position after heavy artillery fire, that the British commander, General Riall, exclaimed “why, these are regulars!” Despite this colourful story, it is unlikely that Scott would be able to hear Riall say these words from across the battlefield.

Another claim by Scott is that the cadets at West Point adopted the grey uniform because of the American victory at Chippawa. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The cadets at West Point had already adopted the grey uniform before the Battle of Chippawa due to the shortage of blue cloth; although, the victory at Chippawa did provide a convenient excuse to retain the cheaper grey uniforms after the War of 1812.

If you want to learn more about the Battle of Chippawa, make sure you join the Niagara Parks Commission and the Chippawa Branch 396 of the Royal Canadian Legion as they honour those who served on the Chippawa Battlefield. The commemoration takes place on July 5 at 7 p.m. Click here for the event program.

June 27, 2012

Undaunted courage – Teyoninhokarawen/John Norton

The War of 1812 was full of courageous leaders who inspired and defended their beliefs. One of the noblest leaders was Teyoninhokarawen, better known as John Norton.

John Norton was the son of a Cherokee father and a Scottish mother. Norton was born and raised in Scotland before coming to Canada in the ranks of the British Army. He later become a teacher and an interpreter where he embraced the native culture. Through his work as an interpreter, Norton was accepted into the Mohawk tribe and became the adopted nephew of Joseph Brant. Eventually, Norton became chief under the name Teyoninhokarawen.

John Norton
During the War of 1812, Norton served as an Indian Agent for the British government and held the rank of captain in the British Army. Norton encouraged the Iroquois Confederacy in the Grand River Settlement to join the British against the Americans. Norton fought in many battles throughout the war including Queenston Heights (were he was wounded), Beaver Dams, Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane, among others.

Throughout the war, Norton placed the welfare and interests of the Iroquois on both sides of the Niagara as a top priority. An example of this occurred in July 1814 when Norton allowed nations from the American side of the Niagara to address the Grand River Iroquois in Burlington. The purpose of this meeting was to end the Iroquois involvement in the war.

Near the end of the war, Norton was promoted to the rank of major and granted a pension of 200 pounds annually for his service. In 1815, he traveled to Britain with his wife and son where he wrote a lengthy memoir concerning his experiences and the history of native people. Norton eventually returned to Canada and settled on a large tract of land that overlooked the Grand River where he began to translate the bible into Mohawk. Later in life Norton left Canada and traveled west in order to live with the Cherokee nation. He never returned to Canada and is believed to of died in the late 1820s or early 1830s.

Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond described Norton in 1815 by stating, “This man is of the coolest and most undaunted courage and has led the Indians with the greatest gallantry and much effect on many occasions against the enemy.” John Norton played a crucial role in aiding the British cause during the War of 1812 and his contribution, along with his warriors, helped to stave off American advances in Niagara.