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.

June 20, 2012

The drums of war

Music was an integral part for the British and American militaries in 1812. Fife and drum corps served alongside soldiers; often exposed to enemy fire. Their primary function was to communicate orders during battle and to provide entertainment for the army. This meant that musicians were required to memorize numerous orders and songs.

Fort George fife and drum corps
Recruits could be as young as 14 years old (or younger); however, the majority of those serving in the fife and drum were adults. This is evident because another important job that the musicians had was to remove casualties from firing lines during battles. Musicians didn’t necessarily act like modern-day medics, but rather removed casualties to prevent gaps from forming in the firing lines.
So why would you want to serve as a musician? Well, musicians were paid more than regular soldiers were and they received certain perks, such as more storage space for all their equipment. In addition, musicians stood behind the firing lines, which provided some protection during a battle. However, musicians were not always out of danger. Jarvis Hanks remarked that since musicians were placed behind a regiment’s flags during battle, they were often a conspicuous target for enemy fire.  As members of the fife and drum, musicians faced many hardships and were never far away from the dangers of war.
If you want to see some military music, don’t miss the Fort Erie Grande Parade on June 23rd. The Grande Parade starts at 2 p.m. and will feature dozens of units including bands, 1812 re-enactors, military units and parade floats. At 7:30 p.m. a military tattoo will begin at Old Fort Erie and will culminate with a fireworks display at 10 p.m. Don’t miss this great event!

June 13, 2012

Brother Jonathan declares war

On June 18, 1812, President Madison signed the war bill passed by Congress, officially declaring war against “the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the dependencies thereof.” With war declared express riders raced to the Niagara to deliver the news. The war would destroy the relationship between people on both sides of the Niagara.

Officers dining at Fort George
Before the War of 1812, American and British officers often visited each other. American officers frequently visited the Canadian side of the Niagara to have dinner with their British counterparts at Fort George, and some even visited Newark’s (modern-day Niagara-on-the-Lake) numerous houses of ill repute. The declaration of war reached Fort George rather quickly and at the time American officers were dining with their British counterparts. Upon learning of the news, one can imagine the American officers fearing that they have now become the war’s first prisoners. However, the British officers insisted that this bad news should not interrupt a good meal. Upon completing their meal, the British officers led the Americans back to their boats as they crossed back to Fort Niagara.
The American declaration of war spread quickly through the Niagara devastating the bonds that connected Niagarans. The war’s declaration threw Niagara into the frontlines of a war that would see the destruction of farms, the burning of towns and hundreds of deaths.

From June 16 to 18 join us as we commemorate the declaration of war and celebrate the 200 years of peace that followed. Events will take place throughout the Niagara Region, including the appearance of Governor General David Johnston at Queenston Heights! In addition, Fort George will have the grand opening of its new museum and interactive experience. Also, don’t miss the premiere of the new Son et Lurniere Sound and Light Show, “Flames of War” on Monday, June 18th. For a full list of opening ceremonies activities, click here.

June 06, 2012

Rockets’ red glare

Congreve Rockets were a unique piece of artillery used by the British. Congreve Rockets were created by William Congreve Jr. (1772-1828) who developed the version of the rocket that could be employed in combat. These weapons were cheaper, lighter, faster and easier to fire than conventional artillery. The rocket’s head housed the projectile that could vary from a solid cannon ball to incendiary projectiles used to set targets alight. These weapons were very destructive against enemy infantry or fixed positions, and the sound they made often terrified soldiers. 

Congreve Rocket
Despite their potential destructive power, Congreve Rockets lacked a crucial element: accuracy. These weapons had no tail fins to provide stability in flight, so sometimes rockets could fly back towards those who fired them. At the Battle of Lundy’s Lane a detachment of British Marine Artillery was present, but contemporaries noted that when watching the firing of the rockets not two rockets flew in the same direction. In addition, another contemporary noted that “the practice of discharging the Rocket … proved a great injury to the men, burning their hands and faces. Some had no hair on their heads and their hands and shoulders severely scorched.” Despite their inaccuracy and danger to the user many veterans of the battle recalled how the rockets lit up the night sky during the battle.

Rocket Ladders
Rockets are most prominently known for their reference in the American national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British in September 1814 and mentions the ‘rockets’ red glare’ in his poem.

If you want to see some rockets’ red glare make sure you check out the fireworks over Niagara Falls on Sunday, June 17th as part of the 1812 Opening Ceremonies Weekend. Before the fireworks, you can watch the WNED documentary War of 1812 at Oaks Garden. For a full list of Opening Ceremonies activities, click here.