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.