December 18, 2013

Terrific in the extreme – The burning of Lewiston

The destruction of Newark on December 10, 1813 left the British seeking revenge and the opportunity to clear the American side of the Niagara. On December 19, the British quietly captured Fort Niagara in the early morning “bayoneting every American they met” recalled one British officer. The British captured 27 cannons, 3,000 stands of arms, along with massive quantities of ammunition and provisions. In addition, the British managed to capture Fort Niagara’s commanding officer Captain Leonard as he rode into the fort from his home three miles away.
Tuscarora heroes art card

The British, now accompanied by 500 native warriors, moved from Fort Niagara to Lewiston. The British quickly dispersed the haphazard American defenders as civilians rushed out of the town for safety. One refugee saw many escaping,

“some not more than half dressed, without shoes or stockings together with men on horseback, waggons [sic], carts, sleighs and sleds overturning and crushing each other stimulated by the horrid yells of 900 savages on the pursuit, which lasted eight miles [and] formed a scene awful and terrific in the extreme.”

The British burned every house in Lewiston, committing a number of atrocities with their native allies. The Niles Weekly Register, published a year later on December 24, 1814, described the events,

“The British entered the house at Lewistown in which the sick soliders [sic] and wounded lay, and not withstanding all the entreaties, shrieks and cries of the helpless soliders [sic], not a life was spared, and it is reported that the houses were all burned before they were all dead.”

During the fighting, a group of Tuscarora warriors ran to the aid of their neighbours and helped delay the attackers advance, giving time for civilians to flee the chaos. In response, the natives fighting for the British burned the Tuscarora village near Lewiston.

On Thursday, December 19, you can head to Fort Niagara at 5 a.m. to witness the 200th anniversary of the fort’s capture in real time. In addition, at 6:30 p.m. you can head to Lewiston for the unveiling of the Tuscarora Heroes Monument commemorating the brave men who slowed the British advance and helped civilians escape. Click here to find out more about both events.

December 11, 2013

Running in every direction – The burning of Buffalo

Christmas in Upper Canada was treated by citizens, and the British Army, as a Sunday. Many used the holiday as a time to spend with family and friends to share in their company.

In 1813, the Christmas holiday was not a joyous event for many residents living in the Niagara. The Town of Newark was burned by the Americans on December 10 leaving many residents to fend for themselves in the cold winter weather.  On December 19 the British began their retaliation with the capture of Fort Niagara and went on to burn the towns of Lewiston, Youngstown, Manchester, Tuscarora and the military outpost of Fort Schlosser.
The burning of Buffalo

The people of Buffalo celebrated Christmas in fear of a British attack. On December 30, the British, along with their native allies, crossed the Niagara in the early morning and proceeded to Black Rock. The Americans assembled an impressive force of about 2,000 men for the defence of Buffalo and upon hearing of the British advance, the majority of the troops were sent to defend the community of Black Rock. Unfortunately for the Americans, a number of militia disappeared during the march to Black Rock upon hearing British musket fire and native war cries.

The British were quickly able to outflank the Americans, forcing an American retreat to Buffalo. One American report commented on the misconduct of the militia involved in the defence by stating, “All except very few of them behaved in the most cowardly manner. They fled without discharging a musket.” In total, the British burned 104 homes, 43 barns and 18 stores in Black Rock and Buffalo, along with four schooners at Black Rock. Many inhabitants fled the carnage with one reporting, “women and children [were] running in every direction, to avoid the fury of British savages, which were rapidly infesting the village.”

The destruction of the Niagara left many inhabitants suffering in the cold during the Christmas season. If you want to see a more festive celebration of the Christmas season, you can check out the various Christmas events happening this weekend. Click here to see the full list of events.

December 04, 2013

Flames across the Niagara

In May 1813, the Americans captured Fort George and began their occupation of the Town of Newark. At first, U.S. General Dearborn described the civilians of Newark by reporting, “A large majority are friendly to the United States and fixed in their hatred to the Government of Great Britain.”

As the occupation continued, the civilians of Newark became discontent with their occupiers. U.S. Army officer Lieutenant Irvine described the attitude as, “The inhabitants hereabouts are almost altogether very inimical to the Yankees – the men would scalp them, and the women of Newark are loyal enough to eat their hearts and drink their blood. … I hope these villains will be put to death and their estates confiscated.”

Irvine got part of his wish. On December 10, Brigadier-General George McClure, with British forces advancing and his militia enlistments ending, ordered a withdrawal to Fort Niagara. Before abandoning Fort George, McClure’s Canadian Volunteers roused the inhabitants of Newark and torched some 130 homes, leaving about 400 women, children and elderly men to fend for themselves in the cold winter.

McClure justified his actions by stating he was depriving the British of winter quarters. However, his forces left several buildings and tents standing in Fort George. In retaliation, the British crossed the river and captured Fort Niagara on December 19 before burning many communities along the American side of the Niagara.

This weekend you can join the communities of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Fort Erie and Buffalo for the Flames Across the Niagara events. Each community is holding events to remember the 200th anniversary of the burning campaigns of December 1813. Don’t miss this Niagara Signature Event; click here for more information.

November 27, 2013

O Tannenbaum

The Christmas tree has a long tradition in Germany dating back to at least the 16th century. Many individuals brought large trees into their houses and decorated them with candles and fruit.

Sorel Christmas tree on a stamp
In North America, the Christmas tree tradition originates in Sorel, Quebec. On Christmas Eve in 1781, a party with German and British officers took place with the main attraction of the evening being the fir tree in the corner of the dining room. The tree was lit with candles and decorated with fruit by Baroness von Riedesel, wife of German officer General Fredrick von Riedesel. Riedesel served in the Seven Years War and led soldiers from the Duchy of Brunswick during the American War of Independence, commanding German soldiers in the Saratoga Campaign.

The Christmas tree tradition added to the festive nature of Christmas activities that were celebrated in the predominantly Catholic Lower Canada (Quebec). However, in the largely protestant Upper Canada (Ontario), Christmas was not as big of a holiday as in Lower Canada. 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.”

If you want to see what Christmas was like in the 19th century, you can head to the Genesee County Village and Museum on November 30 for their ‘Preparing for the Holidays’ event. Click here to find out more and to find out more about some other upcoming Christmas activities.

November 20, 2013

USS Trippe

When the War of 1812 was declared both the British and the Americans lacked ships on the Great Lakes. Both sides quickly began building warships and converting civilian vessels. One vessel that was converted by the Americans was the USS Trippe.

USS Trippe
Originally named the Contractor, the USS Trippe was purchased by the navy and converted into a sloop with a 32-pound long gun in 1812. By 1813 the Trippe was in Lake Erie and part of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s squadron. During the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, the Trippe engaged in a long range duel with two small British ships. The Americans took control of Lake Erie after the battle and the USS Trippe was relegated to transporting supplies.

In October 1813, the Trippe returned to Buffalo as the navigation season came to an end. On December 30th the ship was burned during the British attack on Buffalo. The story of the USS Trippe doesn’t end in 1813.

The Buffalo Maritime Center is now working on building a replica of the USS Trippe from the War of 1812. The center received a replica hull that will be used to rebuild the Trippe and many other donations have come in to help move this project forward. If you are interested in learning more or helping with this project, you can contact the Buffalo Maritime Center by clicking here.

November 13, 2013

A vote for war

On June 18, 1812 the United States declared war on the United Kingdom or Great Britain and Ireland and her dependencies. This decision was not taken lightly by the U.S. and compared to other declarations of war the vote for the War of 1812 was close.

In the House of Representatives, the vote was 79-49 and in the Senate, 19-13. This means that only 61 percent of members supported the declaration for war. The vote was primarily based on party lines with 81 percent (98 out of 121) Republicans voting for war. On the other hand, 100 percent (39 out of 39) Federalists voted against the war.

The vote based on party lines also reflected regional lines. Members from Pennsylvania, the South and the West voted 80 percent in favour of war. Conversely, 67 percent of member from New York, New Jersey and New England voted against the war.  The dissatisfaction with the war in the northern states became apparent rather quickly once war broke out with many areas continuing to trade illegally with the British in Canada. Further dissatisfaction eventually manifested with the Hartford Convention in 1814 where northern states met to discuss their grievances stemming from the War of 1812.

If you want to find out more about the American perspective during the War of 1812, you can head to the Courthouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Bicentennial Symposium where the principal speaker will be Dr. Don Hickey. The symposium takes place on Sunday, November 17 from 1 to 4 p.m. Click here to find out more.

November 06, 2013

High treason – Joseph Willcocks

Joseph Willcocks emigrated from Ireland in 1800 and when he arrived in Canada, he served as the sheriff of the Home District of Upper Canada from 1803-1807. In 1808, Willcocks began serving as a member of the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly. During his time in the legislature, he made a name for himself as a critic of British policies.

With the outbreak of war, Willcocks initially supported the British by helping to secure Iroquois support, recruiting men for the militia and even fighting at the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812. Despite initially helping the British, Willcocks switched his allegiance when the Americans invaded the Niagara in May 1813. By July 1813 Joseph Willcocks, joined by Banajah Mallory and Abraham Markle who were both former members of the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly, created the Canadian Volunteers. This group of militiamen served as scouts for the Americans and spoke to the loyalty of various citizens.

The most infamous act perpetrated by Willcocks and the Canadian Volunteers was their participating in the burning of Newark. On December 10, 1813, General McClure commanding American forces at Fort George ordered the destruction of Newark at the behest of Willcocks. Many inhabitants of Newark recalled the participation of the Canadian Volunteers during the burning.

For his actions, Willcocks was charged with high treason in absentia in the spring of 1814 during the Bloody Assize trials in Ancaster. Willcocks managed to escape the hangman’s noose, but he did not go on to live a prosperous life. In September 1814 during a skirmish around Fort Erie Willcocks was shot and killed. After his death, the Canadian Volunteers melted away as an influential force and they were disbanded in 1815 after their numbers fell and the US government denied further recruiting funds.

On November 7, you can head to the Niagara Historical Society Museum for “In the Grip of the Eagle.” The event combines dinner, period music and a light-hearted military tribunal to address those subjects who are resistant to American occupation. Click here for more details and don’t forget to mark your calendars for the Flames Across the Niagara event happening on December 6 and 7. Click here to find out more about that event.

October 30, 2013

The Green Tigers

The 49th Regiment of Foot or the Hertfordshire Regiment formed during the War of Austrian Succession in 1744. They became known as ‘The Green Tigers’ for the green facings on their uniform. The regiment took part in the American War of Independence before being sent back to Europe. During the Napoleonic Wars, the 49th campaigned in Holland with the Duke of York in 1799 and served as marines during the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801.

By 1803, the 49th came back to North America. The regiment was spread out across Upper and Lower Canada performing garrison duties. With the declaration of war, the 49th’s orders to return to Europe were cancelled. In October 1812, the 49th was in the Niagara when the Americans launched their invasion on October 13. The 49th performed well during the Battle of Queenston Heights where their former commanding officer Isaac Brock was killed. 
49th belt plate
As the war progressed the 49th found themselves fighting in a number of battles including Queenston Heights, Fort George, Stoney Creek and Black Rock, to name a few. Perhaps their most famous battle was at Crysler’s Farm in November 1813. The 49th, along with the 89th, fought against the Americans facing three-to-one odds and won the battle.

After the War of 1812, the 49th became a royal regiment and had its name changed to Princess Charlotte of Wales' Hertfordshire Regiment. They served in the First Opium War and during the Crimean War before being amalgamated with the 66th regiment to form The Royal Berkshire Regiment (Princess Charlotte of Wales's). This new regiment went on to serve in both the First and Second World War.

If you want to find out more about the re-enactors who portray the 49th Regiment of Foot, you can check out their website by clicking here.

October 23, 2013

All Hallows’ Eve

The origin of Halloween comes from the Celtic harvest festival called Samhain, which means ‘summer’s end.’ The festival took place the night before the Celtic New Year, November 1. The New Year was the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the dark season for the Celts; the day before, October 31, was a day that ghosts and goblins would roam the countryside.

The festival was a day for lost love ones to return home and for people to pay respect to those who had died. However, sometimes these ghosts could cause trouble so bonfires were lit to help keep out bad spirits and in more modern times dressing up for Halloween was used as another way to help keep away bad spirits.

When Christianity became the dominant religion, the Celtic festival was absorbed into All Souls’ Day on November 2 as a time to honour the spirits of the ancestors. This three-day festival, called Hallowmass, began on October 31 or All Hallows’ Eve. The festival not only commemorated the dead but over time the poor would go door-to-door dressing up and asking for food, eventually becoming the Halloween festivities we think of today.

If you want to find our more about Halloween and hear some spooky ghost stories, you can head to Old Fort Erie or Fort George for their annual Halloween tours. Don’t miss these great events!

October 16, 2013

The Battle of Cook’s Mills

By mid-September 1814 the Siege of Fort Erie had ended and British forces moved behind the Chippawa River into a strong defensive position. By mid-October, Major-General George Izard and a number of regulars reinforced the American forces at Fort Erie. Izard decided to take his large force and move up the Niagara to attack the British position at Chippawa.

By October 17th Izard moved to the Chippawa in hopes of drawing out Major-General Drummond. Drummond refused to give battle and Izard was forced to move back toward Fort Erie. Izard learned of a large quantity of flour at Cook’s Mills and ordered Brigadier-General Bissell to take four infantry battalions, along with a company of riflemen and a troop of dragoons, to capture or destroy the essential British food resources. 

Upon learning of this American movement, Drummond ordered Colonel Myers and Lieutenant-Colonel Tweeddale with elements of the Glengarries, the 82nd, the 100th, 104th, a six-pound gun, and a Congreve rocket detachment to intercept the American advance. On October 19th, the Battle of Cook’s Mills began in the morning and lasted about a half hour.
Cook's Mills plaque
Lieutenant John Le Couteur described the battlefield as the British approached,

“The Ground was a fine large clearing with the Chippawa Creek on our left, a gentle slope to the front and bank of the creek. About a mile in front were woods and to the extreme left we could perceive the American Army moving over a pontoon or temporary bridge which they had thrown over the river.”

The British attempted to lure the Americans out from behind the woods but were unsuccessful. The Americans began to move through the trees and the British believed that they were about to be outflanked. Colonel Myers decided to retreat since his orders were to not be decisively engaged with the enemy.

The Battle of Cook’s Mills was not a large or decisive battle, but it was the last battle on the Niagara during the War of 1812. Although the British lost about 200 bushels of grain, they soon captured a similar number from American ships crossing the Niagara. Drummond decided that the best option was to remain in his strong defensive position behind the Chippawa and await the end of the campaign season. The Battle of Cook’s Mills showed Izard that Drummond could not be lured from his defences and this engagement helped to convince Izard to return to Fort Erie before destroying the fort on November 5 and returning to the Buffalo area.

On Saturday, October 19th, you can commemorate the 199th anniversary of The Battle of Cook’s Mills with the unveiling of a peace garden. Click here for more information. 

October 09, 2013

Amidst a host of friends and foes – Abraham Hull

On July 25th, 1814, the sounds of war raged into the night at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. Present during the battle was Captain Abraham Hull, the son of the famous American general William Hull, and nephew of Captain Isaac Hull, captain of the famous USS Constitution.

Abraham Hull was in command of the ninth U.S. Infantry at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane when he was wounded during the later stages of the battle. As the battle ended, Lieutenant John Le Couteur witnessed the horrible scene as hundreds lay dead and the groans of the wounded echoed through the night. Le Couteur found Abraham Hull and tells his encounter with him,

Close by me lay a fine young man, the son of the American general Hull. He was mortally wounded, and I gave him some brandy and water, and wished Him to give me his watch, rings and anything He wished sent to his family. He told me much about Himself and to come to Him in the morning when He would give them to me in charge. When I got to Him, He was a beautiful Corpse, stripped stark naked, amidst a host of friends and foes. 

Abraham Hull's gravestone 
Today, Abraham Hull is buried in the Drummond Hill Cemetery in Niagara Falls, on the battlefield where he fought and died. A stone, erected by his family and comrades, marks his grave. Hull is the only American officer buried in the cemetery from the War of 1812. However, Hull is not the only American soldier buried in the cemetery from the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.

In 1900, a ceremony took place when nine soldiers of the Ninth U.S. Infantry were uncovered in the Drummond Hill Cemetery. These men were laid to rest next to Abraham Hull with full military honours in a unique ceremony. Members of the Fourteenth U.S. Infantry, stationed at Fort Niagara, were permitted to enter Canada with their weapons and fire a salute to their fallen comrades while the band played “Nearer, My God to Thee.”

On October 11, 12, 18 and 19 you can head to the Drummond Hill Cemetery to hear about the lives of individuals buried in the cemetery. A costumed guide will take you through the cemetery as you see theatrical performances that provide a glimpse into the lives of those individuals buried in the cemetery. Click here for more details.

October 02, 2013

Our men gave way – Battle of The Thames

By September 1813 on the Western frontier the British were dealt a devastating defeat on Lake Erie. The American victory at the Battle of Put-in-Bay on September 10, 1813 meant that Lake Erie was under American control and that British forces along Lake Erie were vulnerable to attack.

Major-General Henry Proctor decided to withdraw all British forces toward Burlington Heights up the Thames River to escape superior American forces. Tecumseh, the leader of the native Western Confederacy, was opposed to a retreat and wrote “We must compare our Father's [Proctor’s] conduct to [that of] a fat animal that carries its tail upon its back; but when affrighted, it drops it between its legs and runs off.” Despite Tecumseh’s objections, Proctor began the withdrawal with Tecumseh and his warriors reluctantly agreeing to follow.    
Map of the Battle of The Thames
As the British and native allies moved toward Burlington Heights, Proctor, with Tecumseh’s encouragement, decided to stop at Moraviantown to meet the approaching Americans. Tecumseh’s forces were primarily positioned in the woods with the British forces, mainly comprised of men from the 41st Regiment of Foot, were positioned on the open field between a small swamp and thick woods.

Shadrach Byfield was among them and succinctly describes the battle, “The attack commenced on the right, with the Indians, and very soon became general through the line. After exchanging a few shots, our men gave way.” Byfield retreated to the woods were he was met by a number of native warriors who informed him that Tecumseh had been killed. Byfield goes on to describe his short adventure with the natives before being reunited with his regiment.

The aftermath of the Battle of The Thames/Battle of Moraviantown proved to be a devastating defeat for the British. The British had over 500 men taken prisoner, almost half of their forces present at the battle. The defeat meant that the Western portion of Upper Canada was now open to American influence, and with Tecumseh’s death many Western natives decided to make peace with the Americans, effectively ending Tecumseh’s dream of a native Western Confederacy.

This weekend you can experience the 200th anniversary of the Battle of The Thames taking place in Thamesville, south of London. There will be a number of events happening on Friday and Saturday with a battle re-enactment at 3 p.m. on both days. Click here to find out more.

September 25, 2013


During the early 19th century, the wealthy had many ways to show their high social standing and one of those ways was by using snuff.

Snuff is a smokeless tobacco made from ground tobacco leaves. Snuff is inhaled through the nostril, giving the user a shot of nicotine and a lasting flavour scent. The elite used snuff to help distinguish its members in society from the common people who generally smoked tobacco. Snuff originated with native tribes in South America and was adopted by the Spanish in the early 16th century, quickly spreading to other European countries.

Not everyone liked using snuff. Pope Urban VIII banned the use of snuff in churches and threatened snuff-takers with excommunication. In Russia, Czar Michael prohibited the sale of tobacco in 1643 and instituted the punishment of removing ones nose if caught and repeat offenders would be killed.
Snuff Box

During the early 19th century there were some prominent snuff users, including King George III’s wife Queen Charlotte, who was called ‘Snuffy Charlotte’ for having an entire room at Windsor Castle devoted to her snuff stock. Some other prominent snuff takers included Napoleon, Lord Nelson, and the Duke of Wellington. Snuff was so popular among officers that it was not uncommon to have snuff boxes on tables in the officers’ mess.

Due to snuff’s image as an aristocratic luxury, the U.S. introduced a federal tax on tobacco in 1794. Despite the tax, snuff was still popular among many Americans, including members of Congress as a communal snuff box was installed in Congress for its members until it was discontinued in the 1930s.

If you want to learn some more interesting facts about the early 19th century and the War of 1812 join Heritage Niagara for their 10th annual 1812 dinner. Click here for more information.

September 18, 2013

A long time it appears to me – Prisoner of war

Being captured during the War of 1812 was not a welcome occurrence for officers. However, the treatment of officers in captivity varied greatly from regular soldiers as William Hamilton Merritt’s experience can attest.

On July 25, 1814 during the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Merritt was with the Niagara Light Dragoons during the battle when he got word that Major-General Riall had been taken. Merritt left his unit to report his intentions to attempt to rescue Riall. Upon Merritt’s return to his troops, he was lost in the darkness and smoke on the battlefield and found himself surrounded by the U.S. 28th Regiment. Merritt was quickly transported to the American side of the Niagara were he was joined by 18 fellow officers and 116 privates.

Merritt left a memorandum book highlighting his days as a prisoner. Merritt was paroled to Greenbush, New York, and during his time as a prisoner he visited museums, went to church and had parties with fellow officers and prominent Americans, among other leisurely activities. On August 25, 1814, Merritt wrote “Pleasant Weather. One month since I was made prisoner – a long time it appears to me. Read the Newspaper, strolled, returned and enjoyed a good dinner.”

After three months of being a prisoner Merritt writes, “Three months have passed away since I was made prisoner, and no prospect whatever of an exchange.” He goes on to write about the boredom he faces and that reading books is one of his only salvations. Throughout his time as a prisoner, Merritt wrote to Catherine Prendergast and when he was finally released from the U.S., he married Catherine.

If you want to learn more about prisoners during the War of 1812, you can head to the Jordan Historical Museum on September 21 to listen to author David Hemmings talk about this topic. In addition, on September 19 you can listen to Dan Laroche talk about the Burning of the Niagara in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Click here to find out more about these events.

September 11, 2013

The brave and loyal old man – James Kerby

Kerby was born in 1785 near Sandwich (Windsor) Ontario. By 1805, he was working in Queenston as a clerk-bookkeeper for Thomas Clark. Kerby’s connection to Clark led him into the militia when Clark became the commanding officer for the 2nd Lincoln Militia in 1809. Kerby was appointed regimental adjutant to the 2nd Lincoln Militia.  

With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Kerby was placed in command of an artillery company. On the morning of October 9, 1812, his company was manning the British batteries on the Niagara River opposite Black Rock (Buffalo, N.Y.) when it was ordered to open fire on the Detroit and Caledonia, ships which had been captured by an American raiding party. Kerby performed well in this action and it was not long before he would see combat again. On November 28, 1812, the Americans launched an offensive at Frenchman’s Creek. Kerby received his first official commendation for his service during the failed American attack. By December 1812, Kerby was still serving along the Niagara by firing at American troops moving along the American shore. During one action, a 24-pound gun burst and severely wounded Kerby’s right hand.

By March 1813, Kerby joined the Volunteer Incorporated Militia Battalion, essentially a full-time militia unit composed of volunteers, in which Kerby was appointed captain. In May 1813, the British retreated from the Niagara after the Americans captured Fort George. Kerby participated in the British advance guard in the Niagara until the Americans withdrew from Fort George in December 1813, after burning the town of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). When the British launched their attack on Fort Niagara in December 1813 Kerby directed the embarkation of the troops for the assault and participated in the storming of Fort Niagara in Youngstown. For his actions, Kerby was awarded a sword valued at fifty guineas. 

Kerby's gravestone
By July 1814, the Americans launched another assault on the Niagara. On July 25, 1814, during the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Kerby, who had been promoted to Major, found himself in command of the battalion after his commanding officer was wounded. Kerby remained in command of the battalion during the Siege of Fort Erie where he was wounded in the shoulder and the hip. By February 1815 with the War of 1812 over, Kerby after serving for two years of continuous military service was able to resume his civilian life.  

After William Lyon Mackenzie’s unsuccessful insurrection in 1837, Kerby was authorized to raise a militia force to resist any renewed invasion by Mackenzie. Kerby formed the Queen’s Niagara Fencibles and he was placed in command of all troops on the Niagara frontier from April to June 1838.

Kerby’s wife and mother both died in 1839; in 1846 his son died at 24 and the death of a son-in-law meant that one of Kerby’s daughters and her small child became dependent on him. Kerby continued to be active in the militia and in 1846 he became commanding officer of the 1st battalion of the Welland Regiment.

Throughout his time in Fort Erie, Kerby served as warden of St Paul’s Anglican Church until his death. Kerby was instrumental in the establishing of the church by successfully petitioning the government to use stone from Fort Erie to construct part of the church, as well as donating a silver chalice. On June 20, 1854 Kerby died in Fort Erie and is buried in the cemetery of the church he was so influential in establishing.

Kerby’s obituary notice was published in “The Church” of Toronto on the June 29th, 1854. An excerpt reads: “Many a tear has fallen, and more will fall, on the grave where the brave and loyal old man reposes in the quiet cemetery of the little village church, on the bank of the noble river, which was witness to his gallant achievements in his country’s cause.”

On Sunday September 15 at 2 p.m., a plaque will be unveiled for James Kerby through the federally funded Graveside Recognition program. Kerby is the first War of 1812 veteran in the Niagara to receive this plaque. For more information, please click here  

September 04, 2013

Gallantry and good conduct – Peter Buell Porter

Peter Buell Porter, born in 1773, graduated from Yale College in 1791 before becoming a lawyer. He was a wealthy landowner and businessman who was active in state and federal politics. He entered Congress in 1809, where he was a great public speaker and a prominent member of the ‘war hawks’ where he pushed for the annexation of Upper Canada (Ontario).

With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Porter served as quartermaster general of the New York State militia. In 1812, Porter criticized General Smyth’s aborted invasion of Upper Canada that resulted in a bloodless duel in which one commentator remarked, “Unfortunately, both missed.”
Peter Porter
By 1814, Porter assumed command of the Third Brigade in the Left Division, which primarily consisted of militia, volunteers and native warriors. Porter was influential in obtaining the assistance of the native warriors for the Niagara 1814 campaign through his diplomatic skills with Red Jacket. Porter and his brigade fought well at Chippawa, Lundy’s Lane and Fort Erie, earning him a gold medal from Congress for his “gallantry and good conduct.”

After the war, Porter returned to politics and was re-elected to Congress in 1815. Porter served on the US-Canada Boundary Commission and he spent a year as Secretary of War in John Quincy Adams cabinet, among other political achievements. Porter retired from politics in the 1830s and spent the rest of his life on his extensive property along the Niagara River. He died in 1844 at the age of 71.

If you want to find out more about Porter, you can head to The Buffalo History Museum on Friday, September 13 to see the unveiling of four new War of 1812 exhibits. Click here for more information.

August 28, 2013

The British – turn out the guard

The capture of Fort Niagara on December 19, 1813 was an overwhelming success for the British. After the burning of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) the British quickly retaliated with not only capturing Fort Niagara but by burning the length of the American side of the Niagara. A private in the 41st Regiment of Foot named Shadrach Byfield participated in the capture of Fort Niagara in 1813.

Byfield joined the military in 1807 as part of the militia before joining the 41st. His mother was so distraught that she died three days after he left. By 1809, Byfield was on a transport for Quebec and by the time of the War of 1812, he served extensively in Western Upper Canada, Michigan and Ohio before coming to the Niagara in 1813.
Fort Niagara
Byfield recounts that the 41st flank companies, along with the 100th Regiment of Foot, crossed the Niagara in the early hours on December 19, 1813. Byfield proceeded to Youngstown were a prisoner was taken and the countersign was obtained for the guards protecting the fort. Byfield describes that a sergeant,

“proceeded to the gate [of Fort Niagara], and was challenged by the sentry inside, he gave the countersign, and gained admittance, but the sentry cried out ‘The British – turn out the guard.’ Our force was fully prepared, and in a very short time we had possession of the fort, with very little lose.”   

Byfield later participated in the British destruction of the American side of the Niagara in the days following the capture of the fort. As a reward for the capture of Fort Niagara, the soldiers who participated in the attack were awarded prize money for their actions. As a private, Byfield would have received two pounds for his participation in the attack on Fort Niagara.  

If you want to learn more about the capture of Fort Niagara, you can visit the fort this weekend for their Annual 1812 Encampment event. Battle demonstrations and living history programs will occur during the day along with the re-enactment of the British capturing Fort Niagara on Saturday night. Click here for more details.

August 21, 2013

Butler’s Barracks

Along the Niagara River above Navy Hall the military reserve known as The Commons were used to build Fort George in 1796. Farther inland buildings were built to serve the British Indian Department in their dealings with aboriginal people in the Niagara. A council house and storage facilities stood at this location until they were destroyed during the War of 1812.

After the War of 1812, new buildings were built away from the exposed position of Fort George. By 1854, the site was known as Butler’s Barracks in honour of John Butler and his Butler’s Rangers who served during the American Revolution and founded the town of Niagara. The area around Butler’s Barracks included a variety of buildings such as a hospital, commandant’s quarters and storehouses, among others. This area became defence headquarters for the Niagara Region.  
Butler's Barracks
The site was transferred to Canada in 1871 and was used to train regular and militia units. During World War I, the site became a training camp for 14,000 soldiers of the 2nd Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. By 1917, Butler’s Barracks became a winter training camp for the Polish Army known as Camp Kosciuszko.

During World War II, the area was known as Camp Niagara where buildings, tents, parade grounds and other facilities took over the area and Camp Niagara remained active until the 1960s as a military training ground. Soldiers who trained at the Butler’s Barracks site served in the Boer War, World War I and World War II, in the Korean War, and in peacekeeping efforts during the 20th century.

This weekend you can head to Fort George for their annual military timeline event. This event features military uniforms, weaponry and vehicles from various time periods. Click here to find out more.

August 14, 2013

Yankee Doodle went to town

The popular American military marching song originated in the 1750s as a British satire of the amateur American colonial militia. The most popular chorus for the song Yankee Doodle is:

            Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony;
He stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

Fort George Fife and Drum Corps
The ‘doodle’ word in the song is thought to derive from a German word meaning fool or simpleton. The ‘macaroni’ wig was extremely popular in fashion in the 1770s and became slang for foppishness or foolish. In general, the British were saying that the American colonials were effeminate and foolish looking.

Although the song was originally used by the British to mock the Americans, the song was quickly adopted by the colonials who made it their unofficial anthem during the American Revolution. By the time of the War of 1812, Yankee Doodle was perhaps the most popular song in the United States and American soldiers played it often. It was heard during the Battle of York in April 1813, at the Battle of Fort George in May 1813, and during the Niagara campaign in 1814. The song would have been played daily in American military camps and one version from 1812 goes:

            To meet Britannia’s hostile bands
            We’ll march, out heroes say, sir,
            We’ll join all hearts; we’ll join all hands;
            Brave boys we’ll win the day, sir.
                        Yankee doodle, strike your tent, yankee doodle dandy,
                        Yankee doodle, march away, and do your parts right handy.

            Full long we’ve borne with British pride,
            And sue’d to gain our rights, sir;
            All other methods have been tried;
            There nought remains but fight, sir.
                        Yankee doodle, march away, yankee doodle dandy,
                        Yankee doodle, fight brave boys, the thing will work right handy.

If you are interested in hearing some military music, make sure you head to Fort George this weekend for their annual Fife and Drum Muster and Soldiers’ Field Day. The event features military bands and infantry units from across Canada and the United States, and the event also features a sunset tattoo ceremony on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Click here to learn more about this event.

August 07, 2013

The worst regiment in Canada

The 103rd Regiment of Foot was formed from the Ninth Garrison Battalion in 1809. It arrived in Quebec in 1812 and soon earned the distinction as being the worst regiment in Canada, according to Governor General George Prevost. The 103rd was mostly comprised of very young recruits who spent most of their time on labour duties. The regiment was not well disciplined, its men committed numerous crimes and it had a high desertion rate. The 103rd had a shortage of officers and its commander Hercules Scott was absent for long periods on staff duties.

By the spring of 1814, the regiment was transferred to Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond’s Right Division. After the Battle of Chippawa, the 103rd came to the Niagara Region from Burlington. They helped to keep the British in the fight at Lundy’s Lane with their timely arrival of about 1,000 men at a critical moment in the battle. The unit marched 20 miles, the last few in double time, in order to reach Lundy’s Lane.

During the Siege of Fort Erie, the regiment participated in the unsuccessful assault to retake the fort on August 15, 1814. The 103rd attacked down by the water against Douglas Battery at about 3 a.m., as the crunch of the men’s feet along the shore altered the Americans. Upon the men’s approach, the Americans fired canister shot at close range, causing significant casualties. Hercules Scott was shot and killed during the assault and the column eventually retreated while some joined the assault on the North-East demi-bastion.

The British assault on the North-East demi-bastion gained some success until about 5 a.m. when a massive explosion occurred as the gunpowder magazine exploded destroying the bastion. American engineer Lieutenant Douglass described the explosion by stating:

“But suddenly, every sound was hushed by the sense of an unnatural tremor, beneath our feet, the first heave of an earthquake; and, almost at the same instant, the center of the bastion burst up, with a terrific explosion and a jet of flame, mingled with 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, to a great distance, all around.”
Bastion explosion during the Siege of Fort Erie re-enactment
During the assault, the 103rd Regiment lost about 424 men including 14 out of 18 officers. The 103rd actions at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane and the Siege of Fort Erie proved that they did not deserve Prevost designation as being the worst regiment in Canada. For their actions during the war, the regiment was authorized to bear “Niagara” on its colours before being disbanded in 1817.

This Saturday and Sunday, you can head to Old Fort Erie to witness the 27th annual Siege of Fort Erie. There will be tours, battles and demonstrations taking place throughout the weekend with the main event starting on Saturday night at 8 p.m. with the recreation of Drummond’s night assault followed by an ‘After the Battle’ lantern tour of the fort. Click here for a schedule of events. Don’t miss this Niagara Signature Event.

July 31, 2013

The Louis Roy printing press

The use of newspapers in Upper Canada before and during the War of 1812 was essential for keeping the population informed. Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe hired Louis Roy from Quebec to be the first King’s printer in Upper Canada.

The Roy Press
In 1792, the new lieutenant-governor arrived in Upper Canada and began to organize the government. He brought Louis Roy and his printing press with him and on April 18, 1793 Roy issued the first number of the Upper Canada Gazette in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), the provincial capital. Roy used the new printing press to distribute pamphlets, speeches, posters, regulations, and general local and international news to the people of the province.  

By 1798, the printing press was moved to the new provincial capital at York (Toronto). During the War of 1812, the press was in York during the American sack of the city in 1813. The press survived and continued to be used until it was replaced by new technology. Over the years, the press changed hands until it was sent to the Mackenzie Printery where it is currently on display.

On this long weekend, you can head to the Mackenzie Printery for their Simcoe Days event. You can learn more about the Louis Roy printing press that helped Simcoe shape the province of Upper Canada. Click here for more details.

July 24, 2013

A most severe conflict – The Battle of Lundy’s Lane

The Battle of Lundy’s Lane proved to be the bloodiest battle of the War of 1812. The British and Americans were unable to see each other in the thick smoke and the darkness, causing many to be shot at close range.

On July 25, 1814, the American army approached Lundy’s Lane at 7 p.m. They found the British commanding the heights and proceeded to advance upon the British position. As the darkness set in reinforcement arrived for both armies and the battle lines began to close. At about 9 p.m. the Americans captured the heights and the British guns. The British commander, Lieutenant-General Gordon Drummond, wrote about the capture of the guns, “Of so determined a character were their attacks directed against our Guns, that our Artillery Men were bayoneted by the Enemy in the Act of loading, and the muzzles of the Enemy’s Guns were advanced within a few Yards of ours.”
Battle of Lundy's Lane

Between 10 to 11:30 p.m., Drummond attempted to retake the heights and the captured guns by launching at least three counterattacks. On the third attempt, Drummond was shot and was forced to pull his men back but the British forces remained in the area. General Ripley, who took command of the American forces from the wounded Major-General Jacob Brown, eventually withdrew to the Chippawa River. The next morning Ripley’s force moved back to Lundy’s Lane and found the British in command of the hill and in possession of their lost artillery. Ripley believed that his force was greatly outnumbered and proceeded to withdraw toward Fort Erie.

Both sides claimed victory after the battle as the official reports of Drummond and Brown attest:

“The Enemy’s efforts to carry the hill were continued until about midnight, when he had suffered so severely from the superior steadiness and discipline of His Majesty’s troops that he gave up the contest and retreated with great precipitation to his camp beyond the Chippawa.” – Drummond’s Official Report, July 27, 1814

“They were met by us near the Falls of Niagara, where a most severe conflict ensued; the enemy disputed the ground with resolution, yet were driven from every position they attempted to hold.” – Brown’s Official Report, July 29, 1814

On Thursday, July 25, you can head to Battlefield Park on Barker Street in Niagara Falls for a commemoration ceremony for the 199th anniversary of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. The first 500 people will receive a commemorative medallion and four lucky people will be able to fire a cannon. In addition, you can head to the Drummond Hill Cemetery on July 28 for the Lundy’s Lane Historical Society’s commemoration of the battle. Click here for more information on these free events.

July 17, 2013

The canal builder – William Hamilton Merritt

William Hamilton Merritt was born in Bedford, N.Y. in 1793. Merritt’s father fought for the Loyalists during the American Revolution. After the war, the Merritt family moved to New Brunswick and by 1795 the family moved to the Niagara Peninsula. Merritt studied mathematics and surveying, and was involved in different businesses before the War of 1812.

William Hamilton Merritt
Shortly before the outbreak of the War of 1812, Merritt was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Lincoln militia. Merritt served with the Niagara Light Dragoons and fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812. By 1813, the 20-year-old Merritt was promoted to captain and continued to serve with the dragoons by patrolling the border and relaying messages along the Niagara. By 1814, Merritt fought at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane where he was captured and remained a prisoner in Cheshire, Mass. until early 1815. On his return trip home to Niagara, Merritt stopped in Mayville, N.Y. where he married Catharine Prendergast.

After the war, Merritt ran different businesses in Niagara, but he is best known for his involvement in the building of the Welland Canal. In 1818, Merritt, along with others, petitioned the Upper Canada Legislature to provide for the construction of the canal. In 1824 the legislature formed the Welland Canal Company and selected Merritt as its financial agent. Merritt traveled extensively through Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain to help raise funds for the project. From 1832 to 1860 Merritt served in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada and later the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada

Merritt often worked long days, as he was involved in many projects. Merritt had four sons and two daughters, one of his sons became a member of the Canadian House of Commons. In 1862 Merritt died on a ship near Cornwall and his body was returned to Niagara where he rests in Victoria Lawn cemetery in St. Catharines.