May 22, 2013

The country of my choice

On May 25 and 26, 1813, the Americans bombarded Fort George as a prelude to invasion. On May 27th, about 4,000 American troops landed near Fort George and descended on the British defenders numbering only 1,000 men. The British eventually retreated from the area leaving the Americans in occupation of Fort George and the town of Newark.

One witness to these events was Ned Myers, a sailor aboard the U.S.S. Scourge. Ned Myers was born a British subject in Quebec in 1793. He was abandoned by his father, who was a German officer serving in the British Army. Myers grew up in Halifax before moving to New York at the age of 11 to become a sailor. Myers became an American citizen stating, “America was, and ever has been, the country of my choice, and while yet a child I may say I decided for myself to sail under the American flag.”

Ned Myers fought at many different engagements throughout the war. During the Battle of York Myers volunteered to row troops ashore. He was unimpressed with the soldiers who were sickened by life aboard ship but his opinion soon changed when the British opened fire and he remarked that the infantry “became wide awake, pointed out to each other where to aim, and many of them actually jumped into the water, in order to get the sooner ashore.”

One month later Myers was again in the thick of battle during the American assault on Fort George. He participated in the firing of the artillery aboard the Scourge in support of the American infantry landings. After the battle, Myers went ashore and unlike the aftermath of the Battle of York, there was little tolerance for plundering. Myers helped to defend some civilians who were threatened by marauding American soldiers. Myers eventually re-embarked the Scourge and sailed away, leaving the American Army in control of the Niagara.
U.S.S. Scourge 
In August 1813, Myers was still aboard the Scourge when it was struck by a squall near modern-day Port Dalhousie. The ship sank, along with the U.S.S. Hamilton, killing most of the crew, but Myers managed to jump overboard and was rescued by another ship.

After the war, Myers was released from a British prison, having been taken prisoner in August 1813. Myers served on ships until 1840 when he suffered an injury and ended up in a home for retired seamen. There he encountered James Fenimore Cooper, whom he knew as a midshipmen before 1812, and recounted his life story. After Cooper’s book was published, Myers life became dominated by alcohol and he dropped out of sight. 

Starting this Saturday Fort George will be commemorating the Battle of Fort George with re-enactments and a recreation of the Bombardment of Fort George on Saturday night. Events will take place all weekend ending on Monday with a ceremony to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle. Click here to find out more about this Niagara Signature Event.

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