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  

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