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.