December 31, 2014

My thoughts are forever on thee – Rachel Jackson

In late December 1814 to early January 1815, the British unleashed a major offensive on New Orleans and the surrounding area. Ultimately the Americans under Major-General Andrew Jackson managed to defeat the larger British force and inflicted major casualties on the British. Throughout the New Orleans campaign, Jackson looked to his wife Rachel for comfort and guidance.

The daughter of the co-founder of Nashville, Tennessee, Rachel Robards married Andrew Jackson in 1794 after supposedly obtaining a divorce from her first husband. Rachel and Andrew later discovered that the divorce was not finalized, causing them to remarry. Since Andrew was often away from home perusing professional and military duties, Rachel was left in charge to raise their adopted son and run their Tennessee plantation.

Andrew Jackson regarded his wife as his mainstay and Rachel felt similar by writing:

My thoughts are forever on thee. Wherever I go, wherever I turn my thoughts, my fears and my doubts distress me. Then a little hope revives again and that keeps me alive. Were it not for that, I should sink.

During the New Orleans campaign, Andrew Jackson was near physical collapse and asked Rachel to come to him. Andrew wrote, “I was taken verry ill, the Doctor gave me a does of Jallap & calemel, which salavated me, and there was Eight days on the march that I never broke bread.” Knowing that Rachel was on her way helped to lift Andrew’s spirits but by the time Rachel arrived, the Americans had already won a resounding victory. Despite the new fame thrust upon the Jacksons, Rachel continued to be a capable and devoted wife who maintained her strong relationship with her husband and her devotion to her faith.

The Jacksons were now occupied with fancy balls and celebrations for Andrew’s successful defence of New Orleans. At a grand dinner and ball held in February 1815, one guest described Andrew Jackson as “a long, haggard man, with limbs like a skeleton, and Madame La Generale, a short, fat dumpling, bobbing opposite each other like half-drunken Indians.” Not the most flattering of descriptions, but another contemporary described Rachel as having “lustrous black eyes, dark glossy hair, full red lips, brunette complexion, though of brilliant coloring, [and] a sweet oval face rippling with smiles and dimples.”

In 1828, Rachel was by Andrew’s side during his presidential campaign. During the campaign, newspaper articles persistently referred to the circumstances of Rachel’s divorce from her first husband, causing much distress. As a result, Rachel’s health suffered and she died from a heart attack on December 23, 1828, two weeks after Andrew Jackson won the election. Rachel was buried in the garden of The Hermitage, the Tennessee plantation where she lived for many years. Andrew Jackson was heart broken and suffered from depression in the years that followed.    

December 24, 2014

Peace, Friendship, and good Understanding – The Treaty of Ghent

By late 1813, President Madison accepted a British offer to begin peace negotiations. The Americans decided on a delegation of five men, mostly prominent politicians representing key regions in the U.S. The American peace delegation consisted of some of the best while the British delegation was less talented. For the British, three commissioners were sent, with the best diplomats being sent to Vienna to negotiate an end to the Napoleonic War.

Both countries began the peace conference in early August 1814 in Ghent, Belgium with hard-line proposals. For the U.S., the Madison administration instructed their delegates to end British impressment, a proposal that was denied outright by the British. Monroe said that the act of impressment was a “degrading practice [that] must cease; our flag must protect the crew; or the United States, cannot consider themselves an independent Nation.” The American delegation was also instructed to get the British to surrender Canada, a difficult proposal since the British possessed more American territory that the U.S. possessed of Canada.

With the defeat of Napoleon in the spring of 1814, the British sent thousands of troops to Canada and the U.S., satisfying public opinion in Britain as many wanted to punish and humble the Americans as aggressors who indirectly supported Napoleon. With news of British reinforcements, Madison instructed the peace delegation to abandon the acquisition of Canada and a stop to impressment; the delegation was instructed to end the war and restore the prewar boundaries.

As the Americans reduced their demands, the British increased theirs. The British sought border adjustments to improve Canada’s defence and they sought the creation of a native buffer zone to include most of the American land between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes. British commanders pushed hard for a native buffer zone since they pledged its creation to gain native allies. 

Negotiations got off to a rough start with both sides refusing to agree to each other’s hard-line proposals. The creation of a native buffer zone proved to be very difficult as the Americans refused outright to its creation. The Americans insisted that there could be no peace until the British abandoned this proposal. One American delegate said that no treaty could restrain the swelling tide of American settlement: “It was opposing a feather to a torrent.”

During the negotiations both sides were overjoyed or saddened when receiving the latest news from North America. Upon reading that Washington was captured by the British, American delegate Henry Clay reported “I tremble, indeed, whenever I take up a late News paper. Hope alone sustains me.” Thankfully for Clay news soon reached him that Baltimore repulsed a British attack and Prevost retreated from Plattsburgh.

Eventually the British dropped their harsh demands in the treaty as negotiations broke down in Vienna. With a potential dangerous situation about to erupt in Europe, the British sought to end the war in North American as quickly as possible. The British abandoned the proposed native buffer zone for vague language that was to protect native rights. The British also abandoned their proposal for American territory and instead settled on status quo ante bellum, which restored prewar boundaries.

On December 24, 1814, the British and American delegations signed the Treaty of Ghent. Both delegations quickly sent the treaty to their respective governments for ratification. Fighting continued into the early months of 1815 and although the treaty did not solve all of the issues that started the War of 1812, it did bring about the beginning of 200 years of peace between nations.

The treaty’s first article states that both countries desire a termination to the war and wish to restore the “principles of perfect reciprocity, Peace, Friendship, and good Understanding;” a principle that continues to this day.

If you want to find out more about the Treaty of Ghent, you can read the full text of the treaty by clicking here

December 17, 2014

Children of Peace – Quakers in York

Before the War of 1812, many people emigrated from the newly formed U.S. due to persecution based on their beliefs. A large number of Quakers, Mennonites and Dunkers moved to Upper Canada due to persecution. During the American Revolution, people from these groups incurred arrests and heavy fines from Patriots who believed they were Loyalists due to their pacifist beliefs.

In Upper Canada, pacifist groups were permitted to practice their faith and were exempt from militia service for an annual fee of five pounds per man and these groups had to provide draft animals, wagons, carts and sleighs on military demand. The Mennonites and Dunkers largely accepted these terms, but the Quakers did not want to contribute to anything that promoted bloodshed. If a man refused to pay the fee or provide draft animals, the government jailed him for a month and seized sufficient property to cover the fine and costs of the sheriff.
David Willson, ca 1866

Many Quakers lived north of York along Yonge Street, a major transportation lane for the movement of military supplies. This meant that the Quakers suffered from a heavy demand for their animals and were in frequent conflict with militia officers. In high demand, many Quakers consented to the military’s demands but some purists formed a group known as the Children of Peace led by David Willson. By the end of the war, at least a quarter of Yonge Street’s Quakers joined the group in search of a spiritual community that resisted demands by the outside world of politics and strife.

After the War of 1812, David Willson’s Children of Peace participated in the turbulent political atmosphere that emerged after the war. Some group members even participated on the side of Mackenzie during the Upper Canada Rebellion. After the failure of the rebellion, the group continued to push for responsible government. After Willson’s death in 1866, the sect continued until the end of the 1880s.  

If you want to know more about religious groups and minorities during the War of 1812, check out Alan Taylor’s book The Civil War of 1812 for more information. 

December 10, 2014

The gibes of his comrades – The theft of a beehive

Supplying soldiers in the field during a major offensive into enemy territory was difficult in the best of circumstances during the War of 1812. Both armies relied on finding supplies in enemy territory to help sustain their advance, but sometimes outright theft by soldiers proved to be problematic.

During the American advance on the St. Lawrence in November 1813, there were a few incidences of locals, from both the American and Canadian side, complaining to American officers of theft. One incident told by Lieutenant William Worth describes the theft of a beehive by an American soldier. Before the Americans boarded their boats, a local Canadian woman “declared that one of her bee-hives had absconded, and was no doubt then harbored by some of our soldiers,” writes Worth.
A form of punishment in both armies

The colonel of the regiment ordered all the boats searched and upon finding the culprit, he ordered the offending soldier to return the beehive, with this action also serving as his punishment. Worth writes that the colonel “commanded the culprit to take off the blanket, raise the hive on his shoulders, and thus transport it to the place whence it came, some thirty or forty yards off. A few bayonets were at hand to superintend the exact fulfilment of the sentence.”

The culprit carefully unfolded the blanket and raised the hive to his shoulders before running to his destination. Unfortunately, the bees were not happy and “the moment the fold of the blanket were loosened, [the bees] attacked the first flesh and blood to be met with, which was that of the robber’s face and hands.” Upon completing his task, the culprit “returned to the boats almost blind, a good subject for the doctor’s ointment, and the gibes of his comrades.”

With Christmas fast approaching, remember to be weary of greed. This weekend there are more Christmas events taking place in Niagara with McFarland House having a Holiday Tea event and Fort George having their annual Garrison Christmas. Click here for more information.

December 03, 2014

Pray for me – A soldier’s letters

Keeping in contact with loved ones during the war was very important to soldiers serving in the army. Letters enhanced a soldier’s moral but the lack of letters could also dampen moral, as was evident from Private John Patterson of the 22 U.S. Infantry in the autumn of 1812.

John’s unit was stationed at Lewiston when he wrote to his wife Levina in northern Pennsylvania. In August 1812, John wrote, with erratic spelling, that he was well and that “in about 6 weakes i shall have 16 dollers comeing to me – then i shall be able to cend some home.” When not on duty, Patterson told his wife that he preached the gospel to his comrades and hoped that “you will pray for me – and i hope that the friends will not dispise you or me because i am a souldier.” Reference to “the friends” may indicate that he was a Quaker.

Early war U.S. soldier
Patterson did not receive a letter after a month but did receive a message from his wife via another soldier who was granted leave and visited John’s wife. Levina was not happy that John did not visit, but in a further letter, John explained that he had little money and only some men were allowed furlough.

In October 1812, John wrote another letter saying that he would attempt to get a furlough, but to no avail. By February 1813, John was concerned with his wife’s silence by writing “I have heard nothing from you, this is the forth letter sence i have been at niagary and i want to hear from home and how you are.” Two months later, John still heard no word from Levina. He wrote complaining that he had not received a letter and that his comrades receive letters once a week from a much greater distance away.

Unfortunately, a few weeks later Private John Patterson died from illness. It is not know if his family received his last letter, but in it, he included a description of himself “standing guard five miles out of the fort in sight of the british farmes and their buildings.” If Levina Patterson received the letter, she would be left with an image of her husband on duty within view of the enemy, alone.

This weekend you can head to McFarland House in Niagara-on-the-Lake for their annual Christmas event. The house will have period decorations in partnership with the Garden Club of Niagara and the Rotary Club of Niagara-on-the-Lake. In addition, you can head out to Fort Erie for the showing of “A Canadian Christmas Carole.” Click here for more details.

November 26, 2014

Calm, practical, orderly and considerate – Jacob Brown

Jacob Brown was born in Bucks County, Pa. in 1775. His early career was as a schoolmaster and surveyor. In 1799, he purchased a patch of land with his father in Black River County, Northern N.Y., and spent 39 years developing the town of Brownville. His prominence in the community led to a commission in the state militia as a brigadier-general. Brown was described as calm, practical, orderly and considerate. He was further described as being above average height, not always able to control his quick temper, and sometimes his determination would turn to withdrawing even in good circumstances.

When the War of 1812 started, Brown was a militia commander in northern N.Y. State. Brown managed to get more out of citizen soldiers than other militia commanders. He impressed many people with his defence of Ogdensburg, N.Y. in October 1812. He also impressed his superiors with his actions in the defence of Sackets Harbor in May 1813. His actions at Sackets Harbor led to a commission in the regular army where he was soon promoted to major-general.

In 1814, Brown was given command of the American forces along the Niagara River, known as the Left Division. On July 3, 1814, Brown and his army crossed the Niagara, captured Fort Erie, and fought the battles of Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane. At Lundy’s Lane Brown was wounded by a musket ball that passed through his right inner thigh ‘very high up.’ Shortly thereafter Brown was wounded again when he was struck on the left side. He was forced to turn command over to Brigadier-General Eleazer Ripley.

Brown spent his convalescence with friends near Buffalo, and was attended by a personal surgeon and his wife. Two weeks after being wounded he was able to walk and spent most of his time trying to gain reinforcements for the troops under siege at Fort Erie. Brown retook command of the Left Division in early September when Brigadier-General Edmund Gaines was wounded at Fort Erie.

After the war, Brown and Ripley continued their feud that emerged during the Niagara 1814 campaign. Later in life, Brown was marred by financial and physical problems. His business ventures went sour and he eventually died in 1828 at the age of 53 from a stroke.

If you want to find out more about Jacob Brown and the Niagara 1814 Campaign, there are a number of good books available. Don Graves newest book And All Their Glory Past, along with Richard Barbuto’s Niagara 1814: America Invades Canada, give a good overview of Brown and the Niagara 1814 Campaign from a British/Canadian and American perspective.

November 19, 2014

Good, honest, industrious women – Army laundresses

Women attached to both the American and British armies received daily rations but were expected to contribute to their regiment. These army wives often performed nursing duties but there were a number of different jobs available. One lucrative position for these women included acting as laundresses since this service was in constant demand.

In the U.S. Army, women were paid local rates and were responsible for ensuring that the washhouse was kept clean. Laundresses were often the wives of senior enlisted men and frequently had a considerable amount of work to perform since American regulations stated that soldiers “will not wear their Fatigue Frock & Trowsers more than three Days without washing.”

Company commanders ensured that every woman had a fair proportion of washing so that the needs of the garrison were not neglected and to avoid complaints from some woman that others received more work and pay. Army regulations were firmly enforced and any transgressors were turned out of the garrison and “not suffered to enter it again.” It appears that some laundresses were dishonest and of a questionable moral character but the majority were, as one American general wrote, “good, honest, industrious” women “ever-ready for a fight, yet kind of heart in a rough manner, always ready to assist in times of distress.”

As for British laundresses, a popular military treatise published before the War of 1812 set out important guidelines. It stated methods for women to do their work properly and that these women be punctually paid so that they could perform their job correctly. Senior officers were permitted to set the price for laundry work and in one location, the going rate was two pence halfpenny (about four cents) for each shirt washed. Considering that private soldiers made about 20 cents per day, army wives could potentially earn more money than their husbands could. However, the fixed price could not be changed, and any woman “refusing to wash for the above sum will be struck off the rations.”

No matter what job army women performed during the war, their task was difficult and challenging. If you want to learn more about women in the 19th century, head to the Battlefield House Museum in Stoney Creek this Saturday for their Jane Austen event. Click here for more information. 

November 12, 2014

Distressed for many days – the last duel fought in Canada

During the war, John Norton and his warriors played a pivotal role in defending Niagara and Upper Canada. When the War of 1812 ended, John Norton and his wife Catherine sailed for Britain in the summer of 1815. The couple first went to Scotland where Catharine took English lessons and by many accounts she was a “very keen student” who could “hardly be prevailed on to quit her Spelling book and writing for anything else.”

In 1816, the Nortons returned to Upper Canada and settled on the Grand River where John Norton received his land grant for retired officers. John and Catharine’s life together appeared to be going well until 1823 when their life together ended. John Norton writes that a young man, who he fostered from childhood and who fought with him during the war, had “offered her [Catharine] the grossest insult a woman can receive.” Apparently, Catharine had succumbed to the young man’s charms, causing John to force both Catharine and her lover to leave the property.
John Norton

The young man returned to John’s home and challenged him to a duel. Pistols were chosen as the weapon for the duel, John Norton writes, “I told him that when he took aim at me and I saw him ready to fire I would treat him as I did my enemies.” John Norton shot and killed the man. “When I saw the poor young man stretched on the ground and the recollections of past times crowded into my mind,” John Norton writes, “pity succeeded to every other feeling and to a much higher degree; I was so much distressed for many days.”

After the “last duel fought in Canada,” as it became known, ended John Norton decided to turn himself in, was found guilty of manslaughter and fined £25 and discharged. Norton refused to see Catharine again but left her a share of his pension. Catharine wrote Norton begging his forgiveness, but Norton refused to see her. Norton decided to head for American territory where he is believed to have died in the 1830s.

As for Catharine, she made her way to Fairfield on the Thames River where missionaries reported that she died in 1827. The woman described by John Norton to be beautiful and the apple of her husband’s eye had become by one account a “dirty old squaw.”

If you want to find out more about John Norton, you can read his journal online. Click here for the website.

November 05, 2014

The Niagara 1814 campaign ends

In late October, the commander at Fort Erie, General Izard, had a decision to make: retain Fort Erie or abandon the position. After the Battle ofCook’s Mills, Izard ordered his men to form on the Chippawa plain across from Drummond’s position on October 21, 1814. Izard’s plan was to coax Drummond out from behind his defences so that the British force on the Niagara could be destroyed, but Drummond refused to battle.

Both the British and Americans knew that fighting in Niagara was over for 1814 and both sides prepared for the long winter. Izard ordered a number of units across the Niagara to enter winter quarters. Eventually, Izard decided that holding Fort Erie would not be practical since crossing the Niagara River in the winter was difficult. Izard wrote to Secretary of War Monroe that the problems at Fort Erie,

Induced me to examine maturely the advantages, and inconveniences of retaining Fort Erie under the American flag. I can find not one of the former, (except it being a trophy) which in any point of view would justify my exposing in a weak, ill-planned, and hastily repaired redoubt (it scarcely deserves even that humble designation) some hundreds of valuable officers and men, with the cannon, and various stores, which if it were taken would necessarily fall with it into the hands of the enemy.   
Fort Erie in ruins, 1930s
Izard also pointed out that the battalion designated to defend Fort Erie was experiencing “daily and numerous” desertions. After consulting three of his trusted officers, Izard made the final decision that Fort Erie would be “dismantled, evacuated, and destroyed.” The garrison was tasked with digging huts into the side of the defences to be filled with gunpowder to destroy the fort. It rained incessantly during the last week of October and early November that Major Totten of the engineers, responsible for the demolition, found it difficult to dig shafts for the gunpowder anywhere in the fort “without meeting water in almost every instance of our attempts.” Finally, on November 5, the fuses were lit and the defence works were destroyed in clouds of mud, dirt, wood and stone. U.S. Lieutenant Norton wrote, “The explosion was tremendous and worth seeing.”

With Fort Erie evacuated and both sides moving to winter quarters, the Niagara 1814 campaign finally ended after 125 days of hard fighting during the longest and bloodiest fighting of the War of 1812.

October 29, 2014

A modern philosophe – Betsy Bonaparte

In 1803, a woman by the name of Elizabeth, or Betsy as she was known, was the daughter of a wealthy Baltimore shipping magnate. At the age of 18, Betsy met Jérôme Bonaparte, the younger brother of the French emperor, and married him when he was visiting the U.S.

Betsy Bonaparte
Shortly after the marriage, Betsy Patterson Bonaparte travelled with her husband to France where most of the Bonaparte family accepted her, except Napoleon. Napoleon refused to accept the marriage and had it annulled. Jérôme decided to abandon his wife and she was forced to take refuge in Britain where she gave birth to a son. Upon returning to Baltimore, one resident described Betsy as “the most extraordinary girl, given to reading … the rights of women, etc. in short, a modern philosophe.”

Betsy craved a sophisticated life and she found some small consolation in Washington where women prided themselves on being fashionable. After being married to a Bonaparte, Betsy believed that it was impossible to, “ever bend my spirit to marry any one who had been my equal before my marriage,” or “to be contented in a country where there exists no nobility.” Betsy shocked Washington society with her daring outfits as one woman described her outfit as:

the thinnest sarcenet and white crepe without the least stiffening in it … there was scarcely any waist to it and no sleeves; her back, her bosom, part of her waist and her arms were uncovered and the rest of her form visible.

Many were shocked by the “almost naked woman,” that she was warned to change her cloths or she would not be accepted in society. Undaunted, Betsy did not change her style of daring clothing and magnificent jewellery, causing her to set the fashion for many in Washington.  

After the War of 1812, Betsy successfully had her marriage officially annulled in Maryland. Betsy continued to live in Baltimore where she died in 1879 at the age of 94.

On Saturday, November 1st, head to McFarland House to experience their Game of CLUE Murder Mystery night. Interrogate the suspects and help solve the murder. Click here for more information.

October 22, 2014

I haven't got your tailypo

A creature of North American legend, Tailypo is described as the size of a dog with red eyes and a long tail. The legend of Tailypo is popular in the Appalachia region of the United States. One version of the story is as follows.

One night a man is hunting with his three dogs in search of something to eat. During the search, the man sees a small creature with bright eyes and a long tail. The man quickly cuts-off the creature’s tail, causing the creature to scream and flee into the darkness. The man returns to his home and makes a stew out of the tail.

As the man is about to fall asleep, a rustling and clawing sound awakens him. At the end of his bed, the man sees the eyes of Tailypo starring at him. In a demonic voice, the creature demands the return of its tailypo. The terrified man calls for his dogs, which chase the creature away, but only two of the dogs return.

The man tries to sleep again, but soon awakes to see the creature more forcefully demanding its tailypo. The man sends his dogs after the creature, once again forcing it into the night but leaving only one dog to return. This time the man decided to grab his gun and wait at the end of the bed with his one remaining dog. When the creature returns, the man sends his last dog to send the creature away but the dog does not return.

The man is now left cowering in the corner praying for dawn. Hours before daybreak he hears the familiar rustling sound, hoping it is one of his dogs returning. Tailypo leaps into the room and disarms the man as the creature looks into the man’s eyes demanding the return of its tailypo.

The terrified man finds the courage to reply, "I haven't got your tailypo!” hoping the creature will leave. The creature is enraged by the man’s response and yells back "Yes, you have! Yes, you have!" and jumps back on the bed, mutilating the man and destroying the cabin.

Stories like this were often told by soldiers and civilians alike during the War of 1812 as a way to deal with fears in the form of entertainment. This tradition continues today with Halloween tours taking place at Old Fort Erie, Fort George, and Drummond Hill Cemetery. Click here to find out more about these events.

October 15, 2014

The prettiest little affair – Battle of Cook’s Mills

On October 18, 1814, the Americans sent a force to Cook’s Mills having learned that “a considerable quantity of grain collected for the British troops” was being stored. Brigadier-General Daniel Bissell’s American force of about 1,000 men occupied Cook’s Mills late in the afternoon.

Among the forces sent to evict the Americans from their position were elements of the 104th Regiment. Lieutenant John Le Couteur was resting when one of his comrades woke him and said they were going to surprise an American force. Le Couteur’s journey to Cook’s Mills was unpleasant, writing “it is hardly worth repeating that we were marching knee deep in mud in a pitch dark night – over rough and smooth – an exquisite enjoyment for those who have never tried it.”

Le Couteur arrived at the battlefield around 8 a.m. when the Glengarry Light Infantry were engaged with the enemy. Soon after the 82nd and the 100th formed line as British field guns and rockets deployed. Le Couteur and his men moved forward in open order to help relieve the Glengarries and to turn the American right flank. Le Couteur wrote “Our men dashed into the ravine in good style and engaged the Yankees in our front, who soon gave way, for a short distance.” Their success was short lived as Le Couteur and his men were forced to withdraw as 400 American troops advanced.

The battle continued and Le Couteur wrote “Our Gun was very ill-place behind a little wood and only barked without biting.” Le Couteur goes on to note that the Americans advanced and the British withdrew in good order, noting that the engagement was “altogether the prettiest little affair any of us had ever seen.” Le Couteur spent a cold night with no blankets, frost on the ground and no fire before receiving orders to march to Fort George.

On October 21, Le Couteur celebrated his birthday by writing, “I completed my twentieth year this day and am thankful to God for having preserved me in safety through many dangers.”

On October 18 and 19, head out to Cook’s Mills in Welland for the Battle of Cook’s Mills re-enactment. This Niagara Signature Event features not only battle re-enactments, but also will have musket and artillery demonstrations along with 1812 period displays, just to name a few activities. Click here for more information.

October 08, 2014

Army Nurses

Both American and British soldiers were permitted to have wives and children attached to the regiment but the commanding officer limited the number of dependents. Women attached to the army were expected to contribute by working or she could be turned out of the regiment. Jobs such as sewing, cooking, cleaning, and acting as laundresses were popular, but one vital job performed by women was acting as nurses.
1812 wound (photo from PBS)

Under American regulations, every hospital and infirmary was to have one or more female attendants under the discretion of the senior surgeon. Nurses were not only expected to attend to patients, but were also expected to “scour and cleanse the bunks and floors, to wash the blankets, bed sacks, and cloths of the patients, to cook the victuals of the sick, and to keep clean and in good order the cooking utensils.” For this work, American nurses were paid six dollars a month and one ration a day.

British army regulations concerning hospitals stipulated that:
there is to be one decent, sober woman nurse, who shall receive at the rate of one shilling [about 20 cents] per diem, whose duty will be to prepare the slops and comforts for the sick, and occasionally to assist in administering medicines, cooking the victuals, washing, &c. and for every ten men confined to bed by fever, an additional Nurse and Orderlyman should be allowed.

British regulations also showed that nurses were to ensure that patients were extremely clean and that cloths brought into the hospital “should be purified.” Patients were to be given a clean shirt and pair of stockings twice a week and were to be shaved two or three times a week. Some additional duties included combing the patients’ hair, washing their hands and face each morning, and preparing food for the patients.

One good thing about the job was that nurses would not have to face disorderly conduct as British regulations specified, “every species of gaming is strictly forbidden” and patients who were “convicted of swearing, disorderly behaviour, insolent and provoking conduct towards the attendants, or of any deviation from the hospital regulations, must be severely punished.” The role of army nurses was gruelling and challenging, having to deal with horrible combat wounds and patients suffering from terrible diseases. Due to their important work, men recovered from their aliments and those who did not recover were no doubt eased in there suffering. 

To learn more about women in the War of 1812, head out to the historic forts in the Niagara Region while they are still open seven days a week.

October 01, 2014

Captain Swayze and the Angel Inn

In May 1813, the Americans took Fort George and the adjacent town of Newark. During the American invasion, one officer decided to remain behind in order to find his true love.

Legend has it that Captain Colin Swayze delayed joining the British retreat from Fort George in order to find his true love. As the captain was searching, an American patrol was sent to search the Angel Inn, where Swayze decided to hide from American patrols. Swayze was hiding in an empty barrel to avoid detection when American soldiers started to bayonet the barrels to find the captain. In the process, the Americans found Captain Swayze when they bayoneted the barrel where he was hiding, causing a fatal wound.

Some believe that Captain Swayze is still on his mission to find his true love as some claim to have seen his ghost walking to the Angel Inn. There are also reports of noises from the Angel Inn dining room and the rearranging of place settings. Legend has it that the ghost of Captain Swayze will remain harmless as long as a British flag flies over the inn. Today, the Angel Inn continues to fly a British flag.

If you want to hear some more ghost stories, head to Fort George and Old Fort Erie for their annual Halloween tours. In addition, make sure to check out the Olde Angel Inn and other locations in Niagara for their 1812 related ghost stories.

September 24, 2014

The Devil for us all – Dr. Cyrenius Chapin

After the capture of Fort George in 1813 by the Americans, the British set up a loose blockade. Both sides suffered from shortages of supplies and sickness. The Americans took to looting farms and mills in order to sustain their position. One of the most prolific plunderers was Major Cyrenius Chapin.

A doctor by trade, Chapin was the 44-year-old commander of the mounted volunteers recruited at Buffalo. Chapin as a rare Federalist who broke with his party and supported the war. He was fond of profanity and alcohol, and after ten years of practicing medicine, he decided to seek thrills and profits by conducting cross-border raids. Chapin insisted that his men only stole from public property, but that was not always the case. His group quickly earned the name “the Forty Thieves” for their rampant looting.

Chapin and 28 of his men were taken prisoner during the Battle of Beaver Dams. When being transported to Kingston, Chapin and his men overpowered their 16 guards when they stopped to drink grog. The boats were redirected to Fort George where a crowd of Americans watched Chapin come in with his new prisoners. One officer said that Chapin was bearing a “sort of triumph in his look.”

In December 1813, Chapin was in Buffalo ready to defend the area from advancing British troops. The men in Buffalo preferred Chapin’s command over General McClure’s since McClure was blamed for letting Joseph Willcocks burn the town of Newark. McClure had Chapin arrested on charges of mutiny and treason, writing, “there is not a greater rascal [who] exists than Chapin, and he is supported by a pack of tories and enemies to our Government.” Local volunteers soon rescued Chapin and sent McClure running for his life.

When the British arrived on December 30, 1813, the American defenders did not last long before fleeing for safety. Chapin yelled, “Every Man for himself & the Devil for us all.” The British and Native allies burned the town, leaving the American side of the Niagara devoid of 12,000 inhabitants whose flight depopulated 160 square miles.

Chapin became synonymous with destruction. In 1814, Brown commented on his new army mustering around Buffalo that “All private property, ever has been, and ever will be, by me, respected. No such man as Dr. Chapin, will I hope accompany an army that I have the honor to command.”  

If you want to find out more about Cyrenius Chapin, head to Old Fort Erie on Friday, September 26, to hear Doug Kohler speak about Chapin. In addition, on Saturday, September 27, the Heritage Arts Legacy of Fort Erie will be holding a Bi-national Peace Celebration at Old Fort Erie. Click here to find out more.

September 17, 2014

The most splendid achievement – The Sortie

After the failed British assault on Fort Erie on August 15, 1814, the British continued to siege the American held position. New artillery positions were installed and skirmishing between both sides continued into September.

The American commander of Fort Erie, Major-General Jacob Brown, decided on a plan “to storm the batteries, destroy the cannon, and roughly handle the brigade upon duty before those in reserve could be brought into the action.” On September 17, 1814, Brown ordered his men to attack the British position. At the time, the British were busy removing their artillery since they had decided to abandon the siege the day before.

The weather was rainy on the 17th, helping to obscure the American advance through the tree line. At around 2:30 p.m. men from Porter’s column burst forward into the British position with bayonets fixed and quickly overwhelmed the De Watteville Regiment on duty. Private Ford recounted that the Twenty-Third

charged upon the blockhouse from which the enemy kept up a brisk fire until they were compelled to surrender” and “took about eighty prisoners while the ground was strewed with the dead bodies of the enemy.

Porter and his men quickly captured Battery No. 3 and worked upon disabling the British artillery pieces.

A short time later, a second attack commenced on Battery No. 2 where the Americans overwhelmed the British position. General Drummond ordered his men stationed at the main camp to move forward and recover the captured gun batteries.

Major-General Jacob Brown
Members of the 82nd Regiment entered Battery No. 2 and “poured a volley into the mass of the enemy, who were huddled together into so small a space that they could not return it.” As the fighting continued, Le Couteur recorded that the attack on the battery “was a very savage affair” as “our Men bayoneted every Soul” and the battery “was full of corpses.”

The fight for Battery No. 3 resulted in a musket duel. Porter moved forward with some of his men, but in the confusion, he found himself alone and surrounded by British infantry. Porter grabbed one of the soldier’s muskets and demanded them to surrender, claiming that he had reinforcements on the way. The British in turn demanded that Porter surrender. Thankfully, for Porter, some of his men appeared and fired at the British, allowing him to escape.

Eventually, Brown ordered a withdrawal believing that he had accomplished his goal. The battle lasted less than two hours, causing heavy casualties on both sides. The Americans listed 511 casualties: 79 killed, 216 wounded and 216 missing. The British listed 579 casualties: 115 killed, 148 wounded, 316 missing with the De Watteville’s receiving 264 casualties. One American officer said that the sortie was “by far the most splendid achievement” of the Niagara 1814 campaign.

This Friday, September 19th, head to Old Fort Erie to hear Jim Hill speak about the “Military and Militia in the War of 1812.” The talk begins at 6 p.m.

September 10, 2014

James Fitzgibbon and the girl he loved

The War of 1812 separated many military couples and given the danger associated with active service, a number of military couples decided to marry on short notice. One example comes from Captain James Fitzgibbon who married in 1814.

In August 1814, the Americans were in the Niagara and two major engagements had already taken place at Chippawa and Lundy’s Lane, with Fitzgibbon fighting at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. With the Americans in possession of Fort Erie and the British preparing to siege the enemy, Fitzgibbon surprised his commanding officer when he “asked [for] leave, without giving any reason for such an apparently unreasonable request.” Many officers would not receive permission, but Fitzgibbon’s impressive record permitted him to take a short leave.
James Fitzgibbon

Fitzgibbon sent a letter to his fiancée, Mary Haley, at Kingston 250 miles away requesting that she meet him. Mary Haley appeared at the appointed time on August 14, 1814 outside the church at Adolphustown, then an important community on the road between Kingston and York. The couple married and “the knot tied, the soldier said farewell to his wife on the church step” before returning to the war. Fitzgibbon knew that he would be involved in heavy fighting and did not want “the girl he loved being left unprovided for” should he be killed.     

Fitzgibbon survived the war and remained in Upper Canada serving as a public servant and a colonel in the militia. During the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1837, he helped to defend Toronto from William Lyon Mackenzie’s forces. Fitzgibbon moved to England in 1847 after his wife died, with whom he had four sons and a daughter. In 1850, Fitzgibbon was appointed Military Knight of Windsor before dying in 1863 at Windsor Castle.

The story of Laura Secord and her encounter with Fitzgibbon will be one of the topics covered at a lecture series being put-on by the Heritage Arts Legacy of Fort Erie this Friday. Every Friday in September starting at 6 p.m. at Old Fort Erie there will be different War of 1812 topics being covered. Click here for more information.

September 03, 2014

A divided nation

Spies played an important role during the War of 1812 by providing vital information to military and civilian authorities. One spy’s revelations helped to divide the Americans before and during the war.

John Henry was born and educated in Dublin before moving to Philadelphia in the mid-1790s. Henry was described as a tall, handsome, charming gentleman who cultivated Federalist patrons by selling them wine and editing one of their newspapers. Henry was rewarded for his service with a captain’s commission in the army, but he abruptly resigned in 1800 and moved to Montreal, professing his renewed loyalty to the British crown.

President James Madison
During the Chesapeake crisis in late 1807, Henry served as a British secret agent by provoking Federalist disaffection in New England. He predicted that, “By good management, a war will make half of America ours.” Henry went to New England in 1808 and reported that the Federalists were prepared to secede and join the British.

Once the Chesapeake crisis passed, Henry sought payment in London but only received vague promises. Henry decided to go to the president and secretary of state to sell his papers, predicting that the damning letters would discredit the Federalists “and produce a popular war.” Madison and Monroe decided to spend the nation’s entire secret service budget for the year, $50,000, to buy Henry’s papers.

Initially the Federalists were worried, but closer examination of Henry’s papers proved that he relied on gossip and his reports lacked hard evidence. Congress attempted to questions Henry, but Monroe reported that he had left the country with the administrations blessing. The Republicans used the papers as proof that the British and the Federalists were up to no good. One Republican remarked, “Such is the conduct we have ever expected from England, while she retains possession of Canada – such the cause that necessarily forces us into a state of war.”

In the end, John Henry’s reports helped to polarize U.S. politics and bitterly divided the nation, a fact that continued throughout the War of 1812.

On Saturday, September 6, two great events are happening in Niagara. During the day, Fort George will be hosting Polo Niagara with polo events happening throughout the day. At night, Old Fort Erie will be having their annual Murder Mystery where visitors will interrogate suspects to help solve a murder. Don’t miss these great events.

August 27, 2014

Bid my dear and loving wife adieu

The War of 1812 separated loved ones, causing anxiety for those who did not know if their loved ones would return. One couple that found the war disruptive to their relationship was British Lieutenant Maurice Nowlan and his wife Agathe. Maurice and Agathe were newlyweds who were separated by the war after only six months of marriage.

Maurice wrote that he most enjoyed being alone reading Agathe letters than amongst the jovial society functions. Although Maurice longed for his wife, he firmly believed that a military camp was no place for a woman. Agathe was desperate for letters from Maurice and complained that she did not hear from him as much as she liked.

British soldiers at Fort Niagara
The couple’s situation became worse when Maurice’s regiment, the 100th Foot, was transferred to the Niagara in autumn of 1813. As their distance grew, Maurice wrote “Nothing on Earth could give me more pleasure than to have the infinite happiness of pressing you to my Heart.” During their separation, Maurice attempted to reassure his wife by writing “Try to be a little more patient,” while asking, “what can I do my dear so far away?”

On December 10, 1813, Lieutenant Nowlan was about to take part in the night attack on Fort Niagara. Although his was confident that he would survive, Maurice found it difficult “to bid my dear and loving wife adieu and perhaps the last time.” He went on to write,

My dearest jewel don’t torture yourself with grief if you should chance to get this before I have time to write you again. Hope for the best, my only Heart. You know you are my only care, it’s but for you I live, may the Almighty bless you, my only wife.

Sadly, Maurice was killed in action during the attack. There is no record of how Agathe coped with her husband’s death but she could take small comfort in knowing that she was loved by a devoted and brave officer.

This weekend head out to Old Fort Niagara for their annual 1812 encampment. You can find out more about Fort Niagara’s role during the war with activities happening during the day, and at night with the British storming the fort. Click here for more information.

August 20, 2014

For honour’s sake

At the start of the War of 1812, the U.S. officer corps lacked combat experience and many American officers were lawyers, merchants and clerks in commercial society. Winfield Scott described most of his fellow officers in 1812 as “imbeciles and ignoramuses.”

This crop of new officers came with an extreme sense of honour and many American officers would “devote every thing to the service of his country, except his honor.” This new officer corps readily insulted others and quickly felt slighted compared to their British counterparts who had a keen sense of duty and their place in class hierarchy.

For the Americans, the newspapers were another important battleground as they published accounts of battles as well as battle reports from commanders. These reports invariably cast the best possible light on the commanding officer, since they were the ones writing them, and on their favoured subordinates. Officer who felt slighted by these reports submitted letters to the newspapers, which often created rivalries and feuds.
Militia Officer, New York State

The winter season provided a great opportunity for officer to secure furloughs for leave to Washington in order to advance their own interests. In March 1814, one congressman wrote, “So great has been the resort of epaulettes here that many have inquired who were left with the Troops?” Leaving the troops behind squandered a great opportunity to train the troops, who resented the fact that they could not go home.

Courts-martial were far more abundant in the American army than in the British. Many officers pressed charges against one another, causing General George Izard to lament, “It is wonderful how much valuable time these Courts Martial engross.” Of course duelling was another way to settle disputes between officers.

Although duelling was prohibited in the U.S. Army, it did take place and some generals even encouraged this practice. With honour as a paramount concern, duellists shot at each other instead of the enemy. In the spring of 1813, two officers crossed the Niagara River to duel in order to leave New York’s legal jurisdiction, but were taken by surprise by the British and captured. At Fort George in 1813, Lieutenant Smith killed Dr. Shumate in a duel, depriving the camp of a much-needed surgeon during epidemics of malaria and dysentery.

Politics, war and honour proved a bloody mix for officers, since fighting each other was easier than fighting the British. Although the American officers retained their sense of honour as a paramount concern, their officer corps did improve during the war. By the time of the Niagara 1814 campaign, younger energetic officer took over and focused on training their men for the task at hand. A renewed sense of duty and training ensured that the Niagara 1814 campaign was the most successful for the American Army during the War of 1812.

This weekend you can head to Fort George for their annual timeline event with interpreters and animators representing the War of 1812, WWI, WWII and more. Click here for details.

August 13, 2014

From Garryowen and glory

The song Garryowen today is best associated with the U.S. Civil War and later as the regimental marching song for George Custer’s Seventh Calvary. The song actually originates from the Irish city of Limerick in the 1780s.

Garryowen was sung by a gang of wealthy troublemakers who enjoyed drinking in the popular and fashionable Limerick suburb of Garryowen (translated as “the garden of John”). The young hooligans enjoyed smashing property that did not belong to them. The song eventually became popular in the British Army since many Irishmen were recruited. During the wars with France between 1793-1815, Garryowen became the second most popular song in the British Army, after British Grenadiers

The lyrics for Garryowen:

            Let Bacchus’s sons be not dismayed,
            But join with me each jovial blade,
            Come, booze and sing and lend me aid,
            To help me with the chorus.
                        Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale,
                        And pay the reckoning on the nail,
                        For debt no man shall go to jail,
                        From Garryowen and glory.

            We’ll break windows, we’ll break doors,
            The watch knock down by threes and fours,
            Then let the doctors work their cures,
            And tinker up our bruises.
                        Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale, etc.

            Our hearts so stout have got us fame,
            For soon ‘tis known form whence we came,
            Where’er we go they dread the name,
            Of Garryowen in glory.
Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale, etc.

If you want to hear this song and many more, head out to the annual Fife and Drum Muster and Soldiers’ Field Day this weekend. Fife and Drum corps and infantry units from historic sites across Canada and the U.S. will be at Fort George. Click here for more information.

August 06, 2014

Brilliant achievement – Commander Dobbs’s raid

Only a short distance away from Fort Erie, Lieutenant-General Drummond faced a tough situation with supply lines becoming stretched due to the renewed American presence on Lake Ontario, forcing supplies to be diverted around the lake. Commander Alexander Dobbs of the Royal Navy found that his usefulness on Lake Ontario was now limited and he decided to move his forces to Fort Erie to assist Drummond.

Dobbs joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman at the age of 13 and saw service in the Mediterranean and Atlantic before coming to North America. At the age of 30, Dobbs was promoted to Commander in February 1814 and in the same month, he married Mary Cartwright, the daughter of Richard Cartwright of Kingston who was a prominent merchant and political figure in Upper Canada.

Dobbs assembled a force of 70 seamen and marries to capture three American vessels near Fort Erie. His small force portaged from Queenston to Chippawa where five boats and a gig were loaded onto wagons and transported eight miles around the American position at Fort Erie.
Fort Erie in peacetime

On August 11, 1814, one day before Dobbs launched his attack, a deserter from the De Watteville Regiment swam across the Niagara River and told the Americans of Dobbs’s plan. Colonel George McFeely in command at Black Rock warned Lieutenant Augustus Conckling, captain of the USS Ohio, of the impending attack. McFeely noted that Conckling did not take the threat seriously and that he, “scarcely condescended to listen, turned on his heel and said he would desire no better fun than to see twenty or thirty boats coming to take him.” Conckling did not have to wait long to get his wish.

On the evening of August 12 Dobbs began his mission. As his force approached one of the American schooners, a sentry hailed them, but the British force replied that they were provision boats. An American officer reported that this “deceived the Officer of the Deck, as our Army boats have been in the habit of passing, and repassing throughout the night.” In a few minutes, Dobbs’s men boarded the Ohio and Somers quickly capturing the vessels. A third vessel, USS Porcupine, cut its cable and escaped.

At the cost of only two killed and two wounded Dobbs managed to capture, as reported by Lieutenant Mermet of the De Watteville Regiment, “a long 18-pounder gun – two long 12-pound guns – munitions, two pretty Schooners, five naval officers and seventy-five sailors.” Lieutenant Conckling was also wounded and captured during the operation, a fact that Colonel McFeely was not entirely displeased with reporting that Conckling was taken prisoner before “he got on his clothes.”

Drummond issued a general order praising Dobbs and his men for their “brilliant achievement” and went on to note that he had a mission for the rest of the division. On August 15, 1814, the British launched a three-pronged attack to retake Fort Erie. During the failed attempt, Dobbs commanded a detachment of sailors and marines under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel William Drummond. Dobbs survived the war and went on to serve as the commander at Isle-aux-Noix in late 1814. By 1819, Dobbs was made a post captain but later died in Malta in 1827.

To find out more about Commander Dobbs and the Siege of Fort Erie, head to Old Fort Erie on August 9 & 10 for the 28th Annual Siege of Fort Erie, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the siege. Click here for details.