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 fiancĂ©e, 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.

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