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.