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.