MoboReader > Literature > Canada under British Rule 1760-1900

   Chapter 5 THE WAR OF 1812—15.

Canada under British Rule 1760-1900 By John George Bourinot Characters: 41804

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

SECTION I.-Origin of the war between England and the United States.

The causes of the war of 1812-15 must be sought in the history of Europe and the relations between England and the United States for several decades before it actually broke out. Great Britain was engaged in a supreme struggle not only for national existence but even for the liberties of Europe, from the moment when Napoleon, in pursuance of his overweening ambition, led his armies over the continent on those victorious marches which only ended amid the ice and snow of Russia. Britain's battles were mainly to be fought on the sea where her great fleet made her supreme. The restriction of all commerce that was not British was a necessary element in the assertion of her naval superiority. If neutral nations were to be allowed freely to carry the produce of the colonies of Powers with whom Great Britain was at war, then they were practically acting as allies of her enemies, and were liable to search and seizure. For some time, however, Great Britain thought it expedient to concur in the practice that when a cargo was trans-shipped in the United States, and paid a duty there, it became to all intents and purposes American property and might be carried to a foreign country and there sold, as if it were the actual produce of the republic itself. This became a very profitable business to the merchants of the United States, as a neutral nation, during the years when Great Britain was at war with France, since they controlled a large proportion of all foreign commerce. Frauds constantly occurred during the continuance of this traffic, and at last British statesmen felt the injury to their commerce was so great that the practice was changed to one which made American vessels liable to be seized and condemned in British prize courts whenever it was clear that their cargoes were not American produce, but were actually purchased at the port of an enemy. Even provisions purchased from an enemy or its colonies were considered "contraband of war" on the ground that they afforded actual aid and encouragement to an enemy. The United States urged at first that only military stores could fall under this category, and eventually went so far as to assert the principle that under all circumstances "free ships make free goods," and that neutral ships had a right to carry any property, even that of a nation at war with another power, and to trade when and where they liked without fear of capture. England, however, would not admit in those days of trial principles which would practically make a neutral nation an ally of her foe. She persisted in restricting the commerce of the United States by all the force she had upon the sea.

This restrictive policy, which touched the American pocket and consequently the American heart so deeply, was complicated by another question of equal, if not greater, import. The forcible impressment of men to man the British fleet had been for many years a necessary evil in view of the national emergency, and of the increase in the mercantile marine which attracted large numbers to its service. Great abuses were perpetrated in the operation of this harsh method of maintaining an efficient naval force, and there was no part of the British Isles where the presence of a press gang did not bring dismay into many a home. Great Britain, then and for many years later, upheld to an extreme degree the doctrine of perpetual allegiance; she refused to recognise the right of any of her citizens to divest themselves of their national fealty and become by naturalisation the subject of a foreign power or a citizen of the United States Such a doctrine was necessarily most obnoxious to the government and people of a new republic like the United States, whose future development rested on the basis of a steady and large immigration, which lost much of its strength and usefulness as long as the men who came into the country were not recognised as American citizens at home and abroad. Great Britain claimed the right, as a corollary of this doctrine of indefeasible allegiance, to search the neutral ships of the United States during the war with France, to enquire into the nationality of the seaman on board of those vessels, to impress all those whom her officers had reason to consider British subjects by birth, and to pay no respect to the fact that they may have been naturalised in the country of their adoption. The assertion of the right to search a neutral vessel and to impress seamen who were British subjects has in these modern times been condemned as a breach of the sound principle, that a right of search can only be properly exercised in the case of a neutral's violation of his neutrality-that is to say, the giving of aid to one of the parties to the war The forcible abduction of a seaman under the circumstances stated was simply an unwarrantable attempt to enforce municipal law on board a neutral vessel, which was in effect foreign territory, to be regarded as sacred and inviolate except in a case where it was brought under the operation of a recognised doctrine of international law. Great Britain at that critical period of her national existence would not look beyond the fact that the acts of the United States as a neutral were most antagonistic to the energetic efforts she was making to maintain her naval supremacy during the European crisis created by Napoleon's ambitious designs.

The desertion of British seamen from British ships, for the purpose of finding refuge in the United States and then taking service in American vessels, caused great irritation in Great Britain and justified, in the opinion of some statesmen and publicists who only regarded national necessities, the harsh and arbitrary manner in which English officials stopped and searched American shipping on the high seas, seized men whom they claimed to be deserters, and impressed any whom they asserted to be still British subjects. In 1807 the British frigate "Leopard," acting directly under the orders of the admiral at Halifax, even ventured to fire a broadside into the United States cruiser "Chesapeake" a few miles from Chesapeake Bay, killed and wounded a number of her crew, and then carried off several sailors who were said to be, and no doubt were, deserters from the English service and who were the primary cause of the detention of this American man-of-war. For this unjustifiable act England subsequently made some reparation, but nevertheless it rankled for years in the minds of the party hostile to Great Britain and helped to swell the list of grievances which the American government in the course of years accumulated against the parent state as a reason for war.

The difficulties between England and the United States, which culminated in war before the present century was far advanced, were also intensified by disputes which commenced soon after the treaty of 1783. I have already shown that for some years the north-west posts were still retained by the English on the ground, it is understood, that the claims of English creditors, and especially those of the Loyalists, should be first settled before all the conditions of the treaty could be carried out. The subsequent treaty of 1794, negotiated by Chief Justice Jay, adjusted these and other questions, and led for some years to a better understanding with Great Britain, but at the same time led to a rupture of friendly relations with the French Directory, who demanded the repeal of that treaty as in conflict with the one made with France in 1778, and looked for some tangible evidence of sympathetic interest with the French revolution. The war that followed with the French republic was insignificant in its operations, and was immediately terminated by Napoleon when he overthrew the Directory, and seized the government for his own ambitious objects. Subsequently, the administration of the United States refused to renew the Jay Treaty when it duly expired, and as a consequence the relatively amicable relations that had existed between the Republic and England again became critical, since American commerce and shipping were exposed to all the irritating measures that England felt compelled under existing conditions to carry out in pursuance of the policy of restricting the trade of neutral vessels. Several attempts were made by the British government, between the expiry of the Jay Treaty and the actual rupture of friendly relations with the United States, to come to a better understanding with respect to some of the questions in dispute, but the differences between the two Powers were so radical that all negotiations came to naught. Difficulties were also complicated by the condition of political parties in the American republic and the ambition of American statesmen. When the democratic republicans or "Strict constructionists," as they have been happily named, with Jefferson at their head, obtained office, French ideas came into favour; while the federalists or "Broad constitutionalists," of whom Washington, Hamilton and Adams had been the first exponents, were anxious to keep the nation free from European complications and to settle international difficulties by treaty and not by war. But this party was in a hopeless minority, during the critical times when international difficulties were resolving themselves into war, and was unable to influence public opinion sufficiently to make negotiations for the maintenance of peace successful, despite the fact that it had a considerable weight in the states of New England.

The international difficulties of the United States entered upon a critical condition when Great Britain, in her assertion of naval supremacy and restricted commerce as absolutely essential to her national security, issued an order-in-council which declared a strict blockade of the European coast from Brest to the Elbe. Napoleon retaliated with the Berlin decree, which merely promulgated a paper blockade of the British Isles. Then followed the later British orders-in-council, which prevented the shipping of the United States from trading with any country where British vessels could not enter, and allowed them only to trade with other European ports where they made entries and paid duties in English custom-houses. Napoleon increased the duties of neutral commerce by the Milan decree of 1807, which ordered the seizure of all neutral vessels which might have been searched by English cruisers. These orders meant the ruin of American commerce, which had become so profitable; and the Washington government attempted to retaliate, first by forbidding the importation of manufactures from England and her colonies, and, when this effort was ineffective, by declaring an embargo in its own ports, which had only the result of still further crippling American commerce at home and abroad. Eventually, in place of this unwise measure, which, despite its systematic evasion, brought serious losses to the whole nation and seemed likely to result in civil war in the east, where the discontent was greatest, a system of non-intercourse with both England and France was adopted, to last so long as either should press its restrictive measures against the republic, but this new policy of retaliation hardly impeded American commerce, of which the profits were far greater than the risks. The leaders of the Democratic party were now anxious to conciliate France, and endeavoured to persuade the nation that Napoleon had practically freed the United States from the restrictions to which it so strongly objected. It is a matter beyond dispute that the French decrees were never exactly annulled; and the Emperor was pursuing an insidious policy which confiscated American vessels in French ports at the very moment he was professing friendship with the United States. His object was to force the government of that country into war with England, and, unfortunately for its interests, its statesmen lent themselves to his designs.

The Democratic leaders, determined to continue in power, fanned the flame against England, whose maritime superiority enabled her to inflict the greatest injury on American shipping and commerce. The governing party looked to the south and west for their principal support. In these sections the interests were exclusively agricultural, while in New England, where the Federalists were generally in the majority, the commercial and maritime elements predominated. In Kentucky, Ohio, and other states there was a strong feeling against England on account of the current belief that the English authorities in Canada had tampered with the Indian tribes and induced them to harass the settlers until Harrison, on the eve of the war of 1812, effectually cowed them. It is, however, now well established by the Canadian archives that Sir James Craig, when governor-general in 1807, actually warned the Washington government of the restlessness of the western Indians, and of the anxiety of the Canadian authorities to avoid an Indian war in the north-west, which might prejudicially operate against the western province. This fact was not, however, generally known, and the feeling against Canada and England was kept alive by the dominant party in the United States by the disclosure that one John Henry had been sent by the Canadian government in 1808 to ascertain the sentiment of the people of New England with respect to the relations between the two countries and the maintenance of peace. Henry's correspondence was really quite harmless, but when it had been purchased from him by Madison, on the refusal of the imperial government to buy his silence, it served the temporary purpose of making the people of the west believe that England was all the while intriguing against the national interests, and endeavouring to create a discontent which might end in civil strife. Under these circumstances the southern leaders, Clay of Kentucky, and Calhoun of South Carolina, who always showed an inveterate animosity against England, forced Madison, then anxious to be re-elected president, to send a warlike message to congress, which culminated in a formal declaration of hostilities on the 18th of June, 1812, only one day later than the repeal of the obnoxious order-in-council by England. When the repeal became known some weeks later in Canada and the United States, the province of Upper Canada had been actually invaded by Hull, and the government of the United States had no desire whatever to desist from warlike operations, which, they confidently believed, would end in the successful occupation of Canada at a time when England was unable, on account of her European responsibilities, to extend to its defenders effective assistance.

SECTION 2.-Canada during the war.

In 1812 there were five hundred thousand people living in the provinces of British North America. Of this number, the French people of Lower Canada made up at least one half. These people had some grievances, and political agitators, notably the writers of the Canadien, were creating jealousies and rivalries between the French and English races chiefly on the ground of the dominant influence of the British minority in the administration of public affairs. On the whole, however, the country was prosperous and the people generally contented with British rule, the freedom of which presented such striking contrast to the absolutism of the old French régime. The great majority of the eighty thousand inhabitants of Upper or Western Canada were Loyalists or descendants of Loyalists, who had become deeply attached to their new homes, whilst recalling with feelings of deep bitterness the sufferings and trials of the American revolution. This class was naturally attached to British rule and hostile to every innovation which had the least semblance of American republicanism. In the western part of the province of Upper Canada there was, however, an American element composed of people who had been brought into the country by the liberal grants of land made to settlers, and who were not animated by the high sentiments of the Loyalists of 1783 and succeeding years. These people, for some years previous to 1812, were misled by political demagogues like Wilcox and Marcle, both of whom deserted to the enemy soon after the outbreak of the war. Emissaries from the republic were busily engaged for months, we now know, in fomenting a feeling against England among these later immigrants, and in persuading them that the time was close at hand when Canada would be annexed to the federal republic. Some attempts were even made to create discontent among the French Canadians, but no success appears to have followed these efforts in a country where the bishop, priests and leading men of the rural communities perfectly appreciated the value of British connection.

The statesmen of the United States, who were responsible for the war, looked on the provinces as so many weak communities which could be easily invaded and conquered by the republican armies. Upper Canada, with its long and exposed frontier and its small and scattered population, was considered utterly indefensible and almost certain to be successfully occupied by the invading forces. There was not a town of one thousand souls in the whole of that province, and the only forts of any pretension were those on the Niagara frontier. Kingston was a fortified town of some importance in the eastern part of the province, but Toronto had no adequate means of defence. At the commencement of the war there were only fourteen hundred and fifty regular troops in the whole country west of Montreal, and these men were scattered at Kingston, York, Niagara, Chippewa, Erie, Amherstburg, and St. Joseph. The total available militia did not exceed four thousand men, the majority of whom had little or no knowledge of military discipline, and were not even in the possession of suitable arms and accoutrements, though, happily, all were animated by the loftiest sentiments of courage and patriotism. In the lower provinces of Eastern Canada and Nova Scotia there was a considerable military force, varying in the aggregate from four to five thousand men. The fortifications of Quebec were in a tolerable state of repair, but the citadel which dominates Halifax was in a dilapidated condition. The latter port was, however, the rendezvous of the English fleet, which always afforded adequate protection to British interests on the Atlantic coasts of British North America, despite the depredations of privateers and the successes attained during the first months of the war by the superior tonnage and equipment of the frigates of the republic. But the hopes that were entertained by the war party in the United States could be gathered from the speeches of Henry Clay of Kentucky, who believed that the issue would be favourable to their invading forces, who would even "negotiate terms of peace at Quebec or Halifax."

The United States had now a population of at least six millions and a half of whites. It was estimated that during the war the government had a militia force of between four and five hundred thousand men available for service, while the regular army amounted to thirty-four thousand officers and privates. The forces that invaded Canada by the way of Lake Champlain, Sackett's Harbour, the Niagara and Detroit Rivers, were vastly superior in numbers to the Canadian army of defence, except in the closing months of the war, when Prevost had under his command a large body of Peninsular veterans. One condition was always in favour of Canada, and that was the sullen apathy or antagonism felt by the people of New England with respect to the war. Had they been in a different spirit, Lower Canada would have been in far greater danger of successful invasion and occupation than was the case at any time during the progress of the conflict. The famous march of Arnold on Quebec by the Kennebec and Chaudière Rivers might have been repeated with more serious consequences while Prevost, and not Guy Carleton, was in supreme command in the French Canadian province.

I can attempt to limn only the events which stand out most plainly on the graphic pages of this momentous epoch in Canadian history, and to pay a humble tribute to the memory of men, whose achievements saved Canada for England in those days of trial. From the beginning to the end of the conflict, Upper Canada was the principal battle ground upon which the combatants fought for the supremacy in North America. Its frontiers were frequently crossed, its territory was invaded, and its towns and villages were destroyed by the ruthless hand of a foe who entered the province not only with the sword of the soldier but even with the torch of the incendiary. The plan of operations at the outset of the campaign was to invade the province across the

Niagara and Detroit Rivers, neither of which offered any real obstacles to the passage of a determined and well-managed army in the absence of strong fortifications, or a superior defensive force, at every vulnerable point along the Canadian banks. Queenston was to be a base of operations for a large force, which would overrun the whole province and eventually co-operate with troops which could come up from Lake Champlain and march on Montreal. The forces of the United States in 1812 acted with considerable promptitude as soon as war was officially declared, and had they been led by able commanders the result might have been most unfortunate for Canada. The resources for defence were relatively insignificant, and indecision and weakness were shown by Sir George Prevost, then commander-in-chief and governor-general-a well meaning man but wanting in ability as a military leader, who was also hampered by the vacillating counsels of the Liverpool administration, which did not believe in war until the province was actually invaded. It was fortunate for Canada that she had then at the head of the government in the upper province General Brock, who possessed decision of character and the ability to comprehend the serious situation of affairs at a critical juncture, when his superiors both in England and Canada did not appear to understand its full significance.

The assembly of Upper Canada passed an address giving full expression to the patriotic sentiments which animated all classes of people when the perilous state of affairs and the necessity for energetic action became apparent to the dullest minds. The Loyalists and their descendants, as well as other loyal people, rallied at the moment of danger to the support of Brock; and the immediate result of his decided orders was the capture of the post of Michillimackinac, which had been, ever since the days of the French régime, a position of great importance on the upper lakes. Then followed the ignominious surrender of General Hull and his army to Brock, and the consequent occupation of Detroit and the present state of Michigan by the British troops. Later, on the Niagara frontier, an army of invaders was driven from Queenston Heights, but this victory cost the life of the great English general, whose promptitude at the commencement of hostilities had saved the province. Among other brave men who fell with Brock was the attorney-general of the province, Lieutenant-Colonel John Macdonell, who was one of the general's aides. General Sheaffe, the son of a Loyalist, took command and drove the enemy across the river, in whose rapid waters many were drowned while struggling to save themselves from the pursuing British soldiery, determined to avenge the death of their honoured chief. A later attempt by General Smyth to invade Canadian territory opposite Black Rock on the Niagara River, was also attended with the same failure that attended the futile attempts to cross the Detroit and to occupy the heights of Queenston. At the close of 1812 Upper Canada was entirely free from the army of the republic, the Union Jack floated above the fort at Detroit, and the ambitious plan of invading the French province and seizing Montreal was given up as a result of the disasters to the enemy in the west. The party of peace in New England gathered strength, and the promoters of the war had no consolation except the triumphs obtained at sea by some heavily armed and well manned frigates of the United States to the surprise of the government and people of England, who never anticipated that their maritime superiority could be in any way endangered by a nation whose naval strength was considered so insignificant. But these victories of the republic on the ocean during the first year of the war were soon effaced by the records of the two subsequent years when "The Chesapeake" was captured by "The Shannon" and other successes of the British ships restored the prestige of England on the sea.

During the second year of the war the United States won some military and naval successes in the upper province, although the final results of the campaign were largely in favour of the defenders of Canada. The war opened with the defeat of General Winchester at Frenchtown on the River Raisins in the present state of Michigan; but this success, which was won by General Procter, was soon forgotten in the taking of York, the capital of the province, and the destruction of its public buildings. This event forced General Sheaffe to retire to Kingston, while General Vincent retreated to Burlington Heights as soon as the invading army occupied Fort George and dominated the Niagara frontier. Sir George Prevost showed his military incapacity at Sackett's Harbour, where he had it in his power to capture a post which was an important base of operations against the province. On the other hand Colonel George Macdonell made a successful attack on Ogdensburg and fittingly avenged the raid that an American force had made a short time previously on Elizabethtown, which was called Brockville not long afterwards in honour of the noted general. An advance of the invading army against General Vincent was checked by the memorable success won at Stoney Creek by Colonel Harvey and the surrender at Beaver Dams of Colonel Boerstler to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon, whose clever strategy enabled him to capture a large force of the enemy while in command of a few soldiers and Indians. When September arrived, the small, though all-important, British fleet on Lake Erie, under the command of Captain Barclay, sustained a fatal defeat at Put-in-Bay, and the United States vessels under Commodore Perry held full control of Lake Erie. A few weeks later, General Procter lost the reputation which he had won in January by his defeat of Winchester, and was beaten, under circumstances which disgraced him in the opinion of his superiors, on the River Thames not far from the Indian village of Moraviantown. The American forces were led by General Harrison, who had won some reputation in the Indian campaign in the north-west and who subsequently became, as his son in later times, a president of the United States.

It was in this engagement that the Shawenese chief, Tecumseh, was killed, in him England lost a faithful and brave ally. English prospects in the west were consequently gloomy for some time, until the autumn of 1813, when the auspicious tidings spread from the lakes to the Atlantic that the forces of the republic, while on their march to Montreal by the way of Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence, had been successfully met and repulsed at Chateauguay and Chrysler's Farm, two of the most memorable engagements of the war, when we consider the insignificant forces that checked the invasion and saved Canada at a most critical time.

In the last month of the same year Fort George was evacuated by the American garrison, but not before General McLure had shamelessly burned the pretty town of Niagara, and driven helpless women and children into the ice and snow of a Canadian winter. General Drummond, who was in command of the western army, retaliated by the capture of Fort Niagara and the destruction of all the villages on the American side of the river as far as Buffalo, then a very insignificant place. When the new year dawned the only Canadian place in possession of the enemy was Amherstburg on the western frontier.

The third and last year of the war was distinguished by the capture of Oswego and Prairie-des-Chiens by British expeditions; the repulse of a large force of the invaders at Lacolle Mills in Lower Canada; the surrender of Fort Erie to the enemy, the defeat of General Riall at Street's or Usher's Creek in the Niagara district, the hotly contested battle won at Lundy's Lane by Drummond, and the ignominious retreat from Plattsburg of Sir George Prevost, in command of a splendid force of peninsular veterans, after the defeat of Commodore Downey's fleet on Lake Champlain. Before the year closed and peace was proclaimed, Fort Erie was evacuated, the stars and stripes were driven from Lake Ontario, and all Canadian territory except Amherstburg was free from the invader. The capital of the United States had been captured by the British and its public buildings burned as a severe retaliation for the conduct of the invading forces at York, Niagara, Moraviantown, St. David's and Port Dover. Both combatants were by this time heartily tired of the war, and terms of peace were arranged by the treaty of Ghent at the close of 1814; but before the news reached the south, General Jackson repulsed General Packenham with heavy losses at New Orleans, and won a reputation which made him president a few years later.

The maritime provinces never suffered from invasion, but on the contrary obtained some advantages from the presence of large numbers of British men-of-war in their seaports, and the expenditure on military and naval supplies during the three years of war. Following the example of the Canadas, the assemblies of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia voted large sums of money and embodied the militia for active service or general purposes of defence. The assembly of New Brunswick, essentially the province of the Loyalists, declared in 1813 that the people were "ready and determined to repel every aggression which the infatuated policy of the American government may induce it to commit on the soil of New Brunswick." But the war was so unpopular in the state of Maine and other parts of New England that the provinces by the sea were comparatively safe from aggression and conflict. Soon after the commencement of hostilities the governors of Maine and New Brunswick issued proclamations which prevented hostilities for two years along their respective borders. In Nova Scotia there was much activity during the war, and letters of marque were issued to privateers which made many captures, and offered some compensation for the losses inflicted on the coasting and fishing interests by the same class of American vessels. In 1814 it was decided by the imperial authorities to break the truce which had practically left Maine free from invasion, and Sir John Sherbrooke, then governor of Nova Scotia, and Rear-Admiral Griffith took possession of Machias, Eastport, Moose, and other islands in Passamaquoddy Bay.

The people of the United States generally welcomed the end of a war which brought them neither honour nor profit and seemed likely to break the union into fragments in consequence of the hostility that had existed in New England through the conflict from the very beginning. The news of Prevost's retreat from Plattsburg no doubt hastened the decision of the British government to enter into negotiations for peace, which was settled on terms by no means favourable to Canadian interests. The question of the New Brunswick boundary might have been then adjusted on conditions which would have prevented at a later day the sacrifice of a large tract of territory in Maine which would be now of great value to the Dominion. The only advantage which accrued to the Canadians was a later convention which gave the people of the provinces full control of fisheries, ignorantly sacrificed by the treaty of 1783.

No class of the people of Canada contributed more to the effectiveness of the militia and the successful defence of the country than the descendants of the Loyalists, who formed so large and influential a portion of the English population of British North America. All the loyal settlements on the banks of the St. Lawrence, on the Niagara frontier, and on the shores of Lake Erie, sent many men to fight by the side of the regular British forces. Even aged men, who had borne arms in the revolutionary war, came forward with an enthusiasm which showed that age had not impaired their courage or patriotism, and although they were exempted from active service, they were found most useful in stationary duties at a time when Canada demanded the experience of such veterans. "Their lessons and example," wrote General Sheaffe, "will have a happy influence on the youth of the militia ranks." When Hull invaded the province and issued his boastful and threatening proclamation he used language which must have seemed a mockery to the children of the Loyalists. They remembered too well the sufferings of their fathers and brothers during "the stormy period of the revolution," and it seemed derisive to tell them now that they were to be "emancipated from tyranny and oppression and restored to the dignified station of free men." The proclamation issued by Governor Brock touched the loyal hearts of a people whose family histories were full of examples of "oppression and tyranny," and of the kind consideration and justice of England in their new homes. "Where," asked Brock, with the confidence of truth, "is the Canadian subject who can truly affirm to himself that he has been injured by the government in his person, his property, or his liberty? Where is to be found, in any part of the world, a growth so rapid in prosperity and wealth as this colony exhibits?" These people, to whom this special appeal was made at this national crisis, responded with a heartiness which showed that gratitude and affection lay deep in their hearts. Even the women worked in the field that their husbands, brothers and sons might drive the invaders from Canadian soil. The 104th Regiment, which accomplished a remarkable march of thirteen days in the depth of winter, from Fredericton to Quebec-a distance of three hundred and fifty miles-and lost only one man by illness, was composed of descendants of the loyal founders of New Brunswick. This march was accomplished practically without loss, while more than three hundred men were lost by Benedict Arnold in his expedition of 1777 against Quebec by the way of Kennebec-a journey not more dangerous or arduous than that so successfully accomplished by the New Brunswick Loyalists. In 1814 considerable numbers of seamen for service in the upper lakes passed through New Brunswick to Quebec, and were soon followed by several companies of the 8th or King's Regiment. The patriotism of the Loyalists of New Brunswick was shown by grants of public money and every other means in their power, while these expeditions were on their way to the seat of war in the upper provinces.

Historians and poets have often dwelt on the heroism of Laura Secord, daughter and wife of Loyalists, who made a perilous journey in 1814 through the Niagara district, and succeeded in warning Lieutenant Fitzgibbon of the approach of the enemy, thus enabling him with a few soldiers and Indians to surprise Colonel Boerstler near Beaver Dams and force him by clever strategy to surrender with nearly 600 men and several cannon. Even boys fled from home and were found fighting in the field. The Prince Regent, at the close of the war, expressly thanked the Canadian militia, who had "mainly contributed to the immediate preservation of the province and its future security." The Loyalists, who could not save the old colonies to England, did their full share in maintaining her supremacy in the country she still owned in the valley of the St. Lawrence and on the shores of the Atlantic.

As Bishop Plessis stimulated a patriotic sentiment among the French Canadians, so Vicar-General Macdonell of Glengarry, subsequently the first Roman Catholic bishop of Upper Canada, performed good service by assisting in the formation of a Glengarry regiment, and otherwise taking an active part in the defence of the province, where his will always be an honoured name. Equally indefatigable in patriotic endeavour was Bishop Strachan, then rector of York, who established "The Loyal and Patriotic Society," which did incalculable good by relieving the necessities of women and children, when the men were serving in the battlefield, by providing clothing and food for the soldiery, and otherwise contributing towards the comfort and succour of all those who were taking part in the public defences. Of the engagements of the war there are two which, above all others, possess features on which the historian must always like to dwell. The battle which was fought against such tremendous odds on the banks of the Chateauguay by less than a thousand French Canadians, led by Salaberry and Macdonell, recalls in some respects the defeat of Braddock in 1755. The disaster to the British forces near the Monongahela was mainly the result of the strategy of the Indians, who were dispersed in the woods which reechoed to their wild yells and their ever fatal shots fired under cover of trees, rocks and stumps. The British were paralysed as they saw their ranks steadily decimated by the fire of an enemy whom they could never see, and who seemed multitudinous as their shrieks and shouts were heard far and wide in that Bedlam of the forest. The leaves that lay thick and deep on the ground were reddened with the blood of many victims helpless against the concealed, relentless savages. The woods of the Chateauguay did not present such a scene of carnage as was witnessed at the battle of the Monongahela, but nevertheless they seemed to the panic-stricken invaders, who numbered many thousands, alive with an enemy whose strength was enormously exaggerated as bugle sounds and Indian yells made a fearful din on every side. Believing themselves surrounded by forces far superior in numbers, the invaders became paralysed with fear and fled in disorder from an enemy whom they could not see, and who might close upon them at any moment. In this way Canadian pluck and strategy won a famous victory which saved the province of Lower Canada at a most critical moment of the war.

If we leave the woods of Chateauguay, where a monument has been raised in recognition of this brilliant episode of the war, and come to the country above which rises the mist of the cataract of Niagara, we see a little acclivity over which passes that famous thoroughfare called "Lundy's Lane." Here too rises a stately shaft in commemoration of another famous victory-in many respects the most notable of the war-won by a gallant Englishman, whose name still clings to the pretty town close by.

This battle was fought on a midsummer night, when less than three thousand British and Canadian troops fought six hours against a much superior force, led by the ablest officers who had taken part in the war. For three hours, from six to nine o'clock at night, less than two thousand held the height, which was the main object of attack from the beginning to the end of the conflict, and kept at bay the forces that were led against them with a stern determination to win the position. Sunlight gave way to the twilight of a July evening, and dense darkness at last covered the combatants, but still the fight went on. Columns of the enemy charged in such close and rapid succession that the British artillerymen were constantly assailed in the very act of sponging and loading their guns. The assailants once won the height, but only to find themselves repulsed the next instant by the resolute daring of the British. Happily at the most critical moment, when the defenders of the hill were almost exhausted by the heroic struggle, reinforcements arrived, and the battle was renewed with a supreme effort on both sides. For three hours longer, from nine o'clock to midnight, the battle was fought in the darkness, only relieved by the unceasing flashes from the guns, whose sharp reports mingled with the deep and monotonous roar of the great falls. It was a scene worthy of a painter whose imagination could grasp all the incidents of a situation essentially dramatic in its nature. The assailants of the Canadian position gave way at last and withdrew their wearied and disheartened forces. It was in all respects a victory for England and Canada, since the United States army did not attempt to renew the battle on the next day, but retired to Fort Erie, then in their possession. As Canadians look down "the corridors of time," they will always see those flashes from the musketry and cannon of Lundy's Lane, and hear the bugles which drove the invaders of their country from the woods of Chateauguay.

The war did much to solidify the various racial elements of British North America during its formative stage. Frenchmen, Englishmen, Scotsmen from the Lowlands and Highlands, Irishmen and Americans, united to support the British connection. The character of the people, especially in Upper Canada, was strengthened from a national point of view by the severe strain to which it was subjected. Men and women alike were elevated above the conditions of a mere colonial life and the struggle for purely material necessities, and became animated by that spirit of self-sacrifice and patriotic endeavour which tend to make a people truly great.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top