General Brock
Chapter XVI - On the Frontier


Let every man who swings an axe,
Or follows at the plough,
Abandon farm and homestead,
And grasp a rifle now!
We'll trust the God of Battles
Although our force be small;
Arouse ye, brave Canadians,
And answer to my call!

Let mothers, though with breaking hearts,
Give up their gallant sons;
Let maidens bid their lovers go,
And wives their dearer ones!
Then rally to the frontier
And form a living wall;
Arouse ye, brave Canadians,
And answer to my call!

—J. D. Edgar, "This Canada of Ours."

THE frontier of Canada to be defended, reckoning from Fort Joseph at the head of Lake Huron to Quebec, was over twelve hundred miles in length. The number of regulars in both the Canadas was a little less than five thousand. The 8th, the 41st, the 49th, the 100th Regiments, the 10th Royal Veterans, some artillery and the Canadian, Newfoundland and Glengarry Fencibles composed the force, of which about fourteen hundred and fifty were in Upper Canada, divided between Forts Joseph, Amherstburg, Chippawa, Erie, York and Kingston. The most assailable frontier was the river Detroit from Sandwich to Amherstburg, the river Niagara from Fort Erie to Fort George, and the St. Lawrence from Kingston to St. Regis where the American boundary touches the St. Lawrence. Between that place and Quebec was an impenetrable forest. The population of Upper Canada was about seventy thousand, of which eleven thousand might be called out as militia, although not more than four thousand were ready for service. This, then, was the material of which Brock had to make an army of defence. It looked out of the question for it to be an army of attack.

Early in May a warning note came from Mr. Thomas Barclay, the English consul-general at New York. He mote to Sir George Prevost: "You may consider war as inevitable. It will take place in July at the latest. Upper Canada will be the first object. Military stores of all kinds and provisions are daily moving hence towards the lines. Thirteen thousand five hundred militia, the quota of the state, are drawn and ordered to be in readiness at a moment's notice.

During this month Brock had hurried up ordnance and other stores to St. Joseph, and had ordered Captain Roberts, in command there, to be on his guard. At Amherstburg there were about seven hundred militia, rank and file. The general proposed to increase the garrison there by two 202 hundred men from Fort George and York, and guns were sent also from those places, relying upon others coming from Kingston by the Earl of Moira.

On June 1st General Hull, the civil governor of the Michigan territory, and then recently made brigadier-general, in command of about two thousand men, began his march for the Michigan territory from Dayton, Ohio. On June 7th he arrived at Urbana, where he was joined by the 4th Regiment. Lieut.-Colonel McArthur, with his regiment of Ohio volunteers, had been ordered to open a road as far as the Scioto River, where two blockhouses, joined by a strong stockade, were called Fort McArthur. General Hull's march lay for part of the way through thick and trackless forests. On June 18th war was formally declared by the United States against England, but news of this did not reach Sir George Prevost at Quebec until the 26th of that month, and then it did not come officially but by a letter to the secretary, H. W. Ryland, from the firm of Forsyth, Richardson & Company, and McTavish & McGillivray of the North-West and South-West Fur Companies. The letter was as follows: "Montreal, June 24th. You will be pleased to inform the governor-general that we have just received by an express which left New York on the 20th and Albany on Sunday last at 6 a.m., the account that war against Great Britain is declared." Fortunately General Brock was not left to learn the news by the circuitous channel of the governor-general. He, too, had a communication sent him by-express from Niagara. It came to Thomas Clark from John Jacob Astor, New York, and was immediately sent on to General Brock, who received it in York on June 26th.1 In a few hours two companies of the 41st Regiment in garrison at York were embarked in boats to the Niagara frontier, while the general assembled his council, called an extra session of the legislature, and then in a small open boat, with his brigade major, Evans, and his aide-de-camp, Captain Glegg, crossed the lake, (thirty miles) to Fort George, where he established his headquarters. Colonel Baynes wrote to him as soon as the intelligence reached Sir George, and said His Excellency was inclined to believe the report, but it was not official. Colonel Baynes also reported that six large canoes of the North-West Company going to the upper lakes by the Ottawa, to receive their furs, had offered to accommodate six soldiers in each canoe, in order to reinforce St. Joseph, but Sir George did not think it well to weaken the 49th by sending them. The letter ends, "Sir George desires me to say that he does not attempt to prescribe specific rules for your guidance —they must be directed by your discretion, and the circumstances of the time—the present order of the day with him is forbearance "

On July 3rd there was still doubt about war being really declared, but Colonel Baynes writes to General Brock on that date from Quebec: "We have a report here of your having commenced operations by levelling the American fort at Niagara. His Excellency is most anxious to hear good and recent * news from your quarter. The flank companies here are on the march, and two thousand militia will form a chain of posts from St. Johns to Laprairie. The town militia of Montreal and Quebec, to the amount of three thousand in each city, have volunteered, are being embodied and drilled, and will take their part in garrison duty to relieve the troops. The proclamation for declaring martial law is prepared and will speedily be issued. All aliens will be required to take the oath of allegiance or immediately quit the province. Our cash is at its last issue, and a substitute of paper must perforce be resorted to."

General Brock did not wait to receive official instructions from the commander-in-chief, but immediately issued his orders for the disposal of his scanty force. He called out the flank companies, consisting of eight hundred well drilled men, and also sent an express to Captain Roberts at Fort Joseph with instructions to attempt the capture of Michilimackinac.

The district general order from Niagara on June 27th, was as follows: "Colonel Procter will assume the command of the troops between Niagara and Fort Erie. The Hon. Colonel Claus will command the militia stationed between Niagara and Queenston, and Lieutenant-Colonel Clark from Queenston to Fort Erie. The commissariat at their respective posts will issue rations and fuel for the number actually present. The car brigade and the provincial cavalry are included in this order. The detachment of the 41st, stationed at the two and four-mile points, will be relieved by an equal number of the 1st Lincoln militia to-morrow morning. It is recommended to the militia to bring blankets with them on service. The troops will be kept in a constant state of readiness for service, and Colonel Procter will direct the necessary guards and patrols which are to be made down the bank and close to the water's edge. Lieutenant-Colonel Nichol is appointed quartermaster-general to the militia forces, with the same pay and allowances as those granted to the adjutant-general."

The appointment of Colonel Nichol to this position is another instance of General Brock's foresight and judgment in choosing men for special work. In 1804, when Brock was a colonel in command at Fort George, this Mr. Nichol kept, in the village near by, a small shop or general store, where all sorts of wares were sold. He was a clever little Scotsman, and the colonel soon became his warm friend, and invited him often to dine with him at the mess. At this time there was a menace of war, and Colonel Brock soon discovered that his friend 206 had a very good knowledge of the country. At his request Mr. Nichol drew up a statistical account of Upper Canada, showing its resources in men, horses, provisions, and its most vulnerable and assailable points. The sketch was in fact a military report, embracing every detail which the commander of an army would desire to have in the event of a war. The statement proved most valuable in after years to General Brock, and now that he was choosing his men for service in the various posts required, Colonel Nichol, to the surprise of some who thought themselves entitled to the position, was given an appointment where his particular qualities would be of use. Lieutenant-Colonel Nichol had been in command of the 2nd Norfolk Militia, a regiment composed almost entirely of native Americans, and naturally not much to be depended on at the beginning of the war. Colonel Nichol, in a letter to Captain Glegg, gives his idea of how to manage such a regiment. He says: "You know well, sir, that in a militia composed as ours is of independent yeomanry, it would be both impolitic and useless to attempt to introduce the strict discipline of the line, Just and fair conduct and a conciliatory disposition on the part of their commanding officer will do much, and this was the line I had marked out for myself."

Strange to say, the official communication of the declaration of war did not reach Sir George Prevost until about July 7th, at Montreal. He writes on that date to General Brock: "It was only on my arrival here that I received Mr. Foster's notification of the congress of the United States having declared war against Great Britain." The actual declaration took place on June 18th, 1812. The vote in the American senate was nineteen to thirteen, while in the lower house it was seventy-nine to forty-nine. So unpopular was it in Massachusetts that on the receipt of the news the flags in the harbour of Boston were placed at half-mast. The declaration of war did not reach England until July 30th, and when it arrived, the government, thinking that the revocation of the orders-in-council would bring a suspension of hostilities, only ordered the detention of American ships and property. It was not until October 13th that directions were issued for general reprisals against the ships, goods and citizens of the United States.

Colonel Baynes writes on July 8th, acknowledging a letter from Brock of the 3rd: "Only four days from York." He continues, "We have felt extremely anxious about you ever since we have learnt of the actual declaration of war, which has been so long threatened that we never believed it would ever seriously take place. Even now it is the prevailing opinion that offensive measures are not likely to be speedily adopted against this country."

At that moment General Hull, who had received news of the declaration of war on June 26th, was preparing to enter Canada. On June 24th the American general wrote, "I feel a confidence that the force under my command will be superior to any which can be opposed to it. It now exceeds two thousand rank and file." On June 30th he reached a village on the broad Miami, and engaged a small schooner there to take the baggage on to Detroit, while he continued his march with the troops. On July 4th his army reached the Huron River, twenty-one miles from Detroit, and the next day encamped at Springwells, four miles from the town. Here six hundred Michigan militia joined him. His order from Washington was: "Should the force under your command be equal to the enterprise, consistent with the safety of your own post, you will take possession of Maiden, and extend your conquests as circumstances may justify." Hull did not think himself equal to the reduction of Fort Maiden. On the 12th he passed over the Detroit River, and established his headquarters in Colonel Baby's house. Colonel Baby was then absent attending to his parliamentary duties in York.

One can hardly realize in these days of rapid communication how difficult it was then to obtain information of what was happening in different parts of the province, or to convey orders. Much depended on the individual capacity of those in charge of distant posts, and a certain latitude had to be allowed them in carrying out instructions from headquarters. Seven hundred miles from York and about fifty miles north-east of Michilimackinac was a lonely outpost on the island of St. Joseph, at the head of Lake Huron. A small company of the 10th Royal Veteran Battalion was stationed here under the command of Captain Roberts. On June 26th, from Fort George, General Brock sent a despatch to that officer, giving him orders to attack Michilimackinac, the island lying in the strait between Lakes Huron and Michigan. On the 27th this order was suspended, but on the 28th it was renewed. On the very day this letter was received, another dated June 25th arrived at Fort Joseph from Sir George Prevost, ordering Captain Roberts to act only on the defensive. This was rather a puzzling position for the captain, but he knew well the importance General Brock attached to the taking of the island, and he resolved to act on the instructions received in the letter of the 28th. He was confirmed in his intentions by another letter from General Brock, dated July 4th, in which he was told to use his discretion either to attack or defend.

On July 16th he therefore set out with a flotilla of boats and canoes in which were embarked forty-five officers and men of the 10th Veterans, about one hundred and eighty Canadian voyageurs under Toussaint Pothier, the agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, and a goodly number of Indians, the whole convoyed by a brig, the Caledonia, belonging to the North-West Company. Under cover of night they approached the white cliffs of Mackinaw. It is a true Gibraltar of the northern lakes, accessible only on one side, and had sufficient time been allowed, it could no doubt have been easily defended. Its garrison consisted of sixty-one officers and men under command of a Captain Hanks. The expedition had been so cleverly managed that the enemy were completely taken by surprise, and at dawn of July 17th, the fort, which by the treaty of 1794 had been ceded to the Americans, once more came under the British flag. It was the first operation of the war, and a most important one. By it the wavering tribes of Indians in the North-West were confirmed in their allegiance to Great Britain, and these proved a very powerful aid in the coming contest. Military stores of all kinds were found in the fort, also seven hundred packs of furs, for this was the rendezvous of the traders of the North-West. The news of this success did not, of course, reach Fort George until the end of the month, while it was August 3rd when the paroled men from Mackinaw reached Detroit and bore the first news of the disaster to General Hull.

From Fort George, early in July, General Brock wrote to the commander-in-chief that the militia were improving in discipline, but showed a degree of impatience under restraint. "So great was the clamour," he says, "to return and attend to their farms, that I found myself in some measure compelled to sanction the departure of a large proportion, and I am not without my apprehension that the remainder will, in defiance of the law which only imposes a fine of twenty dollars, leave the service the moment the harvest begins."

The general, however, knew how to deal with his homespun warriors, and instead of blaming the men his general order of July 4th gave them the word of praise they needed. He also gave them the word of sympathy that showed them he realized how hard it was for them to leave their homes and their un-gathered harvests, and spend their days and nights in tedious drill and outpost duty, without tents, without blankets, some even without shoes, which at that time could scarcely be provided in the country. His order ran as follows: "Major-General Brock has witnessed with the highest satisfaction the orderly and regular conduct of such of the militia as have been called into actual service, and their ardent desire to acquire military instruction. He is sensible that they are exposed to great privations, and every effort will be immediately made to supply their most pressing wants, but such are the circumstances of the country that it is absolutely necessary that every inhabitant should have recourse to his own means to furnish himself with blankets and other necessaries. The major-general calls the serious attention of every militiaman to the efforts being made by the enemy to destroy and lay waste this flourishing country. They must be sensible of the great stake they have to contend for, and will by their conduct convince the enemy that they are not desirous of bowing their necks to a foreign yoke. The major-general is determined to devote his best energies to the defence of the country, and has no doubt that, supported by the zeal, activity and determination of the loyal inhabitants of this province, he will successfully repel every hostile attack, and preserve to them inviolate all that they hold dear. From the experience of the past the major-general is convinced that should it be necessary to call forth a further proportion of the militia to aid their fellow-subjects in defence of the province, they will come forward with equal alacrity to share the danger and the honour." Thus he took the rough metal at his hand, and out of it forged a weapon of strength that did good service through three years of trial.

The position of affairs in Upper Canada in the early part of July was extremely unpromising. About four thousand American troops under the command of Brigadier-General Wadsworth were on the Niagara frontier between Black Rock and Fort Niagara, with headquarters at Lewiston, directly opposite Queenston. A report had come to General Brock of the bombardment of Sandwich (which was not true), but a further report came of its occupation by the American general. President Madison announced in his address to congress that General Hull had passed into Canada with a prospect of easy and victorious progress. From Sandwich Hull issued a proclamation to the people of Canada, offering the alternatives of " peace, hberty and security, or war, slavery and destruction." Colonel St. George, who commanded the Canadian militia on the Detroit frontier, reported to General Brock that they had behaved badly and that many of them had joined the invading army. There is no doubt that on that western peninsula there were many American settlers, bound by no tie of patriotism to Canada, whose sympathies were entirely with the United States. A very different feeling prevailed in that part of the country which had been mainly settled by Loyalists after the American revolution, and also where General Brock was personally known and where his influence extended. He wrote to Sir George his impressions about the loyalty of the population of Upper Canada, and said that although a great number were sincere in their desire to defend the country, there were many others who were indifferent, or so completely American as to rejoice in the prospect of a change of government.

Another disquieting report came at this time of the feeling among the Indians on the Grand River. They had heard of General Hull's successful entry into the country, his emissaries were already among them, and they had decided to remain neutral.

The American press was now full of boastful predictions of the early fall of Canada. Dr. Eustis, the American secretary of war, said: " We can take the Canadas without soldiers, we have only to send officers into the province, and the people, disaffected towards their own government, will rally round our standard." Henry Clay said: "It is absurd to suppose we shall not succeed in our enterprise against the enemy's provinces. We have the Canadas as much under our command as Great Britain has the ocean; and the way to conquer her on the ocean is to drive her from the land. I am not for stopping at Quebec or anywhere else, but I would take the continent from them. I wish never to see a peace till we do."

In the face of all this assertion, and with a knowledge that a handful of regulars and a few thousand undisciplined militia were all that he had to drive the invaders back, it was hard for the general in command to keep a confident air, and to prevent the people dependent on him from giving up in despair. To Sir George Prevost Brock wrote: "It is scarcely possible that the government of the United States will be so inactive or supine as to permit the present limited (British) force to remain in possession of the country. Whatever can be done to preserve it, or to delay its fall, your Excellency may rest assured will be done." "I talk loud and look big," he laughingly says in a letter to Colonel Baynes.

General Brock lost no time in sending Colonel Procter to Amherstburg, where he was expected to arrive on July. 21st. Of that officer he says: "I have great dependence on his decision, but fear he will arrive too late to be of much service." The letter, which was to the commander-in-chief, continues: "The position which Colonel St. George occupies is very good, and infinitely more formidable than Fort Maiden itself. Should he be compelled to retire I know of no other alternative for him than embarking in the king's vessels and proceeding to Fort Erie. Your Excellency will readily perceive the critical situation in which the reduction of Amherstburg will place me. I shall endeavour to exert myself to the utmost to overcome every difficulty. I now express my apprehensions on a supposition that the slender means your Excellency possesses will not admit of diminution, consequently, that I need not look for reinforcements. The enemy seem more inclined to work on the flanks, aware that if he succeeds every other part must soon submit."

Just before the news came of General Hull's occupation of Sandwich, Sir George had written to Brock, still counselling forbearance. He said: " While the states are not united themselves as to the war, it would be unwise to commit any act which might unite them. Notwithstanding these observations, I have to assure you of my perfect confidence in your measures for the preservation of Upper Canada. All your wants shall be supplied as fast as possible, except money, of which I have none."

Parliament was now sitting at Quebec, and Sir George Prevost was obliged to be at that place, while General de Rottenburg remained in Montreal. A small reinforcement of troops had arrived in Canada, consisting of the 103rd Regiment, a weak battalion of Royal Scots, and some recruits for the 100th. The arrival of the 103rd allowed the remainder of the 49th to proceed to Upper Canada. "Oh, for another regiment," Brock sighed. The naval force available in Upper Canada was a small squadron on Lake Ontario, consisting of the Royal George of twenty-four guns, the brig Moira sixteen guns, the Prince Regent, which had just been built and equipped at York, and two other small schooners. On Lake Erie the Queen Charlotte was at Fort Maiden, and the sloop of war Hunter had been sent to the straits of Mackinaw.

General Hull's boastful proclamation from Sandwich had not been received with the enthusiasm he had expected from the population of Upper Canada. A counter appeal had been issued from Fort George by General Brock, ending in these words: "Beholding, as we do, the flame of patriotism burning from one end of the Canadas to the other, we cannot but entertain the most pleasing anticipations. Our enemies have indeed said that they can subdue the country by a proclamation, but it is our part to prove to them that they are sadly mistaken; that the population is determinedly hostile, and that the few who might be otherwise inclined will find it to their safety to be faithful."

It was well to be cheerful and confident in the face of the difficulties that surrounded him, and this spirit was shared by his followers. Once more he writes to the commander-in-chief: "The alacrity and good temper displayed when the militia marched to the frontier has infused in the minds of the enemy a very different sentiment of the disposition of the inhabitants, who he (the American general) was led to believe would, on the first summons, declare themselves an American state."

On July 20th news came of an unexpected success. It will be remembered that General Hull on his march to Detroit had left his heavy baggage and stores to be conveyed by a schooner, Cayahoga, from the Miami River to Detroit. The boats of the Hunter, under the command of Lieutenant Rolette, came across this schooner and succeeded in capturing it. General Brock wrote at once to Sir George Prevost to tell him that Colonel St. George had reported the capture and had sent him some interesting documents found on board. From the correspondence taken he judged the force at Detroit to consist of about two thousand men. It was reported also that the enemy were making numerous and extensive inroads from Sandwich up the river Thames. He had therefore sent Captain Chambers with about fifty of the 41st to the Moravian town, where he had directed two hundred militia to join him. He was most anxious to set off himself for Amherstburg, but was obliged to wait for the meeting of the legislature, which was summoned for July 27th.

As to making an attack on Fort Niagara, which had been suggested, General Brock did not think it was of immediate consequence. He writes: "It can be demolished when found necessary in half an hour." His guns were in position and he considered his front to be perfectly safe. In the meantime he was devoting himself to the training of the militia, to enable them to acquire some degree of discipline.

On July 22nd from Fort George, General Brock issued another proclamation as president of the province. It ran as follows: "The unprovoked declaration of war by the United States of America against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland has been followed by the actual invasion of this province, in a remote frontier of the western district, by a detachment of the armed forces of the United States. The officer commanding that detachment has thought proper to invite His Majesty's subjects not only to a quiet and unresisting submission, but insults them with a call to seek voluntarily the protection of that government.

"Where is the Canadian subject who can truly affirm to himself that he has been injured by the government of Great Britain in his person, his liberty or his property? "Where is to be found in any part of the world a growth so rapid in wealth and prosperity as this colony exhibits, settled not thirty years ago by a band of veterans exiled from their former possessions on account of their loyalty? Not a descendant of these brave people is to be found who under the fostering liberality of their sovereign has not acquired a property and means of enjoyment superior to what were possessed by his ancestors. This unequalled prosperity could not have been attained by the utmost liberality of the government or the persevering industry of the people, had not the maritime power of the mother country secured for its colonists a safe access to every market where the produce of their labour was in demand.

"The unavoidable and immediate consequence of a separation from Great Britain must be the loss of this inestimable advantage. What is offered you in exchange? To become a territory of the United States and share with them that exclusion from the ocean which the policy of their present government enforces. You are not even flattered with a prospect of participation in their boasted independence, and it is but too obvious that once excluded from the powerful protection of the United Kingdom, you must be re-annexed to the Dominion of France, from which the provinces of Canada were wrested by Great Britain, at a vast expense of blood and treasure, from no other motive than to relieve her ungrateful children from the oppression of a cruel neighbour. This restitution to the empire of France was the stipulated reward for the aid afforded to the revolted colonies, now the United States. The debt is still due and there can be no doubt the pledge has been renewed as a consideration for commercial advantages, or rather, as an expected relaxation in the tyranny of France over the commercial world. Are you prepared, inhabitants of Upper Canada, to become willing subjects, or rather, slaves to the despot who rules Europe with a rod of iron? If not, arise in a body, exert your energies to cooperate cordially with the king's regular forces to repel the invader, and do not give cause to your children, when groaning under the oppression of a foreign master, to reproach you with having too easily parted with the richest inheritance on earth—a participation in the name, character and freedom of Britain.

"Let no man suppose that if in this unexpected struggle His Majesty's arms should be compelled to yield to an overwhelming force, the province will be abandoned. The endeared relation of its first settlers, the intrinsic value of its commerce, and the pretensions of its powerful rival to repossess the Canadas, are pledges that no peace will be established between the United States and Great Britain of which the restoration of these provinces does not make the most prominent condition."

On July 27th General Brock returned to York, where, attended by a numerous suite, he opened the extra session of the legislature. His speech on that occasion rings like a trumpet note: "Gentlemen of the House of Assembly, we are engaged in an awful and eventful contest. By unanimity and despatch in our councils, and vigour in our operations we may teach the enemy this lesson, that a country defended by free men enthusiastically devoted to the cause of their king and constitution, can never be conquered!"


Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast