Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

General Brock
Chapter XIV - Gathering Clouds

IN 1811 the financial storm that had burst on England had spread to France. Quarrels had again arisen between the latter country and the two independent Baltic powers, Russia and Sweden, Denmark had taken to piracy and had seized more than fifty American ships, and Russia expected to fight France in order to protect neutral commerce in the Baltic. England had that year almost ceased to send ships there, and America swarmed in until the Russian market was glutted with its goods. The United States had now a monopoly of the Baltic trade, but while members were announcing in congress at Washington that Napoleon's decrees had been withdrawn, Russia and Sweden were in the act of declaring war against France in order to protect American rights from the effects of those decrees.

The British prize court held that the French decrees had not been repealed, therefore, that American vessels entering French ports were good prize. It was truly a complicated state of affairs.

In the New England States there were some political changes which boded ill for peace. In Massachusetts, where the Federalist party had been distinctly in favour of England, Elbridge Gerry, the Republican candidate for governor was elected and for the first time the Republicans had a majority in the state senate. Senator Pickering, possibly from his friendly action towards England, lost his seat. It was he who at a banquet in Boston to Mr. Jackson, the English envoy, gave as a toast, "The world's last hope; Britain's fast-anchored isle."

There was a growing feeling of antagonism to England at Washington. The report of the committee appointed by congress on foreign relations, recommended an increase of ten thousand men to the army, a levy of fifty thousand from the militia, the outfit of all vessels of war not on service, and the arming of merchant vessels. In the debate that followed, Mr. Randolph said: "Since the report of the committee came into the House we have heard but one word, like the whippoorwill's monotonous tone, 'Canada, Canada, Canada.'"

Napoleon kept the Americans still in doubt as to whether his Berlin and Milan decrees were or were not revoked. Champagny, now Duke of Cadore, said the emperor would favour the trade of the United States so far as it did not cover or promote the commerce of England. The Americans chose to believe that the decrees were revoked, but as soon as they renewed their trade with France the British navy renewed their blockade of New York harbour, and His Majesty's ships, the Melampus and Guerriere captured some American vessels bound for France, and impressed the English seamen found on board. In retaliation, Secretary Hamilton ordered the forty-four gun frigate President to sail at once and protect American commerce. Then occurred near Annapolis the affair between the President, commanded by Captain Rodgers, and the Little Belt, a corvette of eighteen guns, commanded by Captain Bingham. The corvette was chased by the frigate, and an action ensued in which the smaller boat was much damaged. Eleven of her crew were killed and twenty-four wounded. Both vessels disclaimed firing the first shot, and Captain Rodgers said that in the dusk of the twilight he was unaware of the size of his opponent. Whether it occurred by mistake or not, this affair served to increase the bad feeling between the two nations.

Brock wrote on the subject: "President Madison has committed himself most openly and unjustifiably in the affair of the Little Belt by accusing that poor little sloop of a wanton act of aggression in attacking a huge American frigate, when Commodore Rodgers himself admits that he was nearly eight hours the chasing vessel."

In his address to congress, November 4th, 1811, the president said: "With the evidence of hostile inflexibility in trampling on rights, which no independent nation can relinquish, congress will feel the duty of putting the United States into an armour, and an attitude demanded by the crisis, and corresponding with the national expectation." This somewhat grandiloquent message showed plainly the desire of the president for war.

In this address it was also mentioned that it had been necessary to march a force towards the northwestern frontier, in consequence of murders and depredations committed by the Indians. The story of this expedition may be briefly told.

On the banks of the Tippecanoe creek, near the river Wabash, not far from Vincennes, and about one hundred and fifty miles south-east of Fort Dearborn (Chicago), was a flourishing Indian village. Cultivated fields testified to the industry of its inhabitants. As the home and headquarters of the great chief, Tecumseh, the village was frequented by bands of Indian warriors, then numbering about five thousand in the territory, who hoped to keep for themselves and their children a portion of the heritage of their forefathers. They were animated by a spirit of patriotism, fostered by the teaching of their leader. On July 31st, 1811, Tecumseh set off pn a mission to the Creeks in the far south. No sooner had he gone than the white dwellers on the Miami River determined to take active measures against the Indians. It happened that there had been depredations committed by the latter, and a feeling of distrust had arisen among the settlers, many of whom had encroached on the Indian boundaries, and had thus laid themselves open to attack.

General Harrison was at that time governor of Indiana, and was authorized by the president to fit out an expedition, nominally as a protection for the white inhabitants, but in reality with an intention of breaking up the Indian settlement. Among the members of this expedition were a number of hotheaded young Kentuckians, eager to emulate the deeds of their fathers who had taken part in the old Indian wars of the century before.

The expedition set off through what was then a wilderness, carrying with them a rather scanty supply of ammunition and food. General Harrison was himself in command, and pressed on with all haste in order to reach the village before their supplies should give out. At last they came to the banks of the Wabash, and there, within a short distance of Tippecanoe they encamped for the night on a hill. Word had gone to the village of their approach, and before the dawn a party of nine hundred young Indian braves stole on the sleeping camp and made a sudden attack. All was soon in confusion, and in the melee several hundred Americans, including some prominent Kentuckians, were killed and wounded. Having accomplished their task, and not waiting for the break of day, the Indians retired to their village.

When day came, General Harrison gathered the remnants of his force together, and marched on the village, to find it, however, deserted by its inhabitants, who had fled to escape his vengeance. All that he could do in retaliation was to burn the wigwams, destroy the stores of corn and fruits, and lay waste the fields. This done, he took his shattered band back by the way they came. This expedition was magnified by the Americans into a victory, and henceforth General Harrison was known by the name, "Old Tippecanoe." The Americans, willing always to blame the English government, placed the responsibility for the fight on the latter, and accused them of having incited the Indians to acts of aggression. One effect of the so-called battle was to make the Indians more favourable to an alliance with King George, and to make them hate, with a more bitter hatred, the despoilers of their homes.

In January, 1812, Tecumseh returned to find famine where he had left plenty, ruin and desolation where he had left a prosperous community. From that time Indian hostilities began again on the frontier, and were carried on with great ferocity.

In a letter to Sir James Craig on December 3rd, Brock wrote: "My first care on my arrival in the province was to direct the officers of the Indian department to exert their whole influence with the Indians to prevent the attack, which I understood a few tribes meditated against the American frontier. But these efforts proved fruitless. Such was their infatuation, the Indians refused to listen to advice, and they are now so deeply engaged that I despair of being able to withdraw them from the contest in time to avert their destruction. A high degree of fanaticism, which has been for years working in their minds, has led to the present state of things." Again he writes, "The Indians felt they had been sacrificed in 1794. They are eager to avenge their injuries."

In view of the expected American invasion, as early as December, 1811, General Brock gave his plan of campaign to Sir George Prevost. After events proved how right he was in his forecast. He represented that Amherstburg was a most important position, and that Detroit and Michilimackinac ought to be taken in order to convince the Indians that the British were in earnest about war. At that time the garrisons of those two places did not exceed seventy rank and file, but reinforcements, Brock thought, would be drawn from the Ohio, where there was an enterprising, hardy race of settlers, famous as horsemen and expert with the rifle. He also thought that unless a diversion were made at Detroit, an overwhelming force would be sent against Niagara.

In December, 1811, the militia at Amherstburg numbered about seven hundred men. Brock proposed to increase the garrison there by two hundred rank and file from Fort George and York. As for the protection of the country between Amherstburg and Fort Erie, he depended on the naval force on Lake Erie, which consisted then of one sloop, the Queen Charlotte, and one schooner, the Hunter. The latter was old and out of repair, and yet was the only vessel able to navigate Lake Huron. The Americans had on Lake Erie a sloop and a fine brig, the Adams, of twelve guns. Both were in perfect readiness for service.

General Brock counselled the immediate purchase or hire of vessels, and also advised that gunboats should be built at once, constructed to draw but little water. Owing to his representations another schooner, the Lady Prevost, was ordered to be built on Lake Erie, and also one on Lake Ontario, the Pnnee Regent. News had come that the only American vessel of war on Lake Ontario, then lying at Sacketts Harbour, was being manned as fast as possible. The Americans were also recruiting for the navy at Buffalo, and had crossed to Fort Erie to inveigle men away from there.

General Brock wrote to Sir George Prevost that he believed an attempt at invasion would be made at the strait between Niagara and Fort Erie, and that he thought he could raise about three thousand militia and five hundred Indians to guard that line. He believed a protracted resistance would embarrass the enemy, for their troops, being volunteers, had hardly any discipline. He would need cavalry, and he had had many offers from young men to form a troop, but they would require swords and pistols. He considered Kingston a most important place to guard, for he believed a strong detachment of the enemy would follow Lord Amherst's route of 1760, and enter the province by way of Oswega-tchie (Ogdensburg), where the river St. Lawrence is one thousand six hundred yards broad.

The militia between the Bay of Quints and Glengarry were, he thought of excellent quality. They could not be better employed than in watching such a movement. "Mr. Cartwright, the senior militia colonel at Kingston," he wrote, "possesses the influence to which his firm character and superior abilities so deservedly entitle him."

Sir George Prevost wished to establish ddp6ts of arms throughout the country. Brock proposed that there should be proper places at each post where arms could be deposited after the militia had exercised. Sir George proposed sending two thousand three hundred and twenty-nine muskets to Upper Canada; but as there was no place to store them there Brock urged the completion at once of the proper buildings for the purpose at York.

In the summer of 1811 the 41st Regiment was at Montreal, eight hundred strong. In October it was moved to York. In November three hundred recruits for the regiment arrived at Quebec. They had been sixteen weeks on the passage, and had suffered much. " What a noble battalion this will be when brought together," Brock writes. It was not long before their mettle was tried and proved.

The work of raising the corps of Glengarry Fencibles, proposed some years before, was now gone on with, and Colonel George Macdonell was entrusted with the task. Among the officers appointed to it were three sons of General iEneas ' Shaw, then adjutant-general of militia. It was decided that the uniform of this corps should be dark green, like that of the 95th Rifles. Recruiting went on for the Glengarries, as they were called, not only in the province of Upper Canada, but also in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and sturdy Highlanders were gathered from the coast and gulf, men who in the stern days to come fought to the death for Canada.

In January a letter from Colonel Baynes told Brock that by the October mail had come the long-looked-for permission for him to return to England for service in Spain. Brock sent his formal acknowledgment of the receipt of this permission to leave Canada, but on account of the strong presumption of war with the Americans, he begged to be allowed to remain in his present command. Sir George Prevost wrote saying that he had heard from Colonel Baynes that General Brock would not avail himself of his leave of absence, and expressed himself as much pleased that at this critical time he was not to be deprived of his services.

A scheme of General Brock's was now carried out under his immediate supervision, namely, the formation of flank companies, in the different militia regiments, of specially drilled men, in order, as he said, to organize an armed force to meet future exigencies, and to demonstrate, by practical experience, the degree of facility with which the militia might be trained to service. The companies were to consist of one captain, two subalterns, two sergeants, one drummer, and thirty-five rank and file. In General Brock's address to the officers of these companies, he said: "Assisted by your zeal, prudence and intelligence, I entertain the pleasing hope of meeting with very considerable success, and of being able to establish the sound policy of rendering permanent a mode of military instruction little burdensome to individuals, and in every way calculated to secure a powerful internal defence against hostile aggression."

The arms and accoutrements for the flank companies were to be obtained from Fort Erie. General Brock also asked for clothing for them from the king's stores. As to their training, they were to drill six times a month, and as there was no provision for remunerating the men, Brock asked that the commissariat should issue rations for the number actually present at exercise.

This organization proved a very useful measure, as the flank companies were ready when the war broke out. The numbers embodied at first were about seven hundred; when the companies were completed they might be reckoned at eighteen hundred.

During the winter of 1811-12, military works were going on with all speed throughout the province. Artificers were preparing temporary magazines for the reception of spare powder at Fort George and Kingston, the proposed fortifications at York were begun, and ship-building was in progress. "Be ready" was the watchword for the spring.

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