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General Brock
Chapter XVII - A Victorious Commander


ON July 29th news arrived at York of the successful capture of Michilimackinac, and General Brock immediately sent a despatch announcing it to Sir George Prevost. He also informed him that the militia at York had volunteered for service to any part of the province, and . he had selected a hundred to proceed at once to Long Point, Lake Erie. He thought that unless the enemy could be driven from Sandwich it would be impossible to avert the ruin of the country. He intended leaving himself on the 30th for Fort George, but would return the next day. On the same date Sir George wrote to him telling him that he had placed Major-General Sheaffe on the staff, and was sending him to Upper Canada to assist in the arduous service there. News had just arrived at Quebec of the revocation of the orders-in-council, as regarded America, and Sir George was inclined to moderate measures. In the meantime, on the American seaboard, and the coasts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, stirring scenes were enacting.

Sir Thomas Saumarez, who had married a cousin of General Brock,1 writes to him from Halifax that he and his wife had safely arrived there, and considered themselves very fortunate at not having fallen into the enemy's hands, as war had been declared a week before they reached port. He says: "We came out in a very valuable ordnance store ship, which would have been a great acquisition to the enemy, and its loss would have been severely felt, as all the stores on board are much required. Our squadron on this station has been very active. Prizes arrive here daily, I could almost say hourly. The Emulous brought in ten yesterday, and thirty thousand dollars were found on some of them. Mr. Foster, the late ambassador to the states, has been here nearly a week, he is to sail for England today. The northern and eastern states are extremely inimical to, and dissatisfied with this war, so much so that there is reason to suppose they will dissolve the union shortly, and declare themselves totally independent of the southern and western states. The American privateers are extremely numerous and daring in this neighbourhood, and I am sorry to add they have proved but too successful, having captured several of our vessels bound to Quebec and New Brunswick, and some to this port. I received a note about an hour ago from Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson, who sailed from here last Sunday with his wife and family, for Quebec, being appointed inspecting field officer in Canada, to inform me that he had been made prisoner by an American privateer. Most of our ships are looking out for the squadron under Commodore Rodgers, who is supposed to have sailed from New York with a view to intercept our West India fleet. A transport with a hundred and forty men of the Royals, from the West Indies to Quebec, was boarded by the Essex, an American frigate, about ten days ago, and permitted to proceed on condition that the master of the vessel promised to pay a ransom of twelve thousand dollars for her, and that the officers commanding should consider themselves on parole, and give their assurance that the troops would not fight against the Americans during the war."

This was a rather aggravating piece of news when men and money were needed so badly.

While General Brock was in York attending to the meeting of the legislature, affairs at Fort George were in charge of Lieutenant-Colonel Myers, an officer in whom he had great confidence. "Niagara on the British side, or as it is sometimes called, Newark," so an American soldier writes, "looks wicked everywhere. It is a charming, fertile village, but all a camp fortified at every point."

The militia, who had been allowed to go to their homes on account of the harvest, had been recalled. There was a question raised at this time as to the powers which General Brook had in his combined military and civil capacity. As civil governor he could convene general courts-martial for the trial of offenders belonging to the militia, and even inflict punishment by death; but in his military office he could only convene the court. He thought he ought to have equal authority in both offices. He wrote from York on August 4th to Sir George Prevost, as follows: "I have the honour to enclose a statement made by me yesterday to His Majesty's executive council, which will fully apprize your Excellency of my situation. The council adjourned for deliberation, and I have no doubt will recommend the prorogation of the assembly and the proclamation of martial law, but doubts occurring in contemplation of such an event, I take the liberty to submit these questions to your Excellency, and request the aid of your experience and superior judgment. In the event of declaring martial law can I without the sign manual approve and carry into effect the sentence of a general court-martial? 2nd. Can I put upon a general court-martial, after martial law is proclaimed, any person not a commissioned officer in His Majesty's regular forces? In other words, can officers of the militia sit in conjunction with those of the line?"

The answer to this was written on August 12th, and Sir George said: "As the martial law which you propose declaring is founded on the king's commission and upon the extreme case of invasion alluded to in it, I am inclined to think that whatever power is necessary for conveying the measure into effect must have been intended to be given you by your commission. The officers of the militia, becoming themselves subject to martial law, I conceive they may sit upon courts-martial with officers of His Majesty's regular force, but upon both these points I desire not to be understood as speaking decisively."

News had just reached Quebec of Captain Roberts's capture of Fort Michilimackinac. Sir George wrote: "Great credit is certainly due that officer for the zeal and promptitude with which he has performed this service. At the same time I must confess my mind has been very much relieved by finding that the capture took place at a period subsequent to Brigadier-General Hull's invasion of the province, as had it been prior to it, it would not only have been in violation of Captain Roberts's orders, but have afforded a just ground for the subsequent conduct of the enemy, which I now plainly perceive no forbearance on your part would have prevented." As a matter of fact the capture of Michilimackinac was effected contrary to Sir George Prevost's order, because Fort St. Joseph, being nearly three hundred and fifty miles from Detroit and Sandwich, and the expedition having left the fort four days after Hull's invasion, it was not possible for Captain Roberts to have heard in that time of the event. In his letter to the adjutant-general announcing the capture, he does not say that he had heard of the invasion. In his letter to Lord Bathurst, Sir George expresses himself rather differently. He says: "In these measures Major-General Brock was most opportunely aided by the fortunate surrender of Fort Michilimackinac, which giving spirit and confidence to the Indian tribes in its neighbourhood, part of whom assisted in its capture, determined them to advance upon the rear and flank of the American army as soon as they heard it had entered the province."

At this time Sir George was much occupied with the meeting of the legislature at Quebec. To the credit of the House it must be said that they took prompt measures for the safety of the country. Past differences were forgotten, and all the members worked for the common weal. An act was passed providing for the issue of army note bills. The province was to pay the interest accruing upon the notes and the expense of the establishment. They were to be legal tender. Fifteen thousand pounds annually for five years were granted to pay the interest that might become due on these bills, of which two hundred and fifty thousand pounds were authorized to be put into circulation. Large bills, of twenty-five dollars and upwards, were to bear interest at the rate of four pence a day for every one hundred pounds. At the end of five years all those who might be the holders of such army bills were entitled to receive the amount of the same, with interest due, out of the provincial treasury.

The commander-in-chief was at last able to send the much-needed money and stores to Upper Canada. Major Ormsby, with three companies of the 49th, protecting a large supply of ordnance, left La Chine on August 6th for Kingston and Fort George, taking two thousand five hundred pounds for the payment of regulars and militia. Another company, with one hundred and ten men of the Newfoundland Regiment and fifty picked Veterans, were to follow under Major Heathcote. Camp equipage for five hundred men was also promised as soon as bateaux could be collected at La Chine. Colonel Vincent with the remainder of the 49th, and a subaltern and ten gunners of the Royal Artillery, with two 3-pounders, were ordered to Fort George.

As to military affairs on the frontier of Quebec, it was reported that the Americans were forming depots in the neighbourhood of Montreal, and were also building bateaux on Lake Champlain. In the meantime the House of Assembly at York was prorogued as soon as it had passed the necessary supply bill, and Major-General Brock was free to proceed to the western frontier. Most of the members of the House were in the active militia and were needed in their respective districts. Colonel Baby, who had been attending to his parliamentary duties, had been bereft of his house in his absence, as General Hull had chosen it for headquarters, being the largest and best in Sandwich.

Colonel Elliott, another member of the legislature, lived near Amherstburg, and had long been in charge of the Indians in that district, over whom he exercised great influence. John Macdonell, the acting attorney-general and member for Glengarry, a young man of much promise, was chosen as aide-de-camp by the general. The latter called for volunteers to accompany him on the expedition, and such was the enthusiasm aroused that more than five hundred offered their services. The general, however, could only accept half of that number as the rest were required to guard the Niagara frontier. Forty men of the 41st Regiment were also detached from the little garrison at Fort George, to proceed to Amherstburg. The volunteers chosen were chiefly young men, sons of the principal residents of York and the adjacent country. Before they left on their perilous expedition they attended a service at St. James's Church in York, where their friend and' rector, Dr. Strachan, whose pupils most of them had been, preached them a stirring sermon, and sent them on their way with his blessing to drive back the invaders of the land.

A word of farewell was sent to the general by his friends Colonel Bruy&res and Colonel Baynes. The former wrote: "The difficult task placed in any other hands I should consider very discouraging, but I acknowledge that I look with a certain degree of confidence to your abilities and perseverance in surmounting every difficulty." The other says: "Adieu, my dear general, we cannot command success, but I am sure you will not fail to merit it."

General Brock and his little band left York on August 6th for Burlington Bay, and thence proceeded by land to Long Point, Lake Erie. On the way he passed the Mohawk village on the Grand River, and took the opportunity of personally finding out the disposition of the Indians there. About sixty promised to follow him. At Long Point the forty regulars and two hundred and sixty volunteers which composed the troop, embarked in all sorts of boats for the journey of about two hundred miles along the coast to Amherstburg. Up this same lake had journeyed fifty years before, Major Rogers with his rangers, bearing with them the English flag for the old French fort of Detroit There it waved until, byt the treaty of 1794, the fort was ceded to the Americans. The coast of Lake Erie is a dangerous one to navigate, with sand cliffs rising one hundred to two hundred feet sheer from the water, and there were very few creeks or inlets where safe landing could be made. At times a heavy surf breaks upon the shore. The weather was bad, rainy and stormy, but, inspired by their leader, the men bore their privations without a murmur. Once the boat in which were the general and some of his new recruits ran on a rock. Oars and poles were used in vain, when Brock with the daring expertness learnt long before on the Guernsey coast, jumped overboard, an example quickly followed by the others, and the boat was safely pushed into deep water.

On August 12th they reached Point aux Pins, and the general wrote there his orders to his little fleet. "It is Major-General Brock's intention, should the wind continue fair, to proceed during the night: officers commanding boats will therefore pay attention to the order of sailing as directed yesterday; the greatest care and attention will be required to prevent the boats from separating or falling behind. A great part of the banks of the lake where the boats will this day pass is much more dangerous and difficult of access than any we have passed; the boats will therefore not land except in the most extreme necessity, and then great care must be taken to choose the best place for beaching. The troops being now in the neighbourhood of the enemy, every precaution must be taken to guard against surprise. By order, J. Glegg."

After five days and nights of incessant exertion, the little squadron reached Amherstburg shortly before midnight on August 13th. There is a note in General Brock's handwriting which gives this tribute to the men who accompanied him: "In no instance have I seen troops who would have endured the fatigue of a long journey in boats during extremely bad weather, with greater cheerfulness and constancy; and it is but justice to this little band to add that their conduct throughout excited my admiration."

It was well for Canada that no message reached Brock to stop him on the way, for while he was pressing on, the over-cautious and vacillating commander-in-chief, possessed with the idea that the repeal of the orders-in-council would bring a cessation of hostilities, had sent Colonel Baynes to General Dearborn at Albany, with a proposition for an armistice.


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