The War Here
From June 1812 to February 1815 British land and naval forces supported by the Canadian militia and First Nations allies, successfully defended the Canadas during the War of 1812.
In the years leading up to the conflict, a wave of American immigrants had come to settle in the region. Ties across the river were strengthened by marriage and commerce and in many ways the towns on opposite sides of the river and border were more closely connected than with those further inland, given the poor quality of roads.
The declaration of war was not widely welcomed by the people on the St. Lawrence. The substantially larger population of the Canadian shore attracted American commerce and those living along the frontier enjoyed cordial relations until late in 1812, when American officials attempted to terminate all communication.
The war brought with it many privations. With men enlisted, women along the St. Lawrence were left to tend farms and manage on decreased means. Prices for goods increased, and demands to sustain forces in the field made resources, including firewood, scarce.
In Kingston, Jane Stuart wrote to her brother remarking that with their single fire, “A light warm shawl which I throw over the bed is also covered with frost in the morning.”
Throughout the war, the people along the St. Lawrence feared reciprocal raids, where men were taken prisoner and houses looted.
During 1812 and early 1813, American forces waged a campaign of ‘predatory warfare’ against Canadian communities. The aim of these raids was to seize stores and military supplies, such as powder and muskets, and to strike terror through the local populace, while the attacks on shipping attempted to disrupt the flow of supplies into Upper Canada. American forces raided depots at Gananoque and Brockville, and British and Canadian forces retaliated by sending parties across the river to intercept the attackers and retrieve supplies.
The predatory warfare ended in February 1813, when a British contingent marched across the frozen river to Ogdensburg, NY, forcing the American regular troops in the garrison to withdraw from the region. The raids eventually gave way to conventional land and naval battles and skirmishes.
During the war, the forces serving along the Upper St. Lawrence River grew from a meagre 100 British troops to over 6,000 regulars supported by militia and a flotilla of gunboats. Several fortifications, including Fort Wellington at Prescott along with batteries, blockhouses and other works protected the vital points along the Canadian shore. Another 4,000 men worked the over 800 bateaux that moved men and supplies between Montreal and Kingston.
Originally the base for the Provincial Marine, Kingston became home for the Lake Ontario squadron of the Royal Navy in May 1813. In early 1814, this base became a Royal Navy dockyard to support the expanding naval force on the lake, which by the fall was the most powerful ever to serve on the Great Lakes.
British, Canadian and First Nation forces raided the American naval base at Sackets Harbor, NY in May 1813, aiming to destroy naval warehouses and a ship being built there. The combined effect of this attack with the raid on the American camp at Stoney Creek, resulted in the American naval commander surrendering control of Lake Ontario – a decisive point in the war.
In the fall of 1813, the Americans attempted to take Montreal. As one army marched overland towards Lower Canada, a larger 7,000-man army moved down the river in a flotilla of boats towards their objective. British land and naval forces harassed the Americans continually. A force of 30 Mississauga warriors under Lieutenant Charles Anderson of the Indian Department, joined the forces pursing the Americans. The Americans then landed near Prescott.
A delaying engagement at Hoople’s Creek on 10 November, allowed the defenders to evacuate supplies, desperately needed by the Americans, from Cornwall.
The Battle of Crysler’s Farm, fought on muddy ploughed fields beside the St. Lawrence River on November 11, 1813, was a crucial moment in the history of Upper Canada and marked the end of the most serious attempt at that time to invade Canada.
The victories at Crysler’s Farm and elsewhere preserved the Canadas, laying the foundation for Confederation in 1867.