By the beginning of the nineteenth century Kingston had attained the importance, if not the size, of a small town ; and as it was the only one within an area of hundreds of miles, it was already the commercial centre of the youthful Province. The original log cabins, one or two of which existed until very recently, had gradually been replaced by somewhat more ambitious dwellings of wood or stone, of which latter there was abundance to be had for the quarrying; and a few of these substantial, steep-roofed old houses in the older portion of the city still bear witness to their durability. It is much to be regretted that in later years Kingston builders have so largely substituted brick for the native stone, that her time-honoured appellation of “the Limestone City” has lost much of its fitness. Some of the houses of that period were, as we have seen, considered by Dr. Stuart “quite elegant,” but the embryo streets were still in a very primitive condition, often “nearly ankle-deep in mud.”
Kingston had now, as we have seen, a regularly constituted market, and its trade had so much increased that in the year 1801 we find, from a memorandum sent by Mr. Cartwright to Governor Hunter, that the export of fine flour alone from Kingston and vicinity amounted to 8,084 barrels, 2,450 of which were shipped by himself. There were also exports of middlings, wheat, peas, butter, cheese, lard, potash, and oak staves, the total value of shipments by the merchants of Kingston, including consignments from Niagara and Detroit, amounting to £27,867, Province currency, (equal to $111,468.00). Pork, also, was a considerable article of export.
The shops or “stores” had become numerous on Store Street, as Princess Street was then called, deriving its name, however, from the Government storehouse at its lower end. The surrounding settlers were no longer compelled to manufacture all their clothing and blankets, as best they could, from their own wool and flax, growing their own hemp, making even their shoes, with much ingenuity, out of such materials as were available. And as the “stores” of Kingston began to present some variety of attractions, they were frequently visited for the purchase of the Sunday apparel, or the bride’s calico wedding gown, or the groceries for the festive occasions of “logging” or “raising bees.” As yet there was little cash in circulation, but the farmers could pay in farm produce, or promises to supply the same ; and when, through the failure of crops in bad seasons, such promises could not be redeemed, the stockand sometimes the farm itselfhad to be sacrificed to meet the claims of the creditors, and thus went to enrich the town. The names of the thriving “respective merchants of Kingston,” given in the memorandum of Mr. Cartwright, are those of R. Cartwright, J. Cumming, Peter Smith, T. Markland, L. Herkimer, John Kirby & Co., J. Forsyth, J. Robins, and D. McDonell.
In 1800 Kingston was made a port of entry for American goods, the trade between the two countries having increased so much as to make custom houses necessary. It was also frequently visited for a more interesting purpose, being one of the five places early appointed for the issue of marriage licenses, andas the residence of Dr. Stuartwas a convenient place, also, for the performance of the marriage ceremony. In 1802 Samuel Hitchcock was authorised by statute to run a ferry between Kingston and Grandnow WolfeIsland, at a fee of five shillings for each passenger. A large oaken scow, worked by five men, and running on a cable, had, since 1789, done ferry duty between Kingston and Point Frederick, where most of the officials resided, and where many workmen were employed at the Government dockyard. Civilian passengers were not carried on this scow, but were served by two rowboats, paying two-pence each way. In 1808 Mr. Cartwright, then agent for the North-west Company, built two trading vessels at Mississauga Pointthe (second) Governor Simcoe for the company, and the sloop Elisabeth for himself. About the same time we find him formulating suggestions for the regulation of the incorporated town of the future : “First, that the corporation should consist of a certain number of persons, suppose four, to be increased in proportion to the future population of the town, to be appointed by the Governor or elected by the inhabitants, or partly the one and partly the other, for the purpose of regulating the police of the town, under the following heads: 1st, Regulations for preventing accidents by fire. 2nd, The times and places of holding the public markets. 3rd, For establishing the price and weight of bread. 4th, Regulations for improving streets and keeping them clean. 5th, Fares of carters within the limits.”
Further we find a wise proposition for reserving a certain part of the town lots and vacant ground beyond the town limits, in order to establish the means to supply a fund for civic improvement, and also a suggestion that the persons composing the said corporation should, at certain intervals, constitute a court for the trial of minor causes, not exceeding ten pounds in value.
But while the little town was thus materially progressing, and its citizens were planning further improvement, a war-cloud was rising from the southward, charged with long years of harassing anxiety for Canada, even where, as in Kingston and its vicinity, these fears were not realised in the havoc of actual conflict. But to the Loyalist settlers of thirty years before, who, in the new homes they had literally hewn out of the wilderness, had almost forgotten the pleasant homesteads they had left, this threatening of renewed warfare on their borders must have seemed alarming indeed. The political sky had been lowering for some time, when, in 1808, we find Mr. Cartwright, always to the front, giving warning to the commanding officer, Major Mackenzie, that military preparations were on foot in the vicinity of Oswego and Ogdensburg, and that it had been announced that the forces there would be increased by 2,000 men before spring.
This war-cloud, looming up on the horizon of the young Province, took its rise from complications so remote from its own peaceful life as to illustrate the counsel of the fabled frog to her children in view of the oxen fighting in the distance. There had been for some years no little friction between Britain and the United States, fanning the latent sparks of hostility left between England and her revolted colonies at the conclusion of the War of Independence. The restrictive trade policy into which Great Britain was forced by the exigencies of her war with France, during her “splendid isolation” as champion of the liberties of Europe, bore hardly on the merchant marine of the United States, which, during Britain’s preoccupation with war, had secured a large share of the carrying trade of the world. And no less irritating to the sensitive young nation was the right claimed by Britain to search American vessels for seamen who had deserted her navy or had taken foreign service in order to avoid the dreaded “impressment,” odious in itself, yet considered essential to Britain’s success in her life-and-death struggle with Napoleon Bonaparte.
To such inflammable material the “disturber of Europe” indirectly applied the torch by his Berlin decrees, declaring the British islands and colonies in a state of blockade. As a natural result, the British Government, which had just concluded a modus vivendi treaty with the United States, promptly retaliated with her celebrated “Orders-in-Council,” November 11th, 1807, declaring all ports from which the British flag was thus excluded subject to the same restrictions as if the same were actually blockaded by His Majesty’s naval forces. A provision that a neutral might, by entering a British port and there landing and re-shipping her cargo, proceed in safety to her destination, seemed, to the American mind, a revival of what had been called the “entre-pot system,” and indeed, was formulated by the British Ministry in the phrase, “No trade except through Great Britain!”
This state of things pressed heavily, of course, on the large carrying trade of the United States. On every sea, American merchantmen, bound to or from French or British ports, were encountered and captured by cruisers of the hostile nation; but as the British cruisers were by far the more numerous, they did by far the greater damage, and the circumstance of Napoleon being the aggressor was forgotten in the rising irritation against Great Britain, aggravated by another ;source of collision.
In concluding the Monroe-Pinckney Treaty in 1806, the British Government had expressly refused “the relinquishment of the right of impressment, as a measure which the Government could not adopt without taking upon itself a responsibility that no ministry would willingly meet,” as it could not encounter the strong feeling of the country with any hope of the support of Parliament. Unfortunately, too, British and American views differed as to the status of subject or citizen, the British position being that a British-born subject had no power nor right to change his allegiance, while the American view held all to be American citizens who had sworn allegiance to the republic’s flag. From this point of view, the U. S. Minister of State affirmed, in a letter to the British Minister, that he possessed a list of several thousand seamen impressed into the British service, for whose release applications had been repeatedly made. Captain Mahan, in his history of the war, tells us that the British naval forces, besides capturing 917 American ships, had impressed from American vessels 6,257 seamen, most of whom were claimed as American citizens. “Whether,” says Captain Mahan, “the greater part of these were of British allegiance, as was widely asserted in the United States, as well as in Great Britain, was immaterial. It was beyond doubt that numerous American citizens were thus seized and held in involuntary servitude for indefinite periods. The United States could not possibly recede without dishonour. It may be said that Great Britain could have desisted. She could not. Imminence of national peril, sense of actual national injury, and the tradition of assumed legal right, constituted a moral compulsion, a madness of the people, before which all Governments inevitably bend.”
In June, 1807, the existing acrimonious feeling was greatly intensified by an unhappy incident which occurred through the rashness of a British Admiral. By command of Vice-Admiral Berkeley of the North American Station, Captain Humphries, in command of the Leopard, overhauled the American frigate Chesapeake and demanded the surrender of British deserters. This demand, being refused by the Chesapeake, was enforced by a broadside which killed or wounded twenty-one of her crew, and compelled her to strike her colours and surrender four men claimed as deserters by the British navy, one of whom was afterwards executed at Halifax for piracy. This rash assertion, by force, of the right of search, was at once disavowed by the British Government, which offered reparation, and recalled both Admiral and Captain, conceding that the right of search, when applied to vessels of war, extended only to a requisition, and could not be carried out by force. The reparation, however, came rather late, and, again to quote Captain Mahan, “the subject remained an open sore, the more dangerous because, after this event, the United States could not with dignity make a further attempt to negotiate concerning impressment.”
Meantime the commercial situation was growing more acute. The first retaliatory measure of the United States, the Non-Importation Act of 1806, was succeeded by the great embargo of 1808, which lasted for fourteen months, absolutely closing all American ports to either export or import, exercising a most injurious effect on the trade and commerce of both countries, and bearing with special hardship on New England. There war with Britain and French connection were equally deprecated, and the feeling excited by the embargo inspired one of the earliest poetic efforts of James Russell Lowell, then a boy of thirteen. The situation was indeed deplorable. On one side of the sea the artisan population of Great Britain were suffering for lack of the corn and cotton of which their American brethren possessed a superabundance, while on the other, American planters were almost ruined and American industry crippled by the refusal to admit British manufactures and merchandise, or to permit the exportation of the cotton which was glutting the home market.
This severe and unpopular embargo was, in the following year, exchanged for an act of non-intercourse with France and England alone, accompanied by an offer, that if either power would repeal its edicts, commerce with the other would be suspended. Seeing an opportunity to checkmate Great Britain, Napoleon, with a crafty deception that Great Britain easily penetrated, led the U. S. Government to believe that he had recalled his obnoxious decree, and in February, 1811, the United States declared all intercourse with the British dominions at an end. President Madison had now succeeded the more pacific Jefferson, and showed, by his words and actions, a distinct design to distinguish his Presidency by the conquest of Canada. Not only he, but other leading Americans, believed that while Great Britain’s resources were taxed to the utmost in her almost single-handed conflict with Bonaparte, it would not be difficult to annex Canada, so lately wrested from France, while it was also thought that, owing to certain causes of disaffection existing, it would be easy to undermine the loyalty of the colonists. Active preparations for war were begun, and a large body of regular and volunteer troops was organised. The weakness of the navy could not, however, be speedily remedied, and it was to a great extent this naval inferiority which, during the early days of the war, saved Canada from a disastrous severance of her maritime connection with Britain.
As we have seen, there had been premonitions of the imminent rupture. An attack, in 1808, on a convoy of seven merchant boats, quietly passing along the Niagara River, was formally represented at Washington, the complainants being simply referred for justice to the ordinary course of the law. In May, 1811, while the United States were still nominally at peace with the world, the American gun frigate President gratuitously provoked an encounter with a small British sloop of eighteen guns, called the Little Belt, disabling the vessel and killing or wounding thirty-two of her seamen. The American captain was tried by court-martial and acquitted, amid national exultation, nevertheless the official disavowal of hostile instructions was forbearingly accepted by the British Government. Another naval skirmish soon followed, and although the obnoxious “Orders-in-Council” were repealed on the twenty-third of June, 1812, the measure, delayed by an unfortunate governmental crisis at home, came too late for the preservation of peace, for, on the eighteenth of June, 1812, despite the protests of Randolph, of Virginia, and many of the best men of New England, war was declared against Great Britain by the American Congress.
In Canada it was believed, as expressed by General Brock in his address to the people, that “the restitution of Canada to the people of France was the stipulated reward for the aid offered to the revolted colonies, now the United States,” while Captain Mahan has declared that, from a strategic point of view, the invasion of Canada was the natural and necessary course for the republic in waging war against Great Britain. But there was a large and influential class of citizens of the republic who did not believe in the war as either necessary or justifiable. The tone of a convention of delegates held at Albany in September, 1812, in protesting against the attempt to “ruin the only nation still upholding human freedom against that incarnation of despotism, Napoleon Bonaparte,” showed how the sound heart of the young nation revolted against what is now generally admitted to have been a gigantic mistake. The war brought only loss and misery to both countries, arresting natural development on both sides of the line. But young America, flushed with success and over-confidence in her own powers, was carried away with the idea that “we can take Canada without soldiers ; we have only to lead officers into the Province, and the people, disaffected towards their own Government, will rally round our standard!”
It might well be that there were, scattered through the Province, some of the later emigrants from the United States who had not come thither from any love of Great Britain, and who still cherished republican sympathies. But the sturdy Loyalists of Upper Canada, with its scanty population of some 70,000, and its people generally, were far from contemplating any such surrender. Few and far between were the small garrisons of British troops in Canada, for the resources of the Empire were overtaxed by the great duel between Wellington and Bonaparte. Almost undefended, by land or water, was the long frontier of 17,000 miles which lay open to attack. But among the settlers there seemed but one impulsethe defence of their homes and families, and the support of their country’s arms. The outlook was by no means reassuring: To oppose three numerically strong armies which speedily menaced Canada from the several points of Detroit, Lewiston and Lake Champlain, there were about 4,450 regular troops of all arms, of which only about 1,150 were in Upper Canada. On the volunteer militia must, for the present, rest the main burden of the defence, and the readiness with which these rose to the emergency and the gallantry with which they fought side by side with the regular troops shine nobly forth in all the records of the long and harassing war.
The tidings of the Declaration of War reached Kingston at an early date, conveyed in a private letter received from the United States by Mr. Forsyth, who at once communicated the startling news to Colonel Benson, in command of the garrison. An hour and a half afterwards the drum beat to arms, and couriers were soon on their way, in all haste, to call out the militia along the shores of the Bay of Quinte and in the adjoining county of Northumberland.
Under the belief that Kingston was likely to become one of the first points of attack, the flank companies were ordered thither at once, as was also the militia of Hastings. But in a few weeks they were ordered home, and it soon became clear that Kingston would not, at least, suffer immediate attack.
The most important garrison town in Upper Canada was indeed a vantage-point which the invaders would especially desire to secure, but for the present it was too well defended to be approached hastily, and indeed in the long run it escaped any serious attack. It was one of the four strategic points, after Quebec, which it was of the first importance for the British to hold, the others being Montreal, Detroit and Mackinac. The capture of Quebec would have cut Canada off from the sea-power of Great Britain, while on the possession of Kingston and Detroit depended the command of the lakes, not only for military movements, but also for transport, which the state of the existing roads made almost impossible by land. For the roads from Kingston to York were particularly wretched; so that the Commander-in-Chief complained at one crisis, when things were looking dark, that “the command of the lakes enabled the enemy to accomplish in two days what it took the troops from Kingston sixteen or twenty days of severe marching to do.” The importance of Kingston as a strategic point in determining the final issue of the war will be more fully shown in the following chapters.
The Story Of Old Kingston:The Founding Of Fort FrontenacFort Frontenac Under The French RegimeThe Fall Of Fort FrontenacThe Coming Of The LoyalstsSettlement And Early DaysA Naval And Military Centre And First Seat Of Provincial GovernmentThe Cloud Of WarTo ArmsNaval Expeditions From KingstonAfter The WarRead More Articles About: The Story Of Old Kingston