In our own peaceful days we can scarcely realise the consternation and dismay which the news of the Declaration of War must have spread among the citizens of the growing little town, bringing a startling crisis into the quiet tenor of their way. For it directly menaced their town and property, so near the open frontier, with partial or total ruin, besides the risk of life itself to the husbands and fathers who must take up arms for the defence of home and country. But there was no hesitation on the part of the veteran Loyalists. Old muskets and matchlocks were taken down and furbished up ; militia men hastened to report at headquarters; there was marching and military music ; the parade-ground was in constant demand for drill ; the dockyard was busier than ever, and Kingston, nursed in the cradle of loyalty, was immersed in hurried preparation for a most probable attack. At that time it could scarcely have been hoped for thatnotwithstanding the obvious importance of its acquisition to the enemyit was to be spared the actual shock of battle and the ruinous devastation of surrounding fields and farms which befell less fortunate settlements in some of the fairest portions of the Province.
Anxiously, indeed, all awaited the first move of the enemy, hoping against hope that actual hostilities might even yet be averted, as might indeed have been the case if the revocation of the “Orders-in-Council” could have been more speedily communicated to America. On the 12th of July General Hull crossed the Detroit River to Sandwich, and thence issued his arrogant “Proclamation to the Inhabitants of Canada,” promising protection to person, property, rights, on condition of absolute submission to the invader, but threatening “all the horrors of war” in case of resistance. It also declared that no quarter should be given to any white man found fighting side by side with an Indian, instant death being the penalty of such alliance.
General Brock, a comparatively young and gallant officer, who was at that crisis acting both as Commander-in-Chief and as Administrator of the Government of Upper Canada, promptly met this proclamation with a spirited reply, dated Fort George (near Niagara), July 22, 1812, wherein, as in other utterances of the time, the shadow of the ” Corsican Tyrant” seems to dominate the situation. After referring to his “stipulated reward” for previous aid to the revolutionists in the restitution of Canada to France, he thus addresses the “People of Canada”;
“Are you prepared, inhabitants of Canada, to become willing subjects or slaves to the despot who rules the nations of continental Europe with a rod of iron? If not, arise in a body; exert your energies ; co-operate 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 so easily parted with the richest inheritance of this eartha participation in the name, character and freedom of Britons!”
On the twenty-seventh of the same month, Brock opened a special meeting of the Legislature of York, in which he concluded an eloquent address with the words: “We are engaged in an awful and eventful contest. By unity and despatch in our councils, and by 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, cannot be conquered.”
The hearty response of the Legislature to General Brock’s stirring appeal was conveyed to the country in a strong and forceful address to the people from the House of Assembly, signed by the Speaker. Allan McLean, of Kingston. already mentioned as its first lawyer, who. for the fourth time, had taken his seat as member for the county. It also contains underlying hints of the complicity of the “Tyrant of France,” in “directing the rulers of America.” The following brief quotation from it will illustrate the spirit of patriotic enthusiasm which inspired not only Kingston and the Midland District, but the whole country. including the people of French Canada. who made common cause with their Upper Canadian fellow subjects and fought. gallantly by their side.
“Already.” ran this noble appeal. “have we the joy to remark that the spirit of loyalty has burst forth in all its ancient splendour. The militia in all parts of the Province have volunteered their services with acclamation and displayed a degree of energy worthy of the British name. And, beholding as we do. the flame of patriotism bursting from one end of the Canada to the other, we cannot hut entertain the most pleasing anticipations. . . Our enemies have indeed said that, they mild subdue this country by proclamation ; but it is our part to prove to them that they are sadly mistaken; that the population is determinedly hostile to them, and that the few who might be otherwise inclined will find it their safety to be faithful.
“Remember, when you go forth to this contest, that you fight not for yourselves alone, but for the whole world ;you are defeating the most formidable conspiracy against the civilisation of man that was ever conceived, a conspiracy threatening greater barbarism and misery than followed the downfall of the Roman Empire ; that now you have an opportunity of proving your attachment to the parent State which contends for the relief of oppressed nations, the last pillar of true liberty, the last refuge of oppressed humanity !”
This patriotic address seems to have voiced the feelings of the people generally, worthy of the stock from which they sprang. Animated by such ideals and motives, called to arms for the maintenance of their rights and the defence of their homes, as well as for the honour of the Mother Land which had so generously provided for their early needs, the settlers seem to have rallied as one man to the task before them, and to have maintained it, without flinching, to a victorious issue.
A few days after the promulgation of this appeal to the people, it was followed up by the prompt and successful action of General Brock at Detroit. Meeting the enemy, some 2,500 strong, with a force of 330 regular troops, reinforced by 400 volunteers and six hundred Indian alliesafter a brief cannonade, without the loss of a single manhe brought the American General to surrender himself and his army, with Fort Detroit, and the whole territory of Michigan. The militia men were paroled and returned home, the regular soldiers being sent to Quebec as prisoners of war. A considerable number were sent by bateaux, but many had to march on foot all the way to Quebec, passing through Kingston on their way and experiencing the kindness and hospitality of the settlers they had come to attack, now generously extended to relieve their weary and dispirited plight. As regards the remainder of that year’s campaign, it is sufficient to say, briefly, that the second invasion of Canada, under General Van Rensselaer, in October, 1812, ended in the retreat of his army, after a bravely contested action on Queenston Heights, in which fell the brave General Brock as he was gallantly leading his men into action. This able General was as truly the man of the hour in Canada as was Wellington in the greater arena of European conflict, and his untimely death at such a crisis spread consternation and gloom over the whole country, which was menaced in November by a third invasion led by, General Smyth, ending in a fiasco, and closing the abortive campaign of 1812.
For a short time, at least, the people of Kingston and the surrounding country could breathe freely. while the busy dockyard resounded with the axes and hammers of the workmen engaged in refitting old vessels and building new ones, urgently needed in the circumstances. It had already produced, besides the vessels already mentioned, the Royal George, the Duke of Gloucester, and the Lady Prevost. The new flag-ship. Wolfe. and the Earl of Moira, were probably finished during the winter, as well as the schooners Speedy and The Duke of Kent. By the spring there was a tolerable flotilla ready to take action under Sir James Yeo, consisting of the flagship Wolfe, of guns, the Royal George, also of 24 guns, and the frigate Earl of Moira, of 18 guns, besides four armed schooners of ten to twelve guns each. It was probably about this time that the British Admiralty, in a fit of absence of mind, sent out the frame-work, blocks, etc., of the frigate Psyche, which, of course, could easily have been supplied on the spot, at far less expense, while a supply of water casks for distilling seawater was also sent for vessels plying on our great fresh water lakes !
Before the autumn had passed into winter, however, at the conclusion of the armistice, the Kingstonians experienced one of their few points of actual contact with the war. On the 20th of November the American fleet, numbering some fourteen sail, large and small, appeared off the “Upper Gap” (between Amherst Island and the main shore). Some militia men, it is said, fired a shot from a neighbouring wind-mill, which was returned without effect. The neighbouring settlers took the alarm, and hurried with such possessions as they could carry off, to a safe distance from shore. Meanwhile the vessels sailed along the coast, the field artillery keeping pace with them and exchanging shots with the vessels. A ball is said to have passed just over the back of the Governor’s horse, as he was held for his rider, who stood near. The artillery and troops, hastily mustered, followed the fleet to Kingston, where they were paraded in a sheltered spot opposite the gaol, behind the present custom-house. But the threatened attack passed harmlessly off, the American fleet, however, overhauling a fine schooner called the Simcoe, and pursuing her with a cannonade, in spite of which her gallant commander, James Richardson, brought her, somewhat disabled, into port, where she was temporarily sunk by a shot that struck her under the water-line.
While the dockyards at Navy Bay and Murray Point (“the Marine Railway”) were full of bustling activity, watched, of course, with deep interest by the citizens, the Kingston Gazette was “happy to announce,” in December, “that 120 ship-carpenters have arrived, and more are expected.” The dockyard at the American station of Sackett’s Harbour was equally busy, and a letter from thence stated that “every exertion is being made to get command of the lake.” There David Eckford, master ship-builder of New York, was superintending the building or refitting of the Pike and other future antagonists of the Canadian vessels, while three of his ship-builders were receiving an education which was to fit them for afterwards building Kingston’s first steamboat, the Frontenac. Meantime a large detachment from the British Royal Navy was sent out to Halifax, and thence overland to Kingston, to man the still incomplete fleet. The Kingston Gazette jubilantly chronicles, on March 12th, “the arrival of several distinguished naval officers, together with 400 or 500 seamen, as fine-looking fellows as were ever beheld!”
Notwithstanding the barrier interposed by winter to active hostilities, there was still room for apprehension of renewed attacks, as long as the frozen St. Lawrence should supply a convenient highway, and, as a matter of fact, several forays did occur, but were confined to the vicinity of the village of Brockville, fifty miles below Kingston, taking its name from the lamented Brock. A few houses were burned, fifty prisoners taken, and some plunder carried off, but the raid was soon after amply avenged by Lt.-Col. McDonnell’s “demonstration” on the American town of Ogdensburg, from whence he drove the American troops with serious loss.
And here, before proceeding to outline the stirring events of the succeeding summer, locally associated with Kingston, we are able to give a vivid picture of the town and its surroundings, as they appeared to a lively young officer of the Canadian Voltigeurs, a French-Canadian regiment noted for its dash and gallantry in this war, which, along with the 104th regiment of the line, formed at this time part of the Kingston garrison. And it must not be left unnoticed that the latter regiment had to travel on foot from New Brunswick, through the intervening wilderness, in the depth of winter, conveyances being so scarce that many men marched on snowshoes the whole distance. This Voltigeur officer, Captain Viger, has left us a graphic sketch of the place and the occurrences of the time which seems almost to take us back to the Kingston of a century ago.
After describing the road from Montreal, above Brockville, as passing through dense woods and over corduroy bridges, he suddenly brings before us the varied view of lake and river, with the little town on its gentle slope, from a harbour dotted with armed vessels, the timber of which, as he reminds us, had been but lately growing in the surrounding forest. The following passages from his diary are given as translated by his countryman, Dr. J. N. Neilson, of the Royal Artillery, in a paper read before the Kingston Historical Society and published in the Queen’s Quarterly, 1895:
” The town stands on the site of old Fort Frontenac, a few of whose remains are still to be seen. Indians gave this place the name of Cataracoui, which means `clay fort’ (more properly, perhaps, ‘clay bank rising out of the water’). The town is on a point of land. It is built with good taste ; the streets lie mostly at right angles, and are straight and wide. On its eastern limits are the barracks and King’s storehouses. The barracks, built partly of stone and partly of wood, are two storeys high ; they face a large square. A tower, now used as – a powder magazine, and a triangular structure near the artillery barracks, are the last vestiges of the French constructions. The remains of an earthwork built by Bradstreet, who captured the fort from the French in 1758, are still to be seen. Two large buildings near the centre of the town are used as a military hospital.
“Kingston is divided into two portions by a central square, which is used as a parade-ground for the troops. There is also a market-building, and opposite to it is the Anglican church. Both are of wood. To the right of the square are the court-house and café (hotel). Both are of stone, and two storeys high. The latter is an excellent house in every respect*; but the former is built in bad taste. On its ground floor are the kitchen and gaol ; the upper flat is divided into two apartments, the largest is used by the Court of Justice. The Sessions sit in October and April annually ; one of the apartments is used as a library, consisting of 300 or 400 volumes, the annual subscription to which is twenty shillings.
“A teacher of considerable reputation keeps a school which is very well patronised. With aid from the Seminaries and inhabitants of Lower Canada, a (R. C.) church of stone was erected. The interior is still unfinished. It is used, at present, as a public hospital. An old wooden house which was brought from one of the neighbouring islands is now ‘ The Commandant’s House.’ It is by no means handsome, but is prettily situated.
” The remains of a’ moat or ditch, also of a glacis constructed by the French, can still be seen in the public square. To the west is Point Mississauga, and still farther west is Point Murray. These two important points have been fortified; batteries have been erected there. The first is faced with heavy squared timber. In the rear of the town, and on the right flank, have been erected several redoubts, part of stone and part of wood They defend the approaches from the north. Other defences have also been made.
” The land behind Kingston slopes up gently. To the front is a bay” (the greater Cataraqui River) “running five miles to the north. The Government has there magnificent mills. This bay forms a fine harbour, where vessels can be secured most comfortably for wintering. The opposite shore to the east is cut into three points. The two farthest are quite high, but the middle one is, of all others, the loftiest spot in the neighbourhood. The farthest is Point Hamilton, and is thickly wooded. Off its shore is Cedar Island, which is rocky, and quite recently laid bare of trees. On this island is a telegraph station in view of Snake Island, far out in the lake, and other similar stations. The middle point is Point Henry, which has been cleared of wood, with the object of planting there a camp of observation. It is proposed to erect here extensive fortifications. The nearest point was formerly Point Haldimand, but this has been changed to point Frederick, or Navy Bay. It is a very level piece of ground, low-lying and well fortified, occupied by the naval buildings, yard, and Admiralty buildings. Between these two points is Navy Bay. Troops are always quartered here in separate and very comfortable quarters. A hulk is moored in the bay between the two points, which is used for hospital purposes. The security of Kingston on the water side depends on the co-operation of the batteries of Point Frederick and Mississauga Point ; and the cross-firing from these two points, if well directed, should make the entrance of the harbour an impossibility.
“All the supplies from the upper country pass through Kingston ; it is also the principal depot of military stores, provisions, etc. All these stores are usually brought here in bateaux. Large lake vessels, in consequence, seldom go farther down the river, although the largest of them could easily reach Prescott. But the channel is narrow, and the return could only be accomplished with the aid of a favourable wind. The first French vessels which navigated Lake Ontario were constructed at Cataraqui by M. de La Salle. Before 1784 the town was a mere trading post, where the King’s stores and the trading houses of a few individuals had been erected.
” The lands in the immediate neighbourhood are of indifferent quality ; they are, however, of far better quality two or three miles away, and are being rapidly settled. The climate is good. La Rochefoucault says that its calcareous stone-beds are of the clayey type, fine-veined and dark grey in colour. The boulders, as elsewhere on the shores of Lake Ontario, are of various sortsschists and quartz ; there are, also, layers of granite. Large boulders, dark in colour, containing fossil remains, are often met with.
“Three miles behind the town flows a creek which has retained the name Petite Cataraqui. It is fairly wide, sluggish and very muddy. It is crossed by the York road; at the end of the bridge a small entrenchment, with embrasures for cannon, has been erected.”
We have further, from the same pen, an interesting account of the first active military operations undertaken in the close vicinity of Kingston, which, though they did not even result in a skirmish, well illustrate the prevailing state of uneasiness. It must first be premised, however, that the American navy at Sackett’s Harbour, under Commodore Chauncey, had just sailed across the lake to York with a body of 2,000 men, which forced General Sheaffe’s force, of only half the number, to retreat, and held York for a few days, burning a vessel on the stocks and capturing the 10-gun brig Gloucester, but sustaining the loss of their own General Pike. This, as will be seen, was already known in Kingston at the time of the following incident, thus recounted by Captain Viger :
“About the 29th of April I was officer on duty, and that night, about midnight, the alarm was sounded. I was then asleep in the guard-house. The news of the fall of York had just been sounded, and it was believed that Brother Jonathan was marching down towards Kingston. This news of the first success of the Americans during the war, made a deep impression on all, and many were the rumours that flew about. York, in itself, was not of supreme moment, but with it was lost an armed vessel and another about to be launched, with arms and supplies of all sorts for the troops farther to the front and in the west. A sudden call to arms is liable to cause a certain excitement and confusion, which led, on this occasion, to the death of one of our Voltigeurs, the first which has occurred since we have come here. At the first call, the men seized their muskets, and one of them, by mistake, picked up one which was not his own. It happened to be loaded with ball. He was tightening on the flint when it suddenly went off, and the charge lodged itself in the head of a young man named La Craubon, who died a few hours after.
” The Tete-de-Pont.On the night of the 1st of May, another alarm. It had certainly not taken more than three minutes to dress and run to the barracks. Our Voltigeurs had, however, already formed rank in the square. Colonel Halkett, the Commandant of Kingston (commanding the 104th regiment), arrived a few moments afterwards. He ordered us to proceed to the centre bridge (built over Cataraqui Creek at the Bath Road), with fifty Voltigeurs and a subaltern and ten men of the 10th. This time I verily expected that an engagement was at hand. It had been rumoured through the day that the enemy’s fleet had been seen making for Kingston; and it was not unnatural to suppose that, with the object of cutting off the retreat of the debris of General Sheaffe’s small army, the Americans might land troops in the neighbourhood of Kingston. We hastened to our assigned positions ; the roads were abominable, and the night was dark as pitch.
“The small river or creek still known by the name of Cataracoui is bridged over at three different points within one mile of each other. While I was proceeding to the centre bridge, two other officers were being sent to the two others, with detachments of soldiers. The road which the defeated army was following (and by which Sir Roger Sheaffe eventually reached Kingston) proved to be mine.
“The Tete-de-Pont, on the town side, was easily susceptible of defence. It consisted of one entrenchment lined with timbers and fascines pierced with two embrasures for cannon. The river is pretty wide at this point ; its bed is very muddy and bordered with thick shrubbery.
“My first care was to render the bridge impassable. I had been authorized to destroy it with axes ; I contented myself with loosening the planks. In the stillness of the night the distant sound of chopping informed us that two other bridges were being destroyed. I deferred the destruction of mine for the following reasons : First, to permit General Sheaffe’s retreat, should he come my way that night ; second, to prevent the enemy from collecting the floating debris, with which he might make rafts and effect a crossing.
” The planks of the bridge were, therefore, loosened, and left in Ruch a way that they could at a moment’s notice be removed. I furthermore directed that at the first intimation of the approach of the enemy these planks were to be piled in such a manner as to offer a protection to sharpshooters, and in this way utilise them as a first line of defence. With the number of men I had at my disposal this task could have been performed in about two minutes, for, I must add that, within a few hours, my party was reinforced by the arrival of forty militia men and twenty Indians under the Chevalier de Lorimier. I now placed six sentries in pairs, each five hundred paces in advance of the other, while a dragoon was posted as vidette, still further in advance of these. I also sent out a few Indians as scouts. During my absence on this duty, Lieutenant Le Conteur had attended to my instructions with regard to the bridge, twenty feet of which could be removed in the winking of an eye.’ On my return to my post, I placed my men in the position they should occupy in the moment of need. I then caused a few fires to be lighted, for we were drenched with rain. My command now consisted of one captain, two subalterns, ten soldiers of the 10th, forty militia men, thirty Voltigeurs, and twenty Indians. Total, 104 braves. We hadn’t the two cannon ; but come who dares !”
“I must say in praise of my small army, that the best of spirit, activity, vigilance and discipline was displayed under very trying circumstances on this nightsufficient evidence of what would have been expected of them if opportunity had offered ; in other words, if the expected had happened. It had, however, been otherwise ordained in the great Book of Fate, for neither dragoon, patrol nor sentry, nor scout saw the shadow of an enemy ! All my cleverness for naught ! My laurels to the wind ! Daylight found us still on the qui vine, excepting friend Tasche, who was snoring deeply, his cheek pillowed on the rounded form of a fat Iroquois. Hush ! let him sleep ! Shivering with cold rather than excitementmore inclined to sleep than to laughwe returned to the town.”
At that time Captain Viger seems to have been occupying the barracks, which have been mentioned as built on the site of old Fort Frontenac, still retaining the name of “Tete-de-Pont.” But shortly after, his company was sent to camp at Point Henry, now crowned by the venerable fortress known as “Fort Henry.” The Voltigeur thus describes its condition at that period:
“After having spent twenty-one days in the barracks at Kingston, ten days in quarters prepared by us, but not for us, at M. Smith’s, and four days in a camp made by us, but once more not for us, on the heights of Kingston, we were ordered by General Prevost, on the 17th of May, to cross over to Point Henry, where we now occupy tents which we again once more put up in a wilderness of stumps, fallen trees, boulders and rocks of all sizes and shapes, sharing our blankets with reptiles of various species, carrying out the precepts of the most self-sacrificing charity towards ten million insects and crawling abominations !”
After further details of the same kind, he goes on to record an improved state of affairs :
“When we first came to Fort Henry, on the 17th of May, it was covered with stumps, and the ground was full of holes and bumps. The trees had been cut down, but quite recently. With much labour our Voltigeurs succeeded in levelling their camp-ground, the camp consisting of two rows of marquees, facing one broad, central avenue, at the head of which are our Major’s quarters, and at the foot a small entrenchment. On a fine day our encampment presents quite a pretty sight. The Point is high, and commands the view over the surrounding country. We can here perceive the immense expanse of Lake Ontario ; on the distant horizon a few wooded islands ; to the right the town and its pretty background; the harbour and its sailing craft. Point Frederick, its fortifications and shipyards, are mapped before us. To the left is Wolfe Island, with its extensive forests, dotted here and there with new settlements. Away from the town and the control of the “Big-heads,” under the immediate command of an officer who is popular, we can hope to live here in peace, quietness and happiness!”
The Lieutenant’s description of the view from the hill is not quite complete. A little higher up the slope he might have added a charming glimpse of the winding St. Lawrence, Hamilton Cove, flanked by its wooded headland, and picturesque Cedar Island, set like an emerald in the blue water immediately belowa peaceful picture which the shock of actual warfare has never rudely disturbed.
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