Ontario County History of the War of 1812

from the "History of Ontario County, NY"

published 1878, pg. 43 - 45



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Threatened with hostilities and held in contempt by England, the entire border swarming with Indians, and Canadian influences constantly evidencing aggressive feeling, the State of New York enrolled among her militia every able-bodied male inhabitant between the age of eighteen and forty-five, barely excepting those religiously opposed to war.  The adjutant-general gives, in his report for 1809, a total enrollment of the various branches of service of one hundred and two thousand and sixty-eight men.   In 1811, military stores had been deposited among other places at Onondaga, Canandaigua and Batavia.  Cannon of various caliber were stored at these magazines.  Heavy ordnance, designed for the Niagara frontier, was brought from Albany by water to West Cayuga, now Bridgeport, and thence transported on heavy sleds built for the purpose to their destination. 

The frontier region was ill-fitted for war.  The militia system was imperfect.  Revolutionary soldiers were exempt.  Territory was districted according to population.  Large tracts were drawn upon to form companies.  Privates supplied their own arms and officers their own uniforms and outfit.  Four trainings were held each year.  County trainings were held respectively in June and September.  Notice of musters was given, and substitutes allowed; fines were imposed for non-attendance.  These musters consisted of little else than an enrollment, a roll call, an inspection and a review, with little discipline and less benefit.  The remembrances are mainly of a pleasing character, where there is also a recollection of pugilistic encounters and athletic sports.  A resort to the adjacent log tavern was always in order, and the drill was never protracted, yet when called to the field, these backwoods militia won reputation as brave and efficient soldiers.  War was declared against Great Britain, June 18, 1812.  Expresses traveled through the country, spreading the tidings upon the main roads, whence they were borne to the interior settlements.  The settler ceased to labor and awaited the result.  Panics in some sections caused abandonment of homes, but they were again occupied.  The governor ordered a draft of militia, but volunteers mainly composed the force. 

On May 21, 1812, sic hundred men, besides the Niagara garrison, composed the American forces on the frontier; by July 4, eight days after the declaration of war had been received, the force had been augmented to nearly three thousand.  William WADSWORTH was soon placed in command.  On July 28, General Amos HALL was his successor, and August 11, VAN RENSSELAER assumed command, with headquarters at Lewiston.  The express rider had gone on, scattering his handbills, blowing his tin horn and rousing the people along the way.  A town meeting was immediately announced to be held at Canandaigua on June 24.  The citizens of the town turned out in large numbers, and the meeting was organized by the selection of Major William SHEPARD as chairman, and John C. SPENCER, secretary.  A committee of correspondence was appointed, consisting of the following named gentlemen: Nathaniel  W. HOWELL, Thaddeus CHAPIN, Zachariah SEYMOUR, Oliver L. PHELPS, J.C. SPENCER, Nathaniel GORHAM, Moses ATWATER, James SMEDLEY and Hugh JAMESON.  A resolution was passed recommending the formation of a citizens' corps, to be composed of citizens exempt from military duty, for the defense of the village.  A war meeting was also held in East Bloomfield, July 4, at which Captain Timothy BUELL presided, and Daniel BRONSON officiated as secretary.  A company was organized for the defense of families and homes, called the "East Bloomfield Alarm Company".  They resolved to arm themselves, and, when called upon, to assemble and march to the relief of any place in Ontario County, and for this purpose "pledged their sacred honor."  Farmington held a war meeting at the tavern of Ebenezer PRATT.  Sylvester DAVIS was chairman, and Nathan BARLOW, secretary.  A corps was here formed for local protection and fifty-three names at once enrolled. 

The first excitement subsided, and months went by, during which the population continued their accustomed avocations.  Canandaigua became a military station; barracks were erected opposite "Bates tavern"; martial music filled the air; troops arrived, went into quarters, and again departed; baggage trains rattled through, and a market was opened for supplies. 

The settlers feared the hostility of the Seneca Indians.  Judge Erastus GRANGER, government agent, called a council of the Senecas and obtained pledges of neutrality.  The tribe became fast friends to the Americans, and a number of their warriors took part n the ensuing battles of the war. 

A peace meeting was held at Taylor's Hotel, in the village of Canandaigua, on September 10, 1812, at which, every town in the county was represented by delegates from the friends of peace. 

On Jun 4, 1813, Captain John ROCHESTER was engaged in recruiting at the barracks, offering $8 per month, a bounty of $16 and clothing for one year.  Meanwhile, disgrace and disaster had fallen upon our arms.  A brief general record is all that our space will permit in this connection.  The regulars were withdrawn from the frontier, and General MC CLURE, of the State militia, was left in command.  He burned Newark, a Canadian village, evacuated Fort George, and halted at Fort Niagara.  He soon took up his quarters at Buffalo.  Colonel MURRAY, with a force of five hundred British and Indians, landed at Five Mile Meadows before day.   Indians, scouting in advance, reached Lewiston at sunrise.  Here, Major BENNETT had a small force, in which were two sons of Horatio JONES.  The Indians swarmed out of the woods, and a British detachment soon followed. BENNETT fell back with a loss of half a dozen men.  The enemy began to burn the houses, plunder them of valuables, and shoot down citizens.  Among the slain in the attack on Lewiston were Dr. ALFORD, Miles GILLETT and brother, Thomas MARSH, William GARDNER, TIFFANY and FINCH.  The ridge road on this 19th of December presented a woeful scene.  The people, men, women, and children formed a column of retreat to the East.  The Tuscarora Indians mingled in the flight.  All in front was alarm.  Onward the mass moved, while to the rear were deserted homes and a few brave white and Indians, who helped to check pursuit.  At Howell's creek, the first four-corners west, was a small arsenal, where were stored several barrels of powder, a supply of fixed ammunition, and several hundred stand of arms.  Here a halt was made, and the braver, demonstrating heavily, turned back the Indians who had been in pursuit.  The retreat of the column was made to Forsyh's, here a portion took the Lewiston road, and others come along the ridge road into what is now known as Orleans, Monroe, Wayne and the north part of Ontario counties.  Such a retreat must be memorable to such as took a part therein.  A small party of Tuscarora Indians, firing from ambush near their village, checked pursuit, and aided the escape of the Lewiston settlers.  A British scouting party sailed from Fort Niagara, with orders to burn every house and destroy the mills of Judge VAN HORN, where was some flower intended for army use.  Houses were burnt, but he furniture was first removed; the mill was fired, but a part of the flour was rolled out for the use of destitute families.  The party returned to the fort.  The news of the raid spread consternation.  An advance on Buffalo, or a movement upon Batavia, was expected.  General HALL, of Bloomfield, called about him quite a force from General WADSWORTH's brigade, in Ontario; volunteers came in form Genesee county, and headquarters were for the time, at Batavia.  Here the command was organized, armed, and on December 25, marched into Buffalo.  On the next day, HALL arrived at Buffalo, and found dismay, confusion and expectancy.  Imperfect organization was effected.  The number of men present was about two thousand; a few hundred more arrived before the 30th

About midnight of December 29, it was reported that a mounted patrol, under command of Lieutenant BROUGHTON, had been attacked by a British force that, crossing near the head of Grand Island, had taken a battery which stood upon the site of the lower village of Black Rock.  The men were called to arms, Colonels WARREN and CHURCHILL at Black Rock were ordered by General HALL to drive the British to their boats, and as a result the attacking party was dispersed.  The Buffalo force was then ordered toward Black Rock.  A second attack upon the British in the battery resulted in failure and dispersal. 

The following is an extract from an official account by General HALL to Governor TOMPKINS: " As day dawned, I discovered, a detachment  of the enemy's boats crossing to our shore, and bending their course towards the rear of General PORTER's house.  I immediately ordered Colonel BLAKESLEE to attack the enemy's force at the water's edge.  I became satisfied as to the disposition and object of the enemy.  Their left wing, composed of about one thousand regulars, militia and Indians, had been landed below the creek, under the "cover of the night".  With their center, consisting of four hundred Royal Scots, commanded by Colonel GORDON, the battle was commenced.  The right, which was purposely weak, was landed near the main battery, merely to divert our force; the whole under the immediate command of Lieutenant Colonel DRUMMOND -, and led on by Major-General RIALL.   They were attacked by four field pieces in the battery at the water's edge; at the same time the battery from the other side of the river opened a heavy fire upon us of shells, hot shot, and ball.  The whole force now opposed to the enemy was, at most, not over six hundred men, the remainder having fled in spite of the exertions of their officers.  These few but brave men disputed every inch of ground with the steady coolness of veterans, at the expense of many valuable lives.  The defection of the militia, by reason of the ground on which they must act, left the forces engaged exposed to the enemy's fire in front and flank.  After standing their ground for half an hour, opposed by an overwhelming force, and nearly surrounded, a retreat became necessary to their safety, and was accordingly ordered. I then made every effort to rally the troops, with a view to attack their columns as they entered the village of Buffalo, but all in vain.  Deserted by my principal force, I fell back that night to Eleven Mile creek, and was forced to leave the flourishing village of Black Rock and Buffalo a prey to the enemy, which they have pillaged and laid in ashes.  They have gained but little plunder from the stores; the chief loss has fallen upon individuals." 

This was the result of a reliance upon drafted militia, which have ever caused disaster, while the volunteer militia have invariably done good service and held honorable competition upon the battle-field with regular troops.  By sunrise, tidings had reached Buffalo of the failure of the defense.  Squads of flying militia confirmed the report, and wild terror and disorder ensued.  Teams of horses and oxen were used to convey away some clothing with the families.  Many set out on foot to tramp along through the snow for miles, before rest and shelter could be obtained, and in this hegira were women and children. 

The British advanced near the village, and Indians were seen leaving the main army to fall upon the inhabitants, when Colonel CHAPIN, on horseback, with a white kerchief, sought General RIALL.  Terms were made, and the enemy entered the village.  A few regulars, led by Lieutenant RIDDLE, gave grounds for breaking the treaty, and most of the buildings were burned.  A Mrs. LOVEJOY disputed with some Indians in search of plunder, was stabbed, and her body thrown upon the street; it was put back into the house by Judge WALDEN, and consumed with the building the next day.  The enemy feared to remain, and evacuated during the afternoon.  A party of British and Indians came back a day or so after, and burned every house but that of Mrs. ST JOHN and REECE's blacksmith shop. 

The retreat continued long after its necessity had ceased.  Batavia was made the rallying point for a remnant of an army and a multitude of homeless citizens.  Away over the forest were clearings where had stood houses, and the domestic animals wandered aimlessly about, with none to feed them.  The situation was pitiable, and called strongly for sympathy and relief. 

Far eastward had gone the tidings of the attack on Buffalo, and regiments had reached Canandaigua on their way to repel invasion, when an express-rider brought tidings that the enemy had retired, and they, returning home, disbanded. 

The residence of Canandaigua have ever attended to the cry of relief, and when the people of the settlements were driven back upon less exposed sections, and their necessities became apparent, they made the following appeal:

Canandaigua, January 8, 1814

"GENTLEMEN - Niagara county, an that part of Genesee which lies west of Batavia, are completely depopulated.  All the settlements in a section forty miles square, and which contained more than twelve thousand souls, are effectually broken up.  These facts you are undoubtedly acquainted with; but the distresses they have produced none but an eyewitness can thoroughly appreciate.  Our roads are filled with people, many of whom have been reduced from a state of competency and good prospects to the last degree of want and sorrow.  So sudden was the blow by which they have been crushed that no provision could be made either to elude or to meet it.  The fugitives from Niagara county especially were dispersed under circumstances of so much terror that in some cases mothers find themselves wandering with strange children, and children are seen accompanied by such as have no other sympathies with them than those of common sufferings.  Of the families thus separated, all the members can never again meet in this life; for the same violence which has made them beggars has forever deprived them of their heads, and others of their branches.  Afflictions of the mind, so deep as has been allotted to these unhappy people, we cannot cure.  They can probably be subdued only by His power who can wipe away all tears.  But shall we not endeavor to assuage them?  To their bodily wants we can certainly administer.  The inhabitants of this village have made large contributions for their relief, in provisions, clothing and money and we have been appointed, among other things, to solicit further relief for them from our wealthy and liberal-minded fellow citizens.  In pursuance of this appointment, we may ask you, gentlemen, to interest yourselves particularly in their behalf.  We believe that no occasion has ever occurred in our country, which presented stronger claims upon individual benevolence, and we humbly trust that whoever is willing to answer these claims will always entitle himself to the precious reward of active charity.  We are, gentlemen, with great respect,

William SHEPARD, Thaddeus CHAPIN, Moses ATWATERS, N. GORHAM, Myron HOLLEY, Thomas BEALS, Phineas P. BATES"

Committee of Safety and Relief at Canandaigua.

 "To Hon. Philip S. VAN RENSSELAER, Hon. James KENT, Hon. Ambrose SPENCER, Stephen VAN RENSSELAER, Esq., Rev. Timothy CLOWES, Rev. William NEILL, Rev. John M. BRADFORD. "

 In response to this appeal the State Legislature appropriated fifty thousand dollars, the Council of Albany one thousand dollars, New York Common Council, three thousand dollars.  Other help was given, so that the committee at Canandaigua reported early in March a total receipt from various sources of thirteen thousand dollars.  This, united to the State appropriation, made a total of sixty three thousand dollars, a sum which did much timely and needed good. 

The war continued, and on June 25, 1814, a command known as "Colonel DOBBIN's Regiment", was organized at Batavia, and proceeded to the frontier.  At Black Rock they were joined by a regiment of Pennsylvania volunteers and a body of Seneca warriors.  All were placed in command of General P. B. PORTER.  Shortly after their arrival at the front, the engagement at Chippewa took place, and they all - unused to contend with regular soldiers - were thrown into confusion and did little service.  SCOTT's brigade crossed the Niagara and captured For Erie on July 3.  An advance was then made upon the British line drawn up behind the Chippewa, a deep, still stream, whose course is at right angles with that of Niagara.  RIPLEY's brigade made the passage of the Niagara about midnight on the 4th, and PORTER's on the morning of the 5th.  The two armies lay about three-fourths of a mile apart.  At four a.m., General PORTER, on the extreme left, approached the Chippewa.  The enemy, recognizing the force as militia, boldly crossed over the stream, and the engagement opened hotly.  Clouse of dust and heaving firing indicated the state of affairs, and SCOTT's veterans were sent forward.  The brigade of PORTER gave way, and could not be rallied during the action.  After a desperate encounter the British fell back, and were driven over the Chippewa with heavy loss.  Days passed in maneuvering.  The British, gathering vessels, began to land troops at Lewiston and to threaten Scholsser.  To check this movement, SCOTT was sent to demonstrate against the enemy at Queenstown.  About sundown, July 25, he met and hotly engaged the entire British army.  PORTER's volunteers now advanced with ardor to SCOTT's support, took ground on the left in good order, and intrepidly held their position and repelled a resolute charge.  Stimulated by the voices and example of officers, these raw but brave troops dashed down upon the British line and captured many prisoners.  General Jacob BROWN says, in his official report to the Secretary of War., " The militia volunteers of New York and Pennsylvania stood undismayed amidst the hottest fire, and repulsed the veterans opposed to them."  The regiment won commendations for noble conduct at Erie, and was mustered out at Batavia, November 8, 1814.  The tidings of peace were heard with gladness, and once more the avocations of industry were pursued.  Still the old system of muster and drill was kept up, as was shown by the following:


August 16, 1822

"The officers, non-commissioned officers, and musicians of the Twenty-fourth Brigade, New York Infantry, are ordered by the brigadier-general, to rendezvous for military improvement at the times and places following: The 71st at Vienna, September 2; the 42nd at Geneva, September 3; the 103rd at Milo, September 4; the 11th Colonel Dudley MARVIN, at Canandaigua, September 5; the 39th at Palmyra, September 6th.  The battalion of riflemen, Major Bowen WHITING, at Phelps, August 30th, and of infantry, Major Daniel POPPINS, at Popper's Corners, September 7th.  The 71st Regiment, commanded by Colonel Elias COST, at Phelps, on September 9; the 42nd Regiment, under Colonel Thomas LEE, at Geneva, September 10; the 103rd Regiment at Milo, September 11; the Thirty-ninth, under Lieutenant-Colonel James S. STODDARD, September 13, at Roger's Hall, Palmyra.

"By order of Brigadier-General Thomas ROGERS"

William A. MC LEAN, Aid-de-camp

 Old and young found enjoyment in general training, and the above notice will revive recollections of those days, fraught with much of pleasure to those who in their prime, were enrolled in the ranks and took part in the revolution.



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