When the United States of America declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812, the objective was to “liberate” Canada. The Americans had sent spies into Canada since 1808. One of them was James Fenimore Cooper, later to become a famous author. He reported on the defenses of Kingston, Ontario, which he visited as a member of the crew of an American schooner that pretended to be driven in by a storm.
The first American attack on Canada was almost a comedy. The invasion came from Detroit, but the British knew all about it long before it happened. General Hull, the American commander, announced even before war had been declared that his troops were bound for Canada. While they marched from Dayton, Ohio, to Detroit, he sent a large quantity of army stores and baggage by water. When the American schooner entered the Detroit River, it was stopped by a British patrol boat and an examination of its cargo revealed letters and documents outlining the strategy of Hull’s campaign! General Hull wasn’t worrying. He had 2,500 men; there were only 150 British regulars, 300 militia and 150 Indians on the Canadian side. In any case, Hull expected to be welcomed as a liberator and invited the American soldiers to bring along their wives and children for the joyous occasion!
When Hull crossed the river at Baby’s Farm on July 12, 1812, he issued a proclamation stating that the United States offered Peace, Liberty, and Security. The alternative was War, Slavery, and Destruction. He was making his proclamation to the wrong people because many of them were United Empire Loyalists who had been driven from their homes in the States by persecution!
Shortly afterwards, Hull learned that a joint force of British and Indians from St. Joseph’s Island had captured the American fort at Mackinac, Michigan. Another force had captured Fort Dearborn (Chicago). The Indians had run wild at Dearborn and massacred about half the population.
Panic overtook Hull. Chief Tecumseh and some of his Indians were ambushing American soldiers and Hull thought they might attack the families he had brought along to see the “liberation.” On August 11, he withdrew his force to Detroit, although it outnumbered the British and Indians two to one.
“We are engaged in an awful and eventful contest. By unanimity and despatch in our councils and by vigour in our operations; we will teach the enemy this lesson: that a country defended by free men, enthusiastically devoted to the cause of their King and constitution, can never be conquered.” – General Isaac Brock, 1812
Other places to visit are 1812 Ontario.ca (a comprehensive site on the War of 1812; I highly suggest visiting!), and Sheppard Software (for a pretty good article). From there, you will be well on your way!
- War of 1812 Coins (djohns03.wordpress.com)
- Here’s the latest breaking news from the War of 1812 (o.canada.com)
- U.S. Declares War (tkmorin.wordpress.com)
- Texas town commemorates War of 1812 (stripes.com)