Honoring Hypolite Brisette, war of 1812 veteran
War of 1812 Veteran Hypolite Brisette.
Hypolite deserves better than I can do here. I will continue to work on him, but as I was asked to honor him, an event sadly cancelled, I will try to honor him here. As you will see, he was a true Canadian, in a time before there was truly a Canada. He travelled the entire country and rubbed elbows with many different peoples. He lived off the land and built the very places we now remember. For some reason some people have tried to negate him, that will not be done while I'm around.
Hypolite Brisette, a young man from the French speaking area of Quebec called Berthier would find himself in a war fighting for English speaking British forces in a unit of militia known as the Voltigeurs. Three other Brisette’s would also be on the muster rolls for the Voltigeurs. (one of them Jacques Brisette was an officer) Officers were required to recruit their own soldiers, so possibly Jacques recruited Hypolite. The Voltigeurs were led by French Canadian Charles de Salaberry. The militia differs from ordinary military in that it is a defensive branch of the military, they could only be deployed in "the Canadas". Wearing Grey uniforms with bear skin hats, they would only see action in the confines of Canada and therefore be among our first Canadian forces. They were also French speaking with a French speaking officer. He did not fight for King and Empire, but for home and land.
In late fall 1812, the unit would be stationed on the Chateauguay River, where they would see two actions. One was in Lacolle Mills where a force of Americans wanted to drive them from the mills. The Voltigeurs and Mohawk warriors were defending the Blockhouse and Mill. An American force, under Henry Dearborn, was to take the Mill and Blockhouse before winter of 1812. Upon seeing the superior numbered American force coming towards them, devised a brilliant strategy. The Americans looked to siege the mills and sent out two battalions to circle the mill. The first battalion was to come along the road and the second was to circle around the other side, trapping the Canadian forces.
The plan Charles de Salaberry put out was to send 25 men to delay the first force, meanwhile abandoning the mill. While they were occupying the first force, the second was allowed to take the mill unencumbered. Having accomplished their task of delay, they retreated andthe men faded into the darkness. The first force then attacked the already occupied mill. Lacolle Mills was fought over by two forces of American soldiers fighting each other. The Voltigeurs then attacked the bewildered forces and the Mill was retaken.
While in Chateauguay the town and the river by that name, Hypolite would learn the trade of carpentry, something that would follow him throughout his life. Chateauguay was on a ford in the river that the Americans would have to cross to take Montreal. So breastworks and other defensive positions would need to be built. That and barracks and so forth would need people doing carpentry work. It is also possible that young Hypolite would learn a bit about boat building.
The Voltigeurs were heavily outnumbered defending the ford, the Americans had 4000 men compared to 470 for the Canadians. Despite being heavily outnumbered, they would depend on their training and defensive positions and hold the position. The Americans were at an advantage but the Canadians would not back down, a firefight ensued and the Americans would withdraw and never try for Montreal again.
After the war, Hypolite and a close friend, Cuthbert Amyot, would find their way into the employ of Admiral Bayfield, who was charting the Great Lakes. One of the first tasks the men under Bayfield had to do was build the Recovery, a ship that would be the home of the charting process.
Bayfield would make his winter base in Penetanguishene, and presumably the crew would spend their winters there too.
At the end of his survey Bayfield would meet another Navy officer named Sir John Franklin. Franklin was involved in finding a Northwest Passage to India. Bayfield recommended some of his crew to Franklin, and close friend Cuthbert Amyot would go west with Franklin. (yes that Franklin, who would be lost a few years later in the arctic.) At this time, but not on the registers, Hipolyte would also go north. To Lesser Slave Lake. (Franklin would travel trough there on his arctic explorations.)
In the following years, Hypolite would travel to different locations in the west. First to the Bow River, where a new Fort was being built, and carpenters were wanted. From there he went to Fort Pelly, in modern day Saskatchewan, where once again we see a newly built fort in need of carpenters rise from the wildlands.
would head even further west, again to a new fort, Fort Colville, on the west coast of Canada. He would add miller to his title, working the sawmill supplying wood for the new Fort.
Today so much travel would hurt my back, sitting in a car, in that time, it was either on foot or in a canoe! (With a small possibility of a horse being ridden part of the way as well.) Supplies would be bullets for a gun and some powder, and he and Archange (Who we will get to) would need to hunt and gather whatever they could. Family lore would pass down that she was quite capable of gathering all sorts of medicinal and non medicinal plants.
Somewhere along the way, (Lesser Slave Lake to be exact) Hypolite would meet a young woman who would suit his fancy, and despite not speaking Cree, he would choose a Cree woman to fight with for the rest of his life. (He would, evidently, pick up enough English and Cree to be trilingual.) This woman, named Archange L'Hirondelle (Ark angel ) They would be married but continue to travel the continent. Her father was not a supporter of this union, not wanting his daughter to leave...but as any parent knows, sometimes they do as they please.
At some point in his cross country travels, he would return to the area of Archange’s people where Archange would birth him a son. This would be the first of many, and the marriage would be fruitful. However, old debts had to be paid, Archange's father wishes were not followed...
Making amends with Archange's father, Jacques Dubois dit L’Hirondelle, also named Wanatou, was a necessity. Hypolite and Archange had eloped, her father had not condoned a marriage to an itinerant fur trader. Hipolyte was not the first to ask. To make such amends, Hypolite would be tattooed in compliance with her fathers wishes, forever linking the tribe to Hypolite through these tattoos.
Hippolyte Metis family would spend time in metis communities of Red River, Lac La Pluie and the area of Penetanguishene, as well as suspected time at Drummond Island. Eventually he would settle in Tiny, close to his life long friend Cuthbert Amyot and fellow surveyor William Cowan. Once again on the Great Lakes, a place that he was more familiar than most.
Hypolite and Archange would set up on a lot in Tiny Township on the old portage Road between Schoonertown (Wasaga Beach) and Penetanguishene. and would spend his time at the King's Mill (at Daoust Bay) as a miller, carpenter and boat builder.
Later in life he would live with his son, moving to Victoria Harbor, when the lumber industry led them there. Upon his death he would be returned to Penetang, where he lies today.
Art Duval Pipesmoke of the Past
PS-I would like to thank Johanne Brisette for her insight and help and Christine VanZandbergen for her research and support.