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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

Honoring My Indigenous Ancestors who served this Country

Hypolite Brissette

I did not realize this date was coming up so quickly. Back in the War of 1812 one of my ancestors, Hypolite Brisette fought with a militia at the battle of Chateauguay.

He would go on to chart the Great Lakes under Admiral Bayfield.

Battle of Châteauguay

One of the least destructive skirmishes of the War of 1812 in terms of casualties, the Battle of Châteauguay was also one of the most detrimental to American war plans and one of the most important for the development of Canadian nationalism. Fought 25-26 October 1813 along the marshy shores of the Châteauguay River near Montréal, it was initiated by American general Wade Hampton. With approximately 3000 troops, Hampton intended to invade Lower Canada as part of a large-scale operation to capture Montréal, in conjunction with General James Wilkinson, who was approaching from the west along the St. Lawrence (see Battle of Crysler's Farm).

Candian Defences at Châteauguay

Hampton's army was met by a smaller, all-Canadian force of Voltigeurs, fencibles, militia, and several Kahnawake warriors, under the command of French-Canadian lieutenant-colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry. The American loss effectively ended any serious threat against Montréal. For the defenders, who were outnumbered and, for the first time, fighting without British support, this skirmish became a source of enormous pride.

From the outset, Hampton's cause was fraught with challenges. Approximately 1000 of the New York militia who were a part of his army refused to cross the border, and during the battle itself, several of his officers were seen abandoning their men and positions for safer ground. The Canadians had lodged behind extremely well-constructed defensive works, and the amount of noise emanating from them - shouts, cheers, and bugling, deliberately produced to cause confusion - made it difficult for Hampton to ascertain how many members of the enemy's forces he faced.

Failed American Strategy

Initially, the Americans' plan of attack seemed promising, if precarious. Finding the Canadian defences wedged between the river on the east, and a swamp to the west, Hampton hired guides to lead a brigade (under Colonel Robert Purdy) northward, where they would position themselves behind Salaberry's barricade. Hampton and a second brigade under General George Izard would then commence a frontal attack on the Canadian position.

What looked good on the map, however, was a disaster in execution. On the evening of 25 October, Purdy and 1500 men set out to find their way behind the Canadian defences. When the guides proved less than reliable, the troops found themselves lost and meandering in the woods, making very little progress. Meanwhile, Hampton received a communication from the secretary of war, John Armstrong, that winter barracks were being constructed for his men; Hampton took this news to mean that Washington did not intend to support the invasion. Disheartened, but unable to recall Purdy, he went ahead with his plan the following morning.

Victory for the Canadians

The skirmish itself lasted several hours and involved intense and repeated thrusts and volleys on each side. But because Purdy's men had not been able to flank the Canadian defences, the forward assault on the barricade was not nearly as effective as Hampton and Izard had hoped. Purdy's men were scattered, under fire from snipers, and lacked any coordinated leadership; many of them abandoned the fight. The Americans were further disadvantaged by their weapons, which were loaded with notoriously inaccurate "buck-and-ball" ammunition, most of which ended up lodged in the surrounding trees. By three o'clock that afternoon, recognizing that the enterprise had failed, Hampton ordered his men to withdraw. Later reports described this retreat as panicked and fearful, particularly for Purdy's men, as they were pursued by Aboriginal warriors throughout the following night.

Although the encounter at Châteauguay was not as bloody as many battles fought during this war, the loss of life and injuries sustained should not be dismissed. The Americans suffered 23 killed and 33 wounded, while 29 men were declared missing. Salaberry's troops fared better (no doubt because of their well-constructed defences); they reported two killed, 16 wounded, and four missing.

Jacques Laamie:Another ancestor Jacques Laramie was present at the Siege of Mackinac, although no bullets flew, he was prepared to lay down his life for the cause.

Mackinac Island was an American fur trading post in the Straits of Mackinac between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Since the mid-seventeenth century, it had been important for its influence and control over the Indian tribes in the area. British and Canadian traders had resented it being ceded to the United States at the end of the American Revolutionary War.[1] The United States Army maintained a small fort, named Fort Mackinac, on the island. About 40 miles (64 km) away was the British military post on St. Joseph Island and the (Canadian) North West Company's trading post at Sault Sainte Marie.

The British commander in Upper Canada, Major General Isaac Brock, had kept the commander of the post at St. Joseph Island, Captain Charles Roberts, informed of events as war appeared increasingly likely from the start of 1812. As soon as he learned of the outbreak of war, Brock sent a canoe party led by the noted trader William McKay to Roberts with the vital news, and orders to capture Mackinac.

McKay reached St. Joseph Island on 8 July. With the assistance of the North West Company, Roberts immediately began to collect a force consisting of three men of the Royal Artillery, 47 British soldiers of the 10th Royal Veteran Battalion (which Roberts later described as being "debilitated and worn down by unconquerable drunkenness"[2]), 150 Canadian or métis (part-Indian) fur traders and voyageurs, 300 Ojibwa (Chippawa) or Ottawas who were at the island to trade skins, and 110 Sioux, Menominee and Winnebago who had been recruited by Indian agent Robert Dickson from present-day Wisconsin.[3]

As preparations for the expedition proceeded, Roberts received successive orders from Brock to cancel, and then to reinstate, the attack on Mackinac. Colonel Edward Baynes, the Adjutant General for all British forces in Canada, also sent orders for Roberts to concentrate on defending St. Joseph Island.[3] However, on 15 July, Roberts received further orders from Brock which allowed him to use his own discretion. Fearing that the Indians would drift away if they were not allowed to attack, Roberts immediately set out.[4] His force was embarked in an armed schooner (the Caledonia, belonging to the North West Company), seventy war canoes and ten bateaux.

Capture of Mackinac

Fort Mackinac was sited on a limestone ridge which overlooked the harbour at the south-eastern end of the island. The American garrison consisted of 61 artillerymen under Lieutenant Porter Hanks with seven guns, although only one of these, a 9-pounder, could reach the harbour.[3] There were other weaknesses; the garrison relied for fresh water on a spring outside the fort, and the position was overlooked by a higher ridge less than a mile away.

The United States Secretary of War William Eustis, who was apparently preoccupied with financial economies, had sent no communications to Hanks for several months. He sent word of the declaration of war on 18 June to the commanders in the northwest by ordinary rate post. The Postmaster at Cleveland, Ohio, realised the importance of the news and hired an express rider to take it to Brigadier General William Hull who was advancing on Detroit, but it was too late to save both Hull and Hanks from being taken by surprise by the outbreak of hostilities.[5]

Though he was unaware of events elsewhere, Hanks had heard rumours of unusual activity at St. Joseph Island. He sent a fur trader named Michael Dousman, who held a commission as an officer in the militia, to investigate. Dousman's boat was captured by the advancing British force, and Dousman apparently quickly changed sides.[1]

Having learned from Dousman that the Americans were unaware of the outbreak of war, Robert's force landed at a settlement subsequently named British Landing on the north end of the island, 2 miles (3.2 km) away from the fort, early on the morning of 17 July. They quietly removed the village's inhabitants from their homes, dragged a 6-pounder cannon through the woods to a ridge above the fort, and fired a single round before sending a message under a flag of truce, demanding the Americans' surrender.[4]

Hanks's force was surprised and was already at a tactical disadvantage. The flag of truce had been accompanied by three of the villagers, who greatly exaggerated the number of Indians in Roberts's force.[6] Fearing a massacre by the Indians, Hanks capitulated without a fight. The American garrison was taken prisoner but was released on giving their parole not to fight for the remainder of the war.


The island's inhabitants were made to swear an oath of allegiance as subjects of the United Kingdom or leave within a month. Most took the oath. Roberts arrested three deserters from the British Army and twenty alleged British subjects. There was no looting, although Roberts acquired some property from an American government store[4] and purchased several bullocks to feed the Indians. The British subsequently abandoned their own fort at St. Joseph Island and concentrated their forces at Mackinac Island.

Of the Indians present, the Ottawa contingent had apparently remained aloof from the others.[2] They and most of the Chippawas subsequently dispersed. At least some of the Western Indians proceeded south to join the tribes with Tecumseh at Fort Amherstburg. The mere threat of their arrival prompted the American Brigadier General Hull to abandon his invasion of Canadian territory and retreat to Detroit on 3 August.[7]

The news of the loss of Mackinac prompted several Indian tribes (such as the Wyandots near Detroit) who formerly were friendly to the Americans or neutral, to rally to the British cause.[8] Their hostility influenced the American surrender at the Siege of Detroit shortly afterwards. Lieutenant Hanks was killed by a cannon shot at Detroit shortly before the surrender, while awaiting a court martial for cowardice.

Not noted enough is the fact that the siege could only be successful due to the overwhelming presence of the natives allies, and metis voyaguers. With them it would have been difficult to take a post of 60 American regulars with 40 British troops who were not the top drawer of British Military. This was the first action of the war. Brock sent voyageurs across this vast country and they arrived at MAckinac before poor Mr Porter knew their was a war to be had!

Pierre Giroux:Pierre Giroux also fought and was at the capture of the Tigress and the Scorpion, a very famous cutting out during the war.

The American s forces had been looking for the Nancy. Having found her the British scuddled her instead of allowing the Americans to take her. Having retreated to Willow Depot after having been bombarded at Schoonertown (Modern Day Wasaga beach) the reality set in that if they did not supply the troops and ships around St Joseph island that the American forces would over run the western Great Lakes and perhaps take all of western Canada.

So it was decided to build bateaux, which they did, and to float them to St Joseph, which they did. But that was not enough for this intrepid crew. Upon seeing the two ships, Scorpion and Tigress that had bombarded them at Schoonertown. Having guessed that the tigress and scorpion would not suspect a boarding party from mere bateaux, the intrepid British, with Pierre Giroux, attacked the two ships and brought them back with them.

The Canadian Encyclopediea explains it thusly: Lake Huron during the War of 1812

After abandoning the search for the British shipbuilding establishment at Matchedash Bay (the southeastern corner of Midland Bay), Sinclair took his squadron north to the St. Mary's River, where on 23-26 July two boats from the Scorpion, under Lieutenant Daniel Turner, made a devastating attack on the North West Company establishment at Sault Ste Marie and destroyed a British vessel. On 4 and 5 August the Tigress and Scorpion were part of the American fleet that blockaded and unsuccessfully attacked Fort Michilimackinac (captured earlier by the British, see Battle of Mackinac Island).

Sinclair's next assignment was to find the British schooner the Nancy, which had been running supplies, communications and military personnel to Michilimackinac. Sinclair in his flagship the Niagara, accompanied by the Tigress and Scorpion, found the Nancy secreted away near the mouth of the Nottawasaga River, and in the attack that followed, 14 August, the Nancy blew up. Her commander, Lieutenant Miller Worsley, and the ship's company, escaped inland (see Nancy Island Historic Site).

Sinclair, returning to Lake Erie, left the two American schooners to blockade the Nottawasaga and to prevent additional supplies reaching Michilimackinac. The senior officer, Turner, detached the Tigress to cruise off St. Joseph Island and sever the Canadian fur route to the French River. He assigned the Scorpion to watch the entrance to French River.

Worsley's Revenge

On 3 September, Worsley and a party of sailors and soldiers, all in four boats, spied the Tigress anchored alone off Drummond Island. With the help of the British garrison at Michilimackinac they captured that vessel after a severe action including an exchange of fire and sharp hand to hand fighting. Worsley continued to fly the American flag, and then went in search of the Scorpion. On 6 September, Worsley sighted the Scorpion and unaware of what had transpired, that schooner was quickly captured. Worsley had avenged the loss of the Nancy. The captures made the British naval armament stronger at the end of the 1814 fighting season than at its beginning. Worsley renamed the Tigress HM Schooner Surprize and the Scorpion HM Schooner Confiance. Worsley, now in command of the Confiance took that schooner to Michilimackinac in late April 1815, and told the British commandant there that peace terms had been agreed to by Great Britain and the United States.

Peace Time Duties

The Confiance was used as a British survey vessel in establishing the International Boundary and was used in various duties protecting British and Canadian interests. Both schooners were sent to Lake Erie, where the Confiance became the flagship of Commodore Sir Robert Hall. In 1830 they were surveyed and found "very rotten."

Naval Classic

Worsley's "cutting out expedition" (the use of small boats to seize a larger ship at anchor), is a classic case of its kind, notable in the annals of naval history. The American commanders were largely absolved of blame for the loss of the vessels under their command, insufficient signals being specified as the reason for the second loss.

John Beausoleil:World War 1 would see my ancestor,(grandfather John Beausoleil) who was conscripted in World war one after his 18th birthday. He trained and departed for England but did not see service as he was not needed prior to the end of the war. He spent time in England in a reserve battalion and heard many stories of the war. He returned having many of the stories haunt him throughout his days.

Charles Beausoleil:One other member of the Family who served was Charles Beausoleil who after going to the United States to follow the Lumber industry found himself in the middle of the Civil War. Injured he returned to Penetang where he found out they would no longer pay him his pension. So he returned to the US where the Sun family decends from him.

Art Duval pipesmoke of the past.

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