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Soldier’s Families Under Fire: Ambush at Toussaint Island 1812
Edited by Robert Henderson

    Originally published in 1828, P. Finan recounted his experiences during the War of 1812 as a son of a British officer. The following is extact of the events which happened near Toussaint Island on the St. Lawrence just east of the garrison at Prescott on September 16th, 1812. At times comical, this is one of the few occasions during the war when women and children where in the direct line of fire.

"We had proceeded up the river about two hours, when, within a short distance of a narrow passage between an island and the mainland through which we must pass, one of the captains of the regiment, who was in the foremost batteau, imagined he saw something like a Durham boat, a kind of large boat that the Americans, exclusively, are in the habit of using, at the upper part of the strait.

This being rather a suspicious circumstance, he ordered the men to cease from rowing, in order to take a better view with his spying-glass, when he discovered that his conjecture was right and mentioned it to my father, who was in the next boat.

While they were deliberating upon the subject, and waiting for the other batteaux to come up, a Canadian was observed in a canoe, coming from behind the lower part of the island, paddling with all his might, and crying to us that there were Americans on the island. This confirmed the suspicions; and the boats were ordered to the shore, that the soldiers might be disembarked. A body of Americans had posted themselves behind some trees on the island with the view of intercepting our passage; and when they observed us making for the shore they immdeiately discharged a volley of musquetry at us. We hurried towards the land as fast as possible; but, when about twenty yards from the edge of the water, the boats grounded and could be brought no nearer.

As the balls were flying about us , perforating the sides of the boats, dropping into the water in every direction, and threatening instant destruction to all on board, great confusion prevailed; and as soon as it was observed that the boats could not advance to the shore, our only alternative was to leap into the water and make the best of our way to it. The scene, at this time, was certainlyt most ludicrous, a complete comic representation of the landing of Caesar in Britain. The recollection of it has often afforded me amusement since, but I must confess that, at the time, I considered it no laughing matter. As our boat was at the upper end of the diviseon, I had a full view of the whole detachment: men, women, and children apparently desirous to outdo each other in dexterity in getting on shore; some up to the knees in water, driving it before them like ships in full sail; others dashing in and making it fly about them on all sides; women screaming, children bawling, officers commanding; but all endeavouring to get out of reach of the shot as fast as possible.

There was a curious old woman in our boat, wife of one of the soldiers, who during the confusion happened to strike her elbow against the side of the boat; and finding the balls flying anbout her pretty thick, she was certain she had been wounded and therefore cried out most lustily, "oh, I'm shot! I'm shot!" One of the soldiers, supposing it was really the case, very seriously inquired where, when she showed him her elbow which was red with the blow, crying, and shouting piteously all the while, "oh, bad luck to the Yankee rascals, they've done my job! I'm shot! I'm shot!" The soldier, notwithstanding existing circumstances, could not help enjoying her impaginary misfortune and immediately replied, "Faith, Molly, you're done now sure enough, but you had better get ashore as fast as you can."

There was also a lady, wife of an officer in Kingston, in our boat with my mother; and as she had bveen in a delicate state of health for some time, she was unwilling, notwithstanding the imminent danger that surrounded her, to venture into the water if she could possibly avoid it. While hesitating, an officer in the next boat observing her situation, came to her and requested her to get upon his back, in order that he might carry her to the land, which she gladly consented to. They were both particularly stout, bulky people; and they had not proceeded far until the officer, owing to his heavy burden, sank so deep in the soft mud that he actually stuck fast, and could not move a step farther. "Pon my honor, Mrs O--, " said he, puffing and blowing, "I'lll be under the necessity of putting you down!"She scarcely ime to exclaim, "Oh dear, Mr T--!" in reply until she found herself up to her knees in water; and sure, in such a plight, "such a pair was never seen." If the reader can fancy to himself a great fat fellow, in long red coat and cocked hat, up to his knees in water and leading by the hand, very corially but in a great hurry, as fat a lady, with flowing garments, "lightly floating on the silver wave," -- sometimes moving on pretty well, at others rather puzzled to get their feet extricated from the mud, and all the while in terrible dread of being shot,-- he may form some idea of their appearance upon the occasion. For my own part, I have frequently thought since that I must have been seized by some kind of infatuation; for however strange and perhaps incredible it may appear, I can positively assert that although I heard the reports of the guns, and saw the sides of the boat perforated at every instant, and the water bubbling up from the balls dropping into it, I was actually unconscious of my perilous situation, and was not in haste to leave the boat: but when I did become sensible of the danger, it is almost needless to say, I changed my quarters very quickly, jumping into the river up to the middle, and running to the shore with all possible dispatch. And, however incredible it may further appear, not the least injury was sustained by any individual in the boats from the fire of the enemy.

....the lady just alluded to, my mother, brother, sister, and myself (being then a young boy) hurried towards a farm house, a short distance from up; but, before we reached it, a large jun-boat sailed down from behind the island, anchored off where we were, and immediately commenced firing cannon shot at us, the first or second of which carried off the head of one of the soldiers who were on the shore. The latter, being quite exposed to the tire of the boat, and incapable of doing it any injury, retired towards the house that we were going to, which the Americans observing, they directed their fire against it...

After a brisk exchange of fire and the approach of a British gunboat from Prescott, the band of Americans retreated back across to the US side of the river. This was only the beginning of US raids along the river by the garrison of Ogdensburg, NY which eventually ended in February 1813 with the gallant capture of that city by the British garrison at Prescott.

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