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the St. Lawrence: Fort
and the War of 1812
Wellington as it appears today with Ogdensburg, NY in the distance across
on the north shore of the
St. Lawrence River
roughly half way
, the small community
grew to become a
significant military and naval post during the War of 1812.
Put simply, if the
, the fledging colony
) could not have held
St. Lawrence River
was the life line for
supplies for the war effort in
Everything coming from
had to be loaded on
boats to brave the
dangerous rapids between
Once at the top of the rapids near
, boats then sailed on
at junction of the
Once there the goods were transferred onto larger lake vessels for
their journey to
) and the
The forwarding of goods up the St. Lawrence was a very lucrative
business and soon
was founded in 1810 to
compete in the moving of commercial goods along the river.
Its ideal location at the top of the rapids allowed
to grow in leaps and
bounds throughout the 19th century. But
at the opening of the War of 1812 it consisted of a handful of buildings.
Across the river from
was the more
established American town of
Ogdensburg too was dependent on river traffic and competed both
However the strategic importance of this spot in the river
pre-dated both the British and the
Archaeologists have unearthed extensive native villages dating as
early as 1450. During the age
, as the French
expanded deep into
, guarding their major
transportation route became necessary.
In the Prescott-Ogdensburg area, no fewer than two forts (Fort
La Presentation and
), one trading post (La Galette) and a ship building yard were
constructed. In 1760 a British
army descending the St. Lawrence to attack
, laid siege and captured these French posts.
After the fall of
, the British maintained a military presence at the old Fort La
Presentation, where Ogdensburg now is.
It was not until 1796 did the British vacate the post and finally
The War of 1812
When war was declared in June 1812, both Ogdensburg and Prescott
were defenseless. While
had declared war, the Americans on the south shore of the St. Lawrence
wish to remain a position of neutrality.
British officials were as well quite content “preserve the
tranquility” of the
. Peace between
the two sides of the river was broken at the end of September with the
arrival in Ogdensburg of a company of US Riflemen under Captain Benjamin
militia under Brigadier General Jacob Brown.
Upon arriving in Ogdensburg, Forsyth immediately set out harassing
British convoys of supplies (one of these attacks is described here).
Across the river in
, the local commander had Colonel Lethbridge enough and on October 3rd
launched a flotilla of boats filled with militia and Glengarry Light
Infantrymen against Ogdensburg. After
passing the middle of the river,
’s force was forced to turn back under a hail of grape shot from the
was replaced by able Lt. Col. Thomas Pearson. Upon his arrival, Pearson
set about improving the military situation in
. A permanent garrison of
regular forces was established, the militia were drilled, buildings began
to be built and other defenses were completed before winter.
The winter of 1812-1813 was far from peaceful.
With the river frozen over, Forsyth again attack the Canadian
shore, this time the
today). Over a week
later, the Governor General Prevost passed through
on his way to
. Pearson requested
permission to attack Ogdensburg, Prevost refused, allowing only a
demonstration of force on the ice in front of
. Pearson was then ordered to
accompany Prevost to
, leaving command to Lt. Col. George Macdonell of the Glengarry Light
The next morning Prevost left, and Macdonell had the whole garrison
and local militia formed up on the ice facing Ogdensburg.
But Macdonell had more in mind than a demonstration.
Immediately the fiery Scot ordered to two prong attack on
Ogdensburg across the frozen river.
forces were caught by surprise and were defeated.
Forsyth was forced to flee, leaving his sword behind as a trophy
for Macdonell (on display at Fort Wellington National Historic Site).
With Forsyth’s departure, tranquility returned to
area. Indeed Ogdensburg become
a significant source of supplies for the British and trade flourished.
In the spring of 1813 construction on
began along with other military buildings.
The garrison at
had become quite sizable. Detachments
took turns playing the role of marines on the numerous gunboats moving up
and down the river protecting supply conveys.
When not on the water, soldiers were employed in construction,
training the militia and other duties.
Peace again was broken on the upper St. Lawrence with the descent
of a large flotilla carrying a massive U.S. Army under Major General James
. Concerned about
the garrison guns of
, Wilkinson disembarked his army and marched them overland around
Ogdensburg, while the empty transports were navigated past
during the night. The
following morning, Pearson dispatched his Royal Artillery detachment to
follow Wilkinson’s army and harass them while they descended the rapids.
A few days later, troops from
eventually drew Wilkinson into battle at Crysler’s Farm.
On November 11th,
forces suffered a humiliating defeat by a force a quarter their size.
For the rest of the war,
was never again threatened with attack.
continued to house troops on their way to the fighting in the
region and protect supply convoys.
Though quite vulnerable, the
forces were never able to control the St. Lawrence and sever
The first “military” structure was a stone school house that
had been converted into barracks.
A make-shift stockade was built around the building and other
wooden dwellings were constructed inside including a surgery. The
stone barracks is the only surviving military building in Prescott from
the war. Additional buildings
were leased out in the town to accommodate the Commanding officer and the
itself consisted of a large wooden single-story blockhouse surrounded by
earthworks. The blockhouse was
designed to 144 men and 7 officer’s bedrooms, an officer’s mess, a
kitchen and a small open courtyard with a well in the centre of the
building. The earthworks were
built with rooms in them called casemates, one of which served as the
powder magazine. On top of the
earthworks were numerous 12 and 24 pounder cannons on naval-type
platforms. The entrance to the
fort was to the north, away from the river.
On the shore in front of the fort was a large artillery battery.
The fort itself was very poorly designed and the engineer was
soundly criticized for constructing “a great mass of earth badly put
together.” One regimental
surgeon described it as “a clumsy, ill-constructed, unflanked
redoubt.” After being
abandoned, Fort Wellington was rebuilt in 1838-1839. Instead of
starting new, engineers reused the old 1813 earthworks, except the
casemates were filled in. Today Fort Wellington is a national
historic site (Parks Canada) and can be visited.
1816. The lower part of the plan shows a cross section of the fort
illustrating the casemates in the walls and the blockhouse with its
interior courtyard and well. West
of the fort is visable the stone barracks and stockade. The advance
battery is also visable to the south of the fort. (LAC, National Map
To the north of
was a large complex of buildings. Amongst
these buildings was a large two storey building that had a carpenter’s
shop and stables for the artillery horses on the bottom and barracks for
110 men on the top. Other
buildings included officer’s quarters for the artillery, another stable
or gun shed, an Engineer’s lime kiln, a cook house, a forge, and
quarters for the garrison’s Adjutant.
Between these buildings and
, huts and shanties were erected by soldier’s families.
Even with all of these buildings, a large number of the garrison
lived under canvas tents, both summer and winter.
Regular Soldiers Serving in
during the War
Royal Artillery Drivers
Royal Marine Artillery
Royal Sappers and Miners
19th Light Dragoons
1st Regiment of Foot
8th Regiment of Foot
9th Regiment of Foot
16th Regiment of Foot
41st Regiment of Foot
49th Regiment of Foot
89th Regiment of Foot
90th Regiment of Foot
100th Regiment of Foot
104th Regiment of Foot
De Watteville’s Regiment of Foot
Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles
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