Friday, August 31, 2012

The War of 1812

1812 was a momentous year for many reasons. In Massachusetts, governor Elbridge Gerry invented gerrymandering (which is fun to say). Napoleon, also a busy man, approved the Metric System and invaded Russia.  Perhaps most momentous of all, a group known as the "Luddites" invaded the wool factory of one Frank Vickerman in West Yorkshire. And, in North America, the tiny colonies of Upper and Lower Canada began their fight for survival.

There are several strange things about the War of 1812. First, the war didn't all take place in 1812 -- it actually lasted for three years. Second, the war wasn't continuous. In the fall, the harvest took priority over fighting, and everyone was too darn cold to fight in the winter. It was a war governed by decorum. There was an expectation of basic decency on both sides -- which didn't always prevent individual soldiers from acting out of line, but the expectation was there. Generals and politicians on both sides of the line wrote letters to each other. Fourth, it was expected for soldiers to kill and maim one another, but private property was held sacred by all. Both sides expected civilian assets to be protected, and both accused the other of breaching this sacred trust.

The war is a landmark in Canadian history, not only because the colonies successfully defended against a far larger adversary, but also because it produced several remarkable people who have passed into Canadian lore and legend. Isaac Brock, the bold war hero, led the forces of Upper Canada on victorious campaigns in the first year of the war. Stories of his exploits led him to become the paragon of manly excellence for British North Americans. Laura Secord demonstrated admirable charity by trudging 20 miles through Niagara mud and swamp to warn British soldiers of a coming American attack -- and much later donated her name to a fine chocolate company. For many in the colony of Upper Canada, her story was proof of the decisive role that true-blue Canadians played in the war. And last, Tecumseh, the Shawnee war Chief, rallied thousands of Native warriors on the force of his personality. According to Pierre Berton, popular historian of the War of 1812, "Without the Indians in 1812, the British could not have held Upper Canada." His life stands with other tragic heroes of history and literature. He died in the Battle of the Thames, fighting in the cause that defined his life: the preservation of his people's culture.

I've enjoyed reading up on the War of 1812 over the recent weeks. Up until this month, I knew nothing about the War. That's not true -- I knew the year that it started. But apart from that, I knew nothing. I was able to get hold of a thesis statement on the War of 1812 written by Russell Wunker, proprietor of Miner's Bay Lodge and expert historian. It was a real honor to read his work. Anyone who knows anything about Russ knows his deep love for history. To this day, I enjoy going to the MBL church and hearing Russ introduce each new hymn with a bio of the writer's story and how the hymn came to be. After the thesis, I picked up a book from the St. Jamestown library titled Flames Across the Border, 1813-1814. It's Part II of a popular history on the War of 1812 authored by Canada's own popular historian, Pierre Berton. I hope to share a few more blog entries before I'm finished the book.

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