Heroes of the War of 1812

There were many heroes and heroines of the War of 1812, many unsung. Perhaps Brock, Tecumseh and Secord are the best known but there were others:

British Regulars

1. Major-General Sir Isaac Brock:  The Hero of Upper Canada (1769-1812)

Major-General Sir Isaac Brock was born in St Peter Port, Guernsey, England, on October 6, 1769. He was a British Army officer who was stationed in Canada in the early 1800s.

His early attempts to prepare the province of Upper Canada for war were frustrating, especially in dealing with the Legislative Council in Upper Canada. Although the Council was willing to grant funds to strengthen the militia, they refused the suspension of habeas corpus once the war began. With the declaration of war in 1812, Brock initiated an aggressive campaign even though he was advised by his superiors to remain on the defensive.

Major General Sir Isaac Brock (a hero of the War of 1812 known for his efforts to ensure the preservation of Upper Canada).
Major General Sir Isaac Brock, hero of the War of 1812, best known for his efforts to ensure the preservation of Upper Canada.

Brock's most daring exploit occurred August 16, 1812, when he led a force of regulars and First Nations warriors in the successful capture of Detroit by creating the illusion of a much larger Canadian force with the help of Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee, and his warriors. He continued to strengthen Upper Canada after Detroit in preparation for an American assault somewhere on the Niagara frontier. The first major American attack occurred at Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812.

After losing his initial advantage in which the important Redan Battery cannon was captured, he rallied the troops that were present at the bottom of Queenston Heights and prepared to re-capture the Redan Battery position. Brock allegedly turned to his men and said "Take breath boys-you will need it in a few moments."

Brock led the troops himself in an attempt to charge up the Heights where he was singled out by an American marksman and killed instantly. British forces, Canadian militia, and First Nations warriors then rallied and drove back the Americans and forced nearly 1,000 to surrender. Today Brock's story serves as a reminder for all Canadians of his sacrifice at the Battle of Queenston Heights and his efforts that ensured the preservation of Upper Canada.

2. Charles de Salaberry, Canadien Officer in the British Army, Hero of Châteauguay (1778-1829)

Lieutenant Colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry was born on November 19, 1778 in Beauport, Québec. He was a French-Canadian of the seigneurial class who served as an officer of the British army in Lower Canada (now the province of Quebec) and raised a unit of light infantry from among his primarily French Canadian compatriots, known as the Canadian Voltigeurs.

In October 1813, Salaberry was summoned to proceed quickly from Châteauguay with his troops, which included French-Canadian militia and Mohawk warriors, to the Châteauguay River in order to fend off the much larger American force that was preparing to attack Montreal in order to cut off the British army in Upper Canada.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry (an officer of the British army in Lower Canada who raised a unit of light infantry from among his primarily French Canadian compatriots, known as the Canadian Voltigeurs).
Lieutenant Colonel Charles-Michel d'Irumberry de Salaberry, officer of the British army in Lower Canada who raised a unit of light infantry from among his primarily French Canadian compatriots, known as the Canadian Voltigeurs.

Having foreseen that the Americans would cross the Châteauguay River, Salaberry placed forces, including the Canadian Voltigeurs, along with some Aboriginal forces, to form a blockade, while sending a small number of men across the river. A mile behind the blockade, about 1,400 militiamen, under Lieutenant-Colonel George Richard John Macdonell, were divided among four entrenchments one behind the other.

When the Americans began to approach the blockade, the American General Wade Hampton split his troops and sent about 1,000 men across the Châteauguay, leaving about another 1,000 in reserve at his encampment. The American troops did not manage to surprise Salaberry’s militiamen as he had succeeded in creating the illusion that his force was much stronger than it actually was and discouraged the Americans.

After about four hours of fighting on October 26, 1813, the American general ordered his troops to retreat. The Canadians remained at the blockade, ready to resume combat the following day. But the American general, who had received orders to take up winter quarters in American territory, thought that his superior had called off the attack on Montreal, and he moved his troops back towards the United States. The battle of Châteauguay therefore saved that town from a large-scale attack, with about 1,700 Canadians repelling around 3,000 Americans.

3. James Prendergast, Unsung Hero of Crysler’s Farm, (1789-1834)

James Prendergast was born in County Monaghan, Ireland, in 1789. In 1803, he joined the 100th Regiment of Foot of the British Army and came to Canada soon afterwards. James worked his way up the ranks and by 1812 was promoted to staff sergeant, the paymaster sergeant for the regiment.

Soon after the War of 1812 broke out, James was stationed with his company on Île aux Noix in the Richelieu River in Lower Canada (Quebec). When two American gunboats, the Eagle and the Growler, which had sailed up the river, threatened the British garrison, James Prendergast proved that he had courage and initiative. Leading some men of the 100th, he opened fire from the shore. When the American gunboats grounded in a desperate manoeuvre, James was able to capture the crew of one of the boats. For his initiative, he was promoted as Adjutant to the Corps of Canadian Voltigeurs, a French-Canadian regiment incorporated into the British army.

While serving with the Voltigeurs, Prendergast was active in the Battle of Crysler’s Farm on November 11, 1813, when an outnumbered British force, together with the Canadian Voltigeurs militia and Mohawk warriors, drove off an American army twice the size. During the height of the battle, James led a group of soldiers in a wild charge to capture an American cannon. All but James and one other man were shot down during the charge but they managed to take the gun and turn it on the Americans to fire into their retreating ranks.

Once again stationed in the Richelieu Valley, Prendergast again distinguished himself. When an American army invaded Lower Canada and besieged a small British force holding a blockhouse at Lacolle Mill, Prendergast rushed with reinforcements to the scene and immediately launched a desperate bayonet charge at the American cannon, carrying on through fearful casualties. The Americans were eventually forced to retreat. His commanding officer said of him: “on all occasions when engaged with the enemy, he has never failed to display the greatest energy and bravery.”

After the War and the reduction of the army, James Prendergast was given an appointment as the land agent for the settlement of Clarendon Township in Pontiac County, Lower Canada. During a visit to Quebec City in 1834, he died of cholera. James Prendergast was one of the most active and courageous soldiers of the War of 1812, but his story is largely unsung. Being of humble origins without the patronage of the Upper Classes, a private soldier who had risen in the ranks in an army that was anything but egalitarian, there was no one to sing his praises and launch his name into the history books.

4. James FitzGibbon (1780-1863)

Born in Ireland, James FitzGibbon was raised on tales of the military deeds of his Norman ancestors.  At the age of 15, James joined the local Yeomanry Corps and he became sergeant before his 18th birthday.  In 1798, he joined the regular army, enlisting in the 49th Regiment of Foot commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Brock.

In 1802, the 49th regiment was ordered to British North America. When the regiment, still under Brock, disembarked at Québec, James FitzGibbon was a sergeant-major, the most senior non-commissioned rank in the regiment.  On October 13, 1812, the 49th Regiment fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights where Brock was killed. Following the Battle of fort George, the British army retreated from the Niagara frontier to newly constructed defences at Burlington Heights in present-day Hamilton, Ontario.

FitzGibbon was successful in using guerilla warfare, with First Nations allies. He was in the British attack on the American encampment at Stoney Creek in the early hours of June 6, 1813. They then marched with the rest of the 49th Regiment to begin a loose siege of fort George. Their tactics were to harass the Americans camped at fort George, attack their supply lines and ambush any soldiers who strayed far from the protection of fort George.  He had proven his initiative in this type of guerilla war and was given command of a select group of infantrymen and stationed at the DeCew House in present-day Thorold, Ontario.

FitzGibbon is also best known to be the officer whom Laura Secord warned of the American surprise attack. On the morning of June 2, 1813, as the Americans passed through Beaver Dams, now St. Catharines, they were ambushed by First Nations warriors and a few local militiamen.  They completely demoralized the Americans who were only too happy to surrender.  FitzGibbon had also successfully bluffed them into believing that he led a much larger regular army force.  As a result of his actions, he was made captain of the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles.

He remained active for the duration of the war, even serving in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.  After the war ended in 1815, the British army was reduced in numbers.  The Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles, along with many other regiments, was disbanded in 1816.  He then left the British army but he remained active in the military, becoming a senior officer in the militia of Upper Canada. 

First Nations

5. Tecumseh, Shawnee War Chief, (1768-1813)

Tecumseh was born in 1768. He was a Native American leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy that opposed the United States during the War of 1812. Tecumseh attempted to stop the advance of white settlement into the Old Northwest. Tecumseh believed that Aboriginal peoples must return to their traditional ways, forgetting intertribal rivalries and holding onto land that all Aboriginals held in common.

Tecumseh joined the British against the Americans in the War of 1812. His support for Major-General Sir Isaac Brock at the capture of Detroit was decisive. Before the British approach, Tecumseh's warriors showed themselves in a never-ending line to the Americans. The warriors at the head of the line doubled back to join the end of the line and it appeared to the American General that he was besieged by a massive force of warriors. This manoeuvre convinced the American General to surrender to avoid a massacre after Brock allegedly warned that the large support from Tecumseh's warriors would be beyond his control once a conflict had begun.

Tecumseh (Shawnee War Chief who joined the British against the Americans in the War of 1812).
Tecumseh, Shawnee War Chief, who joined the British against the Americans in the War of 1812.

Legend has it that Tecumseh rode beside Brock when he entered Detroit and that Brock gave him his sash as a mark of respect. Of Tecumseh Brock wrote: “a more sagacious or more gallant Warrior does not I believe exist. He was the admiration of everyone who conversed with him”. As a brigadier general, Tecumseh led over 2,000 warriors and fought at the sieges of Fort Meigs, and Fort Stephenson, and his last battle was the Battle of the Thames at Chatham Ontario. There, clothed in traditional Aboriginal deerskin garments, he was killed leading his warriors in a final stand against the invading Americans.

6. John Norton (Teyoninhokarawen or “the Snipe”) ca 1765-ca 1831, Six Nations War Chief

John Norton was born in Scotland to a Cherokee father and Scottish mother. As a young man he joined the British army in Ireland in 1784. His regiment was shipped to North America in 1785. While stationed at Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York Norton befriended a number of Six Nations people and began to learn the Mohawk language. He also became fascinated with his First Nations heritage. He deserted the army in 1787 and began teaching school to Mohawk children at the Teyendinaga settlement. He left that profession in 1791 to begin a career as a fur trader and eventually as an interpreter for the British Indian Department at Fort Niagara and Fort George in Niagara. His skills in the Mohawk language were formidable and he translated the Gospel of John from the New Testament into that language. Norton was adopted by the Mohawk Nation and was appointed to be a diplomat and war chief for that nation in 1799.

Major John Norton (Six Nations War Chief during the War of 1812, who recruited hundreds Six Nations and Delaware warriors to assist the British forces at several key battles during the war).
Major John Norton, Six Nations War Chief during the War of 1812, who recruited hundreds Six Nations and Delaware warriors to assist the British forces at several key battles during the War.

Soon after the declaration of War in 1812, Norton recruited a few hundred Six Nations and Delaware warriors to assist Major-General Sir Isaac Brock on the Niagara frontier, which was threatened by a huge American army at Lewiston. On October 13, 1812, the Americans invaded at Queenston Heights. Norton and 100 warriors played a key role in the defeat of the American invasion force. Norton led more warriors at the Battle of Fort George, Stoney Creek, Chippawa and several other actions during the War. Norton was recognized at the time as the principal leader of First Nations allies in Upper Canada. While Norton was a War Chief and Pine Tree Chief of the Six Nations, he was also commissioned as a major in the British army.

In 1815, after the War ended, Norton spent more than a year in Britain and there published his journal that has proven to be an invaluable historic resource for studying First Nations history. He moved back to Upper Canada, settling on the Grand River in 1816 but legal and financial troubles beset him. In 1823 he headed off to Arkansas territory in the United States and for the next few years wandered the southern states, dying around 1831. His burial site is unknown.

7. John Brant, ( Dekarihokenh, Ahyouwaeghs, Tekarihogen) (1794-1832), Mohawk War Chief

John was the son of the famous Mohawk War Chief Joseph Brant and he became, along with Norton, a leading war chief of the Haudenosaunee or Six Nations during the War of 1812.

When the War broke out, Brant and Norton immediately recruited a number of Six Nations warriors and offered their services to British Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, commander of the British forces and President of Upper Canada (Ontario). The Six Nations under Brant and Norton played a key role in the Battle of Queenston Heights and at several important battles during the three-year conflict.

Brant remains an interesting character with feet planted in both worlds. He was brought up primarily at his father’s mansion in Burlington, eating off fine china plates and silver service, tended to by the Brant family’s slaves, but also was at home in buckskins among his Six Nations cousins on the Grand River. He moved to the Grand River reservation following the death of his father in Burlington in 1807. He was a well-educated man, having studied in schools in Ancaster and Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) and may have gone on to bigger things if he had not died young of cholera in 1832.

Following the War of 1812 Brant worked tirelessly to secure Six Nations land rights and have the British supply the Six Nations with deeds to their lands. In 1821 he travelled to England with Robert Johnson Kerr to petition the Crown to come to an agreement with the Six Nations over land rights. Their efforts proved unsuccessful and Brant returned to Upper Canada. The land issues remain unsettled.

At the end of the War of 1812 Brant had been given a commission as a Lieutenant in the British Indian Department and in 1828 was appointed as the Superintendent of the Six Nations of the Grand. Two years later he was elected to the House of Assembly of the Province of Upper Canada but lost the seat when the election was contested and the decision went against him.

Brant died in his 38th year during the cholera epidemic of 1832 and is buried in Her Majesty’s Chapel of the Mohawks in Brantford.

8. Matthew Elliott, British Indian Department Superintendent, (ca 1739-ca 1814)

Matthew Elliott was born around 1739 in County Donegal, Ireland, and came to America in 1761, settling on the frontier of Pennsylvania. During the 1763 Native uprising, Elliott served in the army, marching to the relief of Pittsburgh. During this campaign, he made friends with Shawnee people accompanying the British expedition. After hostilities ended in 1764, Elliott became a merchant and trader working among the Shawnee, Delaware and Mingo people in the Ohio Valley and learning the Shawnee language.

At the beginning of the American Revolution, Elliott tried to remain neutral and continue his trading enterprises. However, he chose sides in 1778 and rapidly became one of the most successful British agents who worked to forge alliances with First Nations against the rebellious colonies. Elliott continued to operate as a merchant but also led some very successful forays against the rebels, even capturing the famous American frontiersman Daniel Boone in a raid on Blue Licks, Kentucky.

After the American Revolution, Elliott established a large farm in Amherstburg, Ontario, eventually owning 4000 acres of land. He continued to be a very effective agent for the Crown in their dealings with First Nations people in South-western Upper Canada, and the territories of surrounding Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and the Detroit River. Elliott was also appointed the Superintendent on the Detroit frontier by the British Indian Department. He continued to trade and lost his post as Superintendent when financial irregularities were suspected but was reappointed in 1808 when tensions with the US threatened war.

Elliott was heavily engaged with various First Nations leaders to strengthen alliances between the British and various Nations from the Detroit frontier as well as the Ohio Valley. Following an American invasion of Sandwich (Windsor) in July 1812, Elliott facilitated a meeting between Major-General Brock and key Aboriginal Native leaders including the Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh. Together they launched a bold and daring but successful campaign to capture Detroit, defeating a much larger American force.

Over the next year Elliott was active in campaigns against the Americans in the Ohio Valley. In the autumn of 1813, following the recapture of Detroit by the Americans and the abandonment of Amherstburg by the British, Elliott retreated with the army to Burlington Heights. He was now in his mid-seventies and the retreat led to a decline in his health which ultimately led to his death in 1814. He is buried in Burlington, Ontario.

Women in the War of 1812

9. Laura Secord, Heroine of Beaver Dams (1775-1868)

Laura Secord was born on September 13, 1775 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Early in the War, Laura’s husband James Secord, a sergeant in the 1st Lincoln militia, was wounded in the battle of Queenston Heights and was rescued from the battlefield by his wife.

On June 21, 1813, Laura overheard that the Americans intended to surprise the British outpost at Beaver Dams and capture the officer in charge, Lieutenant James FitzGibbon. With her husband having been wounded in battle, Laura resolved to take the message to the British herself.

Image of Laura Secord meeting British forces after travelling more than 12 miles to warn of an American invasion at the British outpost at Beaver Dams.
Image of Laura Secord meeting British forces after travelling more than 19 miles (32 kilometres) to warn of an American invasion at the British outpost at Beaver Dams.

The distance to the outpost by direct road was 12 miles but Laura feared she would encounter American guards, so she took a route through fields and forests, making her journey extremely challenging and physically exhausting. Finally, after crossing Twelve Mile Creek on a fallen tree, Laura came unexpectedly on a First Nations’ encampment. Although initially frightened, she explained her mission, and the chief took her to FitzGibbon.

Two days later, on June 24, 1813, an American force was ambushed near Beaver Dams by some 400 First Nations warriors led by Dominique Ducharme and William Johnson Kerr. FitzGibbon then persuaded the American forces to surrender with 462 men to his own 50 men. However, in the official reports of the victory no mention was made of Laura Secord.

An American victory at Beaver Dams would have given the Americans control over the entire Niagara peninsula, jeopardizing Upper Canada. The successful battle assured British control over the region, and is credited foremost as a victory by the First Nations peoples.

10. Mary Henry, “A Heroine Not to be Frightened” (ca 1770-ca 1830)

Mary Madden was born in County Antrim, Ireland, and married Dominic Henry, a Royal Artillery gunner from County Derry in 1790. Dominic was soon shipped to North America and posted to Niagara, bringing Mary with him. By 1803, Dominic was a retired pensioner and was appointed the keeper of the first lighthouse on the Great Lakes, built in the Town of Niagara, now Niagara-on-the-Lake, in 1803.

One year into the War, on May 27, 1813, a large American Army made an amphibious assault on Niagara, landing not far from the lighthouse. The Battle of fort George was fierce, with 5,000 American soldiers resisted by 800 British regular soldiers, Canadian militia and Aboriginal allies. The Americans had more than 80 cannons covering their landing, firing so many cannon balls, bursting shells and iron grapeshot that the American shot was described as falling like a hailstorm on the British defenders. The British put up a stiff resistance but were slowly driven back. The Americans captured the Town and fort George and occupied the area for the next seven months.

During the landing and the extremely heavy bombardment, casualties were heavy with half the British and Canadians killed or wounded. During this entire action, Mary Henry walked the battlefield, bringing coffee and food to the troops and tending the wounded. A chronicler describes her selfless bravery:

“Suddenly they saw a vision. Walking calmly through the shower of iron hail came Mary Madden Henry with hot coffee and food, seemingly as unconcerned as if she were in her own small garden on the shore on a Summer evening before peace was shattered. Time and again she went and came back with more sustenance, apparently guarded by some unseen angel from the peril which menaced her every step. Through the day until darkness brought respite she was caterer and nurse, the only woman in the company to bind the wounds of those maimed in the fight. These who survived never forgot that day, nor the courage of Mary Henry.”

On December 10, 1813 the Americans abandoned Fort George and Niagara, burning the entire town on their departure. The inhabitants, primarily older men, women and children, were given an hour’s warning before they were forced to abandon their homes and all of their belongings to the flames. The weather was frigid and the snow deep and many faced starvation as these refugees sought shelter. Because it was an aid to shipping for both the Americans and the British, the lighthouse and keepers house were spared. Mary brought the refugees out of the cold and provided medical care, hot drinks and food. “Many a family was saved that night by the hospitality of the old soldier’s wife.”

After the War, the Loyal and Patriotic Society of Upper Canada recognized Mary’s courage by granting her a gift of L25 (pounds sterling) and referred to her “a heroine not to be frightened.” Mary Henry's deeds of selfless bravery should not be forgotten.


11. Charles Frederick Rolette, Canadian Officer of the Royal Navy, (1783-1831)

Charles Frederick Rolette was born in Quebec City in 1783 and joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman while a young teen. He served under Admiral Nelson at the Battle of the Nile in 1799 and at Trafalgar in 1805.

Returning to his native land in 1807, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Provincial Marine, the government’s maritime service on the Great Lakes in British North America. Just before the outbreak of the War of 1812, Rolette was posted to Amherstburg as a First Lieutenant in charge of the brig General Hunter. When word of the outbreak of War reached Amherstburg on July 3, 1812, Rolette acted immediately, capturing an American vessel, the Cuyahoga, before the Americans in the Detroit area even became aware that their country had declared war on Britain. The first shots of the War of 1812 were fired in this brief engagement. On board the Cuyahoga were American commander General Hull’s papers and dispatches, providing the British with a great deal of intelligence on American strengths and deployment. Also captured on board were the wives of American officers and the instruments of the regimental bands. The British kept the papers and the musical instruments but returned the wives to Detroit.

Rolette was very active in the war, conducting several daring captures of American supply vessels and participating in land battles at the Capture of Detroit, the Battle of Frenchtown and the skirmish at the Canard River. He was severely wounded at Frenchtown in January 1813 but was able to return to duty by late summer of that year and commanded the British vessel Lady Prevost at the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. The Americans won that battle. Rolette was again gravely wounded and captured when his vessel surrendered to the Americans. He spent the rest of the War as a prisoner-of-war.

When the War ended, Rolette returned to Quebec City but never fully recovered from his wounds, dying in 1831 in his 49th year.

 12. Joseph Barss, Privateer (1776-1824)

Joseph Barss was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia during the American Revolution. While still a young boy, he began sailing on his father’s fishing schooners operating out of Liverpool and by the time he was 20 was commanding one of his father’s vessels. At that time, England was at war with France in a conflict that would continue until 1815. As part of the war effort, the English offered “letters of marque” to ship owners who turned their vessels into “privateers,” armed vessels that preyed on enemy merchant shipping. In 1798, Barss began his career as a privateersman on one of his father’s largest ships as third-in-command and the following year was given his own small schooner to command. In this vessel he managed to capture a few French prizes of war but ran his schooner up on a reef soon afterwards. He took command of one of the French prizes and continued his life as a privateer for a few years but a lack of French shipping and an abundance of British privateers chasing them made this occupation less profitable. So Joseph turned to trade and used his vessel for strictly mercantile business by the time of the Peace of Amiens in 1803.

Word of the outbreak of war arrived in Liverpool on June 28, 1812, when the fast schooner the Liverpool Packet brought dispatches to the port. This vessel was owned by entrepreneur Enos Collins of Nova Scotia and three other shareholders including two of Barss’s brothers. In late August 1812, the government began to issue “letters of marque” to prey on American shipping. Collins received permission to turn the Liverpool Packet into a privateer and later appointed the experienced Joseph Barss as its captain.

For the next several months, Barss cruised near the American ports off Boston and Cape Cod and during the course of the War, he captured more than 50 American vessels. More than 30 of these were taken to British ports and sold, which earned huge profits for Collins and the shareholders. His luck finally ran out in June 1813 when Barss was forced to surrender to a large American privateer out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Barss was imprisoned in Portsmouth but was later paroled, that is released from custody on the promise that he would not fight again against the Americans. Barss reportedly broke that parole, captured some more American shipping but was taken again in 1814 and this time kept behind bars until the War was over.

After the War, Barss gave up sailing, buying a farm near Kentville, Nova Scotia, where he died at the age of 48. The dashing Joseph Barss was the most successful privateersman of the War of 1812.

13. Enos Collins, Canada’s Most Successful Privateer (1774–1871)

Enos Collins was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, on September 5, 1774. He was one of 26 children fathered by Hallet Collins, who was a merchant, trader, and justice of the peace in Liverpool.

He spent time as a cabin boy on one of his father’s vessels and then progressed to become the captain of the schooner Adamant. He then became first lieutenant on the privateer Charles Mary Wentworth. In 1811, Collins came to Halifax and established himself as a merchant and shipper.

During the War of 1812, Collins was best known for being the owner of the Liverpool Packet, the most successful Letter of Marque to ever sail out of a Canadian port. Collins was part owner of three privateer ships, including the Liverpool Packet, which became famous for capturing 50 American merchant vessels for the British. At that time, he also founded the Halifax Banking Company which is known today as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC).

Collins main fortune was made in shrewd wartime trading and smart peacetime investments. After the war, Collins was involved in many successful business ventures. In 1822, Collins was offered a seat on the Council of Twelve, from which he later had to step down. He lived to the age of 97 and, upon his death, was reported to be the richest man in Canada with an estimated worth of $6 million.

African Canadian

14. Richard Pierpoint, a Black Veteran of three wars, (1744-1838)

Richard Pierpoint was a lad of 16 in Senegal, Africa when he was seized and sold into slavery in 1760. He was purchased by an English officer named Pierpoint who had settled in New York’s Hudson Valley. Richard became this officer’s servant and adopted his surname. The officer and Richard were mustered during the 1763 Aboriginal uprising in British North America, but likely saw no action.

After the outbreak of the American Revolution, Richard was given his freedom and eventually became a soldier, joining John Butler’s corps of Rangers operating out of Fort Niagara. When the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783, Butler’s Rangers were disbanded and the men were provided with land grants in what would become the Niagara region of Ontario. Richard received 200 acres of land in present-day St. Catharines and became a community leader among Niagara’s Black population.

When the War of 1812 broke out Richard Pierpoint petitioned Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, proposing the formation of an all-Black company of militia to fight alongside the British during the War. Brock agreed with the proposal and ordered the formation of what was known as the Coloured Corps, a small company of about 40 men from the Niagara and York districts mustered under white officers. The 68 year-old Richard Pierpoint served as a private in the corps and served on active duty throughout the conflict, including the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812 when the corps was mentioned in dispatches as having played a key role in that British victory.

The Coloured Corps fought at the Battle of fort George in May 1813, and were active in the Niagara campaign of 1813. In 1814 they worked on construction of fortifications, many of the men of the company having skills in carpentry and masonry.

When the War ended, the British offered land grants to the veterans of the Coloured Corps, establishing settlements in Oro and Garafraxa Townships in Ontario. He petitioned the government to provide passage for him back to Senegal in Africa but this was never granted. He was given another land grant of 100 acres in Garafraxa in 1822 and was able to build a house and clear a few acres there but he was too old to farm it properly. Pierpoint died in 1838.

Watch the Heritage Minute on Richard Pierpoint


15. William Hamilton Merritt, Cavalry officer and Canal Builder, (1793-1862)

William Hamilton Merritt was born in New York State but moved with his family to Upper Canada in 1795, settling in Niagara where the city of St. Catharines, Ontario, would one day be established. Merritt was well educated and proved to be a brilliant businessman. While still a teenager he became a partner in a store but sold that interest in 1812 to take up scientific agriculture on the family farm.

When the War of 1812 broke out, his father Thomas, an American Revolutionary War cavalry officer, formed a squad of light dragoons (cavalry) to operate in the Niagara Region during the War. Young Hamilton Merritt was commissioned as an officer in that troop and most often led the unit in action during the War. Merritt was very active through 1812 and 1813, often experiencing hair-raising adventures behind enemy lines as a scout and dispatch rider. He spent long hours in the saddle riding the back ways of the Niagara Peninsula and, in doing so, formed a plan to link Lake Ontario to Lake Erie through a canal system that would follow the path of existing creeks and waterways. This idea would give rise to the Welland Canal in the decade following the War.

Merritt was at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane in July 1814 when he mistakenly rode into the American lines and was captured. He spent the rest of the War in captivity in Massachusetts, returning to Niagara in 1815. On his return, he built a store in the village of St. Catharines, and began operating a grist mill nearby. He continued to petition the government to build a canal to link the Chippawa River to the Twelve Mile Creek, climbing the Niagara Escarpment to provide passage between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. In 1824 the provincial legislature began work on the Welland Canal.

Merritt continued to be a pillar of the community, investing in major projects including the construction of a suspension bridge across the Niagara River. He also got involved in provincial politics and was elected to serve in the legislative assembly of Upper Canada. Merritt was on a business trip when he died near Cornwall in 1862.

16. Dominique Ducharme, Hero of the Battle of Beaver Dams (1765–1853)

Dominique Ducharme was born in Lachine, Quebec, on May 15, 1765. Baptized François, Ducharme came from a distinguished family that was involved in the western fur trade. His family made a comfortable living, and this allowed him to attend Collège Saint-Raphaël in Montréal from 1780 to 1786. His independent and adventurous nature saw him enter the fur trade shortly after graduation. He made a name for himself among fur traders and was able to speak several Aboriginal dialects.

After the War broke out with the United States in the summer of 1812, Ducharme was commissioned a lieutenant in the Pointe-Claire Battalion of Militia. He was made a captain in the service of the Indian Department and resident Agent for the Two Mountains or Kanesatake settlement. In May 1813, he was ordered to the Niagara Frontier to command a party of warriors of the Seven Nations of Canada.

Dominique Ducharme greatly distinguished himself at the Battle of Beaver Dams. After Laura Secord informed Lieutenant FitzGibbon about a potential American attack, Ducharme and his First Nations warriors sent scouts to discover American movements against FitzGibbon’s headquarters. He and his 300 warriors joined the 100 Aboriginal men serving under Captain William Johnson Kerr and engaged in a fierce assault from the woods. This resulted in the Americans surrendering to FitzGibbon.

He quickly returned to Lower Canada and was placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles de Salaberry to participate in the Battle of Châteauguay in October 1813. He received the Military General Service medal with a Châteauguay bar for this action in 1848. His relationship with the strict disciplinarian de Salaberry, however, was not positive, and he was greatly affected by his commander’s decision to court martial deserters from the militia units.

After the war, Ducharme returned to Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes, where he was appointed as interpreter for the Indian Department. Ducharme’s active career spanned close to 70 years.