The Massacre at Fort Niagara: British Revenge for the American burning of Newark, Canada

New Newspaper News
The University of Texas has posted two new titles from its extensive holdings of nineteenth century newspapers.  Latest postings are one issue of Augusta’s Banner of the South, for June 11, 1870, one issue of the Augusta Herald for April 13, 1819, and a very nice run of the Herald extending from June 30, 1820 to June 28, 1822.

From the Commercial Advertiser, December 22, 1813

From Fort George — “we learn by officers direct from Fort George, that on Friday night last, [December 10] in consequence of orders received by general M’Clure from the Secretary at War, that Fort was cleared of all moveables, the cannon spiked or thrown into the ditch, and the Fort then set on FIRE, and abandoned by our troops! And that the village of Newark save a few buildings, was also BURNT!”

From an Extra of the Albany Register of  December 24, 1813:

Fort Niagara in the winter, c. 1812 by Peter Rindlisbacher.

“A gentleman direct from Buffaloe . . . states, that he left Buffaloe on Tuesday morning last.  That on Sunday morning FORT NIAGARA was taken by STORM    by a British force consisting of about 3,000 regulars, militia and their savage allies:  That there were only three who had the good fortune to escape from the Fort, the remainder having it is believed been put to the sword.”

From a letter from New York’s Governor Tompkins in Albany, on December 24, printed in the Carolina Star on January 7, 1814:

“Major Gen. Hull has been ordered to repair to that frontier with as many of his division as may be necessary to expel or destroy the invaders.  The British have with them a number of Indians, and continue to sanction their massacres.”

A letter from Gen. M’Clure, of the New York State troops, to the Secretary of War, dated “Head-Quarters, Buffalo, December 22, 1813,” printed in the Hartford American Mercury of January 18, 1814:

“SIR–I regret to be under the necessity of announcing to you the mortifying intelligence of the loss of Fort Niagara.  On the morning of the 19th inst. about 4 o’clock, the enemy crossed the river at the five mile meadow in great force, consisting of regulars and indians, who made their way undiscovered to the garrison, which from the most correct information I can collect was completely surprised.  Our men were nearly all asleep in their tents; the enemy rushed in and commenced a most horrid slaughter.  Such as escaped the fury of the first onset, retired to the old mess house, where they kept up a destructive fire upon the enemy, until a want of ammunition compelled them to surrender.  Although our force was very inferior and comparatively small indeed, I am induced to thin that the disaster is not attributable to any want of troops, but to gross neglect in the commanding officer of the Fort, Capt. Leonard, in not preparing, being ready, and looking for the expected attack.

I have not been able to ascertain correctly the number of killed and wounded.  About twenty regulars have escaped out of the fort–some badly wounded.  Lieutenant Peck 24th regt. is killed, and it is said three others.

You will perceive, sir, by the enclosed general Orders, that I apprehended an attack, and made the necessary arrangements to meet it, but have reason to believe from information received by those who made their escape, that the commandant did not in any respect comply with those orders.

On the same morning a detachment of militia under Major Bennet, stationed at Lewiston Heights, was attacked by a party of savages, but the Major and his little corps, by making a desperate charge, effected their retreat, after being surrounded by several hundred, with the loss of 6 or 8, who doubtless were killed; among whom are the two sons of capt. Jones, Indian interpreter.   The villages of Youngstown, Lewiston, Manchester and the Indian Tuscarora village, were reduced to ashes, and the inoffensive inhabitants who could not escape, were, without regard to age or sex, inhumanly butchered by savages headed by British officers painted.  A British officer who is taken prisoner avows that man small children were murdered by their Indians.  Maj. Mallaroy, who was stationed at Schlosser with about 40 Canadian volunteers, advanced to Lewiston Heights and compelled the advanced guard of the enemy to fall back to the foot of the mountain.  The major is a meritorious officer, he fought the enemy two days, and contended every inch of ground to the Tantawanty creek.  In these actions Lt. Lowe, 23d regt. U. S. army and eight of the Canadian volunteers were killed.  I had myself, three days previous to the attack on the Niagara, left it with a view for providing for the defence of this place, Black Rock & the other villages on this frontier.  I came here without troops, and have called out the militia of Gennessee, Niagara and Chatauga counties, en masse.

This place was then thought in the most imminent danger, as well as the shipping, but I have no doubt is now perfectly secure.–Volunteers are coming in in great numbers; they are, however, a species of troops that cannot be expected to continue in service for a long time.  In a few days one thousand detached militia, lately drafted will be on.

I have the honour to be, &c.

This was the editorial reaction to General M’Clure’s letter by the pro-war Richmond Enquirer as reprinted in the American Mercury, February 8, 1814:

“Our scruples are at an end.  The man, who charges us with thirsting for the blood of man, knows us not–we have long deprecated a recourse to the tomahawk, but in the extremest necessity.  We have thought and continue to think that the voluntary use of it by our enemy, has left a stain upon his honor, which years will not wipe out.  But it is forced upon us.  It was in vain that we declined the aid of the Indians in the first instances.  It is in vain, that after the action on the Thames, we told them we wanted them not.  It was in vain that Harrison solemnly declared to gen. Vincent, ‘if the Indians under the influence of the British government are suffered to commit depredations upon our citizens, he would remove the restrictions upon those who have tendered him their services, and directed them to carry on their own way.’

Now, turn to Gen. M’Clure’s letter.  We are told that no age or sex could save the inoffensive inhabitants from being inhumanly butchered by savages headed by British officers painted.

Private accounts add, that some of the inhabitants were scalped, their limbs cut to pieces, the entrails of one cut out and his heart missing.  What then?  If the British will have it so, be it so.  Let Harrison immediately put arms and ammunition into the hands of 6 or 8 thousand Indians.  Let the give notice of the storm that is coming–and then let them sweep the whole of Upper Canada in their own way.  He that sows the wind must reap the whirlwind.”

And this is the editorial reaction to General McClure’s burning of Newark and his letter, printed by the anti-war United States Gazette for the Country:

“The impudence of the INCENDIARY, M’CLURE, is equal to his detestable barbarity.  After laying a flourishing village in ashes in the exercise of a most wanton unnecessary cruelty, and exposing a multitude of helpless women and children to perish under the severity of an intolerable climate, and knowing that he has exposed our own unprotected frontier to the most destructive retaliation, he issued a pompous Proclamation, calling upon the people to defend themselves from British cruelty and murder.  The valiant General offers no protection himself–Having raised the pitiless storm, he leaves us to best shelter as we can; having provoked and excited a furious animal to madness, he cries out most potently:  ‘Good people take care of yourselves.’

Congress should institute some inquiry as to the authority by which this horrible outrage was committed.”

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden