Welcome to part two of a special episode of The Wellspring Podcast recorded at Lynde House Museum in Whitby, Ontario where I was joined by Tom Taylor, historical fiction author and War of 1812 aficionado and museum curator, Monica Effenberger.
Lynde House Museum is the perfect backdrop to our discussion of the War of 1812. As we heard from Tom and Monica in part one, the Lynde family often hosted General Isaac Brock and played an important role in the War of 1812. Today’s discussion takes us deeper in to the legend of this hero of history, General Isaac Brock.
[Continue below to The Wellspring Podcast transcript.]
GWEN: In Brock’s Traitor, other officers and men who served under Brock spoke about him in such glowing terms. I’m wondering what is it about Brock that acconts for the loyalty and admiration of the men so long after his passing?
TOM: I put it in this way. I mean the famous quote by Thomas Jefferson is that the acquisition of Canada was a mere matter of marching. We just have to go. Canadians want to be Americans why wouldn’t you want to be an American. It’s inconceivable why would you want to stay under the oppression that you must be just suffering under now. The weird thing that happened— Americans revolted against taxes—you know, the Boston Tea Party and everything. In the north that was so oppressive—and there were some oppressive parts to it, make no mistake— had lower taxes. There were eight million Americans against 500,000 British subjects. I’m reading now from a thing I did for the National Post in 1812.
“… many of whom had just arrived here from the United States and to defend an area larger than Britain and France combined (think about how big Ontario and that way it is right and Quebec in the Maritimes) there were only 5700 regular British officers in men, and of that number only 1150 were in all of Upper Canada where 3 out of 5 settlers were newly arrived from the USA.”
Madison and the War Hawks looked upon Upper Canada as kind of low hanging fruit. And then at the opening of the war, they hadn’t accounted on the unique resistance of Major General Isaac Brock from the Guernsey Isle, St Peter Port, also to be fair, the cunning of Tecumseh and the determination of a guy named Salaberry and the genuine desire of Canadians to British subjects. We looked upon ourselves as more British than we did Canadians at the time, although Upper Canada existed, Lower Canada existed, the Maritimes certainly existed.
So why Brock? Brock is kind of under attack in academia today because a little bit of the historical bias that I alluded to, but here’s what he did. In February of 1812, he sent a secret agent, a courier, to the old northwest called Wisconsin. I don’t know if you remember from your grade 8 history, a guy named the red-haired Chief— Robert Dixon, a Scotsman who became a Sioux Warrior Chief and he had about 50 enemy warrior with him. And Brock sent his career on this vital mission to get Robert Dixon to take his men to Fort St. Joseph. You can go there today. The fort is mapped out. It’s not a fort free-standing for it but there’s a wonderful visitors center and a theater where you can watch a film about it. And the people there are very nice, plus they sell my books (laughter) so they’re really nice. So, by the way, that’s how Jonathon Westlake came about. I thought if Brock was that serious, if it was that vital to get these guys to Fort St. Joseph because when they get to Fort St. Joseph, war is declared on June for 5 months later and they’re going to hit Fort Michilimackinac right away and bring a victory to the British and that will bring the natives on side. Because if the natives picked the wrong side, they’re (the British) are in serious serious trouble. So, Brock does this. There’d be another agent. He wouldn’t send one guy. Imagine even today—we’ll send you in the middle of February on snowshoes. I’ll give you a snow mobile. Are you going to make it? Well, 50/50, you know. So I searched for another guy for a year because I heard there was one, and I can never find the guys name and then it kind of clunked me in the head. And I thought, that’s my guy, my secret guy that nobody knows about. He’s the second guy that Brock sent. Westlake is my secret agent.
There’s the history and then there’s my story. So, what we do in historical fiction is obviously the big story is the War of 1812 and the Battle of Michilimackinac shock and the fall of Detroit and all that stuff. Just like in Gone with the Wind. Obviously, the big story is the civil war, for goodness sake, and the burning of Atlanta. But as historical fiction writers, we turn that upside down and Scarlett and her determination become the story of Gone with the Wind. Where as for me, my story is young Jonathan Westlake who’s been thrown out of school and is now kind of seeking redemption from his parents, from Isaac Brock who he meets, and of course for himself.
So, Brock does this very prescient thing by sending these guys up there. He takes the first battle of the war at Michilimackinac, and then the natives come on side and General Harrison, who by the way who becomes an American president. I think he’s the shortest president in the history of American president because at his inauguration address it’s below zero and doesn’t wear a coat. He got pneumonia and dies 5 days later. It’s terrible. He does all kinds of stuff and he moves in to—imagine Tecumseh who is well known then—he moves in and burns his village down at Prophetstown and so for the rest of the war, Tecumseh and all his warriors are against the Americans. They’re fighting for the British, so that helps that Brock had this and then of course he decides to—go to Fort Malden. Really it’s worth the trip see Fort Malden. Stand at the gate and look across the river to Grosse Île. It’s still all wilderness. It’s exactly what Brock would have seen when he stood there deciding, “Should I invade the United States? I only got 1500…” Sorry 1100 and I think he was up to 1500 at that point. “I only have 1500 guys. Should I really invade the United States and hit Fort Detroit?” So, he and Tecumseh meet and they work out a plan. So, here’s Fort Detroit and there’s a break in the woods hundred yards away and Tecumseh has a hundred guys with him at the time, natives. Brock and he have the natives run past this gap in the forest, so all day long the American forces see more and more natives coming to kill shem. But all they’re doing is running down the bottom of the hill, they run out the other side and then down. He has one of his couriers get captured and the Americans rough him up enough so that he says, “Okay, I’ll tell you the truth. There’s 5000 natives coming to get you guys and General Brock can’t control them. So God help you if you don’t surrender.” And apparently the general in charge at the time of Fort Detroit, he was going catatonic. His daughter was there and the Lieutenant Hanks who had surrendered Michilimackinac to the British was giving his testimony in front of General Hull and so imagine—it was warm, an open door and he’s giving his testimony to General Hull on how he lost Michilimackinac and Brock fires a cannon ball from where the Hilton is now. You go to Windsor make sure you see the Hilton and just go behind it and that’s where the cannons were sited. There’s a plaque there and all that. The ball clears the Detroit River, clears the parapet of Fort Detroit, bounces in the courtyard, bolts through the open door, cuts Lieutenant Hank in half, his guts are spread all over General Hull and the guys at the court-martial. And so, there were different events leading up to that surrender. Of course, General Hull is later court-martialed and sentenced to be hung. Because Madison and he were buddies, Madison commutes his sentence but he’s gone down through history as the guy who surrendered a fortified position too far less troops. I mean they really should not have surrendered so Brock bluffs him into giving Fort Detroit to him and at that point he’s pushed the Americans back out of Ontario and he becomes known as the saviour of Upper Canada. And of course, then his heroic death at Queenston Heights just reinforces that and now you see if you go to Niagara Falls, the tallest in Queenston Heights, the tallest and the British Empire at the time. And the funny thing is in about 1812 or talk there’s a lightning rod up there, on his hand, and it looks like he’s giving the Americans the finger. He’s not. But that’s what it looks like, you know. So that’s Brock.
Gwen: As a testament to your great story telling, Tom, I’m still picturing that cannonball. Brock made a bit of an impression on some people at the Lynde House.
Monica: Yes, so he was a romantic character, definitely for some people at that time. We know he was a good-looking guy, and he had a place of power in Canada at that time, so he would have had lots of admirers including Clarissa Lynde Warren, one the daughters of the Lyndes. When General Brock came, she was here, when he came for fresh horses to the house. She was about 7 years old at this time and he came in February, 1812. So, she remembers his visit for the rest of her life. And an 1897 when she’s 92, she finally does write down all of her memories about the War of 1812 and she mentions his visit in her writing.
“For some time before the declaration of war by the United States, there were rumors of impending hostilities. At this stage General Brock, bound westward, drove up at the house of Mr. Lynde on Lynde Creek and desired immediate conveyance to Toronto. He and his aide-de-camp were clad in long plaid coats lined with fur. The suavity of the commander and chief was even manifest in in the wayside log inn and won the heart of the little Canadian girl of the house who for fourscore years has not ceased to sorrow for his untimely end. Colonel Drummond, his companion, paced the floor. The king’s business required haste. Mister Jabez Lynde, horseman of no mean skill drove over the snow, through the serpentine forest, rode down and up the dangerous Rouge Hills and entered, in three hours and five minutes later, the yard of the government house, Toronto.”
So we can see in that, that she remembers, very vividly, his visit to the Lynde house, and it makes quite an impression on her to feel sorrow for his death even so many years later when she’s 92.
GWEN: Monica, is there a record of any of the other Lynde men offering any type of service to the militia?
MONICA: Yes, Jabez and his sons—his older son’s, Sylvester and Hawkins—even his brother-in-laws Noted and Harvey, they served as dispatchers in the war. Now if you read To a House in Whitby which was written by Sybil Lynde Sterling, she does note that there is no record of Sylvester Lynde, the eldest, being a dispatcher, but since he was the oldest and one of his younger brother did serve as dispatcher, it stands to reason that he probably did serve as a dispatcher even if there is no record that survived of fact. But they were paid and gold for this work at. At one time Clarissa actually remembered seeing 8 pounds of gold in the strong box. And it’s this gold that they use, actually, to build the Lynde house.
GWEN: Tom I’m going to ask you one more question, then we’ll see if anyone in the audience has questions for you and for Monica. I need you ask you about weaponry. I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit of what type of rifle was used by the British. Was the function of the weaponry affected by Canadian climate? How did it stand up against with Americans were using?
TOM: Well most of the battle in the Napleonic Wars in general, used what was called a Brown Bess musket. There’s about twelve steps that you go through to stuff the ball down the barrel, but it was a smooth barrel. It wasn’t what was called rifled and so maybe—I think it’s 1813 maybe—the Baker rifle comes into play, certainly in Europe. I’m not sure how many got to North America, but some Canadian troops got… if you can afford it, you bought a Baker rifle. Now they were slower to load. The Brown Bess soldier was expected to the able to fire four rounds a minute and any weather. Of course, if you got the powder wet nothing happened and I mean it sounds like nothing. Well my powders wet. Okay, your powder is wet. You die because the other guy’s powder isn’t wet and he’s coming right at you. You can’t fire. So, you died just because you got your powder wet. So, there was some serious things that went on and, the balls were only like that big around. We’re not talking about, you know… I fired one and you feel the …and it was the half charge, not the full charge and I still felt the kick. Lots of guys broke their… had their you know had broken jaws. Because you’ve got to hold it tight and if you’re scared, and some of them were scared when facing another group, and they fired in a massive volley because they were only accurate up to 50 yards of something. And then remember the balls rattling down the barrel. It’s not like a rifle where it’s controlled. So, they fired on mass and hope to hit something. So, just because they fired didn’t mean you were going to get hit. And if you were scared the guys fired high. So, they always saying fire low. Don’t just get them us get ready to fire. Pull it back and pull the trigger. Because they were scared that’s what they did. So they were taught four rounds a minute, take your time, keep your powder dry. That’s where the saying comes from. Keep your powder dry. And the Baker rifle, I believe, that was 20 to 30 seconds to load it. So, you’d fire 2 to 3 times and minute which was a big deal. Imagine firing two a minute versus the other guys firing four a minute. That would be like facing a force twice your size, right? The Baker rifle was more accurate so they could fire a couple of hundred yards and hit at target. So, it was often the skirmish guys that were sent out in. So here comes the main force marching down. There’d be a line of skirmishers out front with their rifles. They used Baker rifles. Because they weren’t firing in a line and they wanted to hit, primarily you shot at officers.
GWEN: And so, the Baker rifle required a ramrod as well, and you could a fix a bayonet to it?
TOM: Oh yes. But it was just harder and took more time because of barrel was rifled and it was harder to get the wad and the ball down there.
GWEN Were the Americans also using a Baker rifle?
TOM: Yes, they had rifles, different rifles. They made their own. But they also use a Brown Bess style musket. Uh, most of them. Not much difference. The Napoleonic Wars were carried out mainly with Brown Bess—either the Brown Bess itself or the India Pattern musket. And yes, they could affix bayonets. Bayonets weren’t used that much.There were some instances but it was mainly musket, and artillery as well.
GWEN: Well, I guess we’ll open it up to you folks. Are there any questions you’d like to ask? Where did General Brock actually live?
Well he was born in the Guernsey Isle, St. Peter Port. You can Google that. It’s a nice little town. It’s now a Boots Drug Store; it’s like a Shoppers Drug Mart. And there’s a plaque on the wall that says, you know, Major General Isaac Brock was here, although they don’t know who he was and they don’t get what a big deal he is here. And where did he live when he was here? He started in the Maritimes because he was in Halifax, and then transferred to Upper Canada. Remember Upper Canada was considered a backwater at the time. This wasn’t a promotion. Nobody wanted to come here. But he figured I’m here. I’ll make the best of it and started to fortify different areas. Spent a lot of time in Toronto, at York. It was known as York at the time. And a lot of time in Newark. And of course a lot of time in the United States when he conquered Detroit.
They don’t have accurate statistics on this, but obviously death in childbirth was still one of the leading causes of death for women in 1812. It was getting better, but it was the leading cause. Any guesses on the second leading cause? Fire! They burned to death. Because women worked in the kitchens all day long and they wore those, you know you had to be covered to your ankles. Today it’s no big deal but then remember the long skirts and they were around the fire all day long. What they used to do is they take buckets of water and dump it on their skirts in the morning so the bottom of their skirts where wet. They worked and wet skirts around the fire for as long as they could and I guess they dried out during the day, it would make sense. I heard that from Sue Spencer. She’s a well-known reenactor. They don’t know no if it’s precisely accurate because.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Children died that way too, from fires, I read, because they be stoking.
TOM: Brock was in Barbados. You can go to the military barracks right now in Barbados and see where the guys stayed. And at Needham’s Point, where the Hilton is, there’s a graveyard there of British soldiers and others. You can see them from the… I think from… you can see them from the 1800s. I think 1795 is the oldest. Brock is there and he’s with the British Army and there is this cad, derogatory term for a big mouth. And he was boasting how he had an affair with this woman. And Brock was in the bar and was disgusted by this guy’s conduct and told him in front of everyone that that’s unbecoming an officer to talk like that. And I think the method for a dual was to slap him in the face or something. And Brock said sure we can have a dual if that’s what you want. And everybody drew in their breath because this guy was a sharpshooter. So Brock says, “Okay. Pistols at dawn.” They meet on Needham’s beach. You can go to Needham’s Beach. If you stay at the Hilton that’s Needham’s Point. Needham’s Beach is somewhere along there. I get the shivers when I walk there because I’m thinking I’m in the footsteps of Brock. They meet at dawn and Brock says, “Okay you decide the pistols and I’ll decide the distance.” The guy says, “Well of course that’s wonderful.” You know, he thinks Brock is going to pick 500 yards and he’ll never hit him and he won’t get hurt either and they lived happily ever after. So he picks out his pistol. Brock picks of his pistol. Then Brock takes out his handkerchief and says, “That’s the distance we’re going to fire across.” His opponent, naturally nearly faints (laughter) because he says to Brock, “If we do this, we’re both going to die.” Brock said, “Yeah. And that’s your punishment for maligning this young woman.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah Brock!
TOM: Right there. The guy that was with him, I think his name was McDonald, who he brings with him to Upper Canada. At 28 years old, the guy becomes Upper Canada’s youngest Receiver General. He’s begging Brock, “Don’t do this. Don’t do this! You’re going to be dead too.” The guy he was up against puts his pistol back in the case and he runs off and he’s gone to history. No one ever hear from him again. He left the regiment, went back to England, and said that’s it these guys are crazy over here. McDonald, says to him, “How did you know this was going to happen?” And he said, “He was a bully, a big mouth, and a coward. You have to know your man.” So that’s part of the Brock myth
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Did you hear Part 1 of The War of 1812 with Historical Author Tom Taylor & Lynde House Museum Curator, Monica Effenberger on The Wellspring Podcast? Tom talks about Canada’s historical hero, General Isaac Brock. And Monica shares the story of General Scheaffe’s retreat from York (Toronto) and the ransacking of the Lynde family home.
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