A TALE OF THE WAR OF 1812.
REV. W. H. WITHROW, M.A.
REV. EGERTON RYERSON, D.D., LL.D.,
WHOSE LONG LIFE
HAS BEEN DEVOTED TO THE SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY,
"Story of the War,"
HE HAS WITH GRAPHIC PEN RECORDED,
IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED
In this short story an attempt has been made—with what success the reader must judge—to present certain phases of Canadian life during the heroic struggle against foreign invasion, which first stirred in our country the pulses of that common national life, which has at length attained a sturdier strength in the confederation of the several provinces of the Dominion of Canada. It will he found, we think, that the Canadian Methodism of those troublous times was not less patriotic than pious. While our fathers feared God, they also honoured the King, and loved their country; and many of them died in its defence. Reverently let us mention their names. Lightly let us tread upon their ashes. Faithfully let us cherish their memory. And sedulously let us imitate their virtues.
A good deal of pains has been taken by the careful study of the most authentic memoirs, documents, and histories referring to the period; by personal examination of the physical aspect of the scene of the story; and by frequent conversations with some of the principal actors in the stirring drama of the time—most of whom, alas! have now passed away—to give a verisimilitude to the narrative that shall, it is hoped, reproduce in no distorted manner this memorable period.
W. H. W.
TORONTO, March 1st, 1880.
The Eve of Battle
The Wages of War
A Victory and its Cost
The Capture of York
The Fall of Fort George
The Fortunes of War
A Brave Woman's Exploit
Disasters and Triumphs
Elder Case in War Time
A Dark Tragedy—The Burning of Niagara
A Stern Nemesis—A Ravaged Frontier
Toronto of Old
A Quarterly Meeting in the Olden Time
The "Protracted Meeting"
The Tragedy of War.
Chippewa and Lundy's Lane.
The Closing of the War.
Closing Scenes. NEVILLE TRUEMAN, THE PIONEER PREACHER [Footnote: The principal authorities consulted for the historical portion of this story are:—Tupper's Life and Letters of Sir Isaac Brock, Auchinleck's and other histories of the War, and Carroll's, Bangs', and Playter's references to border Methodism at the period described. Many of the incidents, however, are derived from the personal testimony of prominent actors in the stirring drama of the time, but few of whom still linger on the stage. For reasons which will be obvious, the personality of some of the characters of the story is Slightly veiled under assumed names.]
Now lower the dreadful clouds of war; Its threatening thunder rolls afar; Near and more near the rude alarms Of conflict and the clash of arms Advance and grow, till all the air Rings with the brazen trumpet blare.
Towards the close of a sultry day in July, in the year 1812, might have been seen a young man riding along the beautiful west bank of the Niagara River, about three miles above its mouth. His appearance would anywhere have attracted attention. He was small in person and singularly neat in his attire. By exposure to summer's sun and winter's cold, his complexion was richly bronzed, but, as he lifted his broad-leafed felt hat to cool his brow, it could be seen that his forehead was smooth and white and of a noble fulness, indicating superior intellectual abilities. His hair was dark,
—his eye beneath Flashed like falchion from its sheath.
His bright, quick glances, alternating with a full and steady gaze, betokened a mind keenly sympathetic with emotions both of sorrow and of joy. His dress and accoutrements were those of a travelling Methodist preacher of the period. He wore a suit of "parson's grey," the coat having a straight collar and being somewhat rounded away in front. His buckskin leggings, which descended to his stirrups, were splashed with mud, for the day had been rainy. He was well mounted on a light-built, active-looking chestnut horse. The indispensable saddle-bags, containing his Greek Testament, Bible, and Wesley's Hymns, and a few personal necessaries, were secured across the saddle. A small, round, leathern valise, with a few changes of linen, and his coarse frieze great-coat were strapped on behind. Such was a typical example of the "clerical cavalry" who, in the early years of this century, ranged through the wilderness of Canada, fording or swimming rivers, toiling through forests and swamps, and carrying the gospel of Christ to the remotest settlers in the backwoods.
Our young friend, the Rev. Neville Trueman, afterwards a prominent figure in the history of early Methodism, halted his horse on a bluff jutting out into the Niagara River, both to enjoy the refreshing breeze that swept over the water and to admire the beautiful prospect. At his feet swept the broad and noble river, reflecting on its surface the snowy masses of "thunderhead" clouds, around which the lightning still played, and which, transfigured and glorified in the light of the setting sun, seemed to the poetic imagination of the young man like the City of God descending out of heaven, with its streets of gold and foundations of precious stones, while the rainbow that spanned the heavens seemed like the rainbow of the Apocalypse round about the throne of God.
Under the inspiration of the beauty of the scene, the young preacher began to sing in a clear, sweet, tenor voice that song of the ages, which he had learned at his mother's knee among the green hills of Vermont—
Jerusalem the golden, With milk and honey blest, Beneath thy contemplation, Sink heart and voice opprest,
I know not, oh! I know not What joys await me there; What radiancy of glory, What bliss beyond compare.
They stand, those walls of Zion, All jubilant with song, And bright with many an angel, And all the martyr throng.
With jasper glow thy bulwarks, Thy streets with emeralds blaze, The sardius and the topaz Unite in thee their rays.
Thine ageless walls are bonded With amethyst unpriced;
The saints build up its fabric, The corner-stone is Christ.
[Footnote: We cannot resist the temptation to give a few lines of the original hymn of Bernard of Clugny, a Breton monk of English parentage of the 12th century—"the sweetest of all the hymns of heavenly homesickness of the soul," and for generations one of the most familiar, through translations, in many languages. The rhyme and rhythm are so difficult, that the author was able to master it, he believed, only by special inspiration of God.
Urbs Syon aurea, patria lactea, cive decora, Omne cor obruis, omnibus obstruis et cor et ora, Nescio, nescio, quae jubilatio, lux tibi qualis, Quam socialia gaudia, gloria quam specialis.]
For a moment longer he gazed upon the broad, flowing river which divided two neighbouring peoples, one in language, in blood, in heroic early traditions, and the common heirs of the grandest literature the world has ever seen, yet severed by a deep, wide, angry-flowing stream of strife, which, dammed up for a time, was about to burst forth in a desolating flood that should overwhelm and destroy some of the fairest fruits of civilization in both countries. As he gazed northward, he beheld, on the eastern bank of the river, the snowy walls and grass-grown ramparts of Fort Niagara, above which floated proudly the stars and stripes.
As he gazed on the ancient fort, the memories of its strange eventful history came thronging on his mind from the time that La Salle thawed the frozen ground in midwinter to plant his palisades, to the time that the gallant Prideaux lay mangled in its trenches by the bursting of a cohorn—on the very eve of victory. These memories have been well expressed in graphic verse by a living Canadian poet—a denizen of the old borough of Niagara. [Footnote: William Kirby, Esq., in CANADIAN METHODIST MAGAZINE for May, 1878.]
Two grassy points—not promontories—front The calm blue lake—the river flows between, Bearing in its full bosom every drop Of the wild flood that leaped the cataract. And swept the rock-walled gorge from end to end. 'Mid flanking eddies, ripples, and returns, It rushes past the ancient fort that once Like islet in a lonely ocean stood, A mark for half a world of savage woods; With war and siege and deeds of daring wrought Into its rugged walls—a history Of heroes, half forgotten, writ in dust.
Two centuries deep lie the foundation stones, La Salle placed there, on his adventurous quest Of the wild regions of the boundless west; Where still the sun sets on his unknown grave. Three generations passed of war and peace; The Bourbon lilies grew; brave men stood guard; And braver still went forth to preach and teach Th' evangel, in the forest wilderness, To men fierce as the wolves whose spoils they wore.
Then came a day of change. The summer woods Were white with English tents, and sap and trench Crept like a serpent to the battered walls. Prideaux lay dead 'mid carnage, smoke, and fire Before the Gallic drums beat parley—then Niagara fell, and all the East and West Did follow: and our Canada was won.
As the sun sank beneath the horizon, the flag slid down the halyards, and the sullen roar of the sunset gun boomed over the wave, and was echoed back by the dense forest wall around and by the still low-hanging clouds overhead. A moment later the British gun of Fort George, on the opposite side of the river, but concealed from the spectator by a curve in the shore, loudly responded, as if in haughty defiance to the challenge of a foe.
Turning his horse's head, the young man rode rapidly down the road, beneath a row of noble chestnuts, and drew rein opposite a substantial-looking, brick farmhouse, but with such small windows as almost to look like a casematad fortress. Dismounting, he threw his horse's bridle over the hitching-post at the gate, and passed through a neat garden, now blooming with roses and sweet peas, to the open door of the house. He knocked with his riding-whip on the door jamb, to which summons a young lady, dressed in a neat calico gown and swinging in her hand a broad-leafed sunhat, replied. Seeing a stranger, she dropped a graceful "courtesy,"—which is one of the lost arts now-a-days,—and put up her hand to brush back from her face her wealth of clustering curls, somewhat dishevelled by the exercise of raking in the hayfield.
"Is this the house of Squire Drayton?" asked Neville, politely raising his hat.
The young lady, for such she evidently was, though so humbly dressed—simplex munditiis—replied that it was, and invited the stranger into the large and comfortable sitting-room, which bore evidence of refinement, although the carpet was of woven rags and much of the furniture was home-made.
"I have a letter to him from Elder Ryan," said Neville, presenting a document elaborately folded, after the manner of epistolary missives of the period.
"Oh, you're the new presiding elder, are you?" asked the lady. "We heard you were coming."
"No, not the presiding elder," said Neville, smiling at the unwonted dignity attributed to him, "and not even an elder at all; but simply a Methodist preacher on trial—a junior, who may be an elder some day."
"Excuse me," said the young lady, blushing at her mistake. "Father has just gone to the village for his paper, but will be back shortly. Zenas, take the preacher's horse," she continued to a stout lad who had just come in from the hayfield.
"I will help him," said Neville, proceeding with the boy. It was the almost invariable custom of the pioneer preachers to see that their faithful steeds were groomed and fed, before they attended to their own wants.
Miss Katherine Drayton—this was the young lady's name—was the eldest daughter of Squire Drayton, of The Holms, as the farm was called, from the evergreen oaks that grew upon the riverbank. Her mother having been dead for some years, Katherine had the principal domestic management of the household. This duty, with its accompanying cares, had given her a self-reliance and maturity of character beyond her years. She deftly prepared a tasteful supper for the new guest, set out with snowy napery and with the seldom-used, best china.
"Hello! what's up now?" asked her father, cheerily, as he entered the door. He is worth looking at as he stands on the threshold, almost filling the doorway with his large and muscular frame. He had a hearty, ruddy, English look, a frank and honest expression in his light blue eyes, and an impulsiveness of manner that indicated a temper—
That carries anger as the flint bears fire, Which much enforced, showeth a hasty spark, And straight is cold again.
He was not a Methodist, but his dead wife had been one, and for her sake, and because he had the instincts of a gentleman, of respect to the ministerial character, he extended a hospitable welcome to the travelling Methodist preachers, who were almost the only ministers in the country except the clergyman of the English Church in the neighbouring village of Niagara.
"The new preacher has come, father. He brought this letter from Elder Ryan," said Katherine, handing him the missive.
The Squire glanced over it and said, "Any one that Elder Ryan introduces is welcome to this house. He is a right loyal gentleman, if he did come from the States. I am afraid, though, that the war will make it unpleasant for most of those Yankee preachers."
"Why, father, is there any bad news?" anxiously inquired the young girl.
"Ay! that there is," he replied, taking from his pocket the York Gazette, which had just reached Niagara, three or four days after the date of publication.
Here the young preacher returned to the house, and was cordially welcomed by the Squire. When mutual greetings were over, "This is a bad business," continued the host, unfolding the meagre, greyish-looking newspaper. "I feared it would come to this, ever since that affair of the Little Belt and President last year. There is nothing John Bull is so sensitive about as his ships, and he can't stand defeat on the high seas."
"War is not declared, I hope," said Neville, with much earnestness.
"Yes, it is," replied the Squire, "and what's more, Hull has crossed the Detroit River with three thousand men. [Footnote: Rumour had somewhat exaggerated the number of his force. It was only twenty-five hundred.] Here is part of his proclamation. He offers 'peace, liberty, and security,' or, 'war, slavery, and destruction.' Confound his impudence," exclaimed the choleric farmer, striking his fist on the table till the dishes rattled again. "He may whistle another tune before he is much older."
"What'll Brock do, father?" exclaimed Zenas, who had listened with a boy's open-mouthed astonishment to the exciting news.
"He'll be even with him, I'se warrant," replied the burly Squire. "He will hasten to the frontier through the Long Point country, gathering up the militia and Indians as he goes. They are serving out blankets and ammunition at the fort to-night. I saw Brant at Navy Hall. He would answer for his two hundred tomahawks from the Credit and Grand River; and Tecumseh, he said, would muster as many more. We'll soon hear good news from the front. The Commissary has given orders for the victualling of Fort George. We are to take in all our hay and oats, beef cattle, and flour next week."
"O Father, mayn't I go with Brock"? exclaimed the young enthusiast Zenas, "I'm old enough."
"We may soon be busy enough here, my son. No place is more exposed than this frontier. The garrisons at Forts Porter and Niagra are being strengthened, and I could see the Yankee militia drilling as I rode to the village."
"Hurrah!" shouted the thoughtless boy, "won't it be fun? We'll show them how the Britishers can fight."
"God grant, my son," said the farmer solemnly, "that we may not see more fighting than we wish. I've lived through one bloody war and I never want to see another. But if fight we must for our country, fight we will."
"And I'm sure none more bravely than Zenas Drayton," said Katherine proudly, laying her hand on her brother's head.
"You ought to have been a boy, Kate," said her father admiringly. "You've got all your mother's pluck."
"I'd be ashamed if I wouldn't stand up for my country, father: I feel as if I could carry a musket myself."
"You can do better, Kate: you can make your country worth brave men dying for," and he fondly kissed her forehead, while something like a tear glistened in his eyes.
For a time Neville Trueman mused without speaking, as if the prey of conflicting emotions. At last he said with solemn emphasis, "My choice is made: I cast in my lot with my adopted country. I believe this invasion of a peaceful territory by an armed host is a wanton outrage and cannot have the smile of Heaven. I daresay I shall encounter obloquy and suspicion from both sides, but I must obey my conscience."
"Young man, I honour your choice," exclaimed the Squire effusively, grasping his hand with energy. "I know what it is to leave home, and kindred, and houses and lands for loyalty to my conscience and my King. I left as fair an estate as there was in the Old Dominion because I could not live under any other flag than the glorious Union Jack under which I was born. It was a dislocating wrench to tear myself away from the home of my childhood and the graves of my parents for an unknown wilderness. Much were we tossed about by sea and land. Our ship was wrecked and its passengers strewn like seaweed on the Nova Scotia coast— some living and some dead—and at last, after months of travel and privation, on foot, in ox carts and in Durham boats, we found our way, I and a few neighbours, to this spot, to hew out new homes in the forest and keep our oath of allegiance to our King."
The old U. E. Loyalist always grew eloquent as he referred to his exile for conscience' sake and to the planting by the conscript fathers of Canada of a new Troy under the aegis of British power.
"I came of regular Yankee stock," said Mr. Trueman. "My mother was a Neville—one of the Nevilles of Boston. She heard Jesse Lee's first sermon on Boston Common, and joined the first Methodist society in the old Bay State. My father was one of Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys, and assisted at the capture of Ticonderoga. He was also a volunteer at Bunker Hill. It was then he met my mother, being billeted at her father's house."
"You have rebel blood in you and no mistake," said the Squire.
"I believe the colonists were right in resisting oppression in '76," continued Neville; "but I believe they are wrong in invading Canada now, and I wash my hands of all share in their crime."
"We will not quarrel about the old war," said the veteran loyalist. "The Gazette here says that many of your countrymen agree with you about the new one. At the declaration of hostilities the flags of the shipping at Boston were placed at half-mast and a public meeting denounced the war as ruinous and unjust."
"I foresee a long and bloody strife," said Neville.
"Neither country will yield without a tremendous struggle. It is ungenerous to attack Great Britain now, when, as the champion of human liberty, she is engaged in a death-wrestle with the arch despot Napoleon."
"But Wellington will soon thrash Boney," interjected Zenas, who was an ardent admirer of the Peninsular hero, "and then his redcoats will polish off the Yankees, won't they, father?"
"If you had seen as much of the horrors of war, my boy, as I have, you would not be so eager for it. God forbid it should deluge this frontier with blood; but if it do, old as I am, I will shoulder the old Brown Bess there above the fireplace that your grandfather bore at Brandywine and Yorktown."
"What I dread most is the effect on religion," said Trueman. "Several of the Methodist preachers are, like myself, American- born, and we all are stationed by an American bishop. I am afraid many will go back to the States, and all will be liable to suspicion as disloyal to this country by the bigoted and prejudiced. But I shall not forsake my post, nor leave these people as sheep without a shepherd. If there is to be war and bloodshed and wounds and sudden death on this frontier circuit, they will need a preacher all the more, and, God helping me, I'll not desert them.
"I am a man of peace, and fight not with worldly weapons, but I can, perhaps, help those who do."
"God bless you for that speech, my brave lad," exclaimed the Squire. "Nobody questions my loyalty, and if need arise, I'll give you a paper, signed with my name as a magistrate, that will protect you from harm."
Kate had sat quiet, busily sewing, during this conversation, but her heightened colour and her quickened breathing bore witness that she was no uninterested listener. With a look of deep gratitude, she quietly said, "We are all very much obliged to you, Mr. Neville, for your noble resolve."
The young man thought that grateful look ample compensation for the mental sacrifice that he had made, and an inspiration to unfaltering fidelity in carrying it into effect.
The next morning all was bustle and excitement at the farmhouse. "All hands were piped," to use a sea phrase, to aid in the revictualling of the fort, the orders for which were urgent. Breakfast was served in the huge kitchen, the squire, his guest, his children, and the hired men all sitting at the same table, like a feudal lord, with his men-at-arms, in an old baronial hall.
"Father," said Zenas, "Tom Loker and Sandy McKay have gone off with the militia. They went to the village last night and signed the muster-roll. I saw them marching past with some more of the boys and the redcoats early this morning."
"I saw them, too," said the squire. "They needn't have given me the slip that way. It will leave me short-handed; but I wouldn't have said nay if they wanted to go."
After breakfast Neville mounted his horse and rode off to the place appointed for holding the Methodist Conference,—the new meeting-house near St. David's. He soon overtook the detachment of militia, which was marching to join, at Long Point, the main force which Brock was to lead thither from York by way of Ancaster. He noticed that the men, though tolerably well armed, were very indifferently shod for their long tramp over rough roads. They had no pretence to uniform save a belt and cartouch box, and a blanket rolled up tightly and worn like a huge scarf. As He walked his horse for awhile beside Tom Loker who had groomed his horse the night before, he told him what the squire had said about his joining the militia.
"Did he now?" said Tom. "Then my place will be open for me when I return. We'll be back time enough to help run in that beef and pork into the fort, won't we, Sandy?"
"That's as God pleases," said the Scotchman, a sturdy, grave- visaged man. "Ilka bullet has its billet; an' gin we're to coom back, back we'll coom, though it rained bullets all the way."
Neville bade them God speed and rode on to "Warner's meeting- house," as it was called. It was a large frame structure, utterly devoid of ornament, near the roadside. "Hitching" his horse to the fence, he went in. A meagre handful of Methodist preachers were present—not more than a dozen—indeed, the entire number in the province was very little more than that. In the chair, in front of the quaint, old-fashioned pulpit, which the present writer has often occupied, sat a man who would attract attention anywhere. He was nearly six feet in height, and of very muscular development; indeed tradition asserted that he had once been a prize-fighter. His dark hair was closely cut, which increased his resemblance to that especially unclerical and un-Methodistic character. This was the Rev. Henry Ryan, the Presiding Elder of the Upper Canada District—extending from Brockville to the Detroit River. [Footnote: The whole of Lower Canada formed another district, of which the celebrated Nathan Bangs was at that time Presiding Elder.] In a full rich voice, in which the least shade of an Irish accent could be discerned, he was addressing the little group of men before him. The ministers labouring in Canada had expected to meet their American brethren; but, on account of the outbreak of the war, the latter had remained on their own side of the river, and held their Conference near Rochester, New York State. The bishop, however, appointed the Canadian ministers to their circuits, but the relations of Methodism in the two countries were almost entirely interrupted during the war. A few of the ministers labouring in Canada obeyed what they conceived the dictates of prudence, and returned to the United States; but the most of them, although cut off from fellowship, and largely from sympathy with the Conference and Church by which they were appointed, continued steadfast at their posts and loyal to the institutions of the country, notwithstanding the obloquy, suspicion, and persecution to which they were often subjected. In this course they were greatly sustained and encouraged by the unfaltering faith and energy of Elder Ryan, who, though subsequently in his history he became a religious agitator, was at this period a most zealous and effective preacher, one who, in the words of Bishop Hedding, "laboured as if the thunders of the day of judgment were to follow each sermon." During the agitations and civil convulsions by which the country was disturbed, he continued to meet the preachers in annual conference, and endeavoured to maintain the ecclesiastical organization of Methodism till it was permitted to renew its relations with the mother Church of the United States.
On the present occasion, Elder Ryan gave a rousing exhortation, like the address of a general on the eve of a battle, that inspired courage in every heart. Then followed a few hours of deliberation and mutual council on the course to be adopted in the critical circumstances of the time. Certain prudential arrangements were made for maintaining the connexional unity of the Church under the stress of disorganizing influences, and certain provisions effected for the unforeseen contingencies of the war. Then, after commending one another to God in fervent prayer, and invoking His guidance of their lives and His blessing on their labours, they sang that noble battle hymn and marching song of Charles Wesley's:—
In flesh we part awhile, But still in spirit joined, To embrace the happy toil Thou hast to each assigned; And while we do Thy blessed will, We bear our heaven about us still.
They looked like a forlorn hope, like a despised and feeble remnant, but they were animated with the spirit of a conquering army. With many a hearty wring of the hand and fervent "God bless you!" and, not without eyes suffused with tears, they took their leave of one another, and fared forth on their lonely ways to their remote and arduous fields of toil.
THE EVE OF BATTLE.
The next scene of our story opens on the eve of an eventful day in the annals of Canada. About sunset in an October afternoon, Neville Trueman reached The Holms, after a long and weary ride from the western end of his circuit, which reached nearly to the head of Lake Ontario. The forest was gorgeous in its autumnal foliage, like Joseph in his coat of many colours. The corn still stood thick, in serried ranks, in the fields, no longer plumed and tasseled like an Indian chief, but rustling, weird-like, as an army of spectres in the gathering gloom. The great yellow pumpkins gleamed like huge nuggets of gold in some forest Eldorado. The crimson patches of ripened buckwheat looked like a blood-stained field of battle: alas! too true an image of the deeper stains which were soon to dye the greensward of the neighbouring height.
The change from the bleak moor, over which swept the chill north wind from the lonely lake, to the genial warmth of Squire Drayton's hospitable kitchen was most agreeable. A merry fire of hickory wood on the ample hearth—it was long before the time of your close, black, surly-looking kitchen stoves—snapped and sparkled its hearty welcome to the travel-worn guest. It was a rich Rembrant-like picture that greeted Neville as he entered the room. The whole apartment was flooded with light from the leaping flames which was flashed back from the brightly-scoured milk-pans and brass kettles on the dresser—not unlike, thought he, to the burnished shields and casques of the men-at-arms in an old feudal hall.
The fair young mistress, clad in a warm stuff gown, with a snowy collar and a crimson necktie, moved gracefully through the room, preparing the evening meal. Savoury odours proceeded from a pan upon the coals, in which were frying tender cutlets of venison— now a luxury, then, in the season, an almost daily meal.
The burly squire basked in the genial blaze, seated in a rude home-made armchair, the rather uncomfortable-looking back and arms of which were made of cedar roots, with the bark removed, like our garden rustic seats. Such a chair has Cowper in his "Task" described,—
"Three legs upholding firm A messy slab, in fashion square or round. On such a stool immortal Alfred sat, And swayed the sceptre of his infant realms: And such in ancient halls may still be found."
At his feet crouched Lion, the huge staghound, at times half growling in his sleep, as if in dreams he chased the deer, and then, starting up, he licked his master's hand and went to sleep again.
On the opposite side of the hearth, Zenas was crouched upon the floor, laboriously shaping an ox-yoke with a spoke-shave. For in those days Canadian farmers were obliged to make or mend almost everything they used upon the farms.
Necessity, which is the mother of invention, made them deft and handy with axe and adze, bradawl and waxed end, anvil and forge. The squire himself was no mean blacksmith, and could shoe a horse, or forge a plough coulter, or set a tire as well as the village Vulcan at Niagara.
"Right welcome," said the squire, as he made room for Neville near the fireplace, while Katherine gave him a quieter greeting and politely relieved him of his wrappings. "Well, what's the news outside?" he continued, we must explain that as Niagara, next to York and Kingston, was the largest settlement in the province, it rather looked down upon the population away from "the front," as it was called, as outsiders almost beyond the pale of civilization.
"No news at all," replied Neville, "but a great anxiety to hear some. When I return from the front, they almost devour me with questions."
The early Methodist preachers, in the days when newspapers or books were few and scarce, and travel almost unknown, were in one respect not unlike the wandering minstrels or trouveres, not to say the Homeric singers of an earlier day. Their stock of news, their wider experience, their intelligent conversation, and their sacred minstrelsy procured them often a warm welcome and a night's lodging outside of Methodist circles. They diffused much useful information, and their visits dispelled the mental stagnation which is almost sure to settle upon an isolated community. The whole household gathering around the evening fire, hung with eager attention upon their lips as, from their well-stored minds, they brought forth things new and old. Many an inquisitive boy or girl experienced a mental awakening or quickening by contact with their superior intelligence; and many a toil-worn man and woman renewed the brighter memories of earlier years as the preacher brought them glimpses of the outer world, or read from some well-worn volume carried in his saddle-bags pages of some much-prized English classic.
"Well, there has been news in plenty along the line here," said the squire, "and likely soon to be more. The Americans have been massing their forces at Forts Porter, Schlosser, and Niagara, and we expect will be attempting a crossing somewhere along the river soon."
"They'll go back quicker than they came, I guess, as they did at Sandwich," said Zenas, who took an enthusiastically patriotic view of the prowess of his countrymen.
"I reckon the 'Mericans feel purty sore over that business," said Tom Loker, who, with Sandy McKay, had come in, and, in the unconventional style of the period, had drawn up their seats to the fire. "They calkilated they'd gobble up the hull of Canada; but 'stead of that, they lost the hull State of Michigan an' their great General Hull into the bargain," and he chuckled over his play upon words, after the manner of a man who has uttered a successful pun.
"You must tell us all about it," said Neville: "I have not heard the particulars yet."
"After supper," said the squire. "We'll discuss the venison first and the war afterwards," and there was a general move to the table.
When ample justice had been done to the savoury repast, Miss Katherine intimated that a good fire had been kindled in the Franklin stove in the parlour, and, in honour of the guest, proposed an adjournment thither.
The squire, however, looked at the leaping flames of the kitchen fire as if reluctant to leave it, and Neville asked as a favour to be allowed to bask, "like a cat in the sun," he said, before it.
"I'm glad you like the old-fashioned fires," said the farmer. "They're a-most like the camp-fire beside which we used to bivouac when I went a-sogering. I can't get the hang o' those new-fangled Yankee notions," he continued, referring to the parlour stove, named after the great philosopher whose name it bore.
A large semicircle of seats was drawn up around the hearth. The squire took down from the mantel his long-stemmed "churchwarden" pipe.
"I learned to smoke in Old Virginny," he said apologetically. "Had the real virgin leaf. It had often to be both meat and drink when I was campaigning there. I wish I could quit it; but, young man," addressing himself to Neville, "I'd advise you never to learn. It's bad enough for an old sojer like me; but a smoking preacher I don't admire."
Zenas, crouched by the chimney-jamb, roasting chestnuts and "popping" corn; Sandy, with the characteristic thrift of his countrymen, set about repairing a broken whip-stock and fitting it with a new lash; Tom Loker idly whittled a stick, and Miss Katharine drew up her low rocking-chair beside her father, and proceeded to nimbly knit a stout-ribbed stocking, intended for his comfort—for girls in those days knew how to knit, ay, and card the wool and spin the yarn too.
"Now, Tom, tell us all about Hull's surrender," said Zenas, to whom the stirring story was already an oft-told tale.
"Wall, after I seed you, three months agone," said Tom, nodding to Neville, and taking a fresh stick to whittle, "we trudged on all that day and the next to Long P'int, an' a mighty long p'int it wuz to reach, too. Never wuz so tired in my life. Follering the plough all day wuz nothing to it. But when we got to the P'int, we found the Gineral there. An' he made us a rousin' speech that put new life into every man of us, an' we felt that we could foller him anywheres. As ther wuz no roads to speak of, and the Gineral had considerable stores, he seized all the boats he could find."
"Requiseetioned, they ca' it," interjected Sandy.
"Wall, it's purty much the same, I reckon," continued Tom, "an' a queer lot o' boats they wuz—fishin' boats, Durham boats, scows [Footnote: In the absence of roads, boats were much used for carrying corn and flour to and from the mills, and for the conveyance of farm produce.]—a'most anythin' that 'ud float. Ther' wuz three hundred of us at the start, an' we picked up more on the way. Wall, we sailed an' paddled a matter o' two hundred miles to Fort Malden, an' awful cramped it wuz, crouchin' all day in them scows; an' every night we camped on shore, but sometimes the bank wuz so steep an' the waves so high we had to sail on for miles to find a creek we could run into, an' once we rowed all night. As we weathered P'int Pelee, the surf nearly swamped us."
"What a gran' feed we got frae thae gallant Colonel Talbot!" interjected Sandy McKay. "D'ye mind his bit log bothie perched like a craw's nest atop o' yon cliff. The 'Castle o' Malahide,' he ca'd it, no less. How he speered gin there were ony men frae Malahide in the auld kintry wi' us! An' a prood man he was o' his ancestry sax hunnerd years lang syne. Methinks he's the gran'est o' the name himsel'—the laird o' a score o' toonships a' settled by himsel'. Better yon than like the gran' Duke o' Sutherland drivin' thae puir bodies frae hoose an' hame. Lang suld Canada mind the gran' Colonel Talbot [Footnote: Posterity has not been ungrateful to the gallant colonel. In the towns of St. Thomas and Talbotville, his name is commemorated, and it is fondly cherished in the grateful traditions of many an early settler's family. He died at London, at the age of eighty, in 1853.] But was na it fey that him as might hae the pick an' choice o' thae braw dames o' Ireland suld live his lane, wi' out a woman's han' to cook his kail or recht up his den, as he ca'd it."
"I've been at his castle," said Neville, "and very comfortable it is: He lives like a feudal lord,—allots land, dispenses justice, marries the settlers, reads prayers on Sunday, and rules the settlement like a forest patriarch." "Tell about Tecumseh," said Zenas, in whose eyes that distinguished chief divided the honours with General Brock.
"Wall," continued Loker, "at Malden there wuz a grand pow-wow, an' the Indians wore their war-paint and their medals, and Tecumseh made a great harangue. He was glad, he said, their great father across the sea had woke up from his long sleep an' sent his warriors to help his red children, who would shed the last drop of their blood in fighting against the 'Merican long knives." "And they'll do it, too," chimed in Zenas, in unconscious prophecy of the near approaching death of that brave chief and many of his warriors.
"An' Tecumseh," continued the narrator, "drawed a map of Detroit an' the 'Merican fort on a piece o' birch bark, as clever, I heered the Gineral say, as an officer of engineers."
"But was na yon a gran' speech thae General made us when we were tauld tae attack thae fort?" exclaimed Sandy with martial enthusiasm. "Mon, it made me mind o' Wallace an' his 'Scots wham Bruce hae aften led.' I could ha' followed him 'gainst ony odds, though odds eneuch there were—near twa tae ane, an' thae big guns an' thae fort tae their back."
"Wasn't I glad to see the white flag come from the fort as we formed column for assault, instead o' the flash o' the big guns, showin' their black muzzles there," Loker ingenuously confessed. "I'm no coward, but it makes a feller feel skeery to see those ugly-lookin' war dogs splttin' fire at him."
"Hae na I tell't ye," said Sandy, somewhat sardonically, "gin ye're born tae be hangit, the bullet's no made that'll kill ye."
"Ye're as like to be hanged yerself," said Tom, somewhat resentfully, giving the proverb a rather literal interpretation.
"Tush, mon, nae offence, its ony an auld Scotch saw, that. But an angry mon was yon tall Captain Scott [Footnote: Afterwards Major- General Scott, Commander-in-Chief of the United States army. The prisoners were sent to Montreal and Quebec. Hull was subsequently court-marshalled for cowardice and condemned to death, but he was reprieved on account of Revolutionary service.] at thae surrender. How he stamped an' raved an' broke his sword."
"I am sure the Gineral was very kind to them. On our march home, the prisoners shared and fared as well as we did."
"I heard," said Neville, "that Hull was afraid the Indians would massacre the women and children who had taken refuge in the fort."
"No fear of that," said Loker. "Tecumseh told the Gineral they had sworn off liquor during the war. It's the fire-water that makes the Indian a madman, an' the white man, too."
"Well, thank God," said Neville, "it is a great and bloodless victory. I hope it will bring a speedy peace."
"I am afraid not," said the squire, arousing from his doze in the "ingle nook." "We had a seven years' struggle of it in the old war, and I fear that there will have to be some blood-letting before these bad humours are cufed. But we'll hope for the best. Come, Katharine, bring us a flagon of your sweet cider."
The sturdy brown flagon was brought, and the gleaming pewter mugs were filled—it was long before the days of Temperance Societies— even the preacher thinking it no harm to take his mug of the sweet, amber-coloured draught.
Neville read from the great family Bible that night the majestic forty-sixth psalm, so grandly paraphrased in Luther's hymn,
"Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott;"
the favourite battle-hymn, chanting which the Protestant armies marched to victory on many a hard-fought field—the hymn sung by the host of Gustavus Adolphus on the eve of the fatal fight of Lutzen.
As he read the closing verses of the psalm the young preacher's voice assumed the triumphant tone of assured faith in the glorious prophecy:
"He maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth; He breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear in sunder; He burneth the chariot in the fire.
"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
"The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge."
"Amen!" unconsciously but fervently responded the soft low voice of Katherine Drayton to this prophecy of millennial peace, and this solemn avowal of present confidence in the Most High.
Alas! before to-morrow's sun should set, her woman's heart should bleed at the desolations of war brought home to her very hearthstone.
About seven miles from the mouth of the Niagara River, a bold escarpment of rock, an old lake margin, runs across the country from east to west, at a height of about three hundred feet above the level of Lake Ontario. Through this the river, in the course of ages, has worn a deep and gloomy gorge. At the foot of the cliff and on its lower slopes, nestled on the western side the hamlet of Queenston and on the eastern the American village of Lewiston. On the Canadian side, where the ascent of the hill was more abrupt, it was overcome by a road that by a series of sharp zigzags gained the tableland at the top. Halfway up the height was a battery mounting an 18-pound gun, and manned by twelve men, and on the bank of the river, some distance below the village, was another mounting a 24-pound carronade. On either side of the rocky pass from which the river flows, the spiry spruces and cedars with twisted roots grapple with the rocks and cling to the steep slopes.
The river emerges from the narrow gorge, a dark and tortured stream. For seven miles since its plunge over the great cataract, it has been convulsed by raging rapids and rugged rocks and by a seething whirlpool. As it here glides out into a wider channel, it bears the evidences of its tumultuous course in the resistless sweep of its waters and the dangerous eddies and "boilers" by which its dark surface is disturbed. At this point is a favourite fishing-ground. The schools of herring attempting to ascend the river are here unable to overcome the swiftness of the current and are caught in large quantities by the rude seines and nets of the neighbouring fishermen, a waggon-load sometimes being caught in a few hours. Notwithstanding the invasion of Canada by Hull and the capture of Detroit by Brock, a sort of armed truce was observed along the Niagara frontier; and Brock had orders from Sir George Provost, Commander-in-Chief and Governor-General, to stand strictly on the defensive. As the schools of fish at this season of the year were running finely, the fishermen of the villages on each side of the river were eagerly engaged in securing their finny harvest, on which much of their winter food supply depended. As this was a mutual necessity, each party, by a tacit consent, was allowed to ply this peaceful avocation, for the most part, undisturbed by hostile demonstrations of the other.
For the defence of the whole frontier of thirty-four miles from Fort Erie to Fort George, Brock had only some fifteen hundred men, of whom at least one-half were militiamen and Indians. On the American side of the river, a force of over six thousand regulars and militia were assembled for the invasion of Canada. These were distributed along the river from Fort Niagara to Buffalo. Brock was compelled, therefore, still further to weaken his already scanty force by being on the alert at all points, as he knew not at which one the attack would be made. Consequently there were only some three hundred men, mostly militia, quartered at Queenston at the time of which we write. They were billeted at the inn and houses of the village and in the neighbouring farmhouses and barns.
The morning of the thirteenth of October, a day ever memorable in the annals of Canada, broke cold and stormy. Low hung clouds mantled the sky and made the late dawn later still, and cast still darker shadows on the sombre clumps of spruce and pines that clothed the sides of the gorge, and on the sullen water that flowed between. A couple of fishermen of the neighbourhood who were serving in the militia had been permitted by the officer in command to attend to their seines, with the injunction to keep a sharp look-out at the same time, and to be ready at an instant's summons to join the ranks. As the schools of herring were in full run, they had remained all night in the little bothie or hut, made of spruce boughs, down at the water-side, that they might at the earliest dawn draw their seine and set it again unmolested by the stray shots from the opposite side, which, notwithstanding the truce, had of late occasionally been fired. At the same season of the year, the same operation can still be witnessed at the same place—the narrow ledge beneath the cliff, along the river-bank, especially near the abutment of the broken Suspension Bridge.
The elder of the two men was a sturdy Welshman—Jonas Evans by name—a Methodist of the Lady Huntingdon connexion. The other, Jim Larkins, was Canadian born, the son of a neighbouring farmer. About four o'clock in the morning they emerged from their spruce booth and began hauling with their rude windlass upon the seine, heavily laden with fish.
"Hark!" exclaimed Jonas to his companion, "what noise is that? I thought I heard the splash of oars."
"It is only the wash of the waves upon the shore or the sough of the wind among the pines. You're likely to hear nothing else this time o' day, or o' night rather."
"There it is again," said the old man, peering into the darkness, "And I'm sure I heard the sound o' voices on the river. See there!" he exclaimed as a long dark object was descried amid the gloom. "There is a boat, and there behind it is another; and I doubt not there are still others behind. Run, Jim, call out the guard. The Lord hath placed us here to confound the devices of the enemy."
Snatching from the booth his trusty Brown Bess musket, without waiting to challenge, for he well knew that this was the vanguard of the threatened invasion, he fired at the boat, more for the purpose of giving the alarm than in the expectation of inflicting any damage on the moving object in the uncertain light.
The sound of the musket shot echoed and re-echoed between the rocky cliffs, and repeated in loud reverberations its thrilling sound of warning.
"Curse him! we are discovered," exclaimed the steersman of the foremost boat, with a brutal oath. "Spring to your oars, lads! We must gain a footing before the guard turns out or it's all up with us. Pull for your lives!"
No longer rowing cautiously with muffled oars, but with loud shouts and fairly churning the surface of the water into foam, they made the boat—a large flat-bottomed barge—bound through the waves. Another and another emerged rapidly from the darkness, and their prows successively grated upon the shingle as they were forced upon the beach. The invading troops leaped lightly out with a clash of arms, and at the quick, sharp word of command, formed upon the beach.
Meanwhile, on the cliff above, the sharp challenge and reply of the guard, the shrill reveille of the bugle, and the quick throbbing of the drums calling to arms is heard. The men turn out with alacrity, and are soon seen, in the grey dawn, running from their several billets to headquarters, buckling their belts and adjusting their accoutrements as they run. Soon is heard the measured tramp of armed men forming in companies to attack the enemy. Sixty men of the 49th Grenadiers, under the command of Captain Dennis, and Captain Halt's company of militia advance with a light 3-pounder gun against the first division of the enemy, under Colonel Van Renssclaer, who has formed his men on the beach and is waiting the arrival of the next boats. These are seen rapidly approaching, but to get them safely across the river is a work of great difficulty and danger. The current is swift, and the swirling eddies are strong and constantly changing their position. On leaving the American shore, they were obliged to pull up stream as far as possible. But when caught by the resistless sweep of the current, they were borne rapidly down, their track being an acute diagonal across the stream. To reach the only available landing- place, they must again row up stream in the slack water on the Canadian side, their whole course being thus like the outline of the letter 'N'. [Footnote: The present writer has a vivid remembrance of a night-passage of the river under circumstances of some peril. It was in a small flat-bottomed scow. Shortly after leaving the American shore, a tremendous storm of thunder, lightning, rain, and hail burst over the river. The waves, crested with snowy foam which gleamed ghastly in the dim light of our lantern, threatened to engulf our frail bark. The boatman strained every nerve and muscle, but was borne a mile down the river before he made the land. That distance he had to retrace along the rugged, boulder-strewn, and log-encumbered shore. We reached the landing in a still more demoralized condition than the American invaders, but met a warmly hospitable, not hostile, reception.]
Of the thirteen boats that left the American shore, three were driven back by the British fire—the little three-pounder and the two batteries doing good service as their hissing shots fell in disagreeably close proximity to the boats, sometimes splashing them with spray, and once ricocheting right over one of them.
The first detachment of invaders were driven with some loss behind a steep bank close to the water's edge, but they were soon reinforced by fresh arrivals, and, being now in overwhelming strength, steadily fought their way up the bank.
Meanwhile, where was Brock? Such, we venture to think, was the most eager thought of every mind on either side. He was speeding as fast as his good steed could carry him to his glorious fate. The previous night, at head-quarters at Fort George, he had called his staff together and, in anticipation of the invasion, had given to each officer his instructions. In the morning, agreeably to his custom, he rose before day. While dressing, the sound of the distant cannonade caught his attentive ear. He speedily roused his aides-de-camp, Major Glegg and Colonel Macdonel, and called for his favourite horse, Alfred, the gift of his friend, Sir James Craig. His first impression was that the distant firing was but a feint to draw the garrison from Fort George. The real point of attack he anticipated would be Niagara, and he suspected an American force to be concealed in boats around the point on which Fort Niagara stood, ready to cross over as soon as the coast was clear. He determined, therefore, to ascertain personally the nature of the attack before withdrawing the garrison.
With his two aides, he galloped eagerly to the scene of the action. As he approached Queenston Heights, the whole slope of the hill was swept by a heavy artillery and musketry fire from the American shore. Nevertheless, with his aides, he rode at full speed up to the 18-pounder battery, midway to the summit. Dismounting, he surveyed the disposition of the opposed forces and personally directed the fire of the gun. At this moment firing was heard on the crest of the hill commanding the battery. A detachment of American troops under Captain (afterwards General) Wool had climbed like catamounts the steep cliff by an unguarded fisherman's path. Sir Isaac Brock and his aides had not even time to remount, but were compelled to retire with the twelve gunners who manned the battery. This was promptly occupied by the Americans, who raised the stars and stripes. Brock, having first despatched a messenger to order up reinforcements from Fort George and to command the bombardment of Fort Niagara, [Footnote: This was done with such vigour that its fire was silenced and its garrison compelled for the time to abandon it.] determined to recapture the battery. Placing himself at the head of a company of the Forty-ninth he charged up the hill under a heavy fire. The enemy gave way, and Brock, by the tones of his voice and the reckless exposure of his person, inspirited the pursuit of his followers. His tall figure—he was six feet two inches in height, —his conspicuous valour, and his general's epaulettes and cockade attracted the fire of the American sharpshooters, and he fell, pierced through the breast by a mortal bullet. As he fell upon his face, a devoted follower rushed to his assistance. "Don't mind me," he said. "Push on the York volunteers," and with his ebbing life sending a love-message to his sister in the far-off Isle of Guernsey, the brave soul passed away.
THE WAGES OF WAR.
At The Holms, as may well be supposed, the rude alarum of war, at the very door, as it were, threw the quiet household into unwonted excitement. The early cannonade brought every member of the family with eager questioning into the great kitchen.
"It has come," said the squire, "the day I have long looked for. We muse meet it like brave men."
"God defend the right," added Neville, with solemn emotion.
"And forgive and pity our misguided enemies," said Katharine, the tears standing in her eyes.
"And send them back quicker than they came," exclaimed Zenas, with some more hard words of boyish petulance.
"We must help to send them, eh, Sandy?" said Tom Loker.
"Ay, please God," devoutly answered Mr. McKay. "I doubt na He will break them in pieces like a potter's vessel—a vessel fitted for destruction."
After a hurried breakfast the two men hastened to join their militia company, Mary having first filled their haversacks with a liberal supply of bread and cheese, ham sandwich, and, at Sandy's special request, a quantity of oaten bannocks.
"They're aye gude to fecht or march on," he said, "an' we're like eneuch to hae baith to thole or ere we win hame again."
The apparition of Sir Isaac Brock and his aides galloping past the house in the early dawn, and an hour later of the breathless messenger returning to hurry up re-enforcements, and of the troops from Fort George marching by to the inspiring strains of "The British Grenadiers," had been witnessed by Zenas, and had excited his highest enthusiasm. "Now, father," he said, "the time has come for me to do my part for my country."
"You shall, my son," said the squire tenderly. "Even as David went to his brethren in the camp, shall you bear succour to the brave fellows who are fighting our battles. Some of them may sorely want help before the day is over."
"And I," said Neville, "will go with him. I hope I may be of some use, too."
"That you may," answered the squire. "I only fear there may be but too much need for your services."
With busy hands the old soldier and his son loaded the waggon with such articles as his military experience had taught him would be most needed by men exposed to all the deadly vicissitudes of war. Katharine prepared a great boilerful of tea—"The best thing in the world," said the squire, "for fighting men." All the bread in the house, a huge round of cold beef and half a dozen smoked hams, a large cheese, several jars of milk, and the last churning of great yellow rolls of butter were gladly given to the patriotic service. With his own hands the squire put up a generous parcel of his best Virginia leaf tobacco. "I know well," he said, "how it soothes the pain of wounds and numbs the pangs of hunger." More thoughtful provision still, Kate, with a sigh, brought out the stout roll of lint bandage which, at her father's suggestion, she had prepared for the unknown contingencies of the border war.
"O this is dreadful, father," she said. "It seems almost like making a shroud before the man who is to wear it is dead."
"It may save some poor fellow's life, my dear," he answered, "and one must always prepare for the worst, war is such an uncertain game. Indeed, wounds and death are almost the only things certain about it."
"Keep in the rear of the troops, my son, and take your orders from Major Sheaffe or of the army surgeon. I told them both what we were sending, as they passed. Keep out of gunshot and avoid capture: the time may come only too soon when you'll share the battle's brunt yourself."
"I wish it were to-day, father. I'd give almost anything to be with Brock and his brave fellows."
"So would I, my son; but I must be the home-guard. It would never do to leave Kate and the maids unprotected, with an invasion so near. And no work can be more important than may be before you both before you return."
The brave boy drove off to the scene of action, the distant rattle of musketry, and at short intervals the loud roar of the cannon, making his heart throb with martial enthusiasm. The young preacher communed with his own heart on the unnatural conflict between his own kinsmen after the flesh and the compatriots of his spiritual adoption—and was still. The brave old veteran, shouldering the musket that had done good service at Brandywine and Germantown, patrolled the river road bounding the farm.
As they approached the village of Queenston, Neville and Zenas found that a temporary lull in hostilities had taken place. The Americans had possession of the heights, and were strongly re- enforced from the Lewiston side of the river.
The redcoats from Fort George—about four hundred men of the 41st regiment, together with a part of the 49th, which had already been in action—were about to march by a by-road apparently away from the scene of action.
"Hello!" said Zenas to young Ensign Norton, of the 41st regiment, who was a frequent visitor at his father's house. "I don't understand this. You are not running away from these fellows are you? Why don't you drive the Yankees from that battery?"
"We intend to, young Hotspur, but it would be madness to charge up that hill in face of those guns. We are to take them in flank, I suppose, and drive them over the cliff."
"Where's Brock?" asked the boy, jealous of the fame of his hero, which he seemed to think compromised by this prudent counsel.
"Have not you heard," said Norton, with something between a sigh and a sob? "He'll never lead us again. He lies in yonder house," pointing to a long, low, poor-looking dwelling-house on the left side of the road.
"What! dead? killed—so soon?" cried the boy, turning white, and then flushing red, and unconsciously clenching his fists as he spoke.
"Yes, Mister," said a war-bronzed soldier standing by, who looked doubly grim from the blood trickling down his powder-blackened cheek from a scalp wound received during the morning skirmish. "I stood anear him when he fell, an' God knows I'd rather the bullet had struck me; my fighting days will soon be over, anyhow. But we'll avenge his death afore the day is done. They call us the green tigers, them fellers do, an' there's not a man of us won't fight like a tiger robbed of her whelps, for not a man of us wouldn't 'a' died for the General."
"To the right, wheel, forward march!" came the order from the Colonel, and the "green tigers" filed on with the grim resolve to conquer or to die.
The militia, clad chiefly in homespun frieze, with flint-lock muskets and stout cartridge boxes at their belts, were drawn up at the roadside, and were being supplied with ammunition, previous to following the regulars.
A number of Indians, whose chief dress was a breach clout and deerskin leggings, formidable in their war-paint and war plumes, with scalping-knives and tomahawks, were only partially held in hand by Chief Brant, conspicuous by his height, his wampum fillet and eagle plumes, and his King George's medal on his breast.
"Drive on to the village," said Major-General Sheaffe, who was now chief in command, to Zenas as he passed. "You will find plenty to do there."
At the house where Brock's body lay, a single sentry stood at guard, his features settled in a fixed and stony stare, as though by a resolute effort controlling his emotions. Beyond the village a strong guard was drawn up, and two field pieces, with their gunners, occupied the road.
Soldiers were passing in and out of a large barn which stood near the roadside. They came in groups of two each from the trampled hill slope, bearing on stretchers their ghastly burden of bleeding and wounded men. Although coming within musket-range of the American force, no molestation was offered. Their work of humanity was felt to be too sacred for even red-handed War to disturb. Indeed, both American and British wounded were cared for with generous impartiality.
Zenas and Neville, assisted by an officer's orderly, conveyed their hospital stores into the barn. On bundles of unthreshed wheat, or on trusses of hay, were a number of writhing, groaning, bleeding forms, a few hours since in the vigour of manhood's strength, now maimed, some of them for life, some of them marked for death, and one ghastly form already cold and rigid, covered by a blood-stained sheet At one side they beheld an army surgeon with his sleeves rolled up, but, notwithstanding this precaution, smeared with blood, kneeling over a poor fellow who lay upon a truss of hay, and probing his shoulder to trace and, if possible, extract a bullet that had deeply penetrated.
"Why, Jim Larkins, is that you?" exclaimed Zenas, recognizing an old neighbour and recent schoolfellow.
"Yes, Zenas, all that's left of me. I won't fight no more for one while, I guess," he answered, as he moaned with agony as the doctor probed the wound.
"Give him a drink," said the doctor, and Zenas, as tenderly as a girl, supported his head and held to his parched lips a mug of cold and refreshing tea.
"Blessings on the kind heart that sent that," said the wounded man.
"It was Kate," said Zenas.
"I knowed it must be," murmured Jim, who was one of her rustic admirers. "Tell her," he continued, in the natural egotism of suffering, "she never did a better deed. Heaven reward her for it."
Zenas thought of the benediction pronounced on the cup of cold water given for the Master, and rejoiced in the privilege of ministering to these wounded and, it might be, dying men.
"You'll have to lose your arm, my good fellow," said the doctor, kindly, but in a business-like way, "the bone is badly shattered." "I was afear'd o' that ever since I got hit. I was just a-takin' aim when I missed my fire,—I didn't know why, didn't feel nuthin', but I couldn't hold the gun. Old Jonas Evans, the Methody local preacher, was aside me, a-prayin' like a saint and a- fightin' like a lion. 'The Lord ha' mercy on his soul,' I heared him say as he knocked a feller over. Well, he helped me out o' the fight as tender as a woman, and then went at it again as fierce as ever."
"Don't talk so much, my good follow," said the doctor, who had been preparing ligatures to tie the arteries and arranging his saw, knife, and tourniquet within reach. The operation was soon over, Jim never flinching a bit. Indeed, during action, and for some time after, the sensibilities seem, by the concurrent excitement, mercifully deadened to pain.
"I'd have spared t'other one too, an' right willin'," said the faithful fellow, "if it would have saved Brock."
Zenas, at the doctor's direction, held the poor fellow's shattered arm till the amputation was complete. As the dissevered limb grew cold in his hands, he seemed more distressed than its late owner. Instead of laying it with some others near the surgeon's table, he wrapped it tenderly, as though it still could feel, in a cloth, and going out where a fatigue party were burying on the field of battle—clad in their military dress, in waiting for the last trump and the final parade at the great review—the victims of the fight, he laid the dead arm reverently in the ground, and covered it with its kindred clay. He thought of his sister's remark, about preparing the shroud before death, but here was he burying part of the body of a man who was yet alive.
Neville, meanwhile, had been speaking words of spiritual comfort and counsel to the wounded and the dying, and receiving their last faint-whispered messages to loved ones far away. He also read, over the ghastly trench in which the dead were being buried—one wide, long, common grave, in which lay side by side friend and foe, those recently arrayed in battle with each other, slain by mutual wounds, and now at rest and for ever—the solemn funeral service. As he pronounced the words, "Dust to dust, ashes to ashes," the earth was thrown on the uncoffined dead, and then over the soldiers' grave their comrades fired their farewell volley and again mounted guard against the foe.
Zenas received a lesson in surgery that day of which he found the benefit more than once before the war was over. He was soon able to apply one of Katharine's lint bandages or dress a wound with a deftness that elicited the commendation not only of the subject of his ministration, but even of the knight of the scalpel himself. Neville, too, evinced no little skill in the surgeon's beneficent art.
"Young Drayton," said the surgeon, "I think we shall have to trespass on the hospitality of your house on behalf of Captain Villiers, here. He has received a severe gunshot wound, from which he will be some time in convalescing. I know no place where he will be so comfortable, and I know the squire will make him welcome."
"Of course he will," said Zenas, with alacrity. "He would make even those wounded Yanks welcome, much more an officer of the King."
While Neville remained to minister to the dying, Zenas made a comfortable bed of hay in his now empty waggon, on which the wounded captain was placed, with a wheat sheaf for a pillow, and drove carefully to The Holms. He was preceded by a waggon conveying a number of wounded soldiers to the military hospital at Niagara. As this load of injured and anguished humanity was driven down and up the steep sides of the ravine which crosses the road to the north of the village, at every jolt over the rough stones a groan of agony was wrung from the poor fellows, that made the heart of Zenas ache with sympathy and when the team stopped at the top of the hill, the blood ran from the waggon and stained the ground. War did not seem to the boy such a glorious thing as when he saw the gallant redcoats in the morning marching to the stirring strains of the "British Grenadiers." The boy seemed to have become a man in a few hours. Not less full of enthusiasm and high courage, but more serious and grave, and never again was he heard vapouring about the "pomp and circumstance of glorious war." [Footnote: Accounts of several of the above-mentioned incidents were gleaned from the conversation of an intelligent lady, recently deceased, who, as a young girl, was an eye-witness of the leading events of the war.]
A VICTORY AND ITS COST.
While the events just described had been taking place, an important movement was made for the recovery of Queenston Heights. Major-General Sheaffe, with a force of about nine hundred redcoats and militia, made a circuitous march through the village of St. David's, and thus gained the crest of the heights on which the enemy were posted. Here he was re-enforced by the arrival of a company of the 41st grenadiers and a body of militiamen from Chippewa.
With a volley and a gallant British cheer, they attacked, about two o'clock in the afternoon, the American force, which had also been re-enforced to about the same number as the British. Courage the enemy had, but they lacked the confidence and steadiness imparted by the presence of the veteran British troops. Nevertheless, for a time they stoutly stood their ground; but, soon perceiving the hopelessness of resistance, they everywhere gave way, and retreated precipitately down the hill to their place of landing. The Indians, like sleuth hounds that had broken leash, unhappily could not be restrained, and, shrieking their blood- curdling war-whoops, pursued with tomahawk and reeking blade the demoralized fugitives. Many stragglers were cut off from the main body and attempted to escape through the woods. These were intercepted and driven back by the exasperated Indians, burning to avenge the death of Brock, for whom they felt an affection and veneration for which the savage breast would scarce have been deemed capable.
Terrified at the appearance of the enraged warriors, many of the Americans flung themselves wildly over the cliff and endeavoured to scramble down its rugged and precipitous slope. Some were impaled upon the jagged pines, others reached the bottom bruised and bleeding, and others, attempting to swim the rapid stream, were drowned in its whirling eddies. One who reached the opposite shore in a boat made a gesture of defiance and contempt toward his foes across the river, when he fell, transpierced with the bullet of an Indian sharpshooter.
Two brothers of the Canadian militia fought side by side, when, in the moment of victory, a shot pierced the lungs of the younger, a boy of seventeen, with a fair, innocent face. His brother bore him from the field in his arms, and, while the life-tide ebbed from his wound, the dying boy faltered—
"Kiss me, Jim. Tell mother—I was not—afraid to die," and as the blood gushed from his mouth, the brave young spirit departed.
All that day, and on many a foughten field thereafter, the living brother heard those dying words, and in his ear there rang a wild refrain, which nerved his arm and steeled his heart to fight for the country hallowed by his brother's blood.
"O, how the drum beats so loud! 'Close beside me in the fight, My dying brother says, 'Good night!' And the cannon's awful breath Screams the loud halloo of Death! And the drum, And the drum Beats so loud!"
Such were some of the dreadful horrors with which a warfare between two kindred peoples was waged; and such were some of the costly sacrifices with which the liberties of Canada were won. As from the vantage ground of these happier times we look back upon the stern experiences of those iron days, they inspire a blended feeling of pity and regret, not unmingled with a vague remorse, shot through and through our patriotic pride and exultation, like dark threads in a bright woof. Through the long centuries of carnage and strife through which the race has struggled up to freedom, how faint has seemed the echo of the angel's song, "Peace on earth, good will to men."
"I hear even now the infinite fierce chorus, The cries of agony, the endless groan. Which, through the ages that have gone before us, In long reverberations reach our own.
"Is it, O man with such discordant noises, With such accursed instruments as these, Thou drownest Nature's sweet and kindly voices, And jarrest the celestial harmonies.
* * * * *
"Down the dark future, through long generations, The echoing sounds grow fainter and then cease; And like a bell, with solemn, sweet vibrations I hear once more the voice of Christ say, 'Peace!'
"Peace! and no longer from its brazen portals The blast of War's great organ shakes the skies! But beautiful as songs of the immortals, The holy melodies of love arise."
The result of the battle of Queenston Heights was the unconditional surrender of Brigadier Wadsworth and nine hundred and fifty officers and privates as prisoners of war. But this victory, brilliant as it was, was dearly bought with the death of the loved and honored Brock, the brave young Macdonnell, and those of humbler rank, whose fall brought sorrow to many a Canadian home.
"Joy's bursting shout in whelming grief was drowned, And victory's self unwilling audience found; On every brow the cloud of sadness hung,— "The sounds of triumph died on every tongue."
Three days later all that was mortal of General Brock and his gallant aide-de-camp was committed to the earth with mournful pageantry. With arms reversed and muffled drums and the wailing strains of the "Dead March," the sad procession passed, while the half-mast flags and minute guns of both the British and American forts attested the honour and esteem in which the dead soldiers were held by friends and foes alike. Amid the tears of war-bronzed soldiers and even of stoical Indians they were laid in one common grave in a bastion of Fort George. A grateful country has since erected on the scene of the victory—one of the grandest sites on earth—a noble monument to the memory of Brock, and beneath it, side by side, sleeps the dust of the heroic chief and his faithful aide-de-camp—united in their death and not severed in their burial.
As Neville and the squire and Zenas turned away from the solemn pageant of which they had been silent spectators, the latter remarked,
"Captain Villiers said he'd almost give his other arm to be able to be present to-day and lay a wreath on the coffin of his gallant chief. As he couldn't come, he wrote these verses, which he wished me to post to the York Gazette. He said I might read them to you, Mr. Trueman, before I sent them." And the boy, not very fluently, but with a good deal of feeling, read the following lines:—
"Low bending o'er the ragged bier, The soldier drops the mournful tear, For life departed, valour driven, Fresh from the field of death, to Heaven.
"But Time shall fondly trace the name Of BROCK upon the scrolls of Fame, And those bright laurels, which should wave Upon the brow of one so brave, Shall flourish vernal o'er his grave."
Neville commended the graceful tribute with generous warmth, when Zenas remarked,
"The Captain will be glad to hear you like them. Leastways, I suppose so. He read them himself to Kate this morning, and seemed pleased because they made her cry."
"He is a brave gentleman," says the squire. "I fear it will be long before he mounts his horse, again."
"O he'll soon be round again," chimed in Zenas. "He said Kate would be his Elaine, to nurse the wounded Lancelot back to life. Who was Lancelot?"
"Some of those moon-struck poetry fellows, I'll be bound," said the squire contemptuously.
"Nay, a very gallant knight," said Neville, who had when a boy, read with delight Sir Thomas Mallory's book of King Arthur; but he did not seem to relish the comparison and led the conversation into a serious vein, as befitting the solemn occasion.
THE CAPTURE OF YORK.
After the battle of Queenston Heights an armistice of a month followed, during which each party was gathering up its strength for the renewal of the unnatural conflict. General Smyth, who had succeeded Van Rensselaer, assembled a force five thousand strong, for the conquest of Canada. At the expiration of the armistice, he issued a Napoleonic proclamation to his "companions in arms." "Come on, my heroes" it concludes; "when you attack the enemy's batteries let your rallying word be: 'The cannon lost at Detroit, or death.'"
At length, before day-break on the morning of November 28th—a cold, bleak day—a force of some five hundred men, in eighteen scows, attempted the capture of Grand Island, in the Niagara River. A considerable British force had rallied from Fort Erie and Chippewa. In silence they awaited the approach of the American flotilla. As it came within range, a ringing cheer burst forth, and a deadly volley of musketry was poured into the advancing boats. A six-pounder, well served by Captain Kerby, shattered two of the boats; and the Americans, thrown into confusion, sought the shelter of their own shore.
General Smyth now sent a summons for the surrender of Fort Erie. Colonel Bishopp, its commandant, sarcastically invited him to "come and take it." After several feints the attempt was abandoned, and the army went into winter quarters. Smyth, an empty gasconader, was regarded, even by his own troops, with contempt, and had to fly from the camp to escape their indignation. He was even hooted and fired at in the streets of Buffalo, and was, without trial, dismissed from the army,—a sad collapse of his vaunting ambition.
In the meanwhile, General Dearborn, with an army of ten thousand men, advanced by way of Lake Champlain to the frontier of Lower Canada. The Canadians rallied en masse to repel the invasion, barricaded the roads with felled trees, and guarded every pass. On the 20th of November, before day, an attack was made by fourteen hundred of the enemy on the British out-post at Lacolle, near Rouse's Point; but the guard, keeping up a sharp fire, withdrew, and the Americans, in the darkness and confusion, fired into each other's ranks, and fell back in disastrous and headlong retreat. The discomfited general, despairing of a successful attack on Montreal, so great was the vigilance and valour of the Canadians, retired with his "Grand Army of the North" into safe winter quarters, behind the entrenchments of Plattsburg. A few ineffectual border raids and skirmishes, at different points of the extended frontier, were characteristic episodes of the war during the winter, and, indeed, throughout the entire duration of hostilities.
In their naval engagements the Americans were more successful. On Lake Ontario, Commodore Chauncey equipped a strong fleet, which drove the Canadian shipping for protection under the guns of Niagara, York, and Kingston. He generously restored the private plate of Sir Isaac Brock, captured in one of his prizes.
In these naval conflicts the greatest gallantry was exhibited in the dreadful work of mutual slaughter. The vessels reeked with blood like a shambles, and, if not blown up or sunk, became floating hospitals of deadly wounds and agonizing pain.
In the United States Congress this unnatural strife of kindred races was vigorously denounced by some of the truest American patriots. Mr. Quincy, of Massachusetts, characterized it as the "most disgraceful in history since the invasion of the buccaneers." But the Democratic majority persisted in their stern policy of implacable war.
The patriotism and valour of the Canadians were, however, fully demonstrated. With the aid of a few regulars, the loyal militia had repulsed large armies of invaders, and not only maintained the inviolable integrity of their soil, but had also conquered a considerable portion of the enemy's territory. [Footnote: Condensed from Withrow's History of Canada, 8vo. edition, chap. xxii.]
The winter dragged its weary length along. Its icy hand was laid upon the warring passions of man, and, for a time, they seemed stilled. Its white banners of snow proclaimed a truce—the trace of God—through all the land. Apprehensions of a sterner conflict during the coming year filled every mind, but caused no dismay,— only a firm resolve to do and dare—to conquer or to die—for their firesides and their homes.
Neville Trueman toiled through the wintry woods, the snowdrifts, and the storms to break the bread of life to the scattered congregations of his far-extended circuits. His own flock, who knew the man, knew how his loyalty had been tested, and what sacrifices he had made for his adopted country. By a few religious and political bigots, however, his American origin was a cause of unjust suspicion and aspersion, which stung to the quick his sensitive nature. He was especially made to feel the unreasoning and bitter antipathy of the Indians to the nation of American "long-knives," with whom they classed him, notwithstanding his peaceful calling and his approved loyalty.
One day Trueman entered the bark wigwam of an Indian chief, for the double purpose of obtaining shelter from a storm and of trying to teach the truths of the Christian religion to those devotees of pagan superstition. He found several young braves assembled at a sort of council, gravely smoking their long pipes in dignified silence. His entrance was the occasion of not a few dark scowls and sinister glances.
"Ugh! Yankee black-robe," sneered one of the braves. "Friend of the 'long-knives.' The day of fight at Big Rapids him strike up my arm as me going to tomahawk Yankee prisoner. Had great mind to kill him, too."
"Ugh!" echoed another; "me see him helping wounded 'long-knife,' just like him brother."
"No! Him good King George's man," exclaimed the old chief, who had seen his impartial ministration to the wounded of both armies. "Him love Injun. Teach him pray to true Great Spirit."
But not always did he find such a true friend among the red men; and not unfrequently was the scalping-knife half unsheathed, or the tomahawk grasped, and dark brows scowled in anger, as he sought the wandering children of the forest for their soul's salvation. But their half-unconscious fear of the imagined power of the pale-face medicine-man, their involuntary admiration of his undaunted courage, and, let us add, the protecting providence of God, prevented a hair of his head from being harmed.
The spring came at length with strange suddenness, as it often comes in our northern land, causing a magical change in the face of nature. A green flush overspread the landscape. The skies became soft and tender, with glorious sunsets. The delicate-veined white triliums and May-apples took the place of the snowdrifts in the woods; and the air was fragrant and the orchards were abloom with the soft pink and white apple-blossoms.
The little town of Niagara was like a camp. The long, low barracks on the broad campus were crowded with troops, and the snowy gleams of tents dotted the greensward. The wide grass-grown streets were gay with the constant marching and counter-marching of red-coats, and the air was vocal with the shrill bugle-call or the frequent roll of the drums. Drill, parade, and inspection, artillery and musket practice, filled the hours of the day. Fort George had been strengthened, victualled, and armed. That solitary fort was felt to be the key that, apparently, held possession of the south- western peninsula of Canada.
One evening, early in May, a motley group were assembled in the large mess-room of the log barracks of the fort. It was a long low room built of solid logs. The thick walls were loop-holed for musketry, and on wooden pegs, driven into the logs, the old Brown Bess muskets of the soldiers were stacked. Rude bunks were ranged along one side, like berths in a ship, for the men to sleep in. The great square, naked timbers of the low ceiling were embrowned with smoke, as was also the mantel of the huge open fire-place at the end of the room. The rudely-carved names and initials on the wall betrayed the labours of an idle hour. Around the ample hearth, during the long winter nights, the war-scarred veterans beguiled the tedium of a soldier's life with stories of battle, siege, and sortie, under Moore and Wellington, in the Peninsular wars; and one or two grizzled old war-dogs had tales to tell of
"Hair-breadth 'scapes in the imminent deadly breach"—
of exploits done in their youth during Arnold's siege of Quebec, or at Brandywine and Germantown.
Now the faint light of the tallow candles, in tin sconces, gleams on the scarlet uniforms and green facings of the 49th regiment, on the tartan plaid of the Highland clansman, on the frieze coat and polished musket of the Canadian militiaman, and on the red-skin and hideous war-paint of the Indian scout, quartered for the night in the barracks. In one corner is heard the crooning of the Scottish pipes, where old Allan Macpherson is playing softly the sad, sweet airs of "Annie Laurie," "Auld Lang Syne," and "Bonnie Doon;" while something like a tear glistens in his eye as he thinks of the sweet "banks and braes" of the tender song. Presently he is interrupted by a sturdy 49th man, who trolls a merry marching song, the refrain of which is caught up by his comrades:
"Some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules, Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these; But of all the world's great heroes There are none that can compare, With a tow-row-row-row-row-row-row, To the British Grenadiers!"
In another corner old Jonas Evans, now a sergeant of militia, was quietly reading his well-thumbed Bible, while others around him were shuffling a greasy pack of cards, and filling the air with reeking tobacco-smoke and strange soldiers' oaths. When a temporary lull, in the somewhat tumultuous variety of noises occurred, he lifted his stentorian voice in a stirring Methodist hymn:
"Soldiers of Christ, arise, And put your armour on, Strong in the strength which God supplies Through His eternal Son. Stand then against your foes, In close and firm array: Legions of wily fiends oppose Throughout the evil day."
The old man sang with a martial vigour as though he were charging the "legions of fiends" at the point of the bayonet. In a shrewd, plain, common-sense manner, he then earnestly exhorted his comrades-in-arms to be on their guard against the opposing fiends who especially assailed a soldier's life. "Above all," he said, "beware of the drink-fiend—the worst enemy King George has got. He kills more of the King's troops than all his other foes together." Then, with a yearning tenderness in his voice, he exhorted them to "ground the weapons of their rebellion and enlist in the service of King Jesus, the great Captain of their salvation, who would lead them to victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil, and at last make them kings and priests forever in His everlasting kingdom in the skies."
Those rude, reckless, and, some of them, violent and wicked men, fascinated by the intense earnestness of the Methodist local- preacher, listened with quiet attention. Even the Indian scout seemed to have some appreciation of his meaning, and muttered assent between the whiffs of tobacco-smoke from his carved-stone, feather-decked pipe. The moral elevation which Christian-living and Bible-reading will always give, commanded their respect, and the dauntless daring of the old man—for they knew that he was a very lion in the fight, and as cool under fire as at the mess- table—challenged the admiration of their soldier hearts.
Once a drinking, swearing bigot constituted himself a champion of the Church established by law, and complained to the commanding major that "the Methody preacher took the work out of the hands of their own chaplain,"—an easy-going parson, who much preferred dining with the officers' mess to visiting the soldiers' barracks.
"If he preaches as well as he fights, he can beat the chaplain," said the major. "Let him fire away all he likes, the parson won't complain; and some of you fellows would be none the worse for converting, as he calls it. If you were to take a leaf out of his book yourself, Tony, and not be locked up in the guard-house so often, it would be better for you!"
With the tables thus deftly turned upon him, poor Antony Double- gill, as he was nick-named, because he so often contrived to get twice the regulation allowance of "grog," retired discomfitted from the field.
While the group in the mess-room were preparing to turn into their sleeping-bunks, the sharp challenge of the sentry, pacing the ramparts without, was heard. The report of his musket and, in a few moments, the shrill notes of the bugle sounding the "turn out," created an alarm. The men snatched their guns and side-arms, and were soon drawn up in company on the quadrangle of the fort. The clang of the chains of the sally-port rattled, the draw-bridge fell, the heavy iron-studded gates swung back, and three prisoners were brought in who were expostulating warmly with the guard, and demanding to be led to the officer for the night. When they were brought to the light which poured from the open door of the guard- room, it was discovered with surprise that two of the prisoners wore the familiar red and green of the 49th regiment, and that the third was in officer's uniform. But their attire was so torn, burnt, and blackened with powder, and draggled and soaked with water, that the guard got a good deal of chaffing from their comrades for their capture.
"This is treating us worse than the enemy," said one of the soldiers, "and that was bad enough."
The adjutant now appeared upon the scene to inquire into the cause of the disturbance.
"I have the honour to bear despatches from General Sheaffe," said the young officer; when the adjutant promptly requested him to proceed to his quarters, and sent the others to the mess-room, with orders for their generous refreshment.
There their comrades gathered round them, eagerly inquiring the nature of the disaster, which, from the words that they had heard, they inferred had befallen the left wing of the regiment, quartered at the town of York. In a few brief words they learned with dismay that the capital of the country was captured by the enemy, that the public buildings and the shipping were burned, that the fort was blown up, and that a heavy loss had befallen both sides.
While the men dried their water-soaked clothes before a fire kindled on the hearth, and ate as though they had been starved, they were subject to a cross-fire of eager questions from every side, which they answered as best they could, while busy plying knife and fork, and "re-victualling the garrison," the corporal said, "as though they were expecting a forty days' siege."
"And siege you may have, soon enough," said Sergeant Shenston, the elder of the two men. "Chauncey and Dearborn will drop down on you before the week's out."
Disentangling the narrative of the men from the maze of questions and answers in which it was given, its main thread was as follows:
Early on the morning of the 27th of April, Chauncey, the American commodore, with fourteen vessels and seventeen hundred men, under the command of Generals Dearborn and Pike, lay off the shore a little to the west of the town of York, near the site of the old French fort, now included in the new Exhibition Grounds. The town was garrisoned by only six hundred men, including militia and dockyard men, under Gen. Sheaffe. Under cover of a heavy fire, which swept the beach, the Americans landed, drove in the British outposts, which stoutly contested every foot of ground, and made a dash for the dilapidated fort, which the fleet meanwhile heavily bombarded. Continual re-enforcements enabled them to fight their way through the scrub oak woods to within two hundred yards of the earthen ramparts, when the defensive fire ceased. General Pike halted his troops, thinking the fort about to surrender. Suddenly, with a shock like an earthquake, the magazine blew up, and hurled into the air two hundred of the attacking column, together with Pike, its commander. [Footnote: The magazine contained five hundred barrels of powder and an immense quantity of charged shells.] Several soldiers of the retiring British garrison were also killed. This act, which was defended as justifiable in order to prevent the powder from falling into the hands of the enemy, and as in accordance with the recognized code of war, was severely denounced by the Americans, and imparted a tone of greater bitterness to the subsequent contest.
The town being no longer tenable, General Sheaffe, after destroying the naval stores and a vessel on the stocks, retreated with the regulars towards Kingston. Colonel Chewett and three hundred militiamen were taken prisoners, the public buildings burned, and the military and naval stores, which escaped destruction, were carried off. The American loss was over three hundred, and that of the British nearly half as great. [Footnote: See Withrow's History of Canada, 8vo. edition, chap. xxiii.]