For a couple of centuries, people of Grimsby (and elsewhere) have mistakenly believed that nothing much happened around here during the war of 1812. Well, yes, a lot of the menfolk joined the 4th Lincoln Militia – men with familiar surnames such as Nelles, Hixon, Book, Pettit, Moore, Corson, Merritt, Beam, Carpenter – but what did they actually do in the war?
A lot of them fought in the famous Battle of Queenston Heights, then at other battles along our border at Fort George, Beaver Dam, Lundy’s Lane.
The one battle that should never be forgotten, however, is the one fought right here on Grimsby’s waterfront. It was fought mostly by the local residents who had to put up with having their property vandalized by the invaders.
Here’s a brief recap for those who don’t remember the facts as taught in high school: the facts were seldom even referred to in high school.
In late May of 1813, American troops invaded the Niagara Peninsula, planning to press on to take York (Toronto) which was then the capital of Upper Canada. General Vincent and the Lincoln Militia were driven back from Fort George, and camped two days at The Forty before continuing on to Burlington Heights. On June 5th American forces marched through The Forty (Grimsby) on their way to clean up Vincent, or so they thought. However, during the early hours of the 6th with news from an informant, Vincent’s men attacked the American encampment and routed them. On the 7th, the Americans marched to The Forty again, this time setting up camp at the mouth of Forty Mile Creek. They were waiting from reinforcements which never arrived.
Meanwhile, British ships came in close enough to the shore to bombard the American camp. Campfires and supplies were quickly abandoned as the Americans loaded whatever they could into bateaux and headed back to American soil. A large part of this flotilla was captured en route.
Perhaps the invaders were terrorized additionally by John Norton and his Mohawk warriors who, though small in number, were very noisy and very frightening to the Americans when they rode along the escarpment screaming war cries and firing their weapons.
Local residents suffered badly from all of this. Fields and gardens were trampled and denuded, livestock snatched, clothing (particularly shoes and boots) were stolen whenever they were found out-of-doors because these invaders were hungry and poorly outfitted. It was a long time before local families could once again feed themselves from their own property.
Never again think that nothing happened here during the War of 1812. It was an exciting and frightening time. On the 200th anniversary of the Battle (or Engagement or “affair”) at the Forty, the Grimsby Historical Society is sponsoring a full scale re-enactment of that event at the park by the pumphouse, where the original event took place. History will come alive on June 8th, complete with lake vessels, so be sure to mark that date with a big red circle on your calendar. The whole family will enjoy this event – and it’s all free.