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The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 5: December 2006

Documents, Artefacts and Imagery

What About the Ladies ? A Series of Documents Regarding Women and the War of 1812.

Compiled by Dianne Burton-Graves


"To the wonder of the industrious peasant:" The Victory Ball in Montreal

When news of the end of hostilities reached North America in the late winter of 1815, there were victory celebrations on both sides of the border. And why shouldn't there have been as the conflict that had just ended was "the war that both sides won." One of the festive events was a masquerade ball held in Montreal by Lieutenant-George Hay, the Marquis of Tweeddale and commanding officer of the 100th Regiment of Foot, a veteran of the battle of Chippawa. It was quite the event and Montreal Herald duly provided a detailed description of the revellers, their costumes and their antics in its issue of 11 March 1815. It should be noted that 29-year-old Julia de Rottenburg, the 29-year-old wife of Lieutenant-General Sir Francis de Rottenburg, was regarded as one of the most beautiful women in British North America.

Dianne Burton-Graves


Montreal Herald, 11 March 1815

"The Marquis of Tweeddale's Masquerade"

Mrs. General de Rottenburg, an interesting Squaw when masked; at Supper when the fair revealed their charms, her beauty was conspicuous, and shone forth unrivalled in spite of the savage costume, which in vain attempted to hide the Symmetry of her Person.

Mrs. Colonel Murray enlivened the Motley groups by a display of various talents in several characters; all of which were supported with spirit. Her Agnes admirable and was rendered more interesting still by her songs; accompanied by the pleasing sounds of the tinkling Guitar.

Mrs. Judge Reid, a good Soldier's wife -- Mrs Dawson, 100th Regiment, a lovely Columbine -- Mrs. Major Clerk, an interesting Flower Girl -- Miss McGillivray, a modern young lady of Fashion -- Mrs. Major Martin, an Augustine Nun -- Miss Sutherland, a Pretty Country Lass -- Miss Macrae an inviting Peasant Girl -- Miss Fern, a pleasing Flora -- Mrs Major Wallace, a flower Girl -- Mrs. Langan, an abbess of St. Dominick -- Miss Langan, a pensive Nun of the same order -- Miss Marianne McGillivray, a New Market Jockey of feather weight -- Miss Richardson, a Columbine of the old Theatre. ......

At one o'clock, the company unmasked & proceeded to Supper; where all the delicacies and art of the maitre de cuisine were laid out in a style seldom before witnessed in this country. At two o'clock, the dancing, in character, commenced, till the brightness of the sun eclipsed the dim light of the Chandeliers. The whole concluded by a Promenade in mask thro' the streets; to the wonder of the industrious peasant, as he came to market.


"With the Yankees within four miles of us:" A British Officer's Wife Writes Home, 1814

Hannah Jenoway, the wife of Lieutenant Richard Jenoway of the 1st Foot, accompanied her husband when his regiment was transferred to the Niagara Peninsula in late 1813. When an American army under Major-General Jacob Brown invaded the area in July 1814, she and her young family came closer to the war than she wished. In a letter to her sister-in-law, published in Ernest A. Cruikshank, The Documentary History of the Campaign on the Niagara Frontier in 1814 (Welland, 1897), Hannah recounts her family's adventures in an active theatre of operati ons.

Dianne Burton-Graves

Hope Cottage, Fort George

14th September, 1814

My Dear Sister,

It is with great pleasure I write these lines to you of our good fortune so far, and I hope and trust in the Almighty for its continuance. It is now five months since your brother was made Assistant Engineer at this place, and I am glad to say his emoluments are very great, and so are his exertions. I only fear he will be ill with his great assiduity. We are now living in a cottage of his own building. I assure you I am quite delighted with it, but am greatly afraid of our good luck not lasting long, as it seems to me to be too good to remain any length of time. We have a fine horse and carriage of the country, which just holds our family and a little baggage. I have now been with my husband three months, which is the longest period we have been together since we came to Canada.

After I left Mrs. Robinson's family at Kingston, which was on the eleventh of December, Mr. Jenoway having got leave of absence for three weeks to take us up to York, where I remained at a boarding school, I had one room and boarded with the family, and paid at the rate of one hundred [] a year. I stopped until the sixth of June, when I left to join my husband, who was at Queenston, having been ordered from Fort George to erect fortifications there. I had only been there a fortnight when five thousand of the Yankees landed above Fort Erie. Mr. Jenoway was left to command Queenston and the fortifications he had constructed, but unfortunately our army had to retire after a hard battle, with only fifteen hundred of the British to oppose so many of the enemy; consequently your brother had to blow up the batteries and make the best of his way to Fort George with his men and guns.

Previous to that, about nine o'clock in the night, I was obliged to make my retreat with the children. When we got back four miles from Queenston, six Indians rushed out of the bush and asked me for my money. The servant was so frightened that he durst not speak to them, but I had courage enough to make them understand I was an officer's lady, when they immediately went away. You may easily suppose what a tremor I was in.

On we went towards the Twelve [Mile Creek]. Before we got within six miles of it our servant upset us. Fortunately we had no limbs broken, only much bruised. We were near a Mr. Thompson's, where we staid three weeks, with the Yankees within four miles of us, and [they] came a few times within a mile and-a-half of us. After the Americans had retired to St. David's and Queenston, my dear husband fetched us to Fort George, made the family a present of twenty dollars and drove off.

My poor little Michael and his brother is, and have been for several weeks, alarmingly ill of the ague and lake fever. It is a second attack on him. There are several men, women and children sick of it at this time. It is nearly as bad here for that disease as in [illegible] only not so dangerous. Hannah is very well and grows a fine girl, but very backward in her talking. Your brother has pretty good health at present, but is almost hurried off his legs. I assure you that he is so very much employed that I have little of his company, as he has the entire command of the Engineer's Department at Fort Mississauga and Fort George. The former is a large, new post, which he had the direction of at the commencement, and considered largest and of most importance of any in Upper Canada.

Address to us, R.O. Jenoway, First Battalion Royal Scots, Fort George, or elsewhere, Upper Canada, America.


"I am so beautifully brown, & my hair grown so dark:" A British Officer's Lady at War

Alicia Cockburn was the wife of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Cockburn, commanding officer of the Canadian Fencibles and youngest brother of Rear-Admiral George Cockburn, RN, the scourge of the American seaboard. In a letter to her cousin Charles in Canterbury, she describes life in wartime British North America. She also complains about the seeming inaction of Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost, the British commander-in-chief when she comments that if she commanded the army, she "would move it a little nearer the enemy."

The original of this letter is in the National Library and Archives of Canada, Manuscript Group 24, I28, Sandys Papers.

Dianne Burton-Graves

Alicia Cockburn to Charles Sandys, Esquire, St. George's Place, Canterbury


June 28th [1814]

My dear Charles,

I am constantly disappointed on opening my Mother's pacquettes at not finding a letter from you, and altho' it is perhaps unreasonable to expect it, when your time is occupied by so much more important avocations, still I am selfish enough to repine at never hearing from you. I am at present meditating a Journey to Upper Canada, and even a trip into the United States in a Flag of Truce, which to do the Yankees justice they treat with uncommon civility especially when born[e] by Ladies, whom they allow to go much farther, and peep about much more, than we should do in a simlar case, whatever might be their beauty & accomplishments.

My noble Lord marched three days since for his old station Cornwall, where he has the command, & I am going on his special invitation -- indeed, since I began this, I have a letter from him dated on the road, desiring me to come up as soon as I can, as the Country is so beautiful that he wishes me to see it, as I was only there in Winter; and that Season altho' equally fine in this part of the World, presents a totally different style of landscape. I am greatly amused by the English papers stating "The roads are become so bad by the recent fall of snow &c" -- which in Canada is just the thing that we pray for, and which makes our roads so good. I have no doubt you felt the severity of the season much more than we do here, from the detestable damp of your foggy Island, and the want of Stoves and double Windows to keep the Houses warm, -- however you cannot have had the Thermometer 35 below nothing [zeor], as we constantly have it here, or the cutting cold which can only be felt to form an idea of.

The Summer is very fine, and not so overpowering from heat as last year, but it is hot enough, and will be considerably more so, as it is always some degrees hotter than the West Indies, without the evening breezes you get there. I am so beautifully brown, & my hair grown so dark, that I propose sitting for my picture in the character of an Indian Princess without more delay.

We are expecting an attack hereabouts. It is something like the French invasion [of 1805]; the war is at an end without its ever having come to pass, & such will be the case here. All is bustle however in the neighbouring Camp -- Guns -- Drums -- Bugles -- Horse -- Foot -- Brigadiers -- Grenadiers -- & Fuzileers -- Right -- Left --here -- there -- march -- halt -- wheel -- double-quick -- tumble down -- tumble up -- fire away -- thus they "keep moving" and a most moving scene it is, but I think if I commanded, I would move it a little nearer the enemy. -- however there are some worthy people who have the happy knack of discovering danger long before its approach, and wisely determine to take every measure save that of running into it, -- they bear in mind the old Poem

He who fights & runs away,
May live to fight another day,
But he who is in Battle slain,
Will never rise to fight again.

Two Reg[imen]ts. are just arrived from Bourdeaux, (the 6th & 82d) [Regiments of Foot] and we have a list of seventeen more, intended for the Coast, therefore if we do not now make Peace, on this side, before the gates of Plattsburg, or on the other amidst the ruins of New York, I think we may as well make the enemy a handsome present of Canada & since we can gain no other credit, content ourselves with that of generosity.

When are all our accounts with Henry to be settled? I drew on Alexr Cockburn for 50 -- on the 15th of June, & desired Broughton in case he had left England (which I hope, & believe he has not) to consult with you how to accept the [bank] Draft 'till you can get at him, but I do not imagine there is any need for the precaution -- however the very idea of a Draft being returned in a strange place makes one doubly cautious. I write to my dear Mother, & Mary, from whom I have charming letters up to the 3d of April. Pray remember us both kindly to Edwin -- the Pierces -- & all our old friends, & Believe me

My dear Charles,

Your very affectt. Cousin

Alicia Cockburn


"I saw the hillside and the fields as far as the eye could reach covered with American soldiers:" A Canadian Woman Remembers the War.

Amelia Harris (ne Ryerse) was the daughter of Samuel Ryerse, a prominent Loyalist officer in the Revolutionary War. At the end of the conflict he obtained a grant of land in Upper Canada and created the settlement of Port Ryerse on the north shore of Lake Erie. In old age Amelia recorded her experiences during the war including the awful memory of the destruction of her family's farm by American troops under the command of Colonel John B. Campbell of the Twenty-First United States Infantry. Although she probably never knew it, but would certainly have taken great satisfaction if she had, Campbell was mortally wounded at the battle of Chippawa fought in the following July. Of interest in Amelia's memory of the war is the myth that was widespread in Upper Canada concerning the reason for Captain Robert Barclay's inattention which permitted Oliver Hazard Perry to get his warships over the sand bar at Erie.

Amelia Harris's memoir was written in 1879 and first published in Egerton Ryerson, The Loyalists of America and their Times (2 vols, Toronto, 1880), vol 2, 253-256 and reprinted in James J. Talman, ed., Loyalist Narratives from Upper Canada (Toronto, 1946)

Dianne Burton-Graves


In 1810 my Father showed signs of failing health. A life of hardship & great exertion told upon a naturally strong constitution. He decided upon resigning all His offices. His resignation was accepted upon his assurance that [it was] from ill health. He could no longer fulfil the duties they involved. The Hon. Thomas Talbot was appointed His successor as Col. Commandant of the Militia, & the late Judge Mitchell succeeded as Judge of the District and Surrogate Court. At this time war was threatened between America & England. A large body of the Militia which my Father had organized waited upon Him and entreated Him to resume the command, for in him they had confidence. Col. Talbot was a stranger amongst them but my dear father was at that time on His death Bed (with consumption) & died in June, 1812, less than six months after.

War was declared the same month, & then came troubles to my widowed mother in various shapes -- my Father in 17 years had seen a lonely wilderness changed into a fruitful country. Most of the original log houses had given place to good frame buildings and the inhabitants generally seemed prosperous & content when the war broke out.

Then the Militia had to do military duty and neglect[ed] their farms. British troops passed through Port Ryerse on their way to Sandwich & Amherstburgh and every available building was used as Barracks. All merchant vessels were converted into ships of war. Capt. Barcley [Barclay], R.N., was first, and Capt. Finis [Finnis] second in command of a Navy numbering six or eight Vessels of different tonnage. There was a large ship Building on the stocks at Amherstburgh and Capt. Bar[c]lay['s] Transports used to take troops & supplies to the far West.

The Lake was clear of enemies as the American fleet was blockaded within Erie Harbor where they had some large ships on the stocks. They could not cross the bar at Erie Harbor without lightening their ships & taking out part of their Guns. This they could not do in the presence of British men of war, though not of heavy Ton[n]age. When the weather was too rough for the Blockading vessels to remain outside of the Harbor, it was too rough for the American fleet to get over the Bar; consequently we felt very safe for the time.

During this summer [of 1812] General Brock called out the Militia in Norfolk and asked for Volunteers to go with him to Detroit. Every man volunteered. He made his selections of the young and active. Right gallantly the Militia behaved during the three years' war, casting no discredit upon their parentage, the brave old U[nited]. E[mpire]. Loyalists.

During the summer [of 1813] Capt. Barclay used occasionally to leave the Blockade & go with his fleet to Amherstburgh & come into Ryerse. The Americans took note of this and made their plans & preparations for his doing so.

There was a pretty widow of a field officer at Amherstburgh who was very anxious to go to Toronto [York]. Capt. Barclay offered Her a passage in His ship and brought her to Ryerse & then escorted her to Dr. Rolph's, His fleet remaining at anchor at Ryerse while He & some other of His officers spent a day at the Rolph's. The following day when they came in sight of Erie, they saw all the American fleet riding safely at anchor outside of the Bar.

They [the Americans] had everything in readiness and as soon as the watched for opportunity came and the British fleet left the station, they got their own ships over the Bar, their Guns in & all things in readiness for attack or defence. They far out numbered the British fleet & were of heavier ton[n]age.

Capt. Barclay held a council with His Senior officers whether it would be best to come into Long Point Bay to winter where they could get supplies across the Country from Burlington Bay of all the munitions of war and leave the ship which was on the stocks at Amherstburgh to her fate, as neither the guns to arm nor the men to man Her had yet been forwarded and now could not unless by land, which for heavy Guns, Arms, and am[m]unition was an impossibility. It was with great difficulty that food and clothing could be forwarded where there was little more than an Indian path and no or very few Bridges. The wisdom of the fleet decided upon going to Amherstburgh and trusting to arming the ship with the guns from the Fort and manning Her with some of the Sailors from the fleet, with Soldiers and Volunteers.

They landed Capt. O'Kief [O'Keefe] of the 41st [Foot], who was doing marine duty on board the fleet at or near Otter Creek to find His way to Ryerse and tell the Militia Commandant that the whole frontier was now open to American invasion. The new ship was launched imperfectly armed and manned and without a sufficient supply of Ammunition for the fleet. Commodore Barclay was necessitated to risk an action. The result is too well known. Nearly all the officers were killed. Capt. Barclay who had already lost one Arm was disabled in the other. Even then they did not strike their colours to Commodore Perry's superior force until their ammunition in some ships was all exhausted & in others nearly so. No one could have fought more bravely than Capt. Barclay. At the same time those who knew of His leaving the Blockade could not help feeling that all the disasters of the upper part of the Province lay at His door.

In May of 1814 we had several days of heavy fog. On the 13th, I think, the fog lifted. We saw seven or eight ships under the American flag anchored of[f] Ryerse with a number of small Boats floating by the side of each ship. As the fog cleared away they hoisted sail and dropped down three miles below us, opposite Port Dover. Of course, an invasion was anticipated. The Militia under the command of Col. Talbot were immediately ordered to assemble at Brandtford a distance of thirty miles by 10 A.M. the next day, which they did, with a good many exceptions of Officers & Men. The general wish was to try & prevent the American landing and [they] expressed indignation at being ordered to a safe distance from all danger.

On the following morning, the 15th of May, as my Mother and myself were at Breakfast, the Dogs made an unusual barking. I went to the door to discover the cause. When I looked up I saw the hillside and the fields as far as the eye could reach covered with American soldiers. They had landed at Patterson's Creek, Burnt the Mills and village of Port Dover and then marched to Ryerse.

Two men stepped from the ranks, selected some large chips, came into the room where we were standing and took coals from the hearth, without speaking. My mother knew instinctively what they were going to do. She went out and asked to see the commanding officer, a gentleman rode up to her and said he was the person she asked for. She entreated Him to spare her property and said that she was a widow with a young family. He answered her civilly & respectfully and regretted that his orders were to Burn, but that He would spare the house, which He did, & said in justification that the Buildings were used as Barracks and the mill furnished flour for British Troops.

Very soon we saw [a] column of dark smoke arise from every Building and what at early morn had been a prosperous homestead, at noon there remained only smouldering ruins. The following day Col. Talbot and the Militia under his command marched to Fort Norfolk. The Americans were then safe on board their own ships & well on their way to their own shores.

My Father had been dead less than two years, & little remained of all his labors, excepting the orchards and cultivated fields. It would not be easy to describe my mother's feelings as she looked at the desolation around her, and thought upon the past & the present, but there was no longer a wish to return to New York. My Father's Grave was there and She looked to it as Her resting place. Not many years since a small Church has been built on a plot of ground which my Father had reserved for that purpose. In the grave yard attached are Buried two of the early settlers -- my Father and my Mother.

A[melia]. H[arris].