Brock and Tecumseh
The Emperor Napoleon had extended his power throughout Europe until almost all the nations of the continent were either subjects or allies of France. Great Britain stood out against him, fighting him on land and sea, and aiding his enemies with money. Napoleon, in order to break her down, forbade all trade with her, seized the vessels of neutral nations which were carrying goods to or from Great Britain, and closed the ports of Europe to her merchant ships. Britain retaliated by prohibiting all trade with France. The United States was neutral, and her merchant ships therefore were liable to capture by the navies of both the warring nations, if found trading with the prohibited ports. Britain had the greater power on the sea, and therefore Britain seized more American ships than the French did.
Britain also claimed the right to search any American vessel for sailors who had deserted from her own navy. The United States protested strongly against the right of search and the prohibition of European trade.
Inland in North America, the United States were gradually extending westward. Settlers and fur-traders were pouring into the Indian country that stretched along the undefined western frontier. Many of the Indian tribes had been for years more or less under the protection of the British and brought their furs to the British posts. The United States claimed that the Indians were supplied by the British with the arms and ammunition which were used in their warfare against the American invaders of their hunting grounds.
The Americans, also, having won their independence, and having a profound faith in the superior advantages of their republican form of government, believed that the people of Canada, both French and English, were suffering under the tyranny of Great Britain, and would welcome the Americans as deliverers.
Most of the western frontiersmen came from the southern States, and it was here that resentment against Great Britain was strongest. By this section the conquest and annexation of Canada was regarded as a desirable and possible undertaking.
The increasing occasions for complaint, the feeling that the dignity of the young American nation was outraged, and ambition to add to its territory, forced the government of the United States to declare war. The New England States were strongly opposed to hostilities, and took little or no part in the conflict. England withdrew her obnoxious orders prohibiting neutral trade. But the news came too late. War was already determined upon. For Canada it was a fight for national existence and British connection.
The war began at the western end of Upper Canada. In the middle of July an American army led by General William Hull, gathered at Detroit, crossed the river and advanced some distance into the country, while the few British troops fell back to Amherstburg.
Hull issued a proclamation, in which he said that he came to give the Canadians emancipation from British tyranny, and threatened instant death to every white man found fighting beside an Indian.
The native tribes of this western country had for years opposed the invasion of their hunting grounds by the United States. Their principal leader was Tecumseh, a chief of the Shawnees, who, with his brother, known as The Prophet, formed a league of the western tribes to resist the further advance of the Americans. For the last two years there had been fighting, and when war broke out many of the Indians flocked to the side of the British.
Between Hull's army at Detroit and the settled country to the south-east lay many miles of forest, through which ran only a few rough roads and trails. Food, ammunition, clothing, and reinforcements of troops had to be brought over this long and toilsome route. Indian scouts infested the woods, and raiding parties of British intercepted the supplies on the way to Detroit. It was evident that a large number of Hull's men would be required to keep the route open through the country behind him, and that he must have more troops. A month after he had invaded Canada so confidently he retreated across the river to the fort at Detroit.
Meanwhile at York, the village capital of Upper Canada, General Isaac Brock, the British commander, was busy gathering a force to repel the invaders. He had only a few regular soldiers of the British army, and with them and the untrained militia of the country, he had to defend the long frontier that stretched from Detroit to the boundary of Lower Canada. The population was small and scattered, the means of transport by road and river and lake was slow and difficult. The harvest had to be got in, and the work of the farms must go on, or Canada would starve. But Brock was vigorous, active and courageous; his example put energy into the people, and they set themselves bravely to the work of defending their country.
Brock decided that the invaders must be driven back at once and that Detroit should be taken if possible before reinforcements reached Hull. He called for volunteers from the militia to march to the western frontier, sent them forward without delay, and early in August he started off himself, gathering reinforcements by the way. At Long Point, on Lake Erie, boats had been collected, and here he embarked with two hundred and sixty militiamen and forty regular soldiers. For five days, and often far into the nights, they rowed the clumsy, leaking boats along the surf-beaten shore, landing now and then at the few places where it was possible, in creek mouths and sheltered coves in the cliffs, for a hastily cooked meal and a few hours' sleep, until, with blistered hands and wind-burnt faces, about midnight on August 13th, they reached Amherstburg.
Brock at once called a council of war. Here, for the first time, he met Tecumseh. A letter by Brock gives his impressions of his Indian ally. "He who attracted most of my attention was the Shawanese chief, Tecumseh. A more sagacious or more gallant warrior does not exist. He was the admiration of everyone who conversed with him." Tecumseh's impression of Brock was equally favourable. The Indian is quick to perceive character, and Tecumseh's estimate was formed at once. Turning to his companions, after a rapid survey of the tall and commanding figure of the British general, he exclaimed "This is a man!" The few words describe Brock completely.
That midnight meeting must have been a dramatic and picturesque scene, as the candlelight fell upon the massive and erect figure of Brock, standing over six feet in his tasselled boots, with light reddish hair, blue eyes and fresh colour, in scarlet coat and crimson sash and white breeches, gold braid and buttons and epaulettes, and upon the equally erect but lither Tecumseh, clad in fringed buckskin frock, leggings decorated with headwork and wampum and dyed porcupine quills, and girt with a gaily coloured belt in which gleamed a silver-mounted tomahawk and a long hunting knife. No authentic portrait of him exists, but those who saw him speak of his clear, dark complexion, his bright hazel-black eyes, his straight nose and firm expressive mouth. As they met in the low room their shadows fell upon the walls and ceiling, dim shadows wrapped the room beyond the candlelight; and over them hung, unseen, the shadow of death. Within a few months, each, so full of vigour and quick intelligence, lay dead in the thick of battle; and their deeds and their characters and their brief comradeship became an heroic legend.
- Jefferys, Charles W. 1934 Canada's Past in Pictures, p.108