Remembering the War of 1812

MacKay's Militia at Sackets Harbor at Present arms, part of annual 1812 battle reenactments. Photo courtesy of Jim Altemus

It has been referred to as the “forgotten war,” overshadowed by the Revolutionary War that preceded it and the Civil War that followed. However, with this year’s 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812, the confrontation is being remembered with many commemorative activities. Besides battle reenactments, there are other living history events, publications, lectures, exhibits, tours, trails and peace gardens throughout the Finger Lakes and Western New York regions, as well as Canada.

“You’ll see the militia drilling, and if you’re male and between 16 and 45, you may be pressed to join them,” says Jim Altemus, a re-enactor in the 1812-era MacKay Militia at Genesee Country Museum in Mumford, referring to the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration on Saturday, October 6 in Bloomfield. Younger boys or girls can also participate by joining the militia as junior aides-de-camp. After training, the youngsters sign “enlistment papers.”

In June 1812, the U.S. declared war against Great Britain. In New York, the war was fought at locations from the Niagara Frontier to Sackets Harbor, as well as at Buffalo and Batavia, which were then small villages. Ginny Schroeder, Bloomfield town historian, says a local militia trained regularly. “They practiced in the village square, in Mechanics Hall and any other suitable place they could find. A company known as the East Bloomfield Alarm Company was organized for the protection of area homes. They pledged their sacred honor to protect any part of the county.”

Altemus, who also participates in reenactment battles at Sackets Harbor, was joined by members of local historical societies in planning October’s celebration in Bloomfield’s Elton Park. During the War of 1812, troops heading west from the Arsenal in Canandaigua traveled past the park. Today, a monument in the center of the green honors Civil War dead. When Bloomfield was first settled in the late 18th century, and through much of its history, it was known as the Public Square.

“The basic theme of the day is to have folks come by and learn about the war, have some fun, watch the militia activities and hear about local Bloomfield people who lived here during the war,” says Altemus. Members of MacKay’s Militia will set up one or two tents as a “command post” area in the park. A replica American flag with only 15 stars and stripes will be raised to start the day at 10 a.m. Militia drill, volley fire, tactics and recruiting will take place in the morning and afternoon. Ontario County historian, Dr. Preston Pierce, will display period flags and share local history. A re-enactor portraying a Seneca Indian will talk about the role of the native peoples during the war. Other re-enactors will demonstrate over-the-fire cooking and there will be 19th century children’s games. Other highlights include songs of 1812 performed mid-day by David Ruch, who offers a picture through his music of this “second war of independence.”

Attendance is free and period costumes are encouraged. There will be a charge for food provided by local non-profit groups. Sample a slice of pie common to the era for $2, or buy an entire pie for $10. At 3 p.m., a self-guided walking tour of the historic area will highlight buildings that existed at the time of the war, ending at the 1812 Tavern on Main Street. “You can bet that there were many discussions about the war in the tap room for the duration,” says Altemus of the historic locale.

For more information, directions and a schedule of activities, contact the East Bloomfield Historical Society (585) 657-7244; Jim Altemus (585) 657-5328; or the Society’s website – ebhs1838events.org – where a walking tour of Bloomfield’s historic district can be downloaded.

Canandaigua’s Peace Garden

During the War of 1812, no battles or skirmishes were fought in or near Canandaigua. However, it became a military station where the barracks were built, troops were quartered and supplies were stored, bought and sold. The state Arsenal on the hill west of the village was stocked with flintlock muskets, powder, ammunition and cannons.

Although the Granger Homestead in Canandaigua was not built until shortly after the War ended in 1814, the grounds were used by military troops for drills and battle preparation. Today, the Federal-style mansion, completed in 1816 by Gideon Granger, Postmaster General under Presidents Jefferson and Madison, is open to the public.

Now, the landmark property belongs to the Bicentennial War of 1812 Peace Garden Project, which commemorates 200 years of peace between Canada and the U.S. It has become part of a permanent 600-mile long trail of peace gardens established along the historic route in both the U.S. and Canada, where events of the war impacted the future of many peoples.

The 900-square-foot garden just north of the mansion was originally known as the Rose Garden of Antoinette Granger who died in 1930. It was restored in 1995 by the Homestead’s Women’s Council in memory of its members and supporting friends, says Martha Herbik, the Homestead’s executive director. “We appreciate the Women’s Council’s gracious approval for allowing this garden to be added to the trail.” An identification garden plaque describes the war, the Bicentennial Peace Garden Trail and the Granger Homestead.

A variety of cosmos, zinnias, petunias, daylilies, daisies, phlox and irises, among other plantings, are tended by volunteers. “Many people are already enjoying the garden, and we hope its addition to the trail will increase exposure,” says Herbik.

Visit www.1812.ipgf.org for details of other peace garden sites, their history and special events.

Visit www.grangerhomestead.org for information on the Ganger Homestead.

Wayne County Remembers

Larry Ann Evans, executive director at the Museum of Wayne County History in Lyons, is making sure local connections to the War of 1812 are remembered. “Website after website, book after book, all showed time lines omitting these small but important battles,” says Evans of the battles at Sodus Point and Pultneyville in Wayne County. Faced with such omissions, the museum mounted an exhibit filled with artifacts tied to the war, including maps and a detailed time line citing the battles.

Evans then turned her attention to a garment that once belonged to an important military figure present at the Pultneyville battle and whose men were at Sodus. A red and black wool jacket with gold trim and brass buttons once owned by General John Swift (1761-1814), the founder of the town of Palmyra, had been donated by his great-granddaughters to the museum. It begged to be on display, but its identification proved a challenge. Evans says collection records suggested the General, who died in 1814 in the Canadian village of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), probably did not personally wear the “coatee” or short coat.

Uniforms from the War of 1812 are a complex subject. The clothing could be a converted or captured garment. Members of militias simply wore what they had. Following her research, Evans considered the garment to be British. But a visit to Lyons by a knowledgeable Canadian in mid-June after he read about the garment online changed that premise. Based largely on its trim, shoulder straps and buttons, he believes it to be an American enlisted man’s coatee. Armed with the new information, even before the exhibit ended in August, Evans prepared a new label. The coatee is now on permanent display in the museum’s “Military Room,” where Evans expects it will continue to attract interest and speculation.

More about the Battles at Sodus Point and Pultneyville

At Sodus Point, in June 1813, warehouses and homes were destroyed by a British landing party. A firefight took place with the local militia, and one man was killed. Pultneyville, another lake port, was attacked by a British landing force on May 15, 1814. The villagers fired on the British as they returned to their ships. Area homes were cannonaded, resulting in property damage. Two American prisoners were taken, but no deaths occurred. These summaries were drawn from a Google Map of War of 1812 sites created by Dr. Pierce.

The Wayne County Historical Society and Museum of Wayne County History is located at 21 Butternut St., Lyons, NY 14489. Please call 315-946-4946, or visit www.waynehistory.org for more information.


by Laurel C. Wemett