"Death, Hell, or Canada" - Dryden and the War of 1812

Talk given at the Dryden Historical Society, September 19th, 2013

1812v2 from Simon St.Laurent

Two centuries ago, Dryden militia crossed the Niagara River into Canada in one of the early battles of this often forgotten war. Thomas Jefferson was wrong: conquering Canada was more than "a mere matter of marching". The attempt on Queenston failed, though British General Brock died in its defense.

Come learn about the perilous adventures of Dryden men and the state and national political whirlpools that were more hazardous than the Niagara River itself. Meet Governor Daniel Tompkins, namesake of our county, as he fought to keep New York State together in difficult times.

We like to remember "the rockets' red glare", our surprisingly good performance at sea, and Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans after the peace treaty was signed. We also need to remember our town's role in the war, even when it didn't go so well.

Thanks to the Dryden Town Historical Society for the opportunity to present, in particular the Program Committee. Extra thanks go to Molly Adams, who helped me find the Caroline pieces. For the second version, thanks to the History Center for having me present, and Carol Kammen and William Bement for connecting me to more Tompkins County militia information.

Redcoats firing a musket volley.
Redcoats firing a musket volley.

Talk resources:

Photo sets (all August 2013):

Another useful CC-licensed set of photos is Andres Musta's Battle of Queenston Heights, on the 2012 reenactment.

I've also posted the Photoshop files for the maps of the Niagara and Lewiston/Queenston areas (6.5MB zip containing PSD files).

Brock cenotaph and monument.
Cenotaph and monument for the fallen General Brock.

Key chapters from Goodrich, Centennial History


Queenston Heights

Malcomson, Robert. A Very Brilliant Affair: The Battle of Queenston Heights, 1812. Naval Institute Press, 2003.

Van Rensselaer, Solomon. A Narrative of the Affair of Queenstown: in the War of 1812. Levitt, Lord, and Co., 1836.


Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. (Available from the Dryden Town Historical Society.)

Visiting 1812 Sites

Collins, Gilbert. Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812. Dundurn, 2006.

General 1812

Berton, Pierre. Pierre Berton's War of 1812. Doubleday Canada, 2011.

Borneman, Walter R. 1812: The War That Forged a Nation. Harper Perennial, 2004.

Graves, Dianne. In the Midst of Alarms: The Untold Story of Women and the War of 1812. Robin Brass Studio, 2007.

Hickey, Donald. Don't Give Up The Ship!! Myths of the War of 1812. Robin Brass Studio, 2006.

Hickey, Donald. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. University of Illinois Press, 2012.

Hickey, Donald (ed.). The War of 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence. Library of America, 2013.

Hickey, Donald, and Clark, Connie. The Rockets' Red Glare: An Illustrated History of the War of 1812. Johns Hopkins, 2011.

Laxer, James. Tecumseh & Brock: The War of 1812. Harper Collins Canada, 2012.

Lossing, Benson J. Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812. Volume 1 and Volume 2. Harper & Brothers, 1868 Also online at ancestry.com.

Taylor, Alan. The Civil War of 1812. Knopf, 2012.

Reaching for a paper cartridge.
Reaching for a paper cartridge.

You can contact me at simonstl@simonstl.com. Put 1812 in your subject line!