Battle of Frenchman’s Creek – Nov 28, 1812

This story is action packed with our relatives achieving their objective Navy SEAL Team 6 style, only to be betrayed by their inept General Alexander Smyth.  Result: our brothers spent two years in POW camp.  Their father  Roger Parke was captured in an action a year later and died a POW.   On the other hand, the General was later elected to Congress and even had a county named after him: Smyth County, Virginia.

Canadians interpreted the commando raid as the direct assault and celebrated the victory.  In the United States, the story is largely forgotten.

After arguing with Brigadier General Peter B. Porter, Alexander Smyth challenged him to a duel, but both men went unscathed. The historian John R. Elting wrote of the duel, stating “Unfortunately, both missed.”

Alexander Smyth (1765-1830)

To be fair, maybe Smyth was a better economist than he was a general.  In The Old Republicans, Norman K. Risjord cites a speech delivered by Virginia Rep. Alexander Smyth on Thursday January 30, 1823 as “the first time it was openly asserted on the House floor” “that the protective tariff was unconstitutional.” Rep. “Smyth maintained that the power to lay and collect taxes was for purposes of revenue only; Congress had no power to protect domestic manufactures”:

The 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek is coming up in a few weeks.   The operation was conceived as a raid to prepare the ground for a larger American invasion of Upper Canada (Now Ontario). The Americans succeeded in crossing the Niagara and landing at both of their points of attack. They achieved one of their two objectives before withdrawing but the invasion was subsequently called off, rendering useless what had been accomplished.

Frenchman’s Creek National Historic Site, Niagara Boulevard, Fort Erie, ON

Two of our cousins,  George and Joseph Parke, were captured  and sent to a Quebec POW camp.  They remained there until the War was over in 1815. Their father Roger Park was captured 5 Sept 1813 and died a few weeks later 6 Nov 1813 buried at The Anglican Cathedral in Quebec City, Canada.

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City became the first Anglican cathedral built off the British Isles, when it was completed in 1804

Roger Parke, the son of our ancestor Jonah PARKE (1716 – 1785) was born 1755 in Huntingdon, New Jersey.  Ironically, Roger’s older brother Nathaniel PARKS (1738 – 1818) was a sergeant on the Loyalist side and was our only ancestor who was relocated to Canada after the British were defeated.  The Parkes were also our only ancestral family where brothers fought on opposite sides.   Nathaniel and his son Joseph enlisted in the loyalist 3rd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers (known as Skinners Greens) on Jun 6 1778. (See his page for his side of the story)

Roger was married to Elizabeth Dallas on the 6th day of September, 1774 by Rev David Griffin of Shelburne Parish, Loudoun Co., VA. They were listed for 9 years in Loudon Co., paying tithes to Cameron Parish from 1774-1783. Roger Parke was living beside William Parke and Andrew Buckalew in Cameron Parish.

Roger and his family lived in Loudon County, Virginia

1777 – 1783 – 4th Regiment of Virginia; Roger (Rodger McPark, pvt, later records, Roger M Parke, Corporal.) Muster Roll & Pay Roll served with Capt Abraham Kirpatrick’s Company on the 3rd-4th-8th-12th Cont Line.

The 4th Virginia Regiment was raised on Dec 28, 1775 at Suffolk Court House, Virginia for service with the Continental Army. The regiment saw action at the Battle of TrentonBattle of PrincetonBattle of BrandywineBattle of GermantownBattle of Monmouth and the Siege of Charleston. Most of the regiment was captured at Charlestown, South Carolina on May 12, 1780 by the British and the regiment was formally disbanded on January 1, 1783.

Roger had a 400 acre land grant ca 1785-1796 (the Monongalia Co., Court House Burned in 1796). In 1803 Monongalia Co., records, Roger Parke sold 400 acres, on Indian Creek, to James Williamson who later sold to Charles Boyes.

In the War of 1812, at the age of 57, Roger enlisted in Capt. Willoughby Morgan’s 2nd Company Monongalia Co., VA/WV. He was captured Sep 5, 1813 and POW records show he died two months later on Nov 6, 1813 from wounds received at Ft Erie, NY on the Canadian border.  He was buried at the Anglican Cathedral in Quebec City, Canada.

Roger Parke is buried at Holy Trinity the Anglican Cathedral in Quebec City

Roger was probably captured in one of the last Skirmishes at Ball’s Farm, Upper Canada (July 8 – September 6, 1813): A series of skirmishes that occurred just west of Niagara, Upper Canada, between the American and British lines during the blockade of Fort George (July 1 – October 9, 1813).

Blockade of Fort George, Upper Canada (July 1 – October 9, 1813): A British attempt to reoccupy Fort George following their victories at Stoney Creek (June 6, 1813) and Beaver Dams (June 24, 1813). There were frequent skirmishes (Ball Property) and raids (Black Rock) during this period. The blockade was lifted in order to redeploy troops in response to developments elsewhere along the American-Canadian border, especially Wilkinson’s Campaign on the St. Lawrence, which began in October, and the British defeat at Moraviantown in Upper Canada, which occurred on October 5.

1813 – POW Roger Parke Quebec Canada Source: The Anglican Cathedral in Quebec City, Canada.

Monongalia Co., VA/WV court records 1821, Roger Parke’s son in law, Jehu Lash, is assigned as administrator to his estate.

Roger Park Revolutionary War Grant 15 Sep 1823

1823 Coshocton Co Oh Court records, two sons of Andrew Buckalew swore in Court they knew Roger Parks, father of George Parks, personally.

1823 Recorded list of heirs of Roger Parks were named; John, George, Joseph, Jonas, Mary/Polly Lash, Deborah, David, Jonathan & Joshua Parks

Roger’s sons George and Joseph enlisted in the War of 1812 Monongalia Co. VA/WV under Capt. Willoughby Morgan at the same time with their father.  Younger brother Jonathan enlisted Monongalia Co. in 1814 after his father’s death.  George and Joseph were captured at the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek at Ft. Erie 28 Nov 1812 and sent to a Quebec POW camp along with his brother Joseph. They remained there until the War was over in 1815.

Story of the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek

Old Fort Erie as it was imagined in 1814

During the war, the Americans launched several invasions into Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). One section of the border where this was easiest (because of communications and locally available supplies) was along the Niagara River. Fort Erie was the British post at the head of the river, near its source in Lake Erie.

Fort Erie Today

In 1812, two American attempts to capture Fort Erie were bungled by Brigadier General Alexander Smyth. Bad weather or poor administration foiled the American efforts to cross the river.

The Battle of Frenchman’s Creek took place in the early hours of November 28, 1812, in the Crown Colony of Upper Canada, near the Niagara River. The operation was conceived as a raid to prepare the ground for a larger American invasion. The Americans succeeded in crossing the Niagara and landing at both of their points of attack. They achieved one of their two objectives before withdrawing but the invasion was subsequently called off, rendering useless what had been accomplished. The engagement was named, “the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek” by the Canadians, after the location of some of the severest fighting. To contemporary Americans, it was known as, “the Affair opposite Black Rock”.

Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764-1834) Smythe’s commander officer and later 2nd Lieutenant Governor of New York

Failure to spike the British batteries was a major contributor to the earlier American defeat Oct 13  1812 at the Battle of Queenston Heights.  Despite their numerical advantage and the wide dispersal of British forces against an invasion attempt, the Americans, who were stationed in Lewiston, New York, were unable to get the bulk of their invasion force across the Niagara River due to the work of British artillery and reluctance on the part of the undertrained and inexperienced American militia. As a result, British reinforcements were able to arrive and force those Americans on the Canadian side to surrender.

After this defeat, command of the U.S. Army of the Centre on the Niagara Frontier passed from Major General Stephen Van Rensselaer of the New York Militia to his second-in-command, Brigadier General Alexander Smyth of the Regular U.S. Army.  Van Rensselaer, despite having held high rank in the militia for several decades, was, like most American militia officers at the time, virtually untrained and inexperienced.  The Van Rensselaers were the original patroons of Albany New York (See The Manor of Rensselaerswyck).  Clearly, Van Rensselaer was not a good choice to command an entire American army, but politics as much as military tactics dictated many of the military appointments of the day.

Smyth had deeply resented being subordinated to a militia officer and this was the opportunity for which he had been waiting. He immediately planned to invade Canada with 3,000 troops. Assembling his forces at Buffalo, he directed a two-pronged attack in advance of his main invasion. Captain William King, with 220 men, was to cross the Niagara and spike the batteries at the Red House, beside Fort Erie, in order to enable Smyth’s main invasion force to land without facing artillery fire. At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Boerstler, with 200 men, was to land in Canada between Fort Erie and Chippawa and destroy the bridge over Frenchman’s Creek in order to hinder the bringing-up of British reinforcements to oppose Smyth’s landing.

Two of Roger Parke’s sons were captured at the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek

The British commander-in-chief in North America, Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, had forbidden any offensive action on the Niagara Frontier. This left the local British forces with no alternative but to wait for the Americans to make the first move and try to counter any attempt at invasion. The regular troops were distributed among the defensive outposts and supplemented with militia and Native American forces.

In a floridly worded proclamation, published on 10 November and addressed “To The Men of New York”, Smyth wrote that, “in a few days the troops under my command will plant the American standard in Canada” and he urged New Yorkers not to “stand with your arms folded and look on in this interesting struggle” but to “advance…to our aid. I will wait for you a few days.”

British Forces

General Smyth had so long and loudly proclaimed his designs against Canada, and had so fairly indicated his probable point of invasion, that the authorities on the other side were prepared to meet him at any place between Fort Erie and Chippewa. Major Ormsby, of the Forty-ninth, with a detachment of that and the Newfoundland regiment, was at the fort. The ferry opposite Black Rock was occupied by two companies of militia under Captain Bostwick. Two and a half miles from Fort Erie, at a house on the Chippewa road, was Lieutenant Lamont, with a detachment of the 49th Regiment of Foot , and Lieutenant King, of the Royal Engineers, with a three and six pounder, and some militia artillerymen. Near the same spot were two batteries, one mounting an eighteen and the other a twenty-four pound cannon, also under Lamont. A mile farther down was a post occupied by a detachment under Lieutenant Bartley; and on Frenchman’s Creek, four and a half miles from Fort Erie, was a party of seventy under Lieutenant McIntyre.   Lieutenant Cecil Bisshopp was at Chippewa with a part of the 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot Regulars, some militia and military artillery, and near him was Major Hatt with a small detachment of militia. The whole number of British troops, scattered along a line of twenty miles, did not, according to the most reliable estimates, exceed one thousand men.

United States Forces

Captain William King of the 13th U.S. Regiment of Infantry was detailed to attack the Red House with 150 troops and 70 U.S. Navy sailors under Lieutenant Samuel Angus. King’s soldiers came from Captain Willoughby Morgan’s company of the 12th U.S. Regiment of Infantry [the Parke brother’s company] and Captains John Sproull and John E. Wool’s companies of the 13th Regiment.

John Ellis Wool (1784-1869) was later the oldest General in the Civil War

The Parke family’s company commander Willoughby Morgan (1785 – 1832) was the son of the famous Daniel Morgan (1736 – 1802) an American pioneer, soldier, and Congressman from Virginia. One of the most gifted battlefield tacticians of the American Revolutionary War, he later commanded troops during the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion.  Willoughby went on to a successful military career of his own, negotiating Indian treaties and rising to the rank of Lt. Col.

Joseph Parke named his son born 26 Apr 1828 “Willoughby” after his commanding officer.  Willoughby Parke (1828-1900) was a blacksmith in Burning Springs, West Virginia.  He enlisted July 1861 as a private in Company C 1st West Virginia Volunteer Calvary Regiment and was discharged Oct 1861; length of service, 3 months.  Discharged for Disabilities.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Boerstler was directed against Frenchman’s Creek with 200 men of his own 14th U.S. Regiment of Infantry. Colonel William H. Winder, commander of the 14th Regiment, was in reserve, with 350 of his own regiment.

Waiting to Start the Attack – Battle of Frenchman’s Creek Reenactment June 24, 2012  Source:

The Action

Captain King’s force landed at the Red House under fire from the defenders and charged Lieutenant Lamont’s detachment of the 49th Regiment. Angus’s sailors, armed with pikes and swords, closed in for hand-to-hand fighting. Lamont’s troops drove back the attackers three times but King made a fourth assault which hit the British left flank and overwhelmed them; capturing Lamont and killing, taking or dispersing all of his men. The victorious Americans set fire to the post, spiked the guns and set off back to the landing-point, where they expected their boats to have re-landed in order to evacuate them. However, in the moonless darkness, King’s force became dispersed and split into two parties: one led by King and the other by Lieutenant Angus. Angus returned to the landing-point and found only four of the party’s ten boats there. Unaware that the six missing boats had not in fact landed, Angus assumed that King had already departed, and he re-crossed the river in the remaining boats. When King’s party reached the landing-point, they found themselves stranded. A search downriver found two unattended British boats, in which King sent half of his men, and the prisoners that he had captured, over the Niagara while he waited with his 30 remaining men for more boats to come from Buffalo and pick him up.

Another Version of the Parke Brother’s Action [from 1869 Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812]

Before the appointed hour on the morning of the Nov 28th, the boats were in readiness under the general superintendence of Lieutenant Angus, of the navy, at the head of a corps of marines and seamen, assisted by Lieutenant Dudley, Sailing-master Watts, of Caledonia fame, and several other naval officers. It was a cold and dreary night. At three in the morning the advanced parties left the American shore for their respective destinations.

One, under Lieutenant Colonel Boerstler, consisted of about two hundred men of Colonel Winder’s regiment, in eleven boats; and the other, under Captain King, was composed of one hundred and fifty regular soldiers, and seventy sailors under Lieutenant Angus, in ten boats.

King’s party were discovered upon the water a quarter of a mile from the shore, and were so warmly [violently] assailed by volleys of musketry and shot from a field-piece at the Red House, that six of the ten boats were compelled to return. The other four resolutely landed in good order, in the face of the storm of bullets and grape-shot from flying artillery; and before King could form his troops on the shore, Angus and his seamen, with characteristic impetuosity, rushed into the hottest fire and suffered considerably.

King formed his corps as quickly as possible, and the enemy were soon dispersed. He then proceeded to storm and take in quick succession two British batteries above the landing-place, while Angus and his seamen rushed upon the field-pieces at the Red House, captured and spiked them, and cast them, with their caissons, into the river. In this assault Sailing-master Watts was mortally wounded while leading on the seamen.

Angus and his party returned to the landing-place, with Lieutenant King, of the Royal Artillery, wounded and a prisoner. Supposing the other six boats had landed (for it was too dark to see far along the shore), and that Captain King and his party had been taken prisoners, Angus crossed to the American shore in the four boats. This unfortunate mistake left King, with Captains Morgan and Sproull, Lieutenant Houston, and Samuel Swartwout, of New York, who had volunteered for the service with the little party of regulars, without any means of crossing.

King waited a while for re-enforcements. None came, and he went to the landing-place for the purpose of crossing, with a number of the British artillerists whom he had made prisoners. To his dismay, he discovered the absence of all the boats. He pushed down the river in the dark for about two miles, when he found two large ones. Into these he placed all of his officers, the prisoners, and one half of his men. These had not reached the American shore when King and the remainder of his troops were taken prisoners by a superior force.

Battle of Frenchman’s Creek Reinactment The big Commemoration is coming up November 28, 2012

Lieutenant Colonel Boerstler made for Frenchman’s Creek but four of his eleven boats, “misled by the darkness of the night or the inexperienced rowers being unable to force them across the current, fell below, near the bridge and were forced to return”. Nevertheless, Boerstler’s seven remaining boats forced a landing, opposed by Lieutenant Bartley and his 37 men of the 49th Regiment. Boerstler led the attack, shooting with his pistol a British soldier who was about to bayonet him. Bartley’s outnumbered force retired, pursued to the Frenchman’s Creek Bridge by the Americans, who took two prisoners. Boerstler’s men were then attacked by Captain Bostwick’s two companies of Norfolk Militia, who had advanced from Black Rock Ferry.

Battle of Frenchman’s Creek Reinactment June 24, 2012 – British Fire Back Source:

After an exchange of fire in which Bostwick’s force lost 3 killed, 15 wounded and 6 captured, the Canadians retreated. Boerstler now encountered another problem: many of the axes provided for the destruction of the Frenchman’s Creek bridge were in the four boats that had turned back and those that were in the seven remaining boats had been left behind when the Americans fought their way ashore. Boerstler dispatched eight men under Lieutenant John Waring to “break up the bridge by any means which they could find”. Waring had torn up about a third of the planking on the bridge when it was learned from a prisoner that “the whole force from Fort Erie was coming down upon them”. Boerstler quickly re-embarked his command and rowed back to Buffalo, leaving behind Waring and his party at the bridge.

Another Version of the Boerster’s Party [from 1869 Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812]

Boerstler and his party, in the mean time, had been placed in much peril. The firing upon King had aroused the enemy all along the Canada shore, and they were on the alert. Boerstler’s boats became separated in the darkness. Seven of them landed above the bridge, to be destroyed, while four others, that approached the designated landing-place, were driven off by a party of the enemy. Boerstler landed boldly alone, under fire from a foe of unknown numbers, and drove them to the bridge at the point of the bayonet. Orders were then given for the destruction of that structure, but, owing to the confusion at the time of landing, the axes had been left in the boat. The bridge was only partially destroyed, and one great object of this advance party of the invading army was not accomplished. Boerstler was about to return to his boats and recross the river, because of the evident concentration of troops to that point in overwhelming numbers, when he was compelled to form his lines for immediate battle. Intelligence came from the commander of the boat-guard that they had captured two British soldiers, who informed them that the whole garrison at Fort Erie was approaching, and that the advance guard was not five minutes distant. This intelligence was correct. Darkness covered every thing, and Boerstler resorted to stratagem when he heard the tramp of the approaching foe. He gave commanding orders in a loud voice, addressing his subordinates as field officers. The British were deceived. They believed the Americans to be in much greater force than they really were. A collision immediately ensued in the gloom. Boerstler ordered the discharge of a single volley, and then a bayonet charge. The enemy broke and fled in confusion, and Boerstler crossed the river without annoyance.

It was sunrise when the troops began to embark, and so tardy were the movements that it was late in the afternoon when all were ready. General Smyth did not make his appearance during the day, and all the movements were under the direction of his subordinates. A number of boats had been left to strand upon the shore, and became filled with water, snow, and ice; and as hour after hour passed by, dreariness and disappointment weighed heavily upon the spirits of the shivering troops.

Meanwhile the enemy had collected in force on the opposite shore, and were watching every movement. At length, when all seemed ready, and impatience had yielded to hope, an order came from the commanding general “to disembark and dine!” The wearied and worried troops were deeply exasperated by this order, and nothing but the most positive assurances that the undertaking would be immediately resumed kept them from open mutiny. The different regiments retired sullenly to their respective quarters, and General Porter, with his dispirited New York Volunteers, marched in disgust to Buffalo.

In response to the attack, Major Ormsby advanced from Fort Erie to Frenchman’s Creek with his 80 men of the 49th Regiment, where he was joined by Lieutenant McIntyre’s 70 light infantrymen, Major Hatt’s Lincoln Militia and some British-allied Native Americans under Major Givins. Finding that Boerstler’s invaders had already gone, and being unable to determine any other enemy presence in the pitch dark, Ormsby’s 300 men remained in position until daybreak, when Lieutenant Colonel Bisshopp arrived from Fort Erie. Bisshopp led the force to the Red House, where they found Captain King and his men still waiting to be evacuated. Outnumbered by ten-to-one, King surrendered and the Parke brothers were captured.

When the news arrived in Buffalo that King had spiked the Red House batteries, General Smyth was overjoyed. “Huzza!” he exclaimed, “Canada is ours! Canada is ours! Canada is ours! This will be a glorious day for the United States!” and he dispatched Colonel Winder with his 350 men across the river to evacuate King and the rest of his force. Winder collected Lieutenant Waring and his party and then landed. However, he had only disembarked part of his force when Bisshopp’s 300 men appeared. Winder ordered his men back to their boats and cast off for Buffalo but his command came under a severe fire as they rowed away, costing him 28 casualties.

According to U.S. Army records, Captain King’s troops had 15 killed and wounded; Lieutenant Colonel Boerstler’s command had 8 killed and 9 wounded; while Colonel Winder had 6 killed and 22 wounded

In spiking the guns at the Red House battery, the Americans had accomplished the more important of their two objectives: an invading force could now land between Chippawa and Fort Erie without facing artillery fire. However, subsequent events would render their service useless.

Female American Soldier Battle of Frenchman’s Creek Reinactment June 24, 2012 – Source:

With the Red House batteries out of action, Smyth immediately pressed on with his invasion plans. However, attempts to embark his 3,000 men ended in chaos; with only 1,200 men managing to board because of a shortage of boats and the artillery taking up an unexpected amount of space on board. Amid torrential rain and freezing cold, a council of war headed by Smyth decided to postpone the invasion pending more thorough preparations that would enable the embarkation of whole force.

On November 31, Smyth tried again, ordering his men to embark two hours before dawn in order to avoid enemy fire. This time, the embarkation was so slow that, two hours after daylight, only 1,500 men were on board. Rather than attempt an amphibious landing in broad daylight, Smyth once again postponed the invasion.  By this time, morale in Smyth’s command had plummeted: “all discipline had dissolved; the camp was a bedlam”. This, and widespread illness among the troops, persuaded a second council of war called by Smyth to suspend all offensive operations until the army was reinforced.

After arguing with Brigadier General Peter B. Porter, Alexander Smyth challenged him to a duel, but both men went unscathed. The historian John R. Elting wrote of the duel, stating “Unfortunately, both missed.”

The Army of the Centre went into winter quarters without attempting any further offensive operations and General Smyth requested leave to visit his family in Virginia. Three months later, without Smyth resigning his commission or facing a court-martial, his name was dropped from the U.S. Army rolls by President James Madison.

Alexander Smyth (1765-1830)

Another version of Smyth’s delays [from 1869 Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812]

It was sunrise when the troops began to embark, and so tardy were the movements that it was late in the afternoon when all were ready. General Smyth did not make his appearance during the day, and all the movements were under the direction of his subordinates. A number of boats had been left to strand upon the shore, and became filled with water, snow, and ice; and as hour after hour passed by, dreariness and disappointment weighed heavily upon the spirits of the shivering troops. Meanwhile the enemy had collected in force on the opposite shore, and were watching every movement. At length, when all seemed ready, and impatience had yielded to hope, an order came from the commanding general “to disembark and dine!” The wearied and worried troops were deeply exasperated by this order, and nothing but the most positive assurances that the undertaking would be immediately resumed kept them from open mutiny. The different regiments retired sullenly to their respective quarters, and General Porter, with his dispirited New York Volunteers, marched in disgust to Buffalo.

Smyth now called a council of officers [November 28.]. They could not agree. The best of them urged the necessity and expediency of crossing in force at once, before the enemy could make formidable preparations for their reception. The general decided otherwise, and doubt and despondency brooded over the camp that night. The ensuing Sabbath dawn brought no relief. Preparations for another embarkation were indeed in progress, while the enemy, too, was busy in opposing labor. It was evident to every spectator of judgment that the invasion must be attempted at another point of the river, when, toward evening, to the astonishment of all, the general issued an order, perfectly characteristic of the man, for the troops to be ready at the navy yard, at eight o’clock the next morning [November 30.], for embarkation. “The general will be on board,” he pompously proclaimed. “Neither rain, snow, or frost will prevent the embarkation,” he said. “The cavalry will scour the fields from Black Rock to the bridge, and suffer no idle spectators. While embarking, the music will play martial airs. Yankee Doodle will be the signal to get under way. . . . The landing will be effected in despite of cannon. The whole army has seen that cannon is to be little dreaded. . . . Hearts of War! to-morrow will be memorable in the annals of the United States.”

“To-morrow” came, but not the promised achievement. All the officers disapproved of the time and manner of the proposed embarkation, and expressed their opinions freely. At General Porter’s quarters a change was agreed upon. Porter proposed deferring the embarkation until Tuesday morning, the 1st of December, an hour or two before daylight, and to make the landing-place a little below the upper end of Grand Island. Winder suggested the propriety of making a descent directly upon Chippewa, “the key of the country.”

This Smyth consented to attempt intending, as he said, if successful, to march down through Queenston, and lay siege to Fort George. Orders were accordingly given for a general rendezvous at the navy yard at three o’clock on Tuesday morning, and that the troops should be collected in the woods near by on Monday, where they should build fires and await the signal for gathering on the shore of the river. The hour arrived, but when day dawned only fifteen hundred were embarked. Tannehill’s Pennsylvania Brigade were not present.

Before their arrival rumors had reached the camp that they, too, like Van Rensselaer’s militia at Lewiston, had raised a constitutional question about being led out of their state. Yet their scruples seem to have been overcome at this time, and they would have invaded Canada cheerfully under other auspices. But distrust of their leader, created by the events of the last forty-eight hours, had demoralized nearly the whole army. They had made so much noise in the embarkation that the startled enemy had sounded his alarm bugle and discharged signal-guns from Fort Erie to Chippewa.

Tannehill’s Pennsylvanians had not appeared, and many other troops lingered upon the shore, loth to embark. In this dilemma Smyth hastily called a council of the regular officers, utterly excluding those of the volunteers from the conference, and the first intimation of the result of that council was an order from the commanding general, sent to General Porter, who was in a boat with the pilot, a fourth of a mile from shore, in the van of the impatient flotilla, directing the whole army to debark and repair to their quarters. This was accompanied by a declaration that the invasion of Canada was abandoned at present, pleading, in bar of just censure, that his orders from his superiors were not to attempt it with less than three thousand men. The regulars were ordered into winter quarters, and the volunteers were dismissed to their homes.

General Porter’s Residence Black Rock

More on Smyth vs. Porter [from 1869 Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812]

This order for debarkation, and the fact that just previously a British major, bearing a flag of truce, had crossed the river and held an interview with General Smyth, caused the most intense indignation, and the most fearful suspicions of his loyalty in the army, especially among the volunteers, whose officers he had insulted by neglect.

The troops, without order or restraint, discharged their muskets in all directions, and a scene of insubordination and utter confusion followed. At least a thousand of the volunteers had come from their homes in response to his invitation, and the promise that they should certainly be led into Canada by a victor. They had imposed implicit confidence in his ability and the sincerity of his great words, and in proportion to their faith and zeal were now their disappointment and resentment.

Unwilling to have their errand to the frontier fruitless of all but disgrace, the volunteers earnestly requested permission to be led into Canada under General Porter, promising the commanding general the speedy capture of Fort Erie if he would furnish them with four pieces of artillery. But Smyth evaded their request, and the volunteers were sent home uttering imprecations against a man whom they considered a mere blusterer without courage, and a conceited deceiver without honor.

They felt themselves betrayed, and the inhabitants in the vicinity sympathized with them. Their indignation was greatly increased by ill-timed and ungenerous charges made by Smyth, in his report to General Dearborn, against General Porter, in whom the volunteers had the greatest confidence.

His person was for some time in danger. He was compelled to double the guards around his tent, and to move it from place to place to avoid continual insults.  He was several times fired at when he ventured out of his marquee. Porter openly attributed the abandonment of the invasion of Canada to the cowardice of Smyth.

A bitter quarrel ensued, and soon resulted in a challenge by the general-in-chief for his second in command to test the courage of both by a duel. In direct violation of the Articles of War, these superior officers of the Army of the Centre, with friends, and seconds,   and surgeons,   put off in boats from the shore near Black Rock, in the presence of their troops, at two o’clock in the afternoon of the 12th of December, to meet each other in mortal combat on Grand Island.

They exchanged shots at twelve paces’ distance. Nobody was hurt. An expected tragedy proved to be a solemn comedy. The affair took the usual ridiculous course. The seconds reconciled the belligerents. General Porter acknowledged his conviction that General Smyth was “a man of courage,” and General Smyth was convinced that General Porter was “above suspicion as a gentleman and an officer,”

Thus ended the melodrama of Smyth’s invasion of Canada. The whole affair was disgraceful and humiliating. ”

What wretched work Smyth and Porter have made of it,” wrote General Wadsworth to General Van Rensselaer from his home at Geneseo, at the close of the year. “I wish those who are disposed to find so much fault could know the state of the militia since the day you gave up the command. It has been ‘confusion worse confounded.’ ”

The day that saw Smyth’s failure was indeed “memorable in the annals of the United States,” as well as in his own private history. Confidence in his military ability was destroyed, and three months afterward he was “disbanded,” as the Army Register says; in other words, he was deposed without a trial, and excluded from the army. Yet he had many warm friends who clung to him in his misfortunes, for he possessed many excellent social qualities, He was a faithful representative of the constituency of a district of Virginia in the national Congress from 1817 to 1825, and again from 1827 until his death, in April, 1830.

After the war, Smyth resumed the practice of law, and again became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1816, 1817, 1826, and 1827. He was elected to the Fifteenth United States Congress and reelected to the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Congresses, serving from March 4, 1817 to March 3, 1825. He was elected again to the Twentieth and Twenty-first Congresses, serving again from March 4, 1827 until his death.

Smyth died in Washington, D.C., and was interred in the United States Congressional Cemetery. Smyth County, Virginia is named after him.

In 1813, the Americans won the Battle of Fort George at the northern end of the Niagara River. The British abandoned the Niagara frontier and allowed Fort Erie to fall into American hands without a fight. The Americans failed to follow up their victory, and later in the year they withdrew most of their soldiers from the Niagara to furnish an ill-fated attack on Montreal. This allowed the British to recover their positions and to mount raids which led to the Capture of Fort Niagara and the devastation of large parts of the American side of the Niagara River.

A Commemoration of thew Battle of Frenchman’s Creek is planned for November 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm. More details to come. Contact for more info.

Frenchman’s Creek Monument

The Monument Reads:

In an effort to regain the initiative lost at Queenston, the Americans planned a general invasion for November 28th 1812. Before dawn advance parties crossed the Niagara River to cut communications between Fort Erie and Chippawa and to silence the British shore guns. The attackers failed to destroy the bridge over Frenchman’s Creek and the batteries they had overrun were soon retaken by British reinforcements. After confused fighting the advance parties returned to the American shore. The main assault failed to materialize. The fiasco ended American hopes for victory on the Niagara Frontier in 1812.

After being released, George and Joseph both returned to Virginia and started their own families. On April 12, 1816, George W. married Margaret Morris in Monogalia Co., VA[WV]. Thier first child Roger, born January 11, 1819, was named after George’s father. Zadock Parke, their second child, was born February 1820 and was named after Margaret’s father, Zadoc Morris, b 1759 Monongalia Co., VA.

The War of 1812 and the death of their Father had a strange effect on this family. George changed the spelling of his last name to Parks moved to Coshocton Co OH in 1820, receiving 160 acres for his Fathers service in the War of 1812. Joseph always spelled his name Park and moved to Wood/Wirt Co in 1819.



1812 News ~ Honoring The War Of 1812 —- War of 1812 re-enactors recall a forgotten invasion: The Battle of Frenchman’s Creek  This page has some great photos.

Fort Erie Bicentennial Celebration – 200 years of Peace.–re-enactors-recall-a-forgotten-invasion-the-battle-of-frenchman-s-creek – Alexander Smyth’s later career

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3 Responses to Battle of Frenchman’s Creek – Nov 28, 1812

  1. Pingback: Jonah Parke | Miner Descent

  2. Pingback: Battle of Sacket’s Harbor | Miner Descent

  3. Rob Randall says:

    I think you put together a very nice collection of information on this battle. I will be attending the 200th anniversary ceremony this afternoon representing a member of the 49th ROF. I have spent the morning learning more about this battle and those involved in it. In memory of those from both sides for they fought for what they believed in. We will not forget them.

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