On This Day: February 12, 1812

On February 12, 1812, Major-General Isaac Brock writes to Colonel Baynes, the Adj.-General. in regards to the possible upcoming war and the Northwest thetre in specific. Detroit, Michilimacinac and Amherstburg are all adressed:

YORK, February 12, 1812.

The assurance which I gave, in my speech at the opening of the legislature, of England co-operating in the defence of this province, has infused the utmost confidence; and I have reason at this moment to look for the acquiescence of the two houses to every measure I may think necessary to recommend for the peace and defence of the country. A spirit has manifested itself, little expected by those who conceived themselves the best qualified to judge of the disposition of the members of the house of assembly. The most powerful opponents to Governor Gore’s administration take the lead on the present occasion.

I, of course, do not think it expedient to damp the ardour displayed by these once doubtful characters. Some opposed Mr. Gore evidently from personal motives, but never forfeited the right of being numbered among the most loyal. Few, very few I believe, were actuated by base or unworthy considerations, however mistaken they may have been on various occasions. Their character will very soon be put to a severe test. The measures which I intend to propose are:

1.–A militia supplementary act. Sir George will hear the outlines from Captain Gray.

2.–The suspension of the habeas corpus. A copy of the act now enforced in the Lower Province.

3.–An alien law.

4.–The offer of a reward for the better apprehension of deserters.

If I succeed in all this, I shall claim some praise; but I am not without my fears. I shall send you the militia act the moment it passes into a law. The more I consider the new provisions, the more I am satisfied (giving of course every proper allowance to the disposition of the people) they are peculiarly calculated to meet the local situation of the country. I have not a musket more than will suffice to arm the active part of the militia from Kingston westward. I have therefore to request that the number of arms may be sent, according to the enclosed requisition, to the places therein specified, on the communication between Glengary and Kingston. Every man capable of carrying a musket, along the whole of that line, ought to be prepared to act. The members of the assembly from that part of the country are particularly anxious that some works may be thrown up as a rallying point and place of security for stores, &c, in the vicinity of Johnstown. I shall request Colonel M’Donnell to examine, on his return, the ground which those gentlemen recommend as best suited for that purpose. Being immediately opposite Ozwegatchie, some precaution of the sort is indispensable, were it only to preserve a free communication between the two provinces. I have been made to expect the able assistance of Captain Marlow. Should he be still at Quebec, have the goodness to direct his attention, on his way up, to that quarter. He had better consult. Colonel Frazer and Captain Gilkinson, men of sound judgment and well acquainted with the country. The militia will have of course to be employed on the works. I must still press the necessity of an active, enterprizing, intelligent commander being stationed on that important line of communication. I wish Colonel Ellice were here to undertake the arduous task, as it is wholly impossible that I can do so. Every assistance in my civil capacity I shall always be ready to give, and to that point my exertions must be necessarily limited. Niagara and Amherstburg will sufficiently occupy my attention. I deliver my sentiments freely, believing they will not be the less acceptable.
I discussed every point connected with Amherstburg so completely with Captain Gray, that I do not find any thing very essential was omitted. Colonel M’Donnell will be able probably to give us further insight as to the actual state of affairs there. He was to make every enquiry and, as far as he was permitted, to judge himself of the relative strength of Detroit. Lieut.-Colonel—- preceded him by some days, but in such state of mind that forbids my placing any dependance in his exertions. When I first mentioned my intention of sending him to Amherstburg, he seemed diffident of his abilities, but pleased at the distinction. However, when he received his final instructions, his conduct in the presence of some officers was so very improper, and otherwise so childish, that I have since written to say, if he continued in the same disposition, he was at liberty to return to Niagara. I did not directly order him back, because at this time I consider an officer of rank necessary at Amherstburg, particularly during the absence of Messrs. Elliott and Baby, who are both here attending their parliamentary duties. You will imagine, after that I have stated, that it is the influence of his rank I alone covet, and not his personal aid. He has very fortunately given timely proof that he is in no way ambitious of military fame, therefore unfit for so important a command. Should it please his excellency to place the 41st and 49th at my disposal, I propose sending the former regiment to Amherstburg, as we cannot be too strong in that quarter. I have already explained myself on that point, and Captain Gray is furnished with further arguments in support of the measure. I have delayed to the last the mention of a project which I consider of the utmost consequence in the event of hostilities. I set out with declaring my full conviction, that unless Detroit and Michilimakinack be both in our possession immediately at the commencement of hostilities, not only the district of Amherstburg, but most probably the whole country as far as Kingston, must be evacuated. How necessary, therefore, to provide effectually the means of their capture. From Amherstburg it will be impossible to send a force to reduce Michilimakinack. Unless we occupy completely both banks, no vessel could pass the river St. Clair. What I therefore presume to suggest for his excellency’s consideration, is the adoption of a project which Sir James Craig contemplated three years ago. The north-west company undertook to transport 50 or 60 men up the Ottawa, and I make no doubt would engage again to perform the same service. If therefore a war be likely to occur, at the time the canoes start from Montreal, I should recommend 40 or 50 of the 49th light company, and a small detachment of artillery, embarking at the same time for St. Joseph’s. Should hostilities commence, the north-west would not object to join their strength in the reduction of Michilimakinack; and should peace succeed the present wrangling, the 49th detachment could be easily removed to Amherstburg.

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