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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

War of 1812, Fort Michilimachinac

It was July 17, 1812  the first battle of the war was fought at the far  reach of the North West Frontier, at Fort Michilimachinac on Machinac Island.  This fort had been built by the French and come into the possession of the English. It was a fort to protect the fur trade route through the Great Lakes.  The British several years later earlier had turned it over the the Americans as part of the settlement of the War of Independence. The British built another fort 50 miles away of St Joseph Island in the mouth of the St. Mary River.  As it turned out the Americans had not heard that the war had begun (we must remind ourselves that it would take several weeks for a messenger to reach this frontier post from Washington.) The British had gotten the word to Fort St Joseph first and left it up to the local commander whether or not to attack the American fort.  They did. With the small group of British soldiers, local Métis residence and several hundred Indians the voyage across the lake was made and the fort was taken.

There are many understanding as to the significance of the War of 1812. One that is put forward is that the British North Americans decided, consciously or unconsciously, that they wanted a different way forward.
In simpler terms, they knew they did not want to be part of the American experiment.  The American's thought that the Canada's would be easy picking. Why not, three out of five residents of Upper Canada (Ontario) we recent immigrants from the United States, United Empire Loyalists.  This was a miscalculation for this group has already  suffered and sacrificed to not be a part of the United States. There were also loyal British subjects,  Indians (First Nation's people ) who had know a long history of abuse by Americans and there were fugitive slaves who feared they may be sent back to their former masters if the Americans won. And, there were French who may have dislike the English for many reason but who distrusted the Americans even more.  The assemblage of French, English and First Nations people were to fight alongside each other to turn the Americans back at the border. Perhaps the different vision of what was to become Canada was there in its nascent form. 

One aspect that interests me is the different relationship British North American and the United States had with the First Nations.  In the Northern part of the continent the European, French and English has a 250 year history of living with, learning from and sharing in the fur trade with the First Nations. It was the First Nations that taught them how to live and survive in the harsh territory with the use of their technology: the canoe, snowshoes, toboggan.  There was a respect between the First Nations and the Europeans as they gained from each other and shared in the basic industry, the fur trade.  The ultimate cooperation  resulted in the emergence of the Métis Nation (recognized in Canada's Constitution as one of the First Nation of Canada.  Metaphorically , Canada has been called a Métis nation.

It was not always a perfect harmonious relationship but it was far better that the continuous war against the Indians by the Americans up until the end of the 19th Century. We now recognize that Canada's values were shaped by the values of First Nations people as well as the British and French.  It has been written that we are a Métis nation. We learned more than how to survive in the wild . We learned how to live with one another.  There are Canadian value today such as sharing  with each other "eating from a common bowl" and accepting others into the community. ( First Nations People often made foreigner, even former enemies, part of their tribe.)  This happened to a Kentuckian militia man during the War of 1812 near Detroit. He was captured after a fierce battle and taken capture by a tribe of Pottawatomie Indians. He was then accepted as  a member of their tribe and shared their sometimes meager food. When he decided he had to leave they sadly saw him go and surrender to the British at Detroit.  This is part of the story of William Atherton. He wrote an interesting journal you can read in the Internet Archive  I recommend it. He was treated more harshly by the British. He walked from Detroit to Montreal where he was imprisoned, fed on food sold the the British by American farmers over the border.  When he was released he walked the 1000 miles home through American territory in Upper New York State that had many Tory (pro-British) residence that he could not count on for help.

 On the American side of the border, the treatment of Indians,  was a  350 year genocidal war  from the Trail of Tears of the Cherokee to the slaughter of the buffalo to deprive the plains Indians of their food and way of life.  The land was not be be shared,  the Removal Act was to have the Indians vacate so that American settlers could move in.

In the North West frontier  this different relationship between the Europeans and the Indians was already being lived out. The British were on good terms with the Indians, thought their fur trade dealings. They had held out the hope the the Indian would eventually have a territory of their own in the North West Frontier.
There was talk of moving the Indians out of the area of the United States to the Indian territory west of the Mississippi.  Most of the Indians sided with the British.  The Great Chief Tecumseh, who had been trying to united the tribes saw the best hope for the tribe was with the British.  Sadly, as it turned out, it was just a hope.  When the war treaty was negotiated they did not have a place at the table and the British did to negotiate and territory in the North West Frontier for the Indians.  As a Canadian, looking back on the negotiations between the British and the American, the British too easily gave in to the Americans. The result of the end of the War of 1812 was that a commission was formed to settle the actual border between British North America and the United States.  You only have to locate all the communities along the Border, particularly between the New England state and BNA and see how the border divided communities that were one before there was a border.  One can only dream how different our two countries would be if a large part of Northern New England, Upper New York State and all of the Great Lakes were north of the border.  Not to mention if what is now Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin had become a home for First Nations People.

Sadly, the First Nations people were the big losers in the War of 1812.  Some settled in Canada, where there are several tribes on the Six Nations reserve, including some Delaware Indians from further south. The Indians of the Three Fire Confederacy: Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Pottawatomie, resettled Manitoulin Island, which they had been driven from by the Iroquois.  Canada continues to this day to try to make things right for the First Nations People.  Progress is slow ,but occasionally dramatic, in settling disputes, honouring treaties and making large financial and territorial claims.  These are obligations of the crown and not any particular government in power at the time.


At 4:04 p.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

A great little essay, Philip.

At 11:11 a.m., Blogger KGMom said...

Philip--I always enjoy your historial pieces.
I am correct in thinking that the war of 1812 was one the U.S. "lost"?


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