The War of 1812: Kingston and the St. Lawrence - Protecting the Supply Line - Page Banner

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Provisioning the Upper Province

Letter Upper Canada’s economy was largely agricultural in 1812 and lacked the manufacturing capacity to provide weapons, ammunition and most forms of equipment. The need for militia to serve during the campaign season, which corresponded to the growing season, reduced the capacity of the province to feed the army and its resident population.

As a result most provisions essential to the war effort had to be shipped to Upper Canada from Great Britain, the Atlantic Colonies or Lower Canada. Protecting the supply line or "communications" was vital and depended on forts, ships and men."

Fort Wellington was the largest of the posts established between Montreal and Kingston to protect communications.

This view of the fort, dating from 1830, shows the main earthwork as it appeared in the final months of the war. The fort was enlarged and strengthened during the Rebellion of 1837 and in response to a renewed threat of war with the United States in the 1840s. The blockhouse which now dominates the fort was built during the latter period.

Watercolour: Fort Wellington, Prescott, October, 1830

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Fort Wellington, Prescott
October, 1830
Thomas Burrowes
Thomas Burrowes fonds
Watercolour
Reference Code: C 1-0-0-0-78
Archives of Ontario, I0002197





[Sketch map of Upper Canada showing the routes Lt. Gov. Simcoe took on journeys between March 1793 and September 1795], [1795]

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[Sketch map of Upper Canada showing the routes
Lt. Gov. Simcoe took on journeys between
March 1793 and September 1795], [1795]
[Elizabeth Simcoe]
Simcoe family fonds
Map
Reference Code: F 47-5-1-0-37
Archives of Ontario, I0004757

The St. Lawrence was the key to keeping open the flow of supplies to Upper Canada and the First Nations in the Northwest.

The map to the left, drawn by Elizabeth Simcoe, shows the major transportation routes at the time.

Bateaux were used to transport bulk goods down the St. Lawrence from Montreal to Kingston and beyond, with fortified depots at Cornwall and Prescott. Water transport, although threatened by the American naval forces on Lake Ontario, was more reliable than the few poor roads available at the time.


Drawing of a bateau, [1814]

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Drawing of a bateau, [1814]
Mrs. Edward Kemp collection
Drawing
Reference Code: F 360 OS 1-8
Archives of Ontario, AO 5985

These vessels were favoured for supply work as they had a shallow draft and carried large cargoes. They could be powered by oars or sail and were suitable for lake and river transportation.

Thomas Ridout was one of those who served in the thankless work of guarding and forwarding the supplies that kept armies in the field.

"I have lately been playing the Devil at this Port with those under me whom I found embezzeling [sic] provisions & stores for which I are accountable."

"Every day 12 batteaux [sic] arrive here [Cornwall] from Lachine on their way to Kingston loaded with provisions & stores and we have troops along the river to protect the communication."

Extract from an original letter from Thomas G. Ridout (Cornwall) to
his father Thomas Ridout, May 1, 1814
Thomas Ridout family fonds,
Reference Code: F 43, box MU 2390
Archives of Ontario






The shortage of food and resulting price increases placed strains on the ability of the government to feed the military and civilian population and to pay for the war effort. Late in 1814 Drummond issued this order in his capacity as President of the Council, to stabilize prices and ensure that hoarding did not occur. It is doubtful that this helped relieve the strain on relations between civilians and military authorities
.

"Sir,

The very exorbitant prices demanded by the Farmers for every article of Provision and Forage required for the use of His Majesty’s Troops serving in this Province, induces His Honor Lieutenant General Drummond, with a view to put a stop to that system of extortion, which so generally prevails, and acting at the same time upon the most fair and liberal principle, to call upon the Magistrates of the respective Districts to assemble, in order to adopt and report, for his information and guidance, such scale of prices to be paid for those articles as may appear to them, upon mature consideration, under existing circumstances, to be equitable and just, as well towards the Government as the individual. …

The propriety of regulating those prices so that in either case, when articles shall be brought away at the expense of the purchaser, or be delivered by the Farmer at any military Post or Depot no difficulty may arise, cannot escape your observation."

A Circular from the Presidents Office November 29, 1814, regarding the regulation of prices.

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A Circular from the President's Office
regarding the regulation of prices,
November 29, 1814
Sir Gordon Drummond fonds
Reproduction of an original document.
Reference Code: F 955
Archives of Ontario

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Smuggling - Section Title

Letter In addition to supplies forwarded from Britain and Lower Canada, the Commissariat of the British army relied on the import of food stuffs from the United States. By turning a blind eye to the illegal traffic the local U.S. officials helped maintain the British war effort.

Thomas Ridout filled many rolls as an officer in the Commissariat Department. Amongst them was the negotiation of contracts with Americans willing to sell supplies to the British Army. In the letter excerpt below the American officer who accompanied the beef seller obviously had a guilty conscious, but not enough of one to refuse payment.

Extract from an original letter from Thomas G. Ridout (Cornwall) to his father Thomas Ridout, June 19, 1814

Extract from an original letter from
Thomas G. Ridout (Cornwall) to
his father Thomas Ridout, June 19, 1814
Thomas Ridout family fonds
Reference Code: F 43, box MU 2391
Archives of Ontario

To listen to an excerpt from this letter in wav format (572K), click here.To listen to an excerpt from this letter in "wav" format (572K) click here. It is also available in "aif" format (572K).


See the transcript of the extract below. To see the complete letter follow these links:

"I have contracted with a Yankee magistrate to furnish this fort with fresh beef. A major came with him to make the agreement but as he was [foreman] to the Grand jury at the court in which the Government prosecutes the magistrate for high treason & smuggling he turned his back and would not see the paper signed."






"I have purchased 200 oxen from the Yankees for which I pay them half Eagles … Flour is here $14 per barrel, but large supplies have arrived at Quebec from France & England so that there will be no want."

Extract from an original letter from
Thomas G. Ridout (Cornwall)
to his father Thomas Ridout, July 9, 1814
Thomas Ridout family fonds
Reference Code: F 43, box MU 2390
Archives of Ontario

"Perhaps you never heard of, or can believe the shameful sacrifice which has wilfully been made of between 6 & 7 hundred sleighs loads of provision. The manner this thing has been done has excited much feeling. The people do not hesitate to say it was sold to the enemy. I must confess, it has very much the appearance of it. You will see a statement upon this subject in Coleman's paper…"

Extract from an original letter from
Nathan Ford (Ogdensburg)
to his brother David Ford, March 11, 1814
Ford family fonds
Reference Code: F 483, box MU 1054
Archives of Ontario



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The Ship Building Race

Letter Proximity to Montreal and its sheltered harbour quickly established Kingston as the primary British naval base on Lake Ontario. A series of batteries and blockhouses were built to protect the naval yards and the squadron at anchor. Although considered for an attack several times, and of great strategic importance, the United States never made a direct attempt at its capture or destruction. The shipyard at Kingston produced most of the British war ships to sail on Lake Ontario, including HMS St. Lawrence, which carried 120 guns, more than Nelson's flag ship Victory at Trafalgar.

Executed more than a decade before the war, the drawing to the right shows Kingston was already an active port and substantial community.

Sketch:  Kingston, Ontario

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Kingston, Ontario, 1796
Elizabeth Simcoe
Simcoe family fonds
Sketch
Reference Code: F 47-11-1-0-241
Archives of Ontario, I0006356



Drawing of a ship to be built at Kingston in 1815, [1814]

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Drawing of a ship to be built at Kingston in 1815, [1814]
Mrs. Edward Kemp collection
Drawing
Reference Code: F 360, O. S. 13-1 (AO 5984)
Archives of Ontario

 

The naval race on Lake Ontario lasted the entire war. Both sides built larger and larger war vessels, eventually surpassing first rate ships in the British navy’s Atlantic fleet. The vessel shown above, apparently never built, was to be 107 feet long, 30 feet in breadth and of “410 tons burthen”. It is unclear how many guns were proposed for her armament.

Neither side was willing to risk a full scale naval engagement on Lake Ontario. There were several instances where the two fleets passed each other at a distance, doing limited damage. The major naval disaster on Lake Ontario was the sinking of the USS Hamilton and USS Scourge in a storm in 1813.

Lithograph: The USS General Pike and HMS Wolf, September 28, 1813

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The USS General Pike and HMS Wolf,
September 28, 1813
Archives of Ontario Photographic Collection
Lithograph
Reference Code: S 1431
Archives of Ontario




The ship mentioned by Maclean in the stocks at York (right) was the General Brock; it was burned to prevent its use by the Americans when the British forces retreated from the town in April 1813.

The term "thirty gun ship" was an approximate description. The number of weapons placed on a vessel of this size varied depending on the size of the guns (the weight of the shot), whether the short barrelled carronade was used versus long guns and a variety of other factors.

"A few days ago about Eighty Ship Carpenters arrived at this place [York] from your province, the keel of a thirty gun ship will soon be laid on the stocks. I am informed that a vessel of nearly the same dimmentions [sic] is to be built at Kingston. I hope we shall regain the command of the Lakes so shamefully lost, but to me it appears doubtful, for I do not like the idea of having our Navy at different Ports…It is much wished for in this province than an expedition may be planned to attack Sackets Harbour so as to destroy the Enemy's fleet and stores at that place, it is very practicable, no doubt many lives would be lost, the object is great but is the surest means of obtaining the command of the Lakes."

Extract from an original letter from
Donald Maclean (York) to
Charles Stewart, January 11, 1813
Miscellaneous collection
Reference Code: F 775, box MU 2102
Archives of Ontario



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