A Brief History

Militiaman Patrolling Supply Road

Militiaman Patrolling Supply Road

During the American Revolutionary War, many Loyalist military units were raised in support of the Crown. One of these units – the Loyal Rangers – was formed in 1781, maintained garrisons in southern Quebec and participated in raids into New York State. This unit was also known as Jessup’s Rangers, after Edward Jessup – their commander, who was born in Stamford, Connecticut in 1735.

After the war, Jessup and his men settled along the St. Lawrence River, in what would become Upper Canada. Jessup and his son founded the town of Prescott, Upper Canada.

In 1791, the Constitution Act was passed, establishing Upper Canada and Lower Canada, followed in 1793 by a Militia Act that formally established militia in Upper Canada. Each district or county was directed to raise a battalion.

Many of these men, their sons, and other dispossessed Loyalists, still smarting from the loss of everything they owned and determined not to let it happen again, can be found on the rolls of the Grenville Militia.

Military Engagements During the War of 1812

Both the 1st and 2nd Regiments of the Grenville Militia distinguished themselves in numerous skirmishes and battles along the St. Lawrence River.

Toussaint’s Island, September 16th, 1812
1st Regiment

Commemoration of the Battle of Toussaint's Island

Commemoration of the Battle of Toussaint’s Island

Upon learning that a fleet of British bateaux was about to ascend the St. Lawrence River, the Americans prepared a gun boat and Durham boat and set out from Ogdensburg, NY to ambush the fleet, laying over at Toussaint’s Island. The family living on the island was taken prisoner, however one member managed to escape, swim to shore and warn the British authorities of the pending ambush.

The 1st Dundas and 1st Grenville Militias were mustered, and along with a number of regular army from the Newfoundland Fencibles and 10th Royal Veterans, met the American’s with fire when their boats appeared.

The Durham boat was abandoned and later seized downstream by the British, and the gunboat’s cannon was brought to bear on the British fleet only after the latter had sailed out of range. Being armed only with small arms, the Americans were unable to press the battle and eventually returned with their gun boat back to Ogdensburg, the British fleet continuing on to Kingston, Upper Canada.

Prescott, October 4th, 1812
2nd Regiment

In retaliation for the American raid at Gananoque on September 21st, 1812, Colonel Robert Lethridge – the British commander at Prescott – decided to attack Ogdensburg.

With a heavy cannon fire directed across the St. Lawrence River from Prescott, the British launched 25 bateaux and 2 gunboats carrying 750 men. The Americans returned their own cannon fire from Ogdensburg, forcing Crown Forces back in midstream.

This attack is often referred to as the “abortive attack on Ogdensburg”, eventually being followed up with the successful attack of February 22nd, 1813.

Salmon River, November 23rd, 1812
2nd Regiment

On Nov 22nd and Nov 23rd 1812, Crown Forces attacked and captured the American blockhouse on Covington Hill, near present day Fort Covington, NY. From this blockhouse, American forces twice made raids on St. Regis, Lower Canada – the second time plundering supplies and capturing a company of British soldiers.

Concerned that they were about to be led against a British force at Montreal, American junior officers involved in the second raid on St. Regis withdrew their men to French Mills on the Salmon River where they were attacked by Crown Forces. The Americans fled to their blockhouse approximately 18 miles away, were surrounded and outnumbered by British troops and surrendered within an hour.

American prisoners captured during the attack were delivered to Coteau-du-Lac, Lower Canada, where they were transported by boat to Montreal and eventually exchanged for prisoners taken during the summer of 1812.

Battle of Ogdensburg, February 22nd, 1813
1st and 2nd Regiments

The Americans, under Major Benjamin Forsyth – of the 1st U.S. Rifle Regiment
and commander of the American army at Ogdensburg – remained a constant threat due to their successful raids and attempts to disrupt British communications along the St. Lawrence.

On February 21, 1813, Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, the Governor General of Canada, passed through Prescott accompanied by several detachments of reinforcements. He appointed Lieutenant Colonel “Red George” MacDonnell as commander of British troops in Prescott, leaving him with instructions to attack Ogdensburg only if the Americans weakened their garrison.

With the extra troops temporarily available, however, MacDonnell seized the opportunity, crossing the frozen St. Lawrence and taking the town of Ogdensburg.

After the British withdrew, the Americans did not re-garrison Ogdensburg, and the threat was removed.

Crysler’s Farm, November 11th, 1813
2nd Regiment

The Battle of Crysler’s Farm was the American’s last attempt at capturing Montreal, and is considered to be a crucial moment in the history of Upper Canada.

In the summer of 1813, the Americans decided to launch a two-pronged attack on Montreal – one attacking from Lake Champlain, and one from along the St. Lawrence River.

When the British discovered that the American forces had entered the St. Lawrence and were not going to attack Kingston, a small observation corps was sent to follow them. A force was prepared at a farm owned by John Crysler (near present day Morrisburg, Ontario), and on the afternoon of November 11th, an attack was launched on the American forces, eventually causing the Americans to retreat with heavy casualties to both sides.

Learning that the Lake Champlain attack had failed, the American commander, Major General James Wilkinson, decided to enter winter quarters at French Mills on the Salmon River before dispersing in February 1814.

References and Further Reading

Edwardsburg Township History
Edwardsburg Historians
Henderson Printing Inc.
Brockville, ON
ISBN 0-9699466-0-0

A Family History of Dr. Samuel Adams
United Empire Loyalist of Vermont & Upper Canada
Robert T. Adams and Douglass G. Adams
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 95-79713

Edwardsburg Family Histories
Edwardsburg Historians
Henderson Printing Inc.
Brockville, ON
ISBN 0-9699466-3-5

Officers of the British Forces in Canada During the War of 1812-15
L. Homfray Irving
Published in 1908 by Welland Tribune Print
On openlibrary.og

Stanley, George F.G. Conflicts and Social Notes, 1000 Islands: The War of 1812-1814, The Patriot War, 1837-1838.
Parks Canada: St. Lawrence Islands National Park, 1976.

The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies

Index to Loyal Rangers History