Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Summer Of Hunger

By : Dennis Stein

  Many of us today have not gone hungry for any long period of time. Imagine what it would be like to wake up every day, and not have anything, or very little to eat. Combine that with quickly constructed homes, and a rugged wilderness that was only just beginning to be shaped into land suitable for farming, and you might imagine what the United Empire Loyalists had to contend with in the newly settled Royal Townships in the summer of 1788.
  It was only four years since the Loyalists had arrived to settle this part of Ontario, clearing land slowly, and sharing tools to build homes. There were less than twenty cows available the first year or so, and the governor from Quebec sought to secure provisions of livestock and seed for crops from across the border to the south. Tragedy struck in 1788, however, as the fledgling crop that were available failed. Already hard conditions quickly became worse. New settlers coming in to the townships were being given no provisions at all by the government, and were totally unable to provide for themselves. Families were sustained on mostly a porridge of oats, sometimes for long periods. Fish and game when caught were usually cooked and eaten in the woods, and eaten plain. Children would beg from passersby on boats, and people gave up their entire properties in exchange for a few bags of flour. It is recorded that five people starved to death.
  One of the more interesting accounts of the famine was the story of a Deacon in Augusta township, who left his wife and children to travel to the western part of the province where he had friends, to secure food and provisions. He left them with a supply that would last them two weeks, if it was rationed. His travels, and the complications thereof delayed him by a further nine days, and his wife, who had rationed their food carefully, saw that she and her children faced certain  starvation. She had nothing to do but retire to bed for the night, sure that the next day they would have nothing to eat. In the morning, to her great surprise, the cat had caught a rabbit, which she cleaned and cooked. Each of the next eight days, until the Deacon returned, the cat brought a rabbit for the wife and children to eat. Once her husband had returned with some food and provisions, the cat never caught another rabbit...
  Starvation is something that most people don't have to worry about here today, but one can imagine the desperate feeling of hunger from the early settlers of this province, and this country, in a rugged wilderness where the land had to be cultivated before being able to provide much. For more historical articles, visit 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Capture Of Brockville

By : Dennis Stein

  On a cold February night in 1813, three groups of American soldiers crossed the frigid ice covering the St.Lawrence. The first group flanked the city's east side, the second group the west side, while the main column occupied Court House Square. At the time, Ontario's oldest incorporated city was called Elizabethtown, and at some time after 9 o'clock in the evening, some 200 men, including soldiers and citizen volunteers, decended on Brockville. The main portion of the force, led by the American commander at Ogdensburg, Captain Forsyth, went immediately to the jail, demanding the keys. These were surrendered, and the American invaders took back American prisoners, which as it was rumored, were not being treated well in their captivity. They also took several prominent citizens of Brockville as prisoners, along with 120 muskets, 20 rifles, 2 casks of ammunition, and various other provisions. All of this, including the prisoners were taken back to Ogdensburg, including Major Carley, three captains and two lieutenants. When the American force arrived back across the ice in Morristown, where they had staged the 'invasion' from, they paroled one of the prisoners, Dr. Hubbell. All of the prisoners were later set free.
  The Americans justified the incursion into Elizebethtown with the excuse that the Canadian soldiers had been crossing the river repeatedly in the area of Morristown, apprehending deserters. This would not please the British forces arriving near Prescott, and two weeks later, the Canadians retaliated. Lieutenant-Colonel McDonnell marched two columns of men out onto the ice of the river in front of Ogdensburg, in an effort to show the strength of the forces in Canada. One of the columns marched straight into the village, to almost no resistance. Two men were dispatched by McDonnell to the American headquarters, with a demand for surrender. Captain Forsyth refused of course, and a battle ensued. The Americans were driven back, after 5 killed and eighteen wounded, retreating to Black Lake. Fifty-two prisoners and considerable stores and weapons were seized by the British that day, and before leaving back to Canada, the forces burned the barracks, and attempted to destroy the bridge...
  It was a brief engagement exactly 200 years ago that would only lead to greater and greater conflicts in the War of 1812.