Historical Society of St. Catharines

Celebrating the history of St. Catharines and its vicinity

Archive for March, 2009

Meeting Recap: The Datebooks of Ransom Goring

Posted by dsharron on March 28, 2009

On March 26, Mary Friesen introduced the Society to the Goring family of Niagara.  

Francis Goring was born in England in 1755.  On the eve of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Goring arrived in Quebec.  He soon moved to Fort Niagara where he worked as a clerk in the fur trade.  Through surviving letters and journal entries, it is apparent that Francis enjoyed living in the Niagara area.  He settled permanently and raised a family.

One of Francis’ children was Abraham Hamilton Goring who also settled in the area and had a family including a son – Ransom Goring (born in 1842).  Like his grandfather, Ransom was a dedicated journal writer.  He would comment on the day’s events regularly and would even take extra time on Sundays to reflect on the previous week and add to his entries.  Mary Friesen found three years of Ransom’s journals in the Niagara Falls Library and was compelled to transcribe and publish his words.  The journals span the years 1867 to 1869 – critical years in Canada’s history.  Not only does Ransom’s works chronicle the daily life of a Niagara resident but it also sheds light on a number of other interesting topics such as Canada’s militant feelings following the Fenian Raids, the spas of St. Catharines, weather, the social culture of the area, politics, education, courtship and marriage, and shipbuilding.  What better way to understand the past than through the words of one who experienced it.

Friesen’s book is entitled “Renascentur: The Datebooks of Ransom Goring”.  Renascentur was the family’s motto and means “They will rise again” in Latin.

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Meeting Recap: The Myth of Laura Secord by Alun Hughes

Posted by dsharron on March 26, 2009

On February 26, Professor Alun Hughes of Brock University methodically retraced the famous and heroic trek of Laura Secord using primary evidence in an effort to remove the myth and to uncover what most likely happened on that historic night.

A quick retelling of the classic story: on 21 June 1813 in Queenston, Laura learned of the American’s plans to surprise attack the British forces at Beaverdams.  The next day Secord set out on foot to warn Lieutenant FitzGibbon all the while taking a harsh route through forests and swampland to avoid being detected by the American pickets.  After her harrowing journey, Secord came across a First Nation’s encampment.  These British allies took Laura to FitzGibbon at John DeCew’s house where she relayed the information.  On 23 June, the British and First Nation forces ambushed the Americans at Beaverdams and were victorious.  The story of Laura’s journey became mythologized over time and she has been honoured in countless means such as statues, monuments, postage stamps, books, plays and more.

Alun asked two questions:  1) Did Laura Secord’s walk make a difference?  2) What route did she actually take?

Question 1: In 1932, W. Stewart Wallace wrote The Story of Laura Secord: A Study in Historical Evidence in which he looked at all of the contemporary reports, histories and newspapers.  There was no mention of Secord’s acts.  The only evidence of Secord’s efforts came from Laura herself.  In 1837, Laura made a petition to run a ferry and outlined her heroic efforts.  In 1839, FitzGibbon verified Secord’s petition in a open statement.  Secord made another petition for a pension after her husband died.  Again, she states her key role in the outcome of the Battle of Beaverdam.  Wallace did not buy Secord’s statements as her need for money in both cases was seen as a motive to embellish.  When other resources started to use Secord as part of the War of 1812 narrative, details became erroneous and Laura’s role became increasingly important and detailed.  To Wallace, Secord could not complete the walk as recounted because the timing of the episode did not work out.

However, in 1934, new evidence surfaced verifying Secord’s story.  In the 1820s, James Secord, Laura’s husband, made a petition for land and used FitzGibbon as proof that she left Queenston on June 22.  He made a second petition to manage the Brock Monument that included an even more detailed account from FitzGibbon further verifying Laura’s importance to the events that transpired from June 21 to June 23.

Ultimately, we will never truly know if Laura Secord’s walk made a difference to the Battle of Beaverdams.  However, there can be no doubt that she did the walk at considerable risk and with the most noble intentions.

Question 2:  There have been a number of inaccurate maps of Laura Secord’s route created over the years.  One such map was created by Jacob Cotton in 1917.  Cotton was commissioned by J. Ross Robertson to paint the Decew House, Laura Secord’s home and other landmarks in Niagara including a map of Secord’s route.  Cotton used the verified statements by Secord and FitzGibbons as sources.  Essentially, Cotton’s route resembled most of the others.

Professor Hughes (a cartographer and historian) taking into account the landscape and history, recreated the route as follows:

• Secord left Queenston towards St. David to see her brother Charles Ingersol who was ill
• Towards Homer she went through the swamp – not true; more likely followed the First Nation’s trail south of the Swamp
• At Homer, she crossed the 10 Mile Creek over the bridge
• In St. Catharines, we went along Queenston St. and St. Paul to cross 12 Mile Creek over the bridge
• She moved down Pelham Road toward the Village of Power Glen where she would have passed the Tourney house (family friends)
•  Crossed the 12 Mile Creek again before climbing the Niagara Escarpment
•    Arriving in John DeCew’s field, she encountered the First Nations who lead her to the DeCew house.

Conclusion on the route according to Alun Hughes:  If this new route is correct, Laura Secord travelled approximately 15 miles on foot – from sunrise at about 4:30 a.m. to nautical twilight around 9:30 p.m.  Total 17 hours.

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Historic Timeline of the War of 1812

Posted by dsharron on March 2, 2009

Along the Niagara Frontier (with particular interest to Grantham Township)




June 18 – United States President James Madison signs Declaration of War against Great Britain


July 12 – American forces under Brig.-Gen. William Hull cross Detroit River and invade Upper Canada at Sandwich


August 16 – British forces under Maj.-Gen. Isaac Brock capture Fort Detroit


August 24Maj.-Gen. Isaac Brock returns to Fort George (Niagara), Upper Canada after capture of Detroit

 Brock shot at Queenston

October 9 – American forces capture British brigs Caledonia and Detroit (subsequently destroyed) in the Niagara River, off Fort Erie, Upper Canada


October 13 – Major artillery duel between Fort Niagara (below Youngstown), New York and Fort George


October 13 – Battle of Queenston Heights, Upper Canada

Brock shot at Queenston



October 13 – Death of Maj.-Gen. Isaac Brock and Lieut.-Col. John Macdonell at Battle of Queenston Heights


October 16 – Funerals held for Brock and Macdonell at Fort George


November 10 – American Navy under command of Commodore Isaac Chauncey gains control of Lake Ontario 


November 28 – 30 – American forces under Brig.-Gen. Alexander Smyth invade Upper Canada across the Niagara River at Fort Erie


November 28 – Battle of Frenchman’s Creek, near Fort Erie




January 9 – British Declaration of War against the United States


March 17 – 18 – Artillery duel between Black Rock, New York and Fort Erie


April 27 – Battle and surrender of Town of York, Upper Canada to U.S. Maj.-Gen. Henry Dearborn; American forces take control of the Great Lakes and subsequently burn Town of York


May 25 – 27 – Artillery barrage on Fort George and capture by American forces


May 27 – British forces under Brig.-Gen. John Vincent abandon Fort George; retreat along lakeshore westward toward Burlington Heights, Upper Canada (passing through Grantham Township, Upper Canada)


June 6 – Battle of Stoney Creek, Upper Canada


June 8 – Engagement at Forty Mile Creek (Grimsby), Upper Canada; American forces retreat to Fort George, passing through Grantham Township


June 9 – American forces burn Fort Erie and withdraw their forces from Fort Erie, Chippawa and Queenston to Fort George


June 22 – Laura Secord leaves her home in Queenston and walks to DeCew House, Thorold, Upper Canada to warn British forces of an American attack


June 24 – Battle of Beaver Dams (“fight in the Beechwoods”), Thorold


July 5 – British forces under Col. John Clark of the 2nd Lincoln Militia from Chippawa raid Fort Schlosser, on Niagara River, north of Buffalo, New York


July 8 – Action at Butler’s Farm at Two Mile Creek, Niagara, Upper Canada


July 11 – British forces under Lieut.-Col. Cecil Bisshopp and Col. Clark Raid Black Rock, New York


July – British General John Vincent establishes his headquarters in George Adams’ home in Grantham Township (near the bridge over the Twelve Mile Creek near the village of St. Catharines)


July 29 – Action at Burlington Beach, Upper Canada


July 31 – American forces raid and occupy Town of York for a second time


August 7 -10 – U.S. fleet battles British fleet on Lake Ontario


August 8USS Hamilton and USS Scourge sink in a storm on Lake Ontario off Twelve Mile Creek


August 24 – Action at Fort George


September 10 – Naval Battle of Lake Erie


September 28 – Burlington Races (Naval encounter) at Burlington, Upper Canada


October 19 – American forces destroy and pillage George Adam’s home, distillery and bake house in Grantham Township (near the bridge over the Twelve Mile Creek near the village of St. Catharines)


December 10 – American Forces under Brig.-Gen. George McClure evacuate Fort George and burn Niagara, Upper Canada and retreat to Fort Niagara


December 12 – British forces re-occupy Fort George


December 19British forces capture Fort Niagara


December 19 – 21 – British forces burn Lewiston, Youngstown and Manchester (Niagara Falls), New York


December 22 – British forces take Fort Schlosser


December 29 – 31 – British forces burn Buffalo and Black Rock




May 23 to June 21 – Treason Trials underway in Ancaster, Upper Canada


July 3 – American forces under Maj.-Gen. Jacob Brown invade Upper Canada and capture Fort Erie


July 5 – Battle of Chippawa, Upper Canada


July 18 – American forces burn the hamlet of St David’s, Upper Canada


July 20 – Eight of the Traitors found guilty at the Ancaster Assizes are hanged on Burlington Heights


July 23 – British 104th under Lieut.-Gen. Gordon Drummond arrive at Twelve Mile Creek from Town of York


July 25 – Battle of Lundy’s Lane, (Niagara Falls), Upper Canada


July 26 – American forces burn Bridgewater Mills (Burch’s Mills, above Niagara Falls), Upper Canada


August 3 – British forces cross Niagara River and engage American forces at Conjocta Creek/Black Rock, New York and are repulsed, returning to Upper Canada


August 4 – British forces under Lieut.-Gen. Drummond begin the siege of Fort Erie; the casualties of this siege result in Fort Erie becoming the bloodiest battlefield in Canada


August 12USS Somers and USS Ohio captured in Lake Erie/Niagara River off Fort Erie


August 14 – British forces assault on Snake Hill Battery (Fort Erie), Upper Canada


August 15 – British forces under Lieut.-Gen. Drummond fail in assault on Fort Erie


August 25 – British forces burn Washington, D.C.


September 17 – American forces from Fort Erie launch a successful sortie against Drummond’s batteries


September 21 – British forces end siege of Fort Erie and retreat to Chippawa


October 15 – Skirmish at Chippawa


October 19 – Battle of Cook’s Mills (near Welland) on Lyons CreekUpper Canada


November 5 – American forces evacuate Fort Erie, destroy what remains of fort and return to Buffalo


November 15 – British forces re-occupy Fort Erie after American withdrawal


December 24 – Treaty of Ghent (Belgium) signed to end the War of 1812




February 16 – U.S. Senate approves Treaty of Ghent; 17th President Madison ratifies Treaty and it is proclaimed on 18th. War of 1812 officially ends


May 22 – American forces re-occupy Fort Niagara

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