Sunday, 30 April 2017
How the War Loss Claims Can Reveal Details About the War
An Examination of War Loss Claims near Queenston
during the American Occupation from July 9th to 12th, 1814
Copyright by Fred Blair, April 30, 2017
This is an examination of how the Americans were interacting with the Upper Canadians after their army advanced into the area around the Hamlet of Queenston on July 9, 1814. The Battle of Chippawa had taken place on July 5th and the British army had gradually retreated to Fort George, which they abandoned on July 15th.
Although the Americans had occupied the Niagara Frontier in 1813 and had promised to protect the private property of the Upper Canadians still living there, a number of events such as supplies being impressed, looting, the burning of property, and the burning of Town of Niagara when they left the frontier in December, had shown the residents that the Americans could not be relied upon to keep their promises.
According to historian Donald E. Graves, about July 9th, Major General Jacob Brown’s army camped in and about the Hamlet of Queenston with Porter’s New York Militia camped on the heights where they could see all the way to Fort George. While Brown awaited the arrival of the American fleet on Lake Ontario, more reinforcements arrived daily. Patrols were sent out regularly to acquire information and prevent the American position being surprised by a possible British advance. Brown had forbidden the destruction or looting of private property but offences were committed, particularly by the Canadian Volunteers and the American Native allies. By July 12th, Brown had to re-issue his order against harassing the local Canadians. His patrols were being ambushed, sentries were disappearing, and the Americans were not safe outside their camps.
A number of war loss claims were made after the war by the Upper Canadians in the Queenston area for losses that occurred from July 9th to 12th. I have examined twenty-four of these claims during this four-day period. Only three of the losses occurred on the 12th, so General Brown’s second order may have had some effect. There were a number of claims that may have been for this same event that could not be used here because the dates or places of the event were not recorded in the claims.
Losses included a number of items which could be generally categorized as horses, livestock, supplies, and plunder. A number of residents reported that the losses occurred at their homes or in their fields and not by happenstance on the roadways. There was an intent to loot. Eighteen of the claims were made by residents of Stamford Township where the Hamlet of Queenston was located. It was not always clear whether the looters were scavengers or men on official patrols. The six losses that occurred outside the township were more likely the result of American mounted patrols then the encamped men.
How had the Americans treated the claimants during these four days? The first loss category was horses. Twenty-eight horses were taken from twenty of the residents. Most horses were taken on July 10th and 11th. The Americans appeared to need horses for riding rather than for wagon teams as only one wagon was taken. The horses were therefore probably being used for patrols or to supply officers with horses that had not been brought across the river. The Americans were encamped and did not at this time need to transport supplies far in wagons.
Robert Thompson of Stamford Township had a receipt for his horses that was signed by Brigadier General Swift. This suggested that some of the horses were being impressed and not stolen but some horses were also taken by Native Americans and were more likely stolen, as were horses taken from the fields. In nine of the claims the horses were the only loss. In only three claims were the losses reported to be by Native Americans.
The second category of livestock included common farm animals and three oxen. Oxen could be hitched to wagons to transport supplies but none of these animals was taken with a wagon or with harnesses. They were probably delivered to the American butchers with the other animals. There are many reports of oxen being butchered during the war. There was no indication that any of these animals were impressed and as private property, they were therefore probably looted.
The third category of supplies included men’s clothing, cooking utensils, food, hay and grain, axes and other tools, harnesses and saddles, bedding and textiles, towels, a table cloth, a rug, iron, weapons, furniture, and looking glasses. These were items that the men could probably use in camp but most were probably looted.
The fourth category of plunder included a watch from John Johnston Sr., two silver items, lady’s and children’s clothing, books, a brass candle stick, and an umbrella. These were items that had a resale value, were taken from only a few homes, and were less likely to have been needed in camp. The losses in this category were also much fewer in number than those in the supply category.
James Thompson did not report the loss of his silver watch as it was recovered and returned to him. The watch was found in the pocket of Brigadier General John Swift of the New York Volunteers. The general was shot just after leaving his home, was taken back inside, and died there.
In summary, at least sixteen of the twenty-four claimants had been intentionally looted. As all of them did not receive payment from the Americans for their impressed horses, this could also be seen as local harassment. An examination of how much the American presence in Queenston, and elsewhere throughout the war, had hurt the locals would require further study. The British army was not without fault in harming the local Upper Canadians as well as has been proven in other publications.
The following is a chart of the twenty-four war loss claims to General Brown’s army from July 9 to 12, 1814. Some claims recorded the date as “on or about July 10th”. The war loss claims can be accessed online at Collections Canada.
Name, Township, Losses Microfilm, Pages Horses Taken
Margaret Bastedo, Stamford t-1126, pages 207-209 1 horse
Stephen Seborn, Stamford t-1126, pages 919-924 1 mare
Daniel Moore, Stamford t-1129, pages 689-699 2 horses
From residence by Brown’s and Swift’s men
Mary Adams, Stamford t-1129, pages 700-703 1 horse
Livestock, by Brown’s and Swift’s men and Indians
Joseph Robinson, Stamford t-1129, pages 706-714 1 mare
Matthew Cairns, Stamford t-1131, pages 470-486 nil
Stephen Peer, Stamford t-1132, pages 372-381 1 horse
Supplies, a wagon
John Johnston Sr., Stamford t-1132, pages 748-757 1 horse
John Jay, Stamford t-1132, pages 775-781 nil
Andrew Ostrander, Stamford t-1133, pages 263-265 2 horses
James Thompson Sr., Stamford t-1133, pages 993-1005 1 mare
Livestock, supplies, plunder, by Brown’s men
John Wilkerson, Thorold t-1133, pages 1016- 1019 1 horse, 1 colt
Robert Wilkerson, Thorold t-1133, pages 1020- 1023 1 horse
Peter Warner, Niagara t-1134, pages 180-185 1 horse
Livestock, supplies, by Brown’s men
James Wintermute, Bertie t-1134, pages 235-241 1 mare
John Wright, Stamford t-1134, pages 259-264 nil
Supplies, only from his residence
Haggai Skinner Sr., Stamford t-1134, pages 752-759 1 horse
John Upper, Stamford t-1136, pages 1041-1049 3 horses
From residence by Brown’s and Swift’s men
Elias Smith, Niagara t-1137, pages 170-179 nil
Livestock, supplies, by Brown’s men
John Sutton, Stamford t-1137, pages 179-186 1 horse
Robert Thompson, Stamford t-1137, pages 322-333 3 horses,
Supplies from a house by Swift’s men, with receipt for horses
Henry Ribble, Stamford t-1137, pages 503-506 2 horses,
Supplies by Indians
James McClintick, Niagara t-1138, pages 814-820 1 horse,
Supplies by Brown’s men
Fred Smith, Stamford t-1140, pages 58-63 1 horse
 Donald E. Graves, Where Right and Glory Lead! The Battle of Lundy’s Lane, 1814, Robin Brass Studio, Toronto, 2003, pages 95-97.
 Ancaster’s Heritage, Ancaster Township Historical Society, Ancaster, 1973, page 245, accessed May 12, 2014 at www.ourroots.ca.