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February 21, 2013

Battle of Frenchtown

Cooperstown Crier

---- — From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, February 20, 1813

Compiled, with comments



(1) Died in this village, on Thursday last, WILLIAM DOWSE, Esq., aged 42 years, member of Congress elect, for the 15th district. Mr. Dowse was considered an able advocate at our Court. He appeared at the bar on Thursday of last week, and attended to his duty nearly all that day, but was finally obliged to leave the Court-House in consequence of his ill health, and was confined to his bed till his death. He has left a wife and family with a numerous circle of acquaintances to regret his loss.

COMMENT: William Dowse (1779-1813), a lawyer and politician, is buried in Cooperstown’s Presbyterian Cemetery. He was initially replaced in Congress by John Bowers of Cooperstown.

(2) Died, in this village, yesterday, after a short illness, Mr. LEWIS GOODSELL, aged 43 years. Mr. G. sustained the character of an honest and upright man, and in him, our village has lost an active and useful citizen, and his family a kind and tender parent.

COMMENT: He was a cabinet-maker, who had started business here about 1809.

(3) Died, in Middlefield, on Wednesday last, Mr. OBADIAH DUNHAM, aged 83 years, an old and respectable inhabitant of that town, and one of the first settlers.

COMMENT: Dr. Dunham was born in Pownal, Vermont, in 1731, and came to Bowerstown in Middlefield about 1755. He married Lucy Gillett (1739-1840) in 1754, and they had eight children.

(4) Died, at New-York, on the 8th inst. [February], Mr. William French, formerly of this village. He was a sutler [provisioner] to the troops in New-Jersey, where he was taken sick with the spotted fever, and returned to his family in New-York, where he died in a few days.

Battle of Frenchtown

Chilicothe, Feb. 2, 1813. DISASTROUS! With the most poignant sensations of grief, we … announce to our readers, the entire destruction of the advanced guard of the N. Western Army, consisting of about 1000 men, under the command of Gen. James Winchester ...

When the action of the 18th ult. [January] was announced to Gen. Winchester, who was at the Rapids with the residue of his division, he marched immediately with 250 men in order to reinforce Colonel Lewis, and take command of the detachment.

Although from the vicinity of the enemy, and the facility with which they could cross over [the River Raisin], the danger of an attack was evident, yet, unaccountable as it may appear, not the least precaution was taken for the security of the army. The night preceding the fatal morning, we are informed that Gen. W. had taken up his lodgings in a private house, three quarters of a mile from the troops. The officer had been billeted in the several houses in the neighborhood, and the soldiers were lying in promiscuous group in barns, pens, &c. without order or regularity.

The enemy being probably apprized of the unguarded situation of the American troops attacked them at day break on the morning of the 22d ult. With a force of about 16 or 1800 Indians and two or 300 British, with six or eight pieces of artillery. The attack was so sudden, and our troops so completely surprised, that the roaring of the British cannon gave them the first intimation of their danger ... The officers being unable to find out their men, the greatest part of the troops could not be formed, so that very little if any resistance was made.

A few succeeded in making their escape – the remainder were either killed or taken prisoners. The unfortunate Gen. Winchester was killed, scalped and mangled in the most shocking manner ...

COMMENT: Frenchtown is today Monroe, Michigan. John Richardson (1796-1852), a Canadian volunteer in the attack (who later became the “Canadian Cooper” and one of Canada’s first important novelists), said: “On the 22nd, before daybreak, came within sight of the enemy ... such was their security and negligence that ... our line was actually half formed within musket shot of their defenses before they were even aware of our presence.” 

General Winchester (1752-1826) wasn’t killed; captured early in the attack, he spent over a year as a prisoner of war. The British lost 24 killed and 161 wounded; the Americans 397 killed, 27 wounded, 547 captured. After the battle, some seriously wounded Americans, left behind by the departing British, were slaughtered by Indians in what came to be known as the River Raisin Massacre. Americans back home were infuriated and vowed revenge.

Raid on Canada

By a gentleman directly from Ogdensburgh, we learn, that Capt. Forsyth, commanding at that post, in consequence of the frequent attempts made by the British to disturb his picket guard, between Ogdensburgh and Morristown, some of whom had been taken prisoners on Saturday evening last, left Ogdensburgh with about 200 volunteers in sleighs, crossed the St. Lawrence from Morristown to Elizabethtown, and completely surprised the enemy at that place, took about 50 prisoners, 120 muskets, 20 rifles, five casks of fixed ammunition, and some other articles of war, and returned without the loss of a single man.

Among the prisoners taken were Maj. Carly, commandant at Elizabethtown, captains Jones, Steward and Hubbel. All the prisoners were paroled.

COMMENT: Major Benjamin Forsyth, of the United States First Rifle Regiment, led the Feb. 6 raid on Elizabethtown. It was a pyrrhic victory. On Feb. 20 the British counterattacked on Ogdensburgh, and won a significant battle, capturing the town, killing 20, wounding six, and capturing 70 Americans, with a loss of only six killed and 44 wounded.

Thereafter, the American side ceased trying to garrison Ogdensburgh, which for the rest of the War of 1812 remained an important route for smuggling supplies across the river to the British. Forsyth went on to a more-distinguished military career until he was killed in 1814. Forsyth County in North Carolina, and Forsyth Street in New York City, are named for him.