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May 9, 2013

Canadian capital captured

Cooperstown Crier

---- — From the Otsego Herald

for Saturday, May 8, 1813

Compiled, with comments


Victory at York [Toronto]

From Gen. Peter B. Porter to J. C. Spencer, Esq. in Canandaigua:

“Manchester (Niagara County.) April 28,1813,6 o’clock, P. M.

“Dear Sir, I have just returned from Fort Niagara, where I saw a Captain of the United States’ navy. He is just from little York, the capital of Upper Canada, and gives the following account, which is confirmed in official dispatches from Gen. Dearborn to Gen. Lewis ...

“On ... the 27th April ... Commodore Chauncy, with a squadron of 10 or 12 vessels, arrived before York, with Gen. Dearborn & near 3000 men. The infantry under Brig. Gen. Pike landed, attacked the town & batteries in the rear, while the squadron attacked them by water. At 2 p.m. they carried the place, taking a number of Indians and militia prisoners, one thousand Indians being engaged.

“Gen. Sheaffe with a few regular troops made their escape. Gen. Pike with about 200 men were killed by the blowing up of a magazine in one of their batteries, & in which they had a train of powder for the purpose. About fifty of the British Artillerists were killed in the same explosion. The loss on both sides is considerable.

“Our army is now in possession of the town and is expected here shortly. Our troops behaved with the greatest gallantry. Immense quantities of military stores and Indian goods were taken at York, which seems to have been the depot for those articles. The vessels of the squadron are not sufficient to bring them away.”

Further Particulars: Although General Porter does not mention the taking of British vessels, yet we are well informed that a considerable portion of the enemy’s lake navy, was lying at York, and the other part at Kingston. It is, therefore, highly probable that our gallant tars have either destroyed or obtained possession of a sufficient number of the enemy’s ships to enable us very soon to chase the residue from the lake.

By a gentleman direct from Sacket’s Harbor we learn that the force that sailed from there on Sunday the 25th consisted of Comm. Chauncy and about 1,000 sailors; with Gen. Dearborn and Gen. Pike, who took with them the 6th, 15th, and 16th regiments, Col. M’Clure’s regiment consisting of the New York, Baltimore and Albany volunteers, and Capt. Forsyth’s company, all of Infantry; and a detachment of Artillery, in all about 3000 men.

COMMENT: This was one of the first important American victories in the War of 1812. American land forces were now under the command of the elderly (and apparently lazy) Maj. Gen. Henry Dearborn (1751-1829), while her naval forces on the Great Lakes were assigned to the able but very cautious Commodore Isaac Chauncey (1779-1840). British forces, after the death of Sir Isaac Brock at the Battle of Queenston Heights the year before, were now led by much less effective Maj. Gen. Roger Sheaffe (1763-1851), and her naval forces by the equally cautious Commodore James Yeo (1782-1818), who had taken over the former local British Provincial navy on the Great Lakes.

While General Dearborn remained aboard one of the American ships, the landing force of some 1,800 soldiers was led by Brig. Gen. Zebulon Pike (1779-1813), best known today as the explorer of the American west in 1806-1807, and for whom Pikes Peak in Colorado is named. The actual attack was led by the riflemen headed by Maj. John Forsyth (born ca. 1760 in North Carolina), noted for his bravery, bravado and apparently larcenous instincts. Facing him were only 1000 British (including Canadian militia and Indians), and the Americans quickly seized the tiny town of York (today’s Toronto), which was then the capital of Upper Canada (today’s Province of Ontario).

British Gen. Sheaffe quickly decided that the battle was lost, and, after burning the dockyards and a ship under construction, he retreated from the town with his small number of British Army regulars. For this he was subsequently relieved of command. In leaving he blew up a magazine of 300 of gunpowder, heard as far away as Niagara, and killing or wounding 265 American soldiers, one large flying stone crushing Gen. Pike.

Following the explosion, angry American soldiers burned the Parliament and other public buildings in York and, joined by some locals, looted the town, while Gen. Dearborn did little to restrain them. The Americans then returned to Sacket’s Harbor, taking with them some 275 prisoners.

The deliberate destruction of public buildings in the Upper Canadian capital was to have serious repercussions when the British captured the America capital of Washington in 1814.

Despite the hopes expressed in the American article, the British and American naval forces on Lake Ontario (in contrast to Lake Erie) never did meet in real combat.


Died in this town on the 24th ult. of the typhus fever, Mr. CYRUS THURSTON, aged 25 years. On the 28th ult. of the same disorder, Captain THOMAS WILLIAMS, aged 33 years.

COMMENT: A Thurston family genealogy says Cyrus was a farmer at Thurston Hill in Springfield, N.Y. and that he died on Aug. 24,1814 – presumably the newspaper is more correct on this. He married, in 1809, Sarah Spencer (ca. 1790-1874).

Thomas Williams (born June 23, 1773) was also from Springfield, N.Y., and was married to Martha Thurston (1783-1866), who was Cyrus’ sister. Capt. Williams (but evidently not the others) is buried in the Thurston family graveyard in Springfield.


The blockade of this important section of coasting navigation being at length effected by the entrance of a frigate, and her taking a position off New-London harbor, very serious inconveniences and ... adequate exertions will be necessary to repel the enemy from so close an investment of our shores and channels.