Dr. John Grodzinski, Professor, Department of History and War Studies, RMC

EVENT DATE: December 14, 2011
TOPIC: Kingston in the War of 1812

Kingston played a pivotal role in the War of 1812. It served as the transhipment point for personnel, supplies and equipment that that were necessary for the survival of Upper Canada. The dockyard at Kingston supported the naval forces based on Lake Ontario, while the garrison of British and Canadian regular troops, local militia and native warriors conducted several raids into the United States. This presentation examined the military events in and around Kingston between 1812 and 1815.

Biography: John Grodzinski is an assistant professor of history at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. His interests include the era of smoothbore warfare, North American colonial conflicts and naval warfare in the age of sail. He is editor of the on-line War of 1812 Magazine and regularly leads battlefield studies on the War of 1812 and other conflicts. John has two manuscripts under preparation: the first is a study of the leadership of Sir George Prevost, while the second examines the conduct of the War of 1812 on the Upper St. Lawrence River.

Kingston’s ‘reluctant warriors’ may have sung different tune

By Mike Norris / The Whig-Standard

Posted 14 December 2011

Ian MacAlpine: The Whig-Standard Dr. Jane Errington, who, along with Dr. John Grodzinski, gave a presentation about the War of 1812 at the Canadian Club meeting at Minos Uptown Village Restaurant on Wednesday. The professors of history and war studies at the Royal Military College gave their presentation about military and social perspectives of the war.

Not all residents of Upper Canada, including Kingston, were gung-ho about the War of 1812, according to a Queen’s University history professor.

An early victory, led by Maj.-Gen. Isaac Brock, over the Americans at Detroit in August 1812 spawned the patriotic song The Bold Canadian, which celebrated the triumph.

“Kingstonians were not the ‘bold Canadian’ boys in the song,” said Jane Errington, one of two history professors who spoke about the War of 1812 at a Canadian Club of Kingston luncheon Wednesday.

“They were reluctant warriors. Some left the community to go farther south.”

The topic of Errington’s speech was “A Vain Hope for Peace: Reluctantly Going to War in 1812.”

The early months of the war, which began in June, were inspiring for Canadians, she said.

“In popular culture, and to the chagrin of some of us, it was the first real test of a new people,” said Errington. “In 1812, Upper Canadians fought gallantly for their homes and king. The Canadian victories, first in Detroit and the war itself, confirmed the just cause of the Loyalists. The war represents the beginning of nationhood.”

There’s another side to this tale, however, said Errington.

“I want to tell another story, largely rooted in Kingston, about the war in June 1812 and how people responded to it,” she said.

“For more than 20 years, Kingstonians lived in hope that the hostilities of 1775 to 1783 (the American Revolution, between the British Kingdom and the 13 British colonies in North America) would not resume.”

Among the locals who didn’t want Upper Canada to get involved, she said, was Richard Cartwright, “who many would argue is the founding father of Kingston. He exemplified all the virtues we associate with a founding father.”

Cartwright (1759-1815) was born in Albany, N.Y., and, following a brief military career, settled in Kingston in 1785, becoming a prominent businessman, judge and political figure.

Cartwright’s father, also named Richard, came to the U.S. from England in 1742, but his loyalty was not with the patriots during the American Revolution. As a businessman, the younger Cartwright had many dealings with the British army, and by 1800 he was also supplying U.S. garrisons with pork and flour.

“He was a proud member of the British Empire,” said Errington. “His opposition to the war remained strong. He was a classic loyalist.”

Americans advocated going to war against Great Britain for a number of reasons, including a series of trade restrictions introduced by Britain to impede American trade with France, with whom Britain was at war.

In June 1812, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate voted to declare war and the conflict began on June 8, 1812, when President James Madison signed the measure into law. It was the first time the U.S. declared war on another nation.

Between 1791 and 1812, said Errington, “Richard Cartwright and Kingstonians are aware of the situation in the U.S. In their new world, they recognize the empire and the king, but most of the population is from the U.S.

“Cartwright is conscious of the innate tension that exists. Many of his friends are federalists.

“Many Kingstonians were told by Cartwright, ‘Don’t create problems with our neighbours.’ “

Errington called it an unnatural war.

“By 1807, (Cartwright) begins to argue that Upper Canadians should be prepared to go to war, but never to seek war.”

Despite his opposition to the war, Cartwright served as a senior colonel in the militia in Kingston during the War of 1812.

The other speaker at the luncheon was Maj. John Grodzinski, who teaches military history at Royal Military College and is an expert on the War of 1812. His topic was “Kingston in the War of 1812.”

Although Kingston was the home of the Royal Navy Dockyard, the city had a limited, yet significant, role during the war, he said.

“The action, as spirited as we may like to think of it, were just skirmishes, but they helped define our homeland and our city as well,” said Grodzinski, who shared his expertise on air in the recent PBS TV documentary The War of 1812. “In a European context, these would be minor skirmishes. To North Americans, it was a series of skirmishes between forces, many numbering in the dozens to a couple hundred to thousands.”

During the war, Kingston served as a shipping point for personnel, supplies and equipment necessary for the survival of Upper Canada. The dockyard at Kingston supported the naval forces based on Lake Ontario, while the garrison of British and Canadian troops, local militia and native warriors conducted several raids into the United States.

“By the end of 1814, Kingston had become an extremely powerful naval presence — 450 guns, a garrison of 500 regular troops and some militia,” said Grodzinski, the editor of War of 1812 online magazine.

The war ended in 1815. Unofficially, the British had 8,600 killed, wounded or missing, while the American casualties numbered about 11,300.

“Britain was exhausted after 22 years of war,” said Grodzinski, referring to the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815). “The U.S. was exhausted after 21/2 years of war. They were broke.”