Saturday, September 12, 2015

War of 1812 Bicentennial

This year, 2015, marks 200th anniversary of the end of the War of 1812. It's not a war that I know much about, but I have a special interest in it. In my research I have found many of my ancestors performed military service. All but one of them returned home to their families when their service was completed.

The one that didn't return was my gggg-grandfather, Joel Thorpe. According to various published histories and from correspondence from other descendants, the story goes like this:

-- Joel Thorpe was killed in the War of 1812 at the Battle of Lundy's Lane.

-- Or he was a sharpshooter in the War of 1812 and was killed at the Battle of Lundy's Lane.

-- Or he commanded a unit of sharpshooters in the War of 1812 and was killed at the Battle of Lundy's Lane.

The story seems to get a little more interesting with each telling. 

The Battle of Lundy's Lane took place in Ontario, Canada, on 25 July 1814, and has been called the "bloodiest battle of the war." Since hearing this story for the first time, I've read numerous books and articles to find more information about the battle and evidence of Joel Thorpe's participation in it. So far I have found nothing that directly ties him to this battle.

So just what did happen to Joel Thorpe in the War of 1812? Was he really killed at Lundy's Lane in the "bloodiest battle of the war?" I thought that maybe in this anniversary year of the end of War of 1812 there might be some new information available that could answer these questions.

First, a little background.

Joel and his wife, Sarah Dayton Thorpe, and their three young children left North Haven, Connecticut in 1799, traveling by ox-cart to the Western Reserve in Ohio. After a few years living in the wilderness and enduring many hardships, the family moved into the new town of Cleveland. Joel was a millwright and carpenter and in this young community he could make a good living at his trade. He built one of the first wood frame buildings in Cleveland for Lorenzo Carter which was going to be used as a tavern. Unfortunately it burned to the ground before it was occupied.

In 1804, Joel Thorpe joined the militia that was organized in case of an Indian attack, and he signed a petition protesting the election of Lorenzo Carter as its leader. By 1808, Joel and Sarah had moved to Newburgh, just outside of Cleveland, where he built a schooner called the Sally. Shipping was another lucrative enterprise for a town located on the shores of Lake Erie.

According to one bit of correspondence, Joel was contracted by the Holland Land Company to build houses in Buffalo. Given his apparent skill as a carpenter, this seems a likely scenario. By 1811 the family, now numbering seven children, made the move to Buffalo, possibly by sailing across Lake Erie on the Sally.

The timing could not have been worse. War with the British was coming. The American Fort Niagara faced the British Fort George across the Niagara River in Ontario, a few miles to the north of Buffalo. In May 1813, the Americans captured Fort George and were in control of both sides of the Niagara river.

You know how sometimes there's something right in front of you and you can't see it?

In my notes for Sarah Dayton Thorpe, I found an item that I had saved. It said "Joel Thorpe died at Beaver Dam or Lundy's Lane" and gave the date of his death as 24 June 1813. The author of this statement was Charles Nathan Dayton of New Haven, Connecticut, b. 1843, d. 1924, in A Dayton Record. He was probably a relative of Sarah.

I couldn't recall ever researching a place called "Beaver Dam," so I went online to see what I could find out about any battles fought there.

A basic description of the Battle of Beaver Dams was found in Wikipedia. It has also been written up in a number of published histories, but, as expected, none of them mention Joel Thorpe by name. Then I stumbled across an account of the battle that was published in the Buffalo Gazette on 29 Jun 1813 and was reprinted in other newspapers around the US. The most complete version is transcribed here, with my notes and comments in square brackets:

From the BUFFALO GAZETTE, 29 Jun 1813

On Saturday week [19 June] the mounted men under Major [Cyrenius] Chapin [a surgeon and leader of the local militia], passed down to Queenstown [Ontario].
On Sunday [20 June] Mr. E. Sloot, of this town [Buffalo], crossed [the Niagara river] at Black Rock, and with Ab. Ransom, late of this village, proceeded for Queenstown; when they had passed the foot of Lunday's [sic] Lane, (a place principally settled by the Rangers who fought under Butler in the Revolutionary War) they were fired upon by a small party of the enemy concealed, and Ransom made prisoner, Sloot making his escape to Queenstown.
For several days previous to this [16-18 June], small parties of the enemy [British] had been lurking about the Lane, and were at this time supposed from their audacity to have been considerably reinforced.
On Monday [21 June] a detachment of 150 infantry under Capt. Myers from Fort George, with Chapin's corps, marched for the Lane; when the advance [mounted riflemen of Chapin’s militia] came near the place where Ransom was taken, they were fired upon by the enemy, and Sloot was shot dead; 5 balls and a buck shot took effect; the guard retired, and the enemy retreated before the Infantry came up; it being apparent that the enemy had retreated to draw our troops into a snare, they were pursued but a small distance.
N. D. Keep who belonged to Major Chapin's company, was taken asleep [captured] by the enemy about a mile from this place. The party returned to Queenstown.
On Wednesday last [23 June] a force marched from Fort George, under command of Col. Boerstler, consisting of 3 or 400 infantry, 2 pieces light artillery, 20 dragoons, and about 40 men, under Major Chapin, and encamped at Queenstown.
On Thursday morning [24 June] Colonel B[oerstler] marched towards the Beaver dam, and we understand from two of Chapin's men, who with four others made their escape, that an action commenced at 11 o'clock, between the advanced parties, and continued for some time, when the enemy out flanked and surrounded our men, and have very probably captured them.
We know not the loss in killed, but hope we may obtain some correct account this day. We learn that Joel Thorp of this town [Buffalo] was killed in the beginning of the action.

Well, if that isn't a smoking gun, I don't know what is!

Joel Thorpe had been a member of the militia in Cleveland, so it's not surprising he would have joined the one in Buffalo. His position in the militia as a mounted rifleman may account the designation as sharpshooter 200 years later. And the repeated references to Lundy's Lane may have led to the assumption that he fought and died in the battle of that name.

However, the Battle of Lundy's Lane was fought on 25 July 1814, a full year after this account of Joel Thorpe's death. All this indirect evidence taken together seems to indicate that Joel Thorpe was a part of the Buffalo militia and was killed in the Battle of Beaver Dams on 24 Jun 1813.


"From the Buffalo Gazette of June 29. War events." Democratic Press, July 12, 1813. (accessed January 29, 2012).

Pratt, G F. "Biographical Sketch of the late Dr Cyrenius Chapin, of Buffalo." Buffalo Medical Journal. 8. (1869). (accessed January 26, 2012).

Smith, H. Perry. History of the city of Buffalo. Syracuse: D. Mason & Co., 1884. (accessed January 26, 2012).

Payne-Joyce, D. "Pane-Joyce Genealogy." Last modified Dec 2011. Accessed January 29, 2012. [referencing: Dayton, Charles Nathan, and James W. Dayton. 1963. A Dayton record. New Haven, Conn: New Haven Colony Historical Society.]

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2012. s.v. "Battle of Beaver Dams." (accessed January 26, 2012).

Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 2012. s.v. "Battle of Lundy's Lane." (accessed January 26, 2012).

No comments:

Post a Comment