The life blood of Upper Canada was the St. Lawrence River, long before it was the mighty seaway we know today it was just a river, often times areas of rapids and flowed past several loyalist settlements that were established following the American Revolution. The river was a link to the major centers of the colonies of British North American, the mighty fortress and administrative capital of Quebec City and the major seaport of Halifax to the smaller settlements in Upper Canada. It was also the weak point, cut off access to the river at either end and you could choke Upper Canada. In fact part of the initial plan of the American invasion was the take Montreal, cutting off access to troop and supply reinforcements from Quebec City in Halifax. But the General Dearborn attack on Montreal never materialized.
But in September 1812 a new group of American soldiers were deployed to the frontier. The men of the 1st US Rifle Regiment, dressed in green and armed with rifles from the Harper’s Ferry arsenal and trained sharp shooters arrived in the St. Lawrence River Valley. A small detachment under Captain Benjamin Forsyth made their first foray into British territory in the early mornings of the 21st of September, 1812. Captain Forsyth’s detachment of seventy odd riflemen landed a good two miles west of the small settlement of Gananoque. Established shortly after the United Empire Loyalists were forced out of their homes in the newly formed United States of America, the settlement’s founder Colonel Joel Stone was fiercely anti-American and while the settlement was small in size it was a major stopping point for British supply flotillas.
Moving along the King’s Road (what is today Highway 2 or King Street in Gananoque), the group of riflemen were surprised to find a pair of local militia cavalry men of the 1st Leeds Militia, the first trooper was dropped by one of the riflemen but the second got away, surprise it seemed was no longer on the side of the American raiding party as they moved quickly to get into the town before the alarm could be raised. The trooper rode hard raising the alarm in the town before continuing on to Kingston to warn the British regular troops stationed there. The small force of citizen soldiers of the 2nd Leeds Militia gathered what they could. A rag-tag group of mostly farmers dressed in whatever they could find and armed with their own personal firelocks. The odd line of men formed up across the King’s Road to meet the small American raiding party managing only a single ragged volley. Forsyth’s Rifles unscathed charged in to engage the rag-tag militia troops at close quarters.
The men of the 1st US Rifle Regiment had the town with the militia run off to their homes the men located and burned the government warehouse they also located the home of Colonel Joel Stone, ransacking it a stray bullet managed to injury Stone’s wife as well. The whole action took a half hour and by the time the reinforcements from Kingston arrived there was no sign of the American raiders. The British crossed the river burning a supply dump and the start of a blockhouse in retaliation. The raid did change the British attitude towards their supply lines, defenses were built up in Gananoque, Elizabethton (today Brockville), and Prescott (Fort Wellington). Also the young Lieutenant James FitzGibbon, student of General Sir Isaac Brock was assigned to arrange for escorts for the supply flotillas along the river.
Today Gananoque is a busy tourist town and the western end of the 1000 Island Parkway, it also acts as the Canadian Gateway to the 1000 Island River tours. There is a small plaque at the west end of King Street (Highway 2) right near the river that the militia fled over. There are other plaques to Colonel Joel Stone located just across the street. If you do find yourself in the area it’s well worth a stop also pop into the Gananoque Brewery Co.
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