Located on a natural harbor on the shores of Lake Erie, the small town of Port Dover is known more for its famous Friday the Thirteenth motorcycle event than its involvement in the War of 1812. In the early 19th century the town was one of the key ports to the British control, the others at Turkey Port (Fort Norfolk), Port Ryerse, and Long Point provided shelter for the Royal Navy and the Provincial Marine. Using these ports the British maintained complete control over Lake Erie for the first half of the war, blockading the Americans, at least until an American Squadron under Oliver Hazard Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie in 1813.
However Port Dover’s involvement in the War of 1812 started early on in the conflict when it served as the embarkation point for General Brock’s successful siege and capture of Fort Detroit. Brock along with members of the 41st Regiment of Foot arrived on August 2nd, 1812, linking up with elements from the York, Oxford, Lincoln, and Norfolk Militia, a 300 man strong force to reinforce the 41st Regiment at Fort Amhurstburg under attack from General Hull and the Americans. However water transport for only 100 men could be secured, Brock took the first 100 while the remainder marched overland. Brock’s campaign not only secured Fort Detroit, but also the now famous alliance with Shawnee Chief Tecumseh.
However by 1814, the western areas of Upper Canada had been vacated by most British Regular forces after their defeat at the Battle of the Thames, allowing American forces to raid along the coast destroying, for the most part Mills and supply lines feeding the British army now concentrated on the Niagara frontier. On May 14th, 1814 Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell landed with 800 US Regulars and a group of volunteers from the Pennsylvania Militia, and a group of artillery at Patterson Creek. After a minor skirmish with local militia the force marched on Port Dover on May 15th, unopposed they proceeded to take any supplies they could get their hands on before setting the entire town, including private residences on fire, after allowing the families to remove small objects from the homes, an empty gesture. After reducing Port Dover to ashes, Campbell’s force moved on to Port Ryerse, repeating what they had done to Port Dover. Over all Campbell’s forces destroyed twenty homes, six mills, three distilleries, and various other buildings. A local citizen overheard that this was in retaliation for British attacks on Havre Du Grace, Maryland, and Buffalo. The officers under Campbell were outraged with Campbell’s actions as where his superiors and he was brought before a court martial. The court censured Campbell for his wanton destruction of private property, disavowing it completely.
A letter sent to General Riall explaining this did little to prevent the massive assault against the American east coast later in August of 1814, resulting in the occupation of Maine, and the destruction of government property in Washington DC. Campbell died of wounds received during the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
Very little remains from the War of 1812 in Port Dover, a plaque outside of town speaks on Campbell’s destructive raids, and a cairn in a downtown park talks on Brock’s embarkation. A restored carronade and an information plaque stands in the same park explaining the town’s involvement in the war. Port Dover remains an active harbor on Lake Erie, but instead of military vessels it mostly focuses on a fishing fleet and pleasure craft.
Written with files from:
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition by Gilbert Collins – 2006 The Dundurn Group Publishers
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