The Battle of Beaver Dams created two Canadian Folk Heroes and was one of the stranger battles of the War of 1812, for it wasn’t won by force of arms but through audacity and deception. By the end of May 1813 most of the Niagara peninsula was in the hands of the Americans, they held Fort George, Newark (Niagara-On-The-Lake) and Queenston Heights. The British had been forced back to Burlington Heights, but after the Battle of Stoney Creek had established a series of outposts along the Niagara Escarpment. One of these outposts was at DeCew house near the settlement of Beaver Dams. The outpost at DeCew House was under the command of Lieutenant James FitzGibbon of the 49th. Along with the Lieutenant was fifty handpicked men of the 49th and a band of Mohawk Warriors.
The Americans still smarting from their defeat at Stoney Creek set out on a new offensive on June 22nd, a column of 600 troops under the command of Lt. Colonel Charles Boerstler set out from Fort George and made it to Queenston by 11pm on the 22nd and billeted in the town. Several officers stayed at the home of Laura Secord. During the night she overheard their plans to attack DeCew house and slipped out heading north walking the 27 kilometers to the house located in modern day Thorold. The Americans set out again in the morning of the 23rd, as they neared the escarpment at St. Davids they were spoted by Native scouts who also headed towards FitzGibbon at DeCew house. Their story was corroborated by the earlier information the Lieutenant had received from Laura Secord. FitzGibbon realizing he was seriously outnumbered began to lay his own plans for the American forces that were still under the impression the element of surprise was on their side.
By the 24th the Americans had made it over the escarpment and began to march along the Mountain Road towards the settlement at Beaver Dams. FitzGibbon had deployed his native warriors in the woods along the mountain road in ambush, and the small detachment of the 49th at the rear of the American column to prevent them from retreating. Boerstler became aware of the native warriors in the woods but refused to take any actions against them. As the American column approached the north east corner of Thorold Township the Mohawk warriors attacked the column, ambushing them in the woods. The American column broke, and scattered while continuing to be harassed by the Mohawks. The Americans wanted to drive the natives out into the open so that they could bring their artillery to bear, but with the warriors attacking from all sides it was difficult for the American commanders to organize their men into an effective counter attack. The battle raged on for a couple hours, FitzGibbon hearing the musket fire rode out to see what was happening, giving order for his own men to muster for battle. By the time he had arrived the Americans were preparing to pull back. FitzGibbon rode out to meet the Americans under a flag of truce only to encounter the Americans riding his way under the same flag. But FitzGibbon had a plan. He knew that his force was far outnumbered, even the native allies were pulling back, but even still he told the American officer that more natives were coming and he could not count on controlling them, in addition to the natives more British regulars were on their way and that their best move would be to surrender now. The Americans called FitzGibbon’s bluff and refused to surrender to a force that they could not see, but the bold Lieutenant offered to allow them to inspect the forces. The ruse was perpetuated as a group of Dragoons showed on the scene. FitzGibbon convinced the leader of the Dragoons, Captain John Hall to portray FitzGibbon’s superior officer, Major DeHaren, Hall stepped into the role with pride, informing the Americans that they could not inspect the British forces. The ruse was working, Boerstler was despite, he had many tired soldiers and more wounded. But the whole thing was nearly undone on the arrival of the actual Major DeHaren who began his own negotiations for the American Surrender. FitzGibbon pulled the major aside and informed him of the ruse that would allow for a British victory. DeHaren went along with the ruse and the surrender was signed.
FitzGibbon was promoted to Captain and assigned to the Glengary Light Infantry for his actions at Beaver Dams. Laura Secord however was not recognized for her actions under later in the 19th century when FitzGibbon issued a written statement confirming her involvement in bringing the information to the Lieutenant. Today DeCew house is nothing more than a ruin having burned down in 1950; Ontario Power Company stabilized the ruin and installed a plaque explaining the value of the structure. The actual battlefield is paved over and a historic plaque that used to sit there was moved to a memorial park first in Beaver Dams but was moved to a new park in downtown Thorold.
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Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition, Revised and Updated