This entry I’m writing specifically for my dear friend Erin, who like me, has a love for the War of 1812, in one of her recent blog posts she mentioned her new job at an independent children’s book publisher, and one of the recent releases from the company was on the war of 1812, and one of the lesser known heroes of the war. When you think of the War of 1812 and the heroes that came out of that war, on the British side, Isaac Brock and Laura Secord stand above them all, and yes, they both played important roles, but there was one other hero, whose tale intertwines with both this figures. His name was James FitzGibbon, an Irishman raised from the ranks that went on to serve Upper Canada twice in his career in the army.
Blockhouses at Fort George wheren FitzGibbon and the rest of the 49th of foot garrisoned from the early 1800s to 1813 when the American’s captured the fort.
FitzGibbon was born in November of 1780 in Glin, Ireland. His family was not wealthy, and at fifteen James joined the local Yeomanry, after three years of service he went onto serve in the Tarbert Infantry Fencibles, a home service regiment in Ireland. During his time in the Fencibles he was recruited into the British Army, the 49th Regiment of Foot. During his European Service with the 49th he fought in the battles of Egmond aan Zee and Copenhagen. It was in 1802, FitzGibbon, now a Sergeant along with the 49th and their commander Isaac Brock were sent to Upper Canada. Brock took the young man under his wing, teaching him how to be a gentleman, and in 1806 secured an ensign’s commission for FitzGibbon in the 49th. It was rare in the 19th century to have an officer raised from the ranks, and often was detrimental to the man in questions, but FitzGibbon seemed to slide into the role with ease, and by 1809 was promoted to Lieutenant.
The battlefield monument at Stoney Creek built 100 years after the battle in 1813.
Even early in the War of 1812, the Lieutenant managed to catch the eye of both the men and officers. Under the noses of the Americans managed to escort supply boats along the St. Lawrence River, and then again managed to keep the supply lines clear through the winter of 1813, bringing much needed supplies from Montreal to Kingston. Just prior to the Battle of Stoney Creek in June of 1813, FitzGibbon managed to infiltrate the American Camp, disguising himself as a farmer he peddled butter to the American soldiers to listen in on camp gossip. Using his intelligence, the British Forces, with FitzGibbon participating as a company commander, managed to drive off a greater number of American soldiers. After Stoney Creek, FitzGibbon raised a volunteer force of fifty men from the 49th to form an elite force of guerrilla soldiers to harass American forces in the Niagara Peninsula. FitzGibbon’s Bloody Boys as they were called often would use grey coats to cover up their usual red-coats to provide better cover. But it was on June 22nd, 1813, that FitzGibbon saw the crowning victory of his career. After a journey of 20 miles through occupied territory, Laura Secord, a resident of Queenston, brought news of on an American attack, designed to take out the thorn in their side, Lt. FitzGibbon. Secord brought news that five hundred American troops were heading towards DeCew house, his headquarters. FitzGibbon, his men, and several native allies took to the field. With the native Allies harassing the American column, FitzGibbon showed up, and under a flag of truce, informed the Americans that they were outnumbered, and surrounded. The Americans surrendered, and FitzGibbon was made a hero, promoted to Captain and transferred to the Glengarry Light Infantry. In the final years of the war FitzGibbon participated in the carnage of the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.
The Ruins of DeCew house where FitzGibbon setup his HQ during the lead up to the Battle of Beaver Dams and where he met Laura Secord.
After the Treaty was signed ending the war, James FitzGibbon remained in Upper Canada serving in the Incorporated Militia, and in 1826 was promoted to full Colonel. He also worked for the Adjutant-General of the Militia, becoming the assistance to the Adjutant-General, and in 1827 was appointed clerk to the Upper House of the Assembly. He was known for his ability to break up rants by house members, a skill that was put to use to break up a riot in 1832 outside William Lyon Mackenzie’s printing house. FitzGibbon, still a Colonel in the Militia played a role in the 1837 rebellions, trying to convince Lt. Governor Head to take action against the rebels, Head eventually conceded that the militia should be called out, and appointed FitzGibbon acting Adjunct-General of the Militia. FitzGibbon, in an act of defiance against Head, posted units on Yonge Street, which allowed them to easily intercept the Rebels that were marching from the north and managed to disperse them. After the rebellion had been quashed, FitzGibbon resigned in protest because of his treatment by Head. After the death of his wife in 1847, he returned to England, becoming a Military Knight at Windsor Castle until his death in 1863, and is buried there.
The memorial wall at the Lundey’s Lane Battlefield.
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition, Revised and Updated