The British Call to Arms
Not long after the raid on St. Regis, Lieutenant Isaac LeClair was assigned to recruit Akwesasne warriors for the defense of Canada. The eminent 19th century historian, Franklin B. Hough documented his successful efforts in 1853:
He raised a company of about 80 Indian warriors, and crossed to Cornwall. These Indians participated in several engagements during the ensuing war. At the taking of Little York, they were posted at Kingston. At the attack upon Sackett’s Harbor, twenty British St. Regis Indians were present under Lieut. St. Germain; and at Ogdensburgh, in Feb., 1813, about thirty of the same, under Capt. Le Clare, crossed to the town. At the battle of Chrysler’s field, they were at Cornwall, and prevented by Col. McLean, of the British army, from engaging in the battle.
LeClair’s 1829 memorial stated that he took the place of the Captain Montaigny who was captured in the raid on St. Regis. He was ordered to march his warriors to Kingston where they were placed under the command of Colonel Ferguson of the Indian Department. They served there for a time before being ordered back to Montreal, where Leclair was ordered to gather up all of the loyalist Akwesasne warriors and join with the warriors of the other tribes in Lower Canada for action at Niagara. He arrived in Kingston with 50 Akwesasne warriors in the spring of 1813, only to find that the Kahnawake warriors were reluctant to proceed:
…all the Indians were Assembled under the immediate Command of Sir George Prevost, when after having been harranged and explained that their services were required on the Niagara frontiers the Cognawaga warriors commanded by Capt. D Laramiere being the Senior Tribe in Rank refused to go up the Country but were willing to fight in defence of the Lower Province when they were told by Sir George Prevost that they where like old women, and if they would not willingly fight with their white Brothers wenever they were ordered they were not worthy of receiving provisions and presents from their Great Father’s Government and that they and their commanders of their tribes should be broke and discharge the service That the warriors of the St. Regis Indians under your Memorialist’s command were then Consulted, when your Memorialist and the principal Chiefs by their orator & warrior Josee (one of the undersigned) Answered that the St. Regis warriors were willing and ready to march under the command of your Memorialist with their white Brothers whenever the Great Commander should be pleased to order them, and would fight to the last of their blood [ ] in defence of either Provinces, when Sir George gave them his thanks, and ordered them to be immediately acquipt and presents to be bestowed on them. [ ] That when Cognawagas saw them thus received they volunteered their services and Joined together with all the other Tribes and were all ordered to the Niagara frontiers …
Leclair’s memorial describes the “severe engagements” he and his warriors encountered:
…the undersigned warrior & Chief Josee was the person who scouting day & night discovered the Boats of the Enemy Commanded by Col Butler Crossing the Niagara River which gave timely notice to be prepared to meet them, when your Memorialist with his warriors fought in the field with their white Brothers and Conquered the enemy and took 662 prisoners & two field pieces, That your Memorialist & warriors were soon afterwards in a field action of the 4 mile Creek where Captn DeLaramee was taken prisoner afterwards in a severe action at Secords Picquett afterwards at the action of the Beaver damn That after upwards of four months hard service in mounting gaurds Scouting & engaged in a number of hard fought Battles, your Memorialist was ordered to march his surviving warriors to Montreal and to give in a regular Report of their services, killed & wounded ie. which consisted of 22 dead and 5 badly wounded not mortal, that 3 of their dead were Chiefs and 3 others whose names are undersigned to this Memorial were appointed in their stead being the next akin and entitled thereto, and were confirmed by Sir John Johnson and invested with Medals as Legal & rightful Chiefs
There are actually four names below Leclair’s signature. These names appear in a list of 12 Akwesasne warriors who fought the Americans at Niagara in the War of 1812 that I found in the community. They are Sose Rowennaniron, or Joseph Strong Words or Strong Voice; Atonwa Teaiaiage; Thomas He Crosses the Water; Aregsis Saionowahe, or Alexander Large Footprints; and Watias Teasennontie, or Matthew His Name Stands or Respected Man.
We know some of their names, but what kind of men were they? How did they conduct themselves in war? Robert Sellar paints us the picture:
The Indians, of whom such apprehensions were entertained, soon appeared, the first band being one of about a hundred braves, commanded by a French-Canadian, Capt. Versailles. Their appearance was terrifying enough, for beyond a girdle they were naked, their bodies and faces streaked with the war paint, and feathers stuck in their hair. Among them was a Flathead Indian, who had strayed from the Pacific coast, and whose English consisted of “Good George,” “Much war.” They were very civil to the settlers, much more courteous, indeed, than the regular soldiers proved to be, and would touch not even an apple tree without permission. One good woman who regarded a band of them, who came to her house one evening, with terror, had all her apprehensions set at rest when, on looking into the shed where they were to pass the night, she witnessed several on their knees in prayer. They were divided into bands of 40, and were constantly on the move along the frontier from Lake Champlain to St Regis, doing service as scouts and patrols which was simply invaluable, for while they watched the enemy like the hawk, they were as stealthy in their movements and as difficult to catch as the snake. Though the Americans repeatedly endeavored to surprise these Indians bands, and though they were constantly hovering around their lines, it is a curious fact, illustrative of their consummate craft, that not a single Indian was captured during the war….When they became acquainted with them, the settlers rather liked to have a visit from an Indian patrol, as it gave them a sense of security. These children of the forest carried their food in small haversacks, and, except when the weather was cold or wet, rarely went near a house save to buy provisions.
The pro-British warriors of Akwesasne, Kahnawake, Kanehsatake, Tyendinaga, and the Six Nations reserve are credited by modern historians for the decisive role they played in blocking the American invasion of Canada. At the time, these warriors were more concerned about their immediate circumstances than how they would go down in history.
In 1822, eight Akwesasne chiefs petitioned the Governor General of Canada and gave this account of what happened to them as a result of taking up arms on behalf of the King:
That Animosity which manifested itself on the part of the American and nominally neutral Indians towards your Petitioners … became so great and created so many disturbances that your Petitioners (being much the weaker party) found it necessary in order to secure their own safety and their Families to remove from their Dwellings in the Village of St. Regis and to erect Huts on different Islands in the vicinity of Cornwall, to shelter their families from the inclemency of the weather.
That being constantly employed in His Majesty’s service at the different Posts of Coteau du Lac, Cornwall, Prescott, and Kingston, your Petitioners found it utterly impossible to attend to the comforts of their Families and they were left in wretched Hovels hastily constructed and depending solely on a very precarious and uncertain supply of Provision occasionally drawn from the Garrison of Cornwall for their sustenance during the greater part of the winter of 1812 and the beginning of 1813….
That while on the Niagara frontier your Petitioners were frequently engaged with the enemy many of their warriors were killed and some severely wounded and all as your Petitioners believe served to the entire satisfaction of their Commanding Officers.
That while your Petitioners and their families were thus exposed to many dangers and hardships innumerable in consequence of their attachment to their Sovereign those who remained as Americans or Neutral Indians in the Village of St. Regis were living in peace and comfort and availed themselves of the absence of your Petitioners and Families to take Possession of Such Buildings and Plantations as best suited them. Some of the former were wholly destroyed and of the latter many still remain in possession of those who obtained them.
The animosities continued well after the end of the war, forcing the loyalists to erect temporary dwellings on the islands that were probably only slightly better than the huts they were forced to live in before. They eventually returned to the village, but continued to suffer harrassment by the neutral and pro-American factions.