In 1919, the Prince of Wales toured Canada and accepted an invitation to visit President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. Wilson was bedridden with illness at the time, so a “bemedalled staff of admirals and generals” was dispatched to greet the Prince when he first stepped onto American soil at Rouses Point.
On November 10, Edward, Prince of Wales, arrived at the train station. Awaiting him were Secretary of State Lansing, Major General John Biddle of the US Army, Rear Admiral Albert T. Niblick of the US Navy, and Major General Charleston of the British army. Read more →
Few villages in New York State can lay claim to as rich a heritage as Rouses Point, and like the oft-used real-estate axiom says, there are three primary reasons—location, location, location.
As New York’s northeasternmost village, Rouses Point can be found at the north end of Lake Champlain. Bordering on Canada to the north and Vermont to the east, for decades it was a shipping and transportation crossroads, serving both water and rail traffic. Read more →
The bicentennial of the Battle of Ogdensburg will be commemorated with re-enactments and special events this weekend Feb 22-24 (Friday through Sunday) at locations in Ogdensburg and Prescott, Ontario.
“Friday evening the Ontario shore will shower us with a barrage of fireworks and Saturday afternoon the invading Anglo-Canadian army will battle the American troops from the waterfront to past Ogdensburg City Hall,” said Tim Cryderman, President of Forsyth’s Rifles. “The invaders will be inspired by the skirl of the pipes and drums of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highland Regiment from Cornwall, Ontario. After the battle, they’ll give a free public concert in the Ogdensburg Public Library.” Read more →
Bob Wells speaks on “The War That Should Not Have Been” as part of the War of 1812 Lecture Series on Monday, September 17, 7 p.m. at the St. Lawrence County Historical Association at the Silas Wright House, 3 East Main St., Canton.
The United States of America, a young nation with a scattered peacetime army of only 12,000 regulars and a comparatively small navy did not let these facts stand in the way of going to war with England in June of 1812. But did the War of 1812 have to happen?
In his program “The War That Should Not Have Been,” Bob Wells will discuss reasons why the war was not inevitable or even particularly popular in New England and Northern New York, including St. Lawrence County. U.S. Justifications for the war, such as the annexation of Canada, the need to quell the hostile Native American tribes supposedly armed by the British, and the need to end the English naval practice of impressments of U.S. sailors could have all been handled differently. Another reason cited for war with England was the U.S. desire to be free to trade with France without the English blockading harbors or seizing merchant ships coming from French ports. This issue was actually settled in favor of the United States just prior to the beginning of the war.
The program will be presented by Bob Wells, who serves on the SLCHA’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee and Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. He is an active member of the association’s Civil War Roundtable. Wells is a former Mayor of the Village of Canton and was a professor for over 34 years at St. Lawrence University. He retired from full-time teaching in 1999 as the emeritus Munsil Professor of Government.
This War of 1812 program is part of the St. Lawrence County Historical Association’s Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, which was fought from 1812-1815. St. Lawrence County was one of the battlefields of the War of 1812.
The SLCHA Gift Shop is a great way to learn about the War of 1812. Books include Major Battles of the War of 1812 and Famous People of the War of 1812. SLCHA members receive a 10% discount on these books and most other items in the gift shop.
The St. Lawrence County Historical Association at the Silas Wright House is open Tuesday through Saturday noon to 4 p.m., Friday noon to 8 p.m. Admission to the museum is free- admission to the archives is free for members and children, $2.50 for college students, and $5 for the general public. The St. Lawrence County Historical Association is located at 3 E. Main St., Canton. Parking is available in back of the SLCHA, next to the museum’s main entrance.
The St. Lawrence County Historical Association is a membership organization open to anyone interested in St. Lawrence County history. For more information, or to become a member, call the SLCHA at 315-386-8133 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Exhibits and programs are made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. Visit the SLCHA’s website, www.slcha.org, for more information on St. Lawrence County history
Illustration: Columbia Teaching John Bull his New Lesson from the Library of Congress by William Charles, 1813, a caricature presenting a U.S. view of the War of 1812. On the left, Columbia (the personification of the United States, holding a pole with a liberty cap on it, and with a stars-and-stripes shield behind her) says: ‘I tell you Johnny, you must learn to read Respect —- Free Trade —- Seaman’s Rights &c. —- As for you, Mounseer Beau Napperty, when John gets his lesson by heart, I’ll teach you Respect, Retribution, &c &c.’ In the middle, a short-statured Napoleon says: ‘Ha Ha —- Begar, me be glad to see Madam Columbia angry with dat dere John Bull —- But me no learn respect —- me no learn retribution —- Me be de grand Emperor.’ On the right, John Bull says: ‘I don’t like that lesson, I’ll read this pretty lesson’ (holding a book with ‘Power constitutes Right’, i.e. ‘might makes right’).”
The Jay Heritage Center will offer its third program commemorating the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 this year on Thursday, September 6th with a new talk and book signing by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alan Taylor previewing his latest book project about the Slave War of 1812.
During the War of 1812, more than 3,000 slaves escaped from Virginia and Maryland by stealing boats to reach British warships in Chesapeake Bay, where they were taken on board and employed.
Alan Taylor, professor of history at the University of California, Davis, and the Robert C. Ritchie Distinguished Fellow, will discuss how their help proved essential to the British coastal raids, particularly the capture of Washington, D.C. Taylor’s previous books include William Cooper’s Town (Knopf, 1996), which won the Bancroft and Pulitzer prizes for American history. The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies (Knopf, 2010), was called “the most illuminating and original history of the conflict ever written.” Pulitzer-winning historian Gordon Wood, writing in The New York Review of Books, called it “remarkable and deeply researched,” adding, “Taylor masterfully captures the strangeness of this war.” Copies of Taylor’s books will be available for purchase and signing. Refreshments will be served.
The event, which is part of Jay Heritage Center’s 2012 Annual Meeting will be held on Thursday, September 6, 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM, at at the 1907 Van Norden Carriage House, Jay Heritage Center, 210 Boston Post Road, in Rye, Westchester County, NY.
The Annual Meeting will also include the President’s Report, the re-election of Trustees for the Class of 2015 (Emma Hanratty, Michael A. Kovner, and Thomas R. Mercein) and the Election of Trustees of the Class of 2015 (Samuel W. Croll III, Lauren Lambert, and Cathy Rosenstock).
Those who are unable to attend can sign and mail a proxy, or submit a proxy by e-mail. Contact email@example.com for more information.
On September 1, 1814, with an invading force of 11 – 15,000 British troops massing just south of the Canadian frontier at tiny Champlain, New York, the residents of Plattsburgh, just 21 miles away, begin to flee for their lives. Many of the 3000 residents seek safety to the south, some removing themselves as far away as Albany, leaving much of the town deserted. The owner of this house, Plattsburgh businessman Henri Delord, sought refuge at the Quaker Union in Peru after sending his wife Betsey and baby daughter south toward the State Capital. Before leaving the house, however, legend has it that Betsey buried the family’s silver tea service out in the garden.
Today’s Battle of Plattsburgh – “Countdown to Invasion” fact is brought to you by the Greater Adirondack Ghost & Tour Company. If you enjoyed this fascinating snippet of North Country history, find them on: Facebook
Visitors can explore the Continental Army’s first major initiative during the Revolutionary War at Fort Ticonderoga’s upcoming living history weekend “Onward to Canada: Reinforcements Head North to Join the Attack on St. John.” The September 1-2 event will recreate how the American army prepared to invade Canada in the fall of 1775.
Special programming offered throughout the weekend will recreate a unique and busy moment in Fort Ticonderoga’s history when the “Old French Fort” served as hub of activity for the fledging American Army and a launching point for an invasion into Canada. Programs will highlight close-order marching- the issuing of muskets, supplies, and clothing to the troops- special tours, weapons demonstrations- and regimental training exercises. The objective of the invasion of Canada was to gain military control of the British province of Quebec, and convince the French-speaking Canadians to join the Revolution on the side of the thirteen American colonies. In the fall of 1775 two invasion forces were launched with the goal of meeting in Quebec. One expedition under the command of Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery set out from Fort Ticonderoga, besieged and captured Fort St. John, and very nearly captured British General Guy Carleton when taking Montreal. The other expedition left Cambridge, Massachusetts, under Colonel Benedict Arnold, and traveled with great difficulty through the wilderness of Maine to Quebec City. The two forces joined there, but were defeated at the Battle of Quebec in December 1775.
“Visitors can watch as Colonel Seth Warner’s Green Mountain Boys are transformed from recruits into a regiment to join Brigadier-General Richard Montgomery’s invasion of Canada. Learn about the practical concerns of getting soldiers and supplies to the front lines during a military campaign in a land of expansive lakes and dense woods. See bateaux in action as they move men and materiel to and from Fort Ticonderoga as we celebrate 1775 and Vermont’s military history,” said Stuart Lilie, Fort Ticonderoga’s Director of Interpretation. “The event will explore how new soldiers learned to move, think, and fight together as a team as they evolved into disciplined soldiers committed to defending the fledgling cause of liberty.”
Admission to “Onward to Canada” is included with Fort Ticonderoga’s general admission ticket. Fort Ticonderoga is open from 9:30 am until 5 pm daily. A complete event schedule is available online.
Suspicious circumstances had developed surrounding the disappearance of respected New York City businessman John C. Austin in July 1891. Two insurance companies who held life policies on Austin were deeply interested in his possible whereabouts. Neither had bought the story that Austin had drowned near Coney Island, leaving three small children fatherless. They believed a boat had picked him up and that Austin was now living and hiding out in the Adirondacks.Colonel Edward C. James, a nationally renowned, colorful attorney represented the insurance companies. His opening statement was a classic. After building to a crescendo, James presented his climactic claim: “Gentlemen of the jury, I will show you John C. Austin as he is today, alive and well.” With that, he unwrapped a heretofore mysterious package, revealing a nearly seven-foot-tall cut-out likeness of Austin, taken from a hunting photograph.
The courtroom was stunned, and for the entire trial, the jury and a packed house of spectators were constantly confronted with a powerfully connected message. Facing them from a corner was the huge likeness of the missing man in hunting regalia, while in the courtroom sat a grand selection of Adirondack woodsmen dressed similarly to Austin, awaiting their turn to testify.The plaintiffs appeared to have a tough case to prove, but their attorneys approached the trial from an angle that would elicit much sympathy. Pointing to Austin’s three young children, strategically placed in front of the jury box, they presented their opening line: “The only question you are called upon to decide is whether the father of these three little children was drowned on July 4, 1891.” The intent was obvious, but no less effective.Colonel James enjoyed some remarkable moments, shocking the court with the revelation that Austin, widely believed to be very well off financially, was in fact virtually bankrupt. He owed over $2500 (about $62,000 today) on various bills. Since his disappearance, Austin’s home had been sold for substantially less than its mortgage value. Days before vanishing, he had withdrawn $150 from the business (equal to $3,700 today). And on July 3, he had cashed a $400 check (equal to $10,000), even though his account to cover it held only a $2 balance.The $400 check (he vanished on July 4- it was written on July 3 but postdated for July 7) had been cashed by his brother-in-law (Carruthers), who was stiffed for the full amount. Colonel James pointed out that Austin, a supposed pillar of society, apparently wasn’t so averse to fraud after all, having knowingly committed it against his own relative. It was powerful stuff.The keystone of James’ case in support of those suspicious elements was what the media described as the “mountain flavor” of the courtroom. The effect was enhanced by the fact that many of New York’s “well-to-do,” including a number of top attorneys, frequented the Adirondacks as a favored getaway. Their interest in the Austin case was further piqued by the opportunity to see and listen to “their” guides speaking in court. Thus, the serious legal battle contained a sideshow element.When the time came for the Adirondack guides to testify, the defense suffered a serious setback. James Ramsay of Lowville said he had known Austin for many years, and had delivered him to Crystal Lake in Lewis County just a month after Austin’s disappearance from Manhattan Beach.However, Ramsay recounted conversations they shared regarding Austin’s recently deceased wife and the status of his children. During intense cross-examination, the details he had provided were shredded due to inconsistencies. The plaintiffs’ attorney suggested that Ramsay’s statements bordered on perjury, delivering a strong blow to the defense case.Other guides, however, acquitted themselves quite well before a thoroughly pleased audience, some of whom recognized the mountain men by sight. Certain testimony, like that of Charles Bartlett, helped undo the damage from a day earlier. Much was made in the media of the visitors from the mountains and their service in court (their rough appearance was also noted). Colonel James, himself a North Country native (from Ogdensburg), was appreciative of their efforts.Bartlett was followed by a parade of fellow guides who insisted they knew Austin and had spent time with him. He was said to have stayed for a while at Eagle’s Nest on Blue Mountain Lake. Some described his behavior at the Algonquin Hotel on Lower Saranac Lake, where he displayed outstanding skill on the billiard table. Austin was, in fact, known in New York City as an excellent pool player—one witness had played against him a day or so before he vanished.Among those who took the stand were Eugene Allen, Edwin Hayes, Robert King, Walter Martin, and Ransom Manning, all described as guides in the Saranac Lake area. Others included Hiram Benham, James Butler, Thomas Haley, Charles Hall, and James Quirk, offering convincing proof that Austin had perpetrated a fraud and was moving about in the mountains, avoiding detection.The men described encounters with Austin at several well-known establishments: the Ampersand Hotel, Hatch’s, the Prospect House, Miller’s Hotel, and Bart Moody’s. Many of the sightings were by multiple witnesses. One of the biggest problems for the company case was the outright honesty of the guides, who frequently used “I don’t remember” when asked about details from the events of the past few years. They were being truthful, but hearing that statement repeatedly from witnesses helped suggest the likelihood of faulty memories.When testimony ended, Colonel James offered a fine summation, supporting the statements from many people who had seen Austin since his supposed drowning. Trull, the lead attorney for the Austin family, enamored himself with the crowd, making light of the guides’ claims chiefly by attacking Ramsay, who had made conflicting statements. By targeting the guide with the weakest testimony, Trull hoped to dismiss them as a group. He smiled at the weak memories of some, and dismissed as untruthful those who recalled the past with remarkable clarity.He also ridiculed the idea that a man in hiding could wear “ … leggins’, slouch hat, corduroy trousers, duck coat … what a likely yarn! Dressed in this conspicuous manner … and he wanted to hide!” Trull’s voice fairly dripped with smiling sarcasm.The analogy was actually warped (though he would certainly stand out in New York City, no man who dressed like that in the mountains would be conspicuous), but the erroneous concept was lost on the jurors—city men who routinely dressed in suits.In the end, the jury was out only 23 minutes, returning to declare Austin dead. There were several moments of complete silence following the announcement, as if everyone were stunned.Then, punctuating the victory, Trull revealed the major role that sympathy had played in the case. Turning to the jurors, he said, “Gentlemen of the jury, on behalf of my clients, the three little orphan boys left alone and helpless by John C. Austin, I thank you.”Excused by the judge, the jury filed out, stopping only to offer Trull an unusual comment that was in keeping with the prevailing air of sympathy: “We want to contribute our fees as jurymen to the unemployed poor, and want you to arrange the matter with the clerk for us.” The companies later dropped a plan to appeal, instead deciding to cut their losses and pay the settlement. Thus ended the court case over the insurance claims. But as far as the companies were concerned, that’s all that was settled. They remained convinced that Austin had successfully duped everyone and was alive, well, and soon to be much better off financially.When the Austin family received the death benefit checks, they were at the same time relieved and angry—relieved to collect the amount in full, but angry with the section of the check that said, “Pay to the executors of the estate of John C. Austin, deceased.” The insurance company had drawn a line through the word “deceased,” emphasizing their belief that he was still alive.Though Austin had been pronounced dead, his story wasn’t. Reports came in of more sightings, and two agencies asked for a bounty in exchange for bringing him to New York. Barely a month after the trial ended, headlines reported that Austin was under surveillance by a detective in Toronto. Subsequent articles addressed the issues of his status. Having been pronounced dead, was he now safe? Could a country extradite someone who had been declared dead? Could the other country accept extradition of a deceased person?The questions were put to Colonel James, who commented on the jury’s decision: “They did not seem to appreciate the evidence that was presented, and with one fell swoop, they killed Austin and rendered his children orphans. It was sheer murder, but they thought they were right. You may have thought I was jesting when I said that the jury killed Austin. It is not that. “Actually, Austin is not dead, as this revelation proves. There is no reason to doubt the truth of the report. He is judicially dead in this country. As long as he stays in Canada, he is alive, all right. As soon as he crosses the border into this country, he drops dead—theoretically.”That’s the last anyone heard of John C. Austin.Photos: Top?Manhattan Beach Bath House on right. Bottom: Headline from the Austin case. The story of John Austin is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack & North Country Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.
Several recent posts here at New York History remind us of the incredible richness and diversity of New York’s history and the outstanding programs and organizations that are responsible for it. But others demonstrate the need for more resources, visibility and coordination. Read more →
The Annual Meeting of the Sackets Harbor Battlefield Alliance, Sackets Harbor Historical Society, and the Sackets Harbor Area Cultural Preservation Foundation will feature a talk by John R. Grodzinski entitled “A Tale of Two Dockyards: The Naval Bases at Sackets Harbor and Kingston in the War of 1812.”
The War of 1812 witnessed the unprecedented employment of naval power on Lake Ontario. From their humble pre-war beginnings, the dockyards at Sackets Harbor and Kingston grew in scale and by the end of the conflict, were producing ships of a scale intended more for the open ocean than inland seas. This presentation will examine the naval commitment made by Great Britain and the United States on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812 and the legacy of those efforts.
This free event will be held on Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site’s Barn on Hill Street, off Washington Street in Sackets Harbor. The annual meeting begins at 6 pm- the program at 7 pm. Light refreshments will be served.
John R. Grodzinski teaches military history at the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, Ontario. He is author of Sir George Prevost: Defender of Canada in the War of 1812 (forthcoming, University of Oklahoma Press) and several articles examining various topics related to the War of 1812. Grodzinski is also the editor of the on-line War of 1812 Magazine and conducts staff rides and battlefield tours that consider the Seven Years’ War, the American War of Independence, the War of 1812 and the development of fortifications in Canada from 1608 to 1871.
Illustration: The Kingston (now Ontario) naval yard at Point Fredrick in 1815 by E. E. Vidal (watercolor) now hanging in the Massey Library at the Royal Military College of Canada.