In 1814 we took a little trip – Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans
We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico
The Americans won the Battle of New Orleans, but not the war. The War of 1812 was ended by the Treaty of Ghent, signed December 24th 1814, and Canada was still Canada, not part of the US. The Americans did get this wonderful song written by Jimmy Driftwood, an Arkansas school teacher, and made a hit by Johnny Horton in 1959. They also got their national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, written for the flag atop Fort McHenry that survived the British attack on Baltimore. The 1814 Battle of Baltimore followed upon the burning of Washington DC, including the White House, by the British.
The Americans wanted to take over Canada and get Britain totally out of North America. They thought it would be easy, with the British already involved in the Napoleonic Wars. It didn’t quite work out. But the British weren’t going to easily let go of more North American territory. The UEL settlers of Upper Canada had made their political position clear when they left the United States after the War of Independence and they weren’t inclined to come under US rule again. First Nations on both sides of the border, for the most part, fought with the British because they had promised a neutral Indian land in the mid-west. One of them was John Smoke Johnson, a Mohawk chief from Six Nations near Brantford, maybe related through marriage to my family. He’s on the left in this 1882 photo of the last Mohawk veterans of the War of 1812.
In the end, not much changed after 1814. Geopolitical lines were restored to pre-war status in the Treaty of Ghent. But Canada got a new sense of nationhood from fighting a war for our land. The US didn’t lose or cede any land to the British, so claimed it as a victory. The First Nations did not get their promised land, which stayed in the hands of the US, and were not given an independent homeland elsewhere in Canada. Some moved north to Canada, hoping for better conditions with their military allies. By fighting with the British, they had burned their bridges with the American administration, and it came down even harder on them. But the British and Canadian governments didn’t keep their territorial promises. Having defeated US encroachment, Canada believed there was no longer need of First Nations as military allies. They became irrelevant to Canadian plans and were treated either as “wards” to be cared for or obstacles to development.
Tecumseh, the Shawnee war leader and politician, had been the main force behind the plan for an independent homeland. He was killed October 5th 1813 at the Battle of the Thames, near Chatham, Ontario.
West of London there is what’s now a beautiful wooded park. It was the site of the Battle of Longwoods, where, this weekend May 5th and 6th, there will be a reenactment of that battle. I hope Tecumseh’s spirit watches over it and all the reenactments this centenary year – remembering what might have been, what should have been.