Monday, 15 September 2008

My Town Monday - James FitzGibbon - Hero of War of 1812 (Canada) - Part 3

In 1807, Lieut.-Colonel John McDonell, late of the Royal Canadian Volunteers, suggested raising a corps among the Scotch settlers of Glengarry, Upper Canada, but it was not accepted by the Horse Guards or any steps taken to carry it out until it was revived by Colonel Gore in 1811.

In a letter of this latter date from Colonel Baynes to Major-General Brock, a Captain George McDonell is spoken of as being appointed to attempt the formation of a corps from among the settlers of Glengarry. In a postscript endorsed "private," Sir George Prevost's intention of drilling up the new corps with as many officers of the line as he could, and with permanent rank, was announced.*

[1] In September 1807,the colonel, now Brigadier Brock [photo], was given the command at Quebec, from whence writing to his brothers, he regrets being separated from the 49th: "Were the 49th ordered hence, the rank would not be a sufficient inducement to keep me in this country. In such a case I would throw it up willingly."*

Brock was succeeded in the command at Montreal by Major-General Drummond.

Owing to the unfortunate destruction of the books of the 49th, at the evacuation of Fort George, in May, 1813, it was very difficult for Mary FitzGibbon to ascertain where the various companies were stationed, and, to the ever to be regretted destruction of a quantity of private letters and papers formerly belonging to FitzGibbon, by an ignorant autograph collector, to be deprived of valuable and interesting information of this period.

[3] Several companies of the 49th, under Major Plenderleath, were stationed at Three Rivers, on the St. Lawrence above Quebec, from 1809 to 1811. According to Mary FitzGibbon, James FitzGibbon was probably with the Three Rivers detachment, as from incidents in his later life it appears that this officer must have been closely connected with him in the regiment.

Major Plenderleath certainly valued FitzGibbon's friendship highly, and showed his affection for him and his in a substantial manner. Among the papers in Mary FitzGibbon's research, she found a deed of gift for 100 acres of land given to FitzGibbon's only daughter by his old brother officer and friend.

FitzGibbon wrote to Colonel Brock in July, 1812, with reference to a company being given to him in the new regiment, and received the following autograph reply:

“York, July 29th.

“Dear Sir, — I lament that you should so long have been impressed with the idea that I possessed the means of being serviceable to you. I had scarcely heard of Mr. Johnson's having declined a company in the Glengarry (which would have given me the nomination), but I received an account of his being reinstated. I consequently thought no more of the business, thinking that officer was enjoying the fruits of his good fortune. I know not positively whether Mr. Johnson is reinstated, but being under obligations to promote his views, I cannot possibly interfere to his prejudice. I rather wonder you did not know that Lieut. Lamont had long ago my promise of nominating him to the company, provided it became vacant, which, of course, would have precluded my application in your behalf. Although you must be sensible of the impossibility of my taking any steps to forward your views in the present case, yet, be assured, I shall always feel happy in any opportunity that may offer to do you service.

“To a person unaccustomed to my writing I scarcely would hazard sending this scrawl.

“I am, dear sir,
“Yours faithfully,
“Isaac Brock.”

“I should like to be among the 49th at this moment. I am satisfied they will support and even add to their former fame. They have my very best wishes. The 41st are behaving nobly at Amberstburg."

In the facsimile of this letter from General Brock it will be noticed that the year is omitted in the date, but from the context and from reference to other correspondence now in the Canadian Archives at Ottawa, relative to Lieut. Johnson (a gentleman who apparently could not decide in which regiment he preferred to hold a commission, the Glengarry or the Canadian Fencibles), there is no doubt that the letter was written in 1812.

Owing to the fact that there are very few letters from Brock extant, and those in the keeping of the Archives, the original of this one is a valuable relic. Written on both sides of a single sheet, the paper yellow from age, and many of the characters indistinct, it was difficult for Mary FitzGibbons to reproduce it faithfully.

The following letter bears an earlier date than General Brock's, and needs no explanation:

“Montreal, May 16th, 1812.

“Sir, — I beg you will be pleased to obtain for me His Majesty's permission to resign my commission of adjutant only, in the 49th regiment.

“It is incumbent upon me to state my reasons for wishing to resign the adjutancy, I therefore detail them. Before I entered the army the circumstances of my parents prevented my obtaining such an education as to qualify me to discharge the duties of an officer in His Majesty's service. Whatever knowledge I possess, I have acquired since I entered it. I trust that I have so far succeeded as to have rendered myself, at least as a regimental officer, respectable. At this point I do not wish to stop; to personal exertions I look principally for further success in the army, and by qualifying myself to hold the higher and more important stations, I shall have the best prospect of arriving at them, and of becoming most useful to my king and country, in whose service I have been already so liberally rewarded.

“The duties attached to my present station employ me so as to leave no spare time. I am anxious to study and become proficient in the languages, mathematics, military drawing, etc., so as to qualify myself to discharge, with honor to myself, the duties of any situation to which I may hereafter have the good fortune to be called.

“I have the honor to be, sir,

“Your most obedient, humble servant,
“(Signed) James FitzGibbon,
“Lieut, and Adjt. Fifth Regiment.

“To Colonel Vincent,
“Commanding 49th Regiment.
“A true copy.
“Noah Freer,
“Military Secretary.”

This letter was forwarded to the Commander of the Forces in Canada, with a letter from Colonel Vincent soliciting approbation of its petition, and requesting permission to recommend Sergeant-Major Stean for the adjutancy if FitzGibbon's resignation was accepted.

Mary FitzGibbon found no further record or entry of any reply to either letter.

In July, 1812, immediately after the declaration of war by the United States against Great Britain and her colonies, FitzGibbon again addressed his colonel and applied for leave to resign the adjutancy, in order that he may be given the command of one of the companies of the 49th, whose captain was absent on leave. This request was granted at once. A week later FitzGibbon was placed in the desired command by Sir George Prevost and sent with his company to escort the first brigade of bateaux from Montreal to Kingston.

In those days of steamboats and canals, when heavily laden barges were towed up the great water highway of the St. Lawrence, passed the rapids by the canals, the difficulties of conveying the clumsily built, heavy bateaux and their freight up the south bank of the river, avoiding the rapids on the one hand and the enemy on the other, can scarcely be realized. From St. Regis upwards they were obliged to keep close to the shore, and were exposed to an enemy's attack at any moment.

Why they hugged the south shore instead of following the northern bank of the river does not appear. FitzGibbon said distinctly that for more than a hundred miles the American shore was close on their left. Possibly the north channel was not so well known to the boatmen as the south, or it might be that FitzGibbon, adhering to the very original idea formed on the sand-hills of Holland, that the safest place was close to the enemy, took that route in preference to the other. If so, the result proved its value.

FitzGibbon's enthusiasm, his readiness of resource, his willingness to take his share of work with his men, while at the same time preserving his authority over them, was long remembered.

A white-haired old man (the late M. Le Lievre, of Three Rivers), when he spoke of this expedition to Mary FitzGibbon in 1873, recalled the particulars with vivid interest: "I can remember that journey well, although I was only a very young lad at the time. FitzGibbon was a fine man, and a splendid soldier. The men adored him, although he was strict. His word was law, and they had such faith in him that I believe if he had told any one of them to jump into the river, he would have been obeyed. He always knew what he was about, and his men knew it, and had full confidence in him."

In September, 1812, the Americans learned that a number of bateaux were coming up the river, laden with supplies, the party being under the command of Adjutant FitzGibbon. A gunboat and also a Durham boat were fitted out at Ogdensburg, and despatched to intercept and capture the British expedition and stores.

Leaving Ogdensburg late at night, the enemy landed on Toussaint Island, near where the bateaux lay. The only family on the island was seized, with the exception of a man, who, being a staunch defender of the British flag, made his escape, and by swimming reached the Canadian shore. The alarm given, the militia rallied, and when the Yankees made the attack they met with such a hot reception that they abandoned the Durham boat, which drifted down the river and fell into the hands of the Canadians. About sunrise the gunboat came to anchor, and was immediately fired upon. At the second discharge five of the eighteen on board were wounded, but before a third volley could be delivered, the remainder brought a cannon to bear on the Canadian boats, which were compelled to move out of range, being provided only with small arms. The Americans then beat a hasty retreat for Ogdensburg. ("History of Leeds and Grenville," p. 34.)

The bateaux reached Kingston without further incident.

Owing to the loss of the papers of James FitzGibbon as aforementioned, it is impossible to ascertain with accuracy where FitzGibbon was stationed during the next four months. Whether with that portion of the regiment stationed at York, or at Fort Erie, or with the four companies left at Kingston, or whether he was with Brock at Queenston Heights, Mary FitzGibbon had no documentary evidence.


Research: Wikipedia, Life and Times of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, K.B. by D.B. Read, Q.C., A Veteran of 1812: The Life of James Fitzgibbon by Mary Agnes Fitzgibbon (1894); *The Life and Correspondence of Sir Isaac Brock, K.B. by his nephew, Ferdinand Tupper Brock (1845)

Photo Credits: [1][2][3]-Wikipedia.

My Town Monday is the brainchild of Travis Erwin, whose link is on the sidebar, where you can find other posts from around the world.


debra said...

I love reading the letters you've posted, Barbara. They really do give insight into the folks who write them.

RuneE said...

You do have the most compelling posts. It is nice for us Europeans to get to know about a war that is very seldom mentioned over here, and that aspect never.

Thank you for the nice comment!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am ashamed about how little I know of Canadian history, living 15 minutes away.

laughingwolf said...

more info not in any text i've seen, thx barbara...

Travis Erwin said...

I love the language in those letters. Dialect sure has changed since then.

Charles Gramlich said...

Hum, do I detect other things between the lines? Certainly interesting to see the polite way things were expressed.

Barbara Martin said...

Debra, letters were the only form of long distance communication at the time. The correspondence between FitzGibbon and Brock is more personal than other letters previously posted, due to their working relationship prior to coming to Canada.

RunE, thank you for your kind comment. I am attempting to provide a look at history not normally provided to the public.

Barbara Martin said...

Debra, letters were the only form of long distance communication at the time. The correspondence between FitzGibbon and Brock is more personal than other letters previously posted, due to their working relationship prior to coming to Canada.

RunE, thank you for your kind comment. I am attempting to provide a look at history not normally provided to the public.

Barbara Martin said...

Patti, not to worry, you can read about it here.

Tony, my research seems to be working.

Travis, some of the language still exists. While working in England some years back, the lawyers had a tendency to be very formal in their correspondence, often ending it with, "Yours faithfully", and not with "Yours truly" (commonly used here). Their writing style was not much different than that here except for the use of modern vocabulary. Also, the stuffiness in the letters still remain in certain areas. Of course, the class system references are well defined in the correspondence posted.

Barbara Martin said...

Charles, Isaac Brock is chastising James FitzGibbon for his impertinence in assuming any favourtism shown previously would not be granted this time.

As stated in an earlier post, James FitzGibbon, was known for a time as Brock's favourite sergeant-major. who went wherever Brock did during military activities. FitzGibbon may have assumed Brock would assist, and must certainly have received a shock when reading the response.

Terrie Farley Moran said...


Every week you dazzle me.


Shelley Munro said...

My husband and I really enjoyed our time in Canada and hope to visit more in the future. I'll be taking notes. ;-)

Linda McLaughlin said...

Yes, the letters are very interesting. I wonder if people spoke as formally as they wrote. I imagine not, at least among intimates. Of course these are middle-to-upper class folks, not peasants. For someone who claimed not to have enough education, Fitzgibbon didn't have any trouble expressing himself on paper. He was obviously an intelligent man. Thanks for the interesting glimpse of history.


Reb said...

As always Barbara, a very enlightening post. The letters are an interesting read.

Sekhar said...

Wow. Nice piece of history Barbara.
And thanks for visiting my blog :)

laughingwolf said...


i mentioned to miladysa [milady on my page] you do historical 'digging', could you do some for her in manitoba?

Barbara Martin said...

Terrie, my pleasure to do so.

Shelley, then I'll try to find some exotic locations for you.

Linda, James FitzGibbon came from humble beginnings. His life history is a testament of someone bettering themself through hard work and being at the right place at the right time. Once he became an officer he was intoduced into becoming a freemason.

Reb, correspondence from the past reveal so much about the author.

Sekhar, welcome, enjoy your stay.

Barbara Martin said...

Tony, I have planned a future post on Louis Riel.

laughingwolf said...

sounds good, barbara... she says there's a reserve in manitoba with her family name, and wonders if it's really her family.....

Barbara Martin said...

Tony, there is some speculation in certain circles that the aboriginals living in Canada and the United States came from Japan. The Objiway have certain words in their language that are very similar to Japanese.

laughingwolf said...

i believe some did, barbara

and then there are the kootenay folk, again different from most others....

BernardL said...

Very well put together chronicle.