Kuron (1812): O Canada, you stood on guard for theeWritten by Frank Kuron | | firstname.lastname@example.org
We Americans often tease our northern neighbors for their relative passivity, but how many of you knew that they fought alongside the British and Native Americans in the War of 1812, eh? One such distinguished Canadian was John Richardson, a “gentleman volunteer.” His adventures throughout our Northwest Territory are both amusing and insightful.
Although he became Canada’s earliest esteemed man of literature, Richardson despised structured schooling in his hometown of Amherstburg. He often dreamt of running away to escape its rigors, and, but for the fear of a stern father’s retribution, he would have followed through on his fantasy. He noted, “It was therefore, a day of rejoicing to me when the commencement of hostilities on the part of the United States proved the signal of the ‘break up’ of the school.” Thus his transition from student to soldier began at age 15.
One of his first and fondest thrills occurred in August 1812, when he was selected to raise the British colors over Fort Detroit after helping to defeat U.S. Gen. Hull’s forces. This privilege, at such a young age, ignited his patriotism. Richardson’s military career would span the next 25 years and through it he would weave his extensive writing profession as well.
In January 1813, he found himself along the Raisin River in Monroe, Mich. The night before that battle, someone took advantage of young Richardson by switching the working firelock on his musket with a faulty one. He relates that in the midst of combat, “It flashed in the pan, I tried it again, and again it flashed. I never was so vexed – to think that I was exposed to the torrent of fire from the enemy without having the power to return a single shot, quite disconcerted the economy of my pericranium.” I told you he was an academic.
Soon Richardson was among those storming U.S. Col. Dudley’s men across from Perrysburg’s Fort Meigs. Twenty-seven years later he revisited the site for William Harrison’s presidential rally. Among 40,000 revelers, Richardson was the lone Canadian representative and was flattered to be received by Harrison “in that spirit of true and generous courtesy which is ever characteristic of the soldier.”
Back in the War of 1812, Richardson’s next stop was Fort Stephenson in Fremont, Ohio. As that moonlit attack wound down, he found himself isolated after lying for hours in a muddy ravine near the fort. Surmising that the rest of his troops had withdrawn, he did likewise. “I stumbled over the dead body of a soldier … the noise occasioned by my fall put the enemy once more on alert … not an individual, save myself, was exposed to their aim … although the balls whistled round my ears in every direction, and hissed through the long grass … I did not sustain the slightest injury … I found that my retreat had been well-timed, for the troops were already in motion toward the boats.” As Richardson collapsed into his departing vessel, he discovered a bottle of port wine that gave him “the most delicious moments of repose I recollect ever having experienced.”
Richardson returned to Canada fighting in the Battle of the Thames near Chatham, Ontario. Here, just moments into the conflict, the British and Canadians were taken prisoners. He explains, “A strong body of U.S. cavalry (was) coming toward us. At the head was a stout elderly man who galloped forward; and brandishing his sword over his head, cried out with stentorian lungs ‘Surrender, surrender, it’s no use resisting, all your people are taken, and you had better surrender.’” Richardson did; but not before he buried his musket into the deep mud as an act of sentimental defiance.
Richardson was marched to Frankfort, Ky., and imprisoned, returning to his Canadian homeland a year later. Despite his stellar military career and prolific writing, Richardson spent the rest of his life as a man of culture, living on the wages of a peasant. His fame arrived post-mortem. Sadly, just days before his death, he was overheard telling his lone friend, “Hector, we must part or starve,” and indeed his dog was sold in order to purchase his last meals.
Richardson’s books are still available and many provide a clear window into the history of this era.
Frank Kuron is author of the War of 1812 book, “Thus Fell Tecumseh.” Email him at email@example.com.