Lamoille County, Vermont
and the War of 1812

 

The yoke of the mother country having been thrown off, the American colonies rapidly advanced in progress. Vermont expanded into a free and independent State, and was finally annexed to the Union, March 4, 1791. In the mean time, the French nation, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, had arrived at the zenith of military glory, and was giving England great cause for fear and trembling. England, in turn, seeming to forget that her American offspring had arrived at maturity, and was able to protect its own institutions, continued her acts of tyranny. Looking upon herself as mistress of the ocean, during her wars with Napoleon, she utterly disregarded the rights of the United States as a neutral nation. Her cruisers would stop and search American vessels, and seize such able-bodied seamen as were needed, on the pretext that they were British subjects. An American frigate, not in a condition to resist, having been subjected to this indignity, almost within sight. of an American port, after receiving several broadsides for denying the right of such search, the President issued a proclamation ordering all British ships-of-war to quit the waters of the United States. Congress also laid ad embargo on American vessels, detaining them at home, but afterwards substituted a non-intercourse act, prohibiting trade with Great Britain. All intercourse between this State and the people of Canada was prohibited, without a permit from the governor, under a penalty of $1,000.00 fine and imprisonment at hard labor in the State penitentiary for the term of seven years.

Notwithstanding all this, England persisted in her offensive course. All hopes of obtaining concessions on the impressment question from her were at length abandoned. George III., who was still on the throne, had become insane, and the men who had managed affairs, were as short-sighted as his advisers had been forty years before, whose folly had provoked the revolution. Longer submission to their arrogant claims was deemed unworthy of a free nation, and war was therefore formally declared by the United States, June 18, 1812. The majority of the people of Vermont considered the declaration of war rash and imprudent, believing that the required issue could have been brought about by legislation; but notwithstanding this feeling, the general assembly of the State passed the following resolution:

"The constituted authorities of our country having declared war between the United States and Great Britain and dependencies, it is our duty as citizen's to support the measure, otherwise we should identify ourselves with the enemy, with no other difference than that of locality. We therefore pledge ourselves to each other and to our government, that with cur individual exertions, our example and influence, we will support our government and country in the present contest, and rely on the great Arbiter of events for a favorable result."

Both Lamoille and Orleans counties were well represented in this contest, and sustained with honor the. reputation of their State. During the autumn of 1813, a large drove of fat oxen, containing one hundred head, was purchased, principally in New Hampshire and upon the borders of the Connecticut river, under pretense of furnishing the troops at Burlington and Plattsburgh, but, arriving at Walden, or Hardwick, turned their course towards Canada. Information was soon given to the officers of the government, and the cattle were pursued, and overtaken at or near the Canada line, seized and returned. Arriving at Johnson, in this county, near night, they were yarded for refreshment. About two o'clock the following morning, an express arrived from Craftsbury, that a collection, or mob, some seventy in number, were on their way to retake the drove. An immediate call was made for the militia to arm, to protect them, which was organized under the command of a Captain Thompson of the army, then on recruiting service here, and sentinels stationed around the yard, with strict orders that no one should pass the lines, on peril of death. About day-light the mob drew near the village, w:-,en, discovering the position of the guard, they made a halt, rather than an attack, and learning that warrants were being made for their arrest, dropped their weapons, which were principally clubs and pitchforks, and hastily made their retreat. The oxen were driven to Burlington and disposed of as they were assumed to have been purchased.

Subsequently, information was received that a large train of teams were on the road, loaded with dry goods from Montreal, in transit to Boston. Two or three officers of the customs were soon in readiness to seize the teams and goods, which cost their owners some $13,000.00 in Montreal. The officers, with some assistance, met the teams, some short distance from the village of Johnson, and ordered them to surrender, but the party, some fourteen men, showed fight, and attempted to pass. The road at that place being narrow, one of the horses in the front team was shot down, which blocked the road, and, after a severe contest, two or three of the smuggling party being severely wounded, they surrendered their teams and goods to the officers, who conveyed them to Burlington, and delivered them to Mr. VanNess, collector. The day following the seizure, some forty suits were served on the officers and their assistants for assault and battery; the goods were subsequently bonded by Mr. VanNess, and the suits withdrawn; and it was reported, and probably truly, that before the goods arrived at Boston, peace was proclaimed, which caused the goods to be sold at a less price than they were bonded.

To the county of Orleans the war proved to be very injurious; not because of any devastation actually suffered, or of any severe draft upon the inhabitants to act as soldiers. But the fear of evil was in this case almost as great an injury as the actual experience of it would have been. The county was on the extreme northern frontier, and thus exposed, not only to ordinary border warfare, but to be penetrated to the very heart by the defenseless route of Lake Memphremagog, and Black and Barton rivers. While the war was merely apprehended, the people kept up good courage, and constructed in several places stockade forts by way of defense. But no sooner had hostilities begun, than a panic seized the settlers. Stories of Indian atrocities were the staple of conversation, and there was a general belief that the tomahawk and scalping-knife would again and at once commence their work of butchery. A general flight took place. Many cultivated farms were abandoned;. cattle were driven off and such portable property as could most easily be removed was carried away. Some of those who left the country never returned, and those who did eventually come back, were impoverished and discouraged. In almost all of the towns, however, enough of the more courageous inhabitants remained to keep possession of the territory, and to maintain in a small way the institutions of civilization. Parties of United States soldiers were stationed at North Troy, and at Derby Line, and a sense of security gradually returned to the people.

In the summer of 1814, the British, having concentrated 14,000 men near the foot at Lake Champlain, undertook an invasion of, the States, somewhat on the plan of Burgoyne in 1777. There had been skirmishing throughout the season; but when, in August, most of the American troops were transferred to the Niagara frontier, Gen. Prevost improved the opportunity to march upon Plattsburgh. Here Gen. Macomb, in command of the Americans, had made all the preparation in his power for a vigorous defense; but he had only 2,000 efficient men, and lacked ordnance, while his works were still incomplete. Commodore McDonough had also strained every nerve to make ready for the British fleet, which was to act in conjunction with the army. His flag ship was launched within forty days from the time the timber used in its construction was standing in the forest. Despite all his exertions, however, in the number of his vessels, guns, and men, he was inferior to the enemy.

The British army, having reached Plattsburgh, was there held in check by Macomb, who, strengthened by the brave militia of Vermont and New York, had taken a position on the south side of the Saranac river. But the fate of the battle was to be decided on the water. On the 11th of September, the British flotilla drew near to Plattsburgh, and McDonough joined the battle, after having on the deck of his vessel invoked the blessing of God upon his cause. Two hours of terrible fighting resulted in a victory for the Americans as signal as had been that of Perry on Lake Erie. The British commander, who had boasted that with his flag-ship alone he could whip the whole Yankee fleet, was killed, and his entire squadron struck. Thus ended the battle of Plattsburgh Bay, one of the greatest naval engagements of the world. The British commissioners, at first unreasonable, lowered their tone after the battle of Plattsburgh and the subsequent battle of Baltimore, and on the 24th of December, 1814, a treaty of peace was signed at Ghent, in Belgium, ending the war. The soldiers, so far as we have been able to learn, who went from these counties to serve their country, will be found incorporated with. the several town sketches, and to their pages we refer the reader for further mention of the events of those stirring times.

 

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