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The War of 1812 is never far from Ogdensburg


Two centuries ago Canada was just as important to Ogdensburg, then in its teen years and as distant from the population centers south of the Adirondacks.

Trade crossed the St. Lawrence to Prescott and other settlements in Upper Canada. Who here wanted war in June 1812? Montreal was the link to international commerce. North country wheat and potash went down; essentials and luxuries came up. President Jefferson’s 1807 Embargo Act had crippled honest business with Britain and its colonies (as well as with France) and made smuggling a growth industry.

For Ogdensburg entrepreneur David Parish and his well-heeled cronies, President Madison’s war threatened their livelihoods more by seriously curtailing trade than enemy action. Ogdensburg, at the narrowest section of the St. Lawrence, was strategically important. Should American forces cut the river by capturing Prescott, Ontario, the British armies west as far the Michigan Territory would wither.

However, the British rousted the raiding American riflemen from Ogdensburg in February 1813 and no American troops returned. Cross-river trade resumed. David Parish ensured the military-free status. He and two wealthy associates pledged multimillion-dollar loans to the government of the United States to help prosecute the waranywhere but this crucial stretch of river.

Ogdensburg, threatened in 1812 and taken in 1813, had enough excitement, although events large and small swirled around the village from the first days of the war until the end.

Local engagements and prominent individuals are topics at the War of 1812 Heritage Talks at Ogdensburg’s Freight House Restaurant April 25-26.

Every soldier and sailor in every war knew the popular songs. The War of 1812 was no different. On Friday, April 25, grand champion fiddler Don Woodcock gives a concert of those morale-building jigs, reels and ballads. Mr. Woodcock from Kendrew Corners, is known for his vast repertoire of traditional fiddle tunes. The 7 p.m. concert is free to youth 17 and under when accompanied by an adult who pays $5 at the door.



Morale must have been an issue for the St. Lawrence County Militia early in the war. When mustered in Ogdensburg, the part-time soldiers were not popular with the anti-war locals who had friends, family and business ties across the river. Lt. Col. Thomas Benedict, commanding the militia, defended the St. Lawrence Frontier from Sackets Harbor to Salmon River. Town of Dekalb Historian Bryan Thompson will look at Benedict’s challenges from friend and foe.

Imagine an 11-year-old boy, is he ready for the fighting navy? Sackets Harbor Powder Monkey: The War of 1812 by Hope Marston tells an interesting tale regional social studies teachers could use. Ms. Marston, from Black River, will have this book and others available.

The St. Lawrence River always figures in the heritage talks. Dennis McCarthy, from Cape Vincent, speaks on the U.S. Navy support for General James Wilkinson’s campaign and the Battle of French Creek. Wilkinson led an American army to defeat at the Battle of Crysler’s Farm in November 1813. The beating given the British at French Creek was the only bright spot for American arms during the ill-fated expedition to capture Montreal.

In talk of armies, soldiers’ uniforms aren’t often discussed beyond color and condition. David Murray from Morristown remedies this. The American uniform changed over the years leading to and through the war. Mr. Murray, who has made period uniforms for more than 20 years, will talk about their practicality and durability.

Two hundred years dulled our memory of the Ogdensburg, Oswego and Plattsburgh battlefields. The WCNY Syracuse documentary “Losing Ground: The Race to Preserve War of 1812 Battlefields in New York State” explores the jeopardized properties.

There is more north country content to the War of 1812 Heritage Talks, with exhibits from Sackets Harbor and the Remington Museum, and about archaeology in the St. Lawrence and by the Saranac River.

Beyond New York, speakers are coming from Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont and Ontario. Also from Ontario, four exhibits and a documentary on the destruction along Upper Canada’s Lake Erie shore by American soldiers.

Saturday’s fees, which include a continental breakfast and a buffet lunch, are $30 for students, $50 for educators, state historians and Fort Association affiliates, and $60 for others.

Details and registration information are online at The Fort La Présentation Association sponsors the War of 1812 Heritage Talks.

Michael Whittaker resides in Bishop’s Mills, Ontario, and is a former member of the Fort La Presentation Association Board of Directors. He currently serves on the association’s marketing committee. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the association.

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