The War of 1812 Commemoration at Liberty Hall begins with February Teas at noon Thursday and Friday.
My parents are big fans of visiting historic places and listening to classical music. So, vacations for us as a family usually included those, often combined into one trip. Among the historic places we visited was Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada. There we saw Fort George and I learned that it was an important site during the War of 1812.
At the same age, my parents took me to outdoor symphony performances, frequently on July 4th. At those performances the finale was always Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” a majestic piece complete with cannons firing. I knew that the song had to do with a war, a war that happened in 1812. And thus, I believed, the “1812 Overture” celebrated the War of 1812. I am willing to bet that many of you thought the same thing; we were wrong.
I learned that Fort George was involved in the War of 1812, which was between the United States and England (though as a resident of the Great Lakes region, I understood it as the U.S. vs. Canada).
The fort was captured by the Americans in May 1813, and used as a headquarters for an ill-conceived attempt to take over British Canada. Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” dealt with a completely different war, halfway around the world. The musical piece celebrates the Russian army’s defense of Moscow against the invading forces of Napoleon in 1812.
It is easy to understand how my mistake might come about. The War of 1812 is often misunderstood, and it doesn’t seem as important in the American psyche as the American Revolution, Civil War, World War II, or even Vietnam. In fact, it is often considered America’s “forgotten war.”
Second War of Independence
The War of 1812 is really America’s “Second War of Independence.” Fought against England, its goal was for Americans to be recognized as citizens of America, not England. Fighting on battlefields from Canada to New Orleans, from the Chesapeake Bay to the Illinois Territory, many American soldiers and sailors lost their lives, but in the end, America held its own against the much mightier British forces.
In the Treaty of Ghent, signed on Dec. 24, 1814 and proclaimed on Feb. 18, 1815, Great Britain and the United States agreed upon terms that left things basically unchanged from the pre-war status. But in an important sense, the U.S. had won since Great Britain recognized the new nation as an independent, fully sovereign state.
Remember the Raisin
As a veteran of the American Revolution and a former member of the U.S. Senate, John Brown of Liberty Hall was undoubtedly concerned about the state of affairs between England and the U.S. prior to the outbreak of war. While we have no letters written by him during the 1812-1815 period, I believe that John Brown supported the American cause whole-heartedly – he had fought, both on the battlefield and in the legislature, for the freedom of the colonies – and he did not want to see the new nation lose its sovereignty.
We know that the war, specifically the Battle of River Raisin, affected Margaretta Brown so much that she took to pen and paper to document her feelings. She wrote a poem about the great tragedy.
The battle, which was really a series of battles followed by a massacre, occurred in January 1813. A division of Kentucky infantry and militia were stationed at Frenchtown, Mich., on the Raisin River, after driving back opposing forces. On Jan. 22, the British and their Native American allies launched an attack on the Americans. In that battle, 397 Americans died.
Knowing that they were surrounded, the Americans surrendered with British assurances of safety of the prisoners. The next day, however, Britain’s Native American allies massacred dozens of the prisoners. The campaign at Frenchtown had the highest number of Americans killed in a single battle during the War of 1812, and most of the dead were Kentuckians. In fact, Kentucky would suffer the greatest troop losses of any state during the war.
Commitment to remember a forgotten war
Throughout 2012, Liberty Hall Historic Site will commemorate the war through events, educational programs, newspaper articles, and displays. This year’s first event, February Teas at the Orlando Brown House, will have a War of 1812 theme. Tables will be decked out with red, white, and blue; an interpreter portraying Margaretta Mason Brown will host the party; and guests will learn a little more about life in Frankfort during the War of 1812.