History brought alive through historical reenactments

 

By Aaron Jahn

Roots to Boots Saturday and Sunday were packed with History and festivities as Amherstburg celebrated the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 with re-enactments of important events that helped shaped the course of the war.

Amherstburg’s Provincial Marine re-enactment group held two demonstrations, one a skirmish repelling American invaders from Kings Nay Yard Park, the other the capture of the Cuyahoga packet, an event that led directly to the capture of Fort Detroit.  David May, the president of the Provincial Marine said this was an important part of Amherstburg’s role in the war.

“The British here knew the war was on before the American did, the Americans were cutting through the bush further down and it had been raining for a week, and they had a lot of sick soldiers and they came along the Cuyahoga packet and they decided to send their sick soldiers, there was about 30 of them, up to fort Detroit,” said May.  “They had the general’s trunks in there, with letters that hadn’t been sent yet describing how afraid he was of his wife and daughter being captured by Indians.  Rollette was a Lieutenant in the provincial marine, he saw the ship coming up and he grabbed six PM sailors and went out, he asked them to heave to and drop their sails, to which they refused and then he put a round from his pistol among the deck officers and they decided to acquiesce to his command.”

May, who played Lt. Frederic Rolette in the capture’s re-enactment, says that the captures of these documents, gave the British and Native allies a tactical advantage over the Americans for the battle to come over Fort Detroit.

“So when Brock came down here they spoke with Tecumseh and using this information knowing where all his troop strengths were and everything they played a big head game on General Hull in Detroit and were able to take Detroit without the Americans firing a shot,” said May.   “We were firing cannon shots from across the river and from the Queen Charlotte and the tall ships were blasting the fort without them firing back.”

 

The re-enactment of the “Capture of the Cuyahoga” was a favorite amongst the Roots to Boots Festival attendees.

The skirmish on Saturday was an example of how the battles were fought in 1812, it wasn’t a re-enactment of a specific battle.  Many of the participants came from Essex County, but they had people from All over South-Western Ontario and even into the American mid-west participate.  Doug Robinson, participating in the weekend’s events as his alter ego Shaymus the Storyteller, spoke of the importance of the events in Amherstburg.

“There are people here from Michigan and Indiana, there’s re-enactors from the far side of Toronto, a few down from up around the Barrie area, all over southwestern Ontario, of course many of them are from the Essex County area,” said Robinson.   “Officially we understand the significance, we want to mark the importance events that happened along the Detroit river front here.  It was the first battle ground of the war, the first shots were fired here, the first casualties happened here.  It’s important for people to remember this wasn’t all a Niagara Falls thing.”

Included among the Saturday’s participants was Local Member of Parliament Jeff Watson, and Tecumseh, played by David Morris, and his band of warriors.

“I’ve had a long history of trying to promote history as the Member of Parliament here from time to time, we do a little re-enactment whether it’s the fugitive slave re-enactments, the heritage homecoming or firing the cannon on Canada Day,” said Watson.   “But this was the first, shall we say, fuller scale military engagement for me and I got to join with the 41st foot, who were the garrison here at the fort as we got to repel the American invasion.  It was excellent and probably the best way to really bring home the flavor of the period. “

Tecumseh told his tale over the weekend and told his story in the first person to local reporters, his participation in the wars of North America started in the Americans war of independence and lasted until his death in the battle of Moraviantown on October 5, 1813 almost exactly a year after the Death of Sir Isaac Brock.

“Not the easiest (life), lost my father when I was four, my mother went west when I was 12, I never saw her again.  My older brother was killed, I lost another brother at the battle of the fallen timbers, and I lost a wife, a child also to the long knives and many, many friends,” said Tecumseh.

He explained that his father before his death told his sons, and made them vow, that they would never sign a treaty with the long knives or the British, to never give away their sacred land.  A vow they kept and caused Tecumseh to actually be banished by his own Shawnee Nation Chief’s.

“Well, I was no official chief of any Nation, I was not a Shawnee chief as I was quoted to be, I was a Shawnee, but I was not a chief.  My father was war chief, after the battle of Greenville, I refused to sign the treaty and I spoke out against the chiefs who did, I was basically banished from my own Nation,” said Tecumseh.  “Yet I was the chief of a gathering of men, many warriors of many Nations and I was the chief of that.  I’m often reported as being a Shawnee chief, that isn’t accurate.  I was not a Shawnee chief; it would be very upsetting to the Shawnee chiefs of my time if there were to hear me called that.  They had actually told me to go; I was not accepted by my own people.”

The closing ceremonies of the weekend’s celebrations included the presentation to Sir Isaac Brock of the sash that Tecumseh gave him to seal their alliance; Brock wore that sash until his death only a few months later.

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