War Stories Along Lake Erie: Ordinary Women Experience the War of 1812
The events that ordinary women living with their families along the shores of Lake Erie witnessed and experienced during the War of 1812 smoldered in their memories like the ashes of Buffalo, New York, after the British burned the village.
Mehitable Morse married Lemuel Booth in Connecticut and they started a journey to Ohio in 1813 with their son Philo and his wife Sophia and their family. When the Booths arrived in Buffalo, they couldn’t find a boat to continue their journey because they United States government was using them all to transport General Harrison’s Army down lake Erie. The Booths left most of their goods at Buffalo and continued on the next leg of their journey to Erie, Pennsylvania.
The British Burn Buffalo
On December 30, 1813, the British burned Buffalo and the Booths and many others lost most of their worldly goods. While they were at Erie, General Harrison arrived from the west and Erie was crowded with soldiers. The Booths started on the trail with their remaining stores and reached Ashtabula, Ohio on January 15, 1814. Their son was born at Ashtabula and they ended up settling there. Mrs. Mehitable Booth lived to be 85 years old and died in 1838 at her home in Ashtabula. She told her children and grandchildren about her experiences with the British.
Mrs. Mary Woodbury and her husband Wheeler Woodbury came to North Kingsville from New York. They stopped over night at Buffalo, which was undergoing General Stephen Van Rensselaer’sattack on the British position at Queenstown. The cannonading from each side kept them awake and made them escape as quickly as they could.
After Buffalo was burned, there came a call for volunteers to check the advancing troops. Mr. Woodbury answered the call. He needed clothing so Mary and her daughters met challenge. They obtained a fleece of wool and cleaned, dyed, spun, and wove it. Within 24 hours of the sheep shearing, they returned the garment ready made to Wheeler Woodbury who joined his company on time.
Eleanor Hull was born at Ballston Spa, New York in 1789. She was living at Buffalo, New York when the British and Indians burned it in the War of 1812. She saved her life by running on ice and through the snow in the middle of a December night two miles down the river to Black Rock. The Indians chased and killed and scalped their victims as they overtook them. Running for her life, Eleanor reached the fort safely, one of the fortunate ones who lived through the massacre. She married Dr. George Anderson and they settled in Sandusky, Ohio.
Miss Esther Pratt met her future husband when they were both fleeing the pillage of Buffalo. Augustus C. Fox and other fugitives were rapidly fleeing the burning village on horseback. They overtook a party with a “pung” which was a crockery crate mounted on a pair of sled runners complete with a harness. Augustus Fox sped along guiding his new “pung” and soon he overtook the Pratt family. He volunteered to carry two family members in his pung- one of them the charming and young Miss Esther Pratt. Esther and Augustus became better acquainted and they were married in 1814 as soon as the War of 1812 ended.
The British Cruise Erie, Pennsylvania
The Union City Times of Thursday, April 12, 1901, recorded the some of the memories of Mrs. R.R. Snow who was born near Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, in 1801. When Mrs. Snow was about two years old, her father moved his family to a farm one mile east of the present day Miller’s Station. Since there were no roads through the forest, boats were the most efficient means of transportation. Mr. Langley loaded his family and the Langley family household goods into canoes and they floated down Cussewago Creek and then poled the canoes up French Creek to a point above the bridge near Miller’s Station.
Some of Mrs. Snow’s most vivid memories involve wolves. She commonly heard them at night and one time her mother sent her to her father’s sugar camp with his supper. Darkness fell before she left for home and she and her father heard the wolves howling. Mr. Langley kept her at the sugar camp with him until the next day because he didn’t want her to be overtaken by wolves as she walked alone through the woods.
Mrs. Snow remembered seeing the soldiers of the War of 1812-1814 pass the Langley house on their way to Erie to repel the British who threatened to attack there. Her oldest brother George, then a boy, was one of the Minute Men.
At one time during the war an alarm was given that the Indians had gone on the war path and were murdering the white people. There was a blockhouse or stockade at or near Miller's Station where the people were to gather in case of an attack by the Indians. Her mother took Mrs. Snow by the hand and her sister Betsy, a babe, in her arms and ran to the place of rendezvous.
The British Near Ashtabula, Ohio
Rosanna Watros and her husband John came to Ashtabula, Ohio, in 1810 with eight of their children. Their son William had come three years earlier and built a log house near the shore of Lake Erie to be a new home for his family. William had not been able to finish the floor of the cabin because he did not have the time or tools to do it before his family arrived. Six weeks after the Watrous family arrived in Ashtabula, John hurt himself while he was lifting the planks for the floor. He died, leaving his wife to face life in pioneer Ashtabula alone.
After the War of 1812 broke out, the small band of settlers at Ashtabula waited in fear and trembling to see what the British would do. Scouts appeared with the news that the British were near and warned people to be sure that their family valuables were safe. Rosanna and her family put their silver and jewelry in iron and brass kettles and buried them in the ground.
Shortly before the battle of Lake Erie the three British vessels Lady Provost, Queen Charlotte and Little Belt were sighted off Ashtabula and about thirty men and boys, including several of the Watros sons, were hastily called together and they assembled in back of Fort Hill. To appear stronger and more numerous than they were, they fashioned men of clothing and straw, placed sticks on their shoulders to look like guns, and carried them between them. Around this hill they marched in double and triple file, again and again, to give the appearance of large numbers of men. This trick appeared to be successful, because the British delayed landing until a severe thunder storm crashed overhead and drove them away.
Americans Defend Cleveland
In 1800, Rebecca White Paine and her eight children came from Aurora, New York to the thousand acres of land that General Edward Paine had purchased outside of what is now Painesville, Ohio. They crossed the lake in flat boats from Buffalo, New York, and landed on their farm on the bank of the Grand River where General Paine had already built a log cabin for his family.
General Paine's daughter, Lydia Paine Phelps, had been born in Canandaigua, New York on February 13, 1788. When she was 14, she plodded the 15 miles to the gristmill at Harpersfield alone on horseback. Then after the flour was ground, she rode the same Indian trail back.
A few years later she went alone on horseback to Canandaigua, New York to visit her sister. She followed the shores of Lake Erie since there was no other road and she swam her horse through several rivers.
While she was in Canandaigua, New York, Lydia Paine married Samuel W. Phelps, a young lawyer from Painesville and they rode back and settled in Painesville. When war with the British broke out in 1812, the news of Hull's surrender brought a call for every able‑bodied man in Painesville to join the militia. General Edward Paine gathered the militia under his command and marched to Cleveland with them. The campaign lasted only ten days, but they were long frightening days for the women and children. The women hid their iron pots and kettles and prepared to flee at a moment's notice, until the danger passed and they could return safely to their homes in and around Painesville.
Mary Harvey and Her Family Circle the War of 1812 on Lake Erie
Mary Harvey fought the War of 1812 right along with her husband Captain Luther Harvey. She followed the War with her husband Luther from Buffalo, New York to Detroit to Ohio. Luther Harvey witnessed the Battle of Lake Erie, and he delivered supplies for General William Henry Harrison. Harvey enlisted in the state militia that Ohio governor Jonathan Meigs, Jr., had organized to defend frontier outposts. He served as a private in Captain Clark Parker's company from August 1812 until February 1813, and his company was sent to protect the settlements along the Huron River in Ohio.
Mary Harvey and her children had lived in Huron, Ohio, while Luther fought in the War of 1812, but in 1815 she and the children moved with Luther from Detroit to Frenchtown- now Monroe- bringing the Harvey story full circle around Lake Erie from Buffalo, New York to Monroe, Michigan. On the first Fourth of July, Mary helped Luther Harvey in a patriotic and gruesome exercise. Luther Harvey and the other men and boys of Frenchtown wheeled carts along the banks of the River Raisin gathering up the bleached bones of the victims of the massacre of Americans by the British and their Indian allies which had taken place two years before. They found bones where the British and Indians had pursued the beaten Americans and they collected tomahawks, cannon balls, bayonets, parts of uniforms and other equipment.
Mary Harvey supported her husband throughout the War of 1812 and afterwards she worked alongside him when he opened a tavern as his first business venture in Monroe. She also held down hearth and home while when he resumed his career as a ship captain on the Great Lakes.
These women receive scant if any mention in books about the War of 1812, but they, too, were soldiers in their own right.
Berton, Pierre. Flames Across the Border: 1813-1814. Doubleday Canada, 1981.
Dale, Ronald J. The Invasion of Canada: Battles of the War of 1812, James Lorimer & Company, 2001.
Francis A. Dewey, "A Sketch of the Marine of Lake Erie Previous to the Year 1829," January, 1881.
Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies. Knopf, 2010.