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Shot through the heart

For the week of Monday October 8, 2012

In the early hours of October 13, 1812, the Americans launched an invasion near Niagara, Ontario and began the Battle of Queenston Heights. Major General Isaac Brock, following his successful campaign to capture Detroit, returned to his Headquarters at Fort George and prepared for a possible American invasion on the Niagara frontier. His small force of British regulars, Canadian militia and First Nations allies were spread out along the 50-km bank of the Niagara River.

Death of Isaac Brock by Charles William Jefferys
© Library and Archives Canada
When the Americans invaded Canada at Queenston, Brock initially feared that this was a trick and that the main American force would land elsewhere. However, the ferocity of the sounds of battle convinced him that Queenston was the main goal of the American attack. He ordered the garrison of Fort George to march to Queenston and rode off to personally take charge of the defence. Soon after his arrival the Americans captured a strategic battery on the escarpment. Almost immediately, Brock led his men in a charge to try to regain the lost position. Unfortunately, Brock was a very large man and conspicuous in his general’s uniform. He was targeted by an American soldier and was shot through the heart, dying almost instantly.

Brock’s death devastated the troops; however, Major-General Roger Hale Sheaffe soon arrived from Fort George with reinforcements consisting of 300 soldiers, 250 militiamen, including Captain Robert Runchey’s Company of Coloured Men, a company of 30 men of African descent from Niagara and York.

While Sheaffe was arriving, Mohawk chief John Norton with his Six Nations and other First Nations forces ascended the escarpment and were able to hold back the enemy’s advance. Sheaffe and his regiments attacked the Americans from the rear, and together with the Aboriginal forces, were able to trap them against a cliff. Left with no other option, the Americans signalled their surrender by waving a white handkerchief and 925 men were taken prisoner.

Sir Isaac Brock on Horse at Fort George by M. E. Strokes
© Courtesy of the Niagara Falls History Museum / M.E. Strokes / 981.D.125, 1908
The Battle of Queenston Heights was an important victory for the British and Canadians in the War of 1812, but the loss of Sir Isaac Brock was felt by everyone. He had motivated his men throughout difficult first months of the war and, though he had been killed, he continued to inspire Upper Canadians to defend their territory against the Americans.

Sir Isaac Brock is recognized as a heroic figure and an enduring symbol of bravery, patriotism and Canadian nationhood, and was designated a national historic person in 2009. He is commemorated by the Brock monument at Queenston Heights, which has also received designation as a national historic site. Vrooman’s Battery, where a portion of this battle took place, has also been designated as a site of national significance. In addition, John Norton is commemorated as a national historic person for his effective participation in the War of 1812.

To learn more about the life of Sir Isaac Brock, see last week’s story: Birth of Sir Isaac Brock. For more information on the War of 1812, please read "St. Joseph... the Military Siberia of Upper Canada, A Warrior's Death, Laura Secord, The British Lose GroundVictory at Fort Detroit! and Americans Take Fort George  in the This Week in History archives.

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