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Hot Pursuit at French Creek

For the week of Monday October 29, 2012

On November 1, 1813, British Captain William H. Mulcaster sailed his fleet to the mouth of French Creek, New York, anchored, and confronted invading American forces travelling down the St. Lawrence River. The action resulted in a skirmish which disrupted an American attack on Montréal, the main objective of the American St. Lawrence campaign of the War of 1812.

Portrait of American General James Wilkinson
© Charles Willson Peale, 1797
For the campaign, United States Major General James Wilkinson was given command of a division of 8,000 men based in Sackets Harbor, New York. Captain Mulcaster had heard of Wilkinson’s plan to sail down river, and hatched a plan to stop the invasion. At that time Mulcaster commanded a squadron of British Royal Navy ships on Lake Ontario.

When Mulcaster and his fleet arrived at the mouth of French Creek, they began firing at the American camp on the west side of the creek, where several large cannons had been placed. The American troops returned fire, and the gunfire lasted until some of Mulcaster’s vessels had been hit. It was getting dark, so the captain called off the action. They returned the next morning to renew the effort, but during the night American forces had deployed more cannons! Mulcaster withdrew once more and Wilkinson set off down the St. Lawrence River. But the action was not over! After Wilkinson’s departure, Mulcaster hastened to Kingston with the news of Wilkinson’s plans and set sail in hot pursuit after taking aboard Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Morrison’s force of British infantry and artillery. On November 11, 1813, Morrison’s troops, who had landed on the north shore of the river, and Mulcaster’s gunboats provoked Wilkinson to hastily attack. The British defeated the Americans at the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, ending the St. Lawrence campaign.

The Battle of Crysler’s Farm was designated a National Historic Site in 1920 as a decisive victory during the War of 1812. Captain Mulcaster’s skirmish at French Creek was one of several small battles which disrupted American plans for invasion during the St. Lawrence campaign.

This year is the bicentennial of the War of 1812. For more information on the war, read Shot Through the HeartLaura Secord Dies and The Sinking of the USS Hamilton and Scourge in the This Week in History archives. Commemorative activities are taking place all over Canada! For more information on the War of 1812, visit Commemorating the War of 1812 on the Parks Canada website.

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