This Week in History


The British Lose Ground

For the week of Monday September 30, 2002

On October 5, 1813, American forces won an important land victory against the British troops and their First Nations allies near the Moravian village of Fairfield, on the Thames River, in Upper Canada. After this significant battle in the War of 1812, Great Britain lost a large part of its hold on southwest Upper Canada.

The Battle of the Thames

The Battle of the Thames
© LAC / C-006500

In September 1813, the Americans gained control of the waterways when a British squadron on Lake Erie was destroyed. During the winter of 1812-13, American General William Henry Harrison was entrusted with the mission to retake Detroit and capture the British post at Amherstburg. With 5000 soldiers, he moved out in pursuit of the redcoats. Meanwhile, British General Procter’s position in Sandwich had become untenable, so he decided to retreat towards the Thames River, a few kilometres away from Fairfield.

At first, Shawnee Chief Tecumseh did not back this decision, because a retreat meant that the British were withdrawing their support to the northwestern First Nations. However, Procter promised him that the British force would make a stand once they reached a more defensible position. Tecumseh then convinced his alliance to join the movement. On October 4, 1813, his warriors tried without much success to slow down the advancing American troops, who were moving quickly towards Procter’s men. The next day, Tecumseh and his men joined the British army on the north shore of the Thames, near the Moravian village. Having decided to confront the Americans, Procter deployed his soldiers across the wedge-shaped opening between the Thames and the swamp. Because the First Nations warriors preferred the skirmishing mode of warfare, they positioned themselves to Procter’s right, in the swamp, to take full advantage of their skill.

Death of Tecumseh

Death of Tecumseh
© By Nathaniel Currier / LAC / 1970-188-1431
Coverdale Collection of Canadiana

Outnumbering their enemies by three-to-one, Harrison’s men charged at the approximately 1000 British troops. Tired and without food for two days, the British tried to fight but quickly gave up in the face of the powerful American attack. Procter and some of his soldiers managed to flee, but more than 600 British were imprisoned or killed. At first, Tecumseh’s 500 warriors stood up to the powerful American attack in the marsh. Forced to dismount from their horses, Harrison’s cavalrymen fought the tenacious First Nations warriors and killed their chief, Tecumseh. The battle continued but the First Nations warriors were eventually defeated.

After the Battle of the Thames, Harrison’s men pillaged and burned the Moravian village of Fairfield. With the peace treaty of 1814, its inhabitants, Delaware Indians, were resettled on the opposite bank of the Thames. Fairfield-on the-Thames was designated a site of national historic significance in 1945, and is commemorated by a plaque in Bothwell, Ontario. Tecumseh is recognized as a person of national historic significance.

Additional information about War of 1812 or Tecumseh is available in the archives of This Week in History : American Forces Take Fort George, A Warrior's Death and Victory at Fort Detroit! .

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