This Week in History


Birth of Sir Isaac Brock

For the week of Monday October 1, 2012

On October 6, 1769, Sir Isaac Brock was born in St. Peter Port, Guernsey, England. An army officer and colonial administrator from Britain, Brock is most often remembered as a Canadian hero of the War of 1812.

Sir Isaac Brock, 1769-1812, 200th anniversary commemorative stamp
© Canada Post Corporation 1969. Reproduced with permission
The eighth son born to a moderately wealthy family, Isaac Brock was described by his family members as demonstrating “extreme gentleness.” In 1785, at age 15, he entered the army and within five years time had become a lieutenant. In the following years, he served in England, Jamaica and Barbados before his regiment was ordered to Canada in 1802. Though he had risen rapidly in rank by purchasing his promotions, in truth Brock had only minimal battle experience.

While in Canada, Brock worked to improve the country’s defences despite the small numbers of British soldiers stationed in British North America. Brock concentrated on reforming the militia, part-time soldiers who were residents of Upper Canada. He was quickly promoted first to colonel, then brigadier-general in command at Montréal, and finally administrator of the government of Upper Canada. From 1811 until his death in 1812, Major-General Brock headed both the civil government and the military command of that province.

During the War of 1812, Brock emphasized the importance of co-operation with Aboriginal peoples and, at a time when most Canadians had lost hope of winning against the Americans, Brock bolstered morale by taking the offensive. On August 16, 1812, Brock led an attack against the Americans at Fort Detroit, in Michigan Territory. With a force of about 1,300 men, which included 400 militia and 600 Aboriginals led by Shawnee war-chief Tecumseh and other First Nations leaders, Brock watched as Fort Detroit surrendered at the mere threat of attack. Despite having fewer men than the Americans, Brock and his troops achieved a decisive victory for Canada.

Portrait of General Isaac Brock, painted circa 1808 by William Berczy
© Courtesy of Brock University Archives

After the success at Detroit, Brock returned to his headquarters at Fort George to fight the American threat in Niagara. This led to the famous Battle of Queenston Heights, which was also Brock’s last battle. Be sure to read next week’s This Week in History to learn about this dramatic event in the War of 1812!

Brock was appointed as a knight of the Order of the Bath in recognition of his victory at Detroit but died before learning of this honour. Sir Isaac Brock is recognized as a heroic figure and an enduring symbol of bravery, patriotism and Canadian nationhood and was designated a person of national historic significance in 2009. He is commemorated by the Brock monument at Queenston Heights, which has also received designation as a national historic site. In addition, Brock’s decisive victory, the Capture of Detroit was designated a national historic event. Shawnee chief Tecumseh has also been commemorated a national historic person for organizing Western First Nations’alliance with the British in 1812.

For more information on Sir Isaac Brock’s role in the War of 1812, please read Victory at Fort Detroit! and Americans Take Fort George   in the This Week in History archives.

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