This Week in History


Victory at Fort Detroit!

This story was initially published in 2002

On August 16, 1812, in the early morning, Major General Isaac Brock and his men crossed the Detroit River into the United States. Within hours, the American forces at Fort Detroit, under the command of Brigadier General William Hull, had surrendered. Brock proclaimed British control over the Territory of Michigan, marking an important early British victory in the War of 1812.

Hull surrenders to Brock

Hull surrenders to Brock
© Library and Archives Canada / C-016404

Only one month earlier the situation had been much different. Hull had invaded Upper Canada from Detroit with more than 2,000 men, occupying Sandwich (now part of Windsor, Ontario) without any resistance. Morale in Upper Canada was low. There were few trained soldiers in the province and many felt there was no chance to withstand invasion. Only about 300 regular troops were stationed at the nearest British post, Fort Malden. In addition, many inhabitants were recent American immigrants, some of whom supported American rule. It seemed as though nothing could stop Hull from continuing his march eastward! However, Hull was slow to move and several weeks later, after learning that British reinforcements were on the way, he decided to withdraw to Fort Detroit.

Brock arrived at Fort Malden on August 13. There he met with the regular troops, militia (male citizens performing compulsory military service) and chiefs of First Nations allies, including Shawnee war chief Tecumseh, to plan an attack on Fort Detroit. Brock demanded Hull’s surrender, but the American leader refused. Consequently, during the night of August 15, British cannons at Sandwich began firing on the American fort and a force of 600 First Nations warriors crossed the Detroit River into the United States. A few hours later, Brock followed with 300 regular troops and 400 militia.

The meeting of Brock and Tecumseh

The meeting of Brock and Tecumseh
© Library and Archives Canada / C-011052

As Brock and Tecumseh boldly led their forces towards Fort Detroit, Hull became apprehensive. Suffering several casualties from British cannon fire, believing the safety of Detroit’s civilians to be at risk, and fearing that his men could not defend themselves against the highly effective First Nations warriors, he decided to surrender. Hull gave up everything under his control: the fort, his troops and valuable supplies such as cannons, muskets, rifles and ammunition.

The Capture of Detroit, an event of national significance, boosted morale enormously in Upper Canada. Fort Malden, a British base of operations, is now a national historic site. Sir Isaac Brock is commemorated with a monument at Queenston Heights, while Tecumseh is recognized as a person of historic significance.

This year is the bicentennial of the War of 1812! To learn more about the War of 1812, please read the stories The Invasion of Canada, Action at the Canard River!, and The Battle of Beaver Dams in the This Week in History archives. Commemorative events will take 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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