This Week in History


Ready ... Set ... Skirmish!

This story was initially published in 2008

On December 15, 1813, a small group of Canadian militia soldiers captured a group of American troops stationed in Raleigh, Ontario, south of Chatham. This small troop was able to capture an entire American enemy force without suffering any casualties!

Thomas McCrae's house at the turn of the 20th century
© Chatham-Kent Museum
During the War of 1812, precautions were being taken in the southwestern region of Upper Canada to ensure that locals would not rise up against the government. To ensure the loyalty of the residents, General Isaac Brock, the Major-General of Upper Canada, appointed well-established citizens to administer an oath of loyalty to ensure residents did not side with the Americans. This was considered necessary because of the large number of new settlers to Canada, including many who came from the United States. One of the area residents selected to administer the oath was Thomas McCrae from Raleigh Township.

McCrae, a former member of parliament for Kent, was a Company Commander in the Canadian militia. Present at the capture of Fort Detroit in 1812, he used the prize money acquired there to build the largest house in the area. It was this house that the Americans took in December, 1813, to use as a base to administer their own oath to residents, an oath of neutrality.

Thomas McCrae's House (present day)
© Chatham-Kent Museum Collection
At the same time, a small group of soldiers of the Norfolk militia under the command of Lieutenant Henry Medcalf were on their way to Rondeau Bay on Lake Erie, east of Chatham, when they heard of the presence of “an American outpost” at the house of Thomas McCrae. On their way to McCrae’s house they joined forces with more British troops from the Loyal Kent Volunteers under the command of Lieutenant John McGregor, thus bringing the number of British troops to about 35 men. The troops then made their way to the house and, arriving early on December 15, 1813, surrounded it. They fired shots into the house, killing one, injuring a few others and taking the remaining troops as prisoners to Port Dover. While transporting the prisoners to Port Dover two American soldiers escaped. It was reported that Lt. Medcalf and his men delivered 38 American prisoners, including three officers to Port Dover.

The plaque commemorating the Skirmish at McCrae’s House as a National Historic Event, where a group of British troops captured an American force, is located in Raleigh Township.

This year is the bicentennial of the War of 1812. For more stories about the war, read The Invasion of Canada, HMS Shannon Defeats and Captures USS Chesapeake, 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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