Detroit Divided: The American Revolution & War of 1812

Captain Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie
Captain Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie

The following is Part 4 in a series about the Detroit River. To view Part 3 click here. Click here to view Part 1.

In 1776, 13 of the British colonies in North America declared their independence from Britain. The American Revolutionary War only really went as far west as the Ohio River Valley and never truly made it to Detroit, despite that, Detroit still served to arm Native American raiding parties which fought the Americans in the Ohio River Valley and Detroit held American prisoners of war. In 1779, British Captain Richard Lernoult built a new fort south of Fort Detroit and moved the British garrison there to better protect the Detroit settlement. This fort is no longer standing, but under American control it would be called Fort Shelby and sat at the intersection of Fort Street and Shelby Street in Downtown Detroit.

American Justice John Jay

American Justice John Jay

General George Washington and George Rogers Clarke tried to mount an offensive to conquer Detroit, but they were never able to gather enough men to mount the offensive. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris ceded all lands in Michigan and elsewhere from British control to American, but the British garrison at Detroit still remained. These forces would remain for 13 years until 1796 when the Justice John Jay successfully negotiated British forces out of Detroit and into American control.

Judge Augustus Woodward (Credit: Robert Maniscalco)

Judge Augustus Woodward (Credit: Robert Maniscalco)

One of Detroit’s early leaders, Judge Augustus Woodward , was keenly responsible for Detroit’s early development which can still be felt today. In 1805, Detroit was destroyed by a massive fire and Judge Woodward proposed to plan a new city based on the radial streets of Washington D.C. one of those streets being Woodward Avenue. In 1805, Judge Woodward would also protect Michigan from slavery by refusing to return two escaped slaves to a man in Sandwich, Upper Canada. Detroit would later become a key stop on the Underground Railroad as escaped slaves made their way to Canada and ultimately freedom. Judge Woodward would die in 1827.

Major General Isaac Brock

Major General Isaac Brock

The War of 1812 saw renewed conflict between the Empire of Great Britain and the United States of America. Originally started by alleged British interference with American trade and shipping, the War of 1812 would see Detroit sacked twice before its end in 1815. A small force of British troops lead by General Isaac Brock and their Native American allies lead by Chief Tecumseh, in 1812, would seize Detroit and hold it for a year. Despite Brock’s much smaller force, he managed to use deception and intimidation to force the much larger American force to surrender. After capturing Detroit, Brock would move leave for Niagara in order to mount an offensive into New York state. Brock would be killed by a sniper in this conflict at the Battle of Queenston Heights.

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The Battle of Lake Erie

In 1813, Captain Oliver Hazard Parry (who would become the American naval hero Covmmodore Perry) defeated British naval forces at the Battle of Lake Erie. The British retreated two weeks later from Amherstberg and American forces once again took control of Detroit. Shortly there after, American forces pursued them and in the Battle of the Thames would kill Chief Tecumseh. Following the Battle of the Thames, the Americans had secured control of the entire Northwest frontier. The union of tribes that Tecumseh had worked so hard to build collapsed almost immediately following his death. Ultimately the War of 1812 ended in a stalemate with neither side able to gain a decisive victory.

By 1814, both sides weary of war and the economies of both sides hurting, peace was made with the Treaty of Ghent. Even so, during the negotiations, both sides had planned renewed invasions with the British ready to send the Duke of Wellington to command the armies in Canada. Ultimately it was the demands of merchants on both sides of the Atlantic that brought peace. Trade between Britain and the United States was important and the disruption caused by the war had put a strain on the economy. With the war at a close, Britain and the United States would enter an “Era of Good Feelings” which would begin a period of huge economic growth…

Captain Oliver Hazard Perry

Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry

To be Continued…

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