CANADA/USA HISTORY YOU WERE NEVER TAUGHT #8
Before we get back to "Canada - A People's History" a CBC Canada
Production, another man that is important in this historic war
was General Brock of the British Red-coat army. It is worthwhile
to let Pierre Burton in his book "The Invasion of Canada - 1812"
tell us about this man. We pick it up before the war began.
BROCK IS WHERE HE
DOES NOT WANT TO BE
LITTLE YORK, the muddy capital of Upper Canada, February 27,
1812; Brock, in his study, preparing a secret memorandum to that
spectacular frontier creature whom the Dakota Sioux call
Mascotapah, the Red-Haired Man.
His real name is Robert Dickson, and though born a Scot in
Dumfriesshire, he is as close to being an Indian as any white can
be. His wife is To-to-win, sister to Chief Red Thunder. His
domain covers the watershed of the upper Mississippi, some of the
finest fur country on the continent, a land of rolling plains,
riven by trough-like valleys and speckled with blue lakes, the
veinwork of streams teeming with beaver, marten, and otter, the
prairie dark with buffalo. He is out there now, somewhere -
nobody knows quite where - a white man living like an Indian,
exercising all the power of a Sioux chieftain. Brock must find
him before the war begins, for Brock is planning the defence of
Upper Canada - carefully, meticulously - and the RedHaired Man is
essential to that plan.
Isaac Brock has been preparing for war for five years, ever
since the Chesapeake affair when, as colonel in charge of the
defences of Lower Canada, he forced a grudging administration
into allowing him to repair and strengthen the crumbling fortress
of Quebec. Now he has power. He is not only a major-general in
charge of all the forces in Upper Canada, he is also, in the
absence of Francis Gore, the province's administrator, which in
colonial terms makes him close to being a dictator, though not
close enough for Brock's peace of mind. His years in Canada have
been a series of frustrations: frustrations with the civil
authorities, whom he views as a nuisance and who prevent him from
getting his own way; frustrations with his superior, the new
governor general Sir George Prevost, who keeps him on a tight
leash lest he do something precipitate and give the Americans
cause for war; frustrations with the militia, who are untrained,
untidy, undisciplined, and unwilling; frustrations with the
civilian population, who seem blithely unaware of the imminence
of war; frustrations over money, for he is in debt through no
real fault of his own; frustrations, one suspects, over women,
for he loves their company but has never been able to bring
himself to marry; and finally, frustrations over his posting.
More than anything else, Brock yearns to be with Wellington
on the Peninsula, where there is opportunity for active service
and its concomitants, glory and promotion. He does not care for
Canada, especially this wretched backwater of York with its tiny
clique of pseudo-aristocrats, its haggling legislature, and its
untutored rabble. In Quebec at least there was sophistication of
a sort, and Brock is no rustic: a gourmet, a lover of fine wines,
an omnivorous reader, a spirited dancer at society balls, he
longs for a larger community.
For all his days in Canada he has been trying to escape his
colonial prison. The irony is that this very month the Prince
Regent, through Governor General Prevost, has given him leave to
depart. Now he cannot go. Duty, with Brock, takes precedence over
personal whim. The gentlemen who form the Prince Regent's
government may not believe that war is coming, but General Isaac
Brock believes it, and "being now placed in a high ostensible
situation, and the state of public affairs with the American
government indicating a strong presumption of an approaching
rupture between the two countries, I beg leave to be allowed to
remain in my present command." Etc. Etc. Or is it, possibly, more
than a strict sense of duty that holds Brock in Canada? Expecting
war, does he not also welcome it? May he not now hope to
encounter in the colonies what he has longed for on the
continent? Glory, honour, adventure all beckon; all these - even
His colleagues, friends, subordinates, and adversaries are
scarcely aware of the General's inner turmoil. Though his
features are not always expressionless - he was once seen to shed
a tear at the execution of a soldier - he keeps his frustrations
BROCK'S PHYSICAL LOOKS, ACCEPTANCE
He is a remarkably handsome man with a fair complexion, a
broad forehead, clear eyes of grey blue (one with a slight cast),
and sparkling white teeth. His portraits tend to make him look a
little feminine - the almond eyes, the sensitive nostrils, the
girlish lips - but his bearing belies it; his is a massive
figure, big-boned and powerful, almost six feet three in height.
He has now, at forty-two, a slight tendency to portliness, and
the flush of middle age is on his cheeks; but he is, in his own
words, "hard as nails."
He is popular with almost everybody, especially the soldiers
who serve him - a courteous, affable officer who makes friends
easily and can charm with a smile. But there is also an aloofness
about him, induced perhaps by the loneliness of command; on those
rare occasions when he does take somebody into his confidence it
is likely to be a junior officer of the volunteer army rather
than one of his immediate subordinates.
He has no use for democracy. It is an American word, as
treasonous in his lexicon as communism will be to a later
generation of military authoritarians. Even the modest spoonful
of self-determination allowed the settlers of Upper Canada annoys
him. He has gone before the legislature this very month to ask
that the civilians, who train part time in the militia, be forced
to take an oath of allegiance. The militia in his view contains
"many doubtful characters." In addition, he wants to suspend the
age-old right of habeas corpus. The House of Assembly turns him
down on both counts, a decision that, to Brock, smacks of
disloyalty: "The great influence which the numerous settlers from
the United States possess over the decisions of the lower house
is truly alarming, and ought immediately, by every practical
means, [to] be diminished." To Brock, the foundations of the
colonial superstructure are threatened by treacherous foreign
democrats, boring from within, but he cannot convince the
Assembly of that.
So he turns to military matters and the secret message to
the RedHaired Man. As a good military commander, Brock has put
himself in the boots of his opposite numbers. He is confident
that he knows what the Americans will do.
Through their hunger for land they have managed to alienate
almost all the tribes on their northwestern frontier. The
Indians, then, are the key to American intentions. In other
circumstances, it would make sense to hit Canada in the midriff,
at Kingston and Montreal, cutting off the supply routes to the
upper province, which then must surely fall. But Brock knows that
this militarily attractive option is no option at all as long as
America's left flank is in flames. The Indians must be subdued,
and for that enterprise a very considerable force will be
required, drawn principally, Brock believes, from Ohio, whose
people are "an enterprising, hardy race, and uncommonly expert on
horseback with the rifle." To meet this threat he has already
dispatched two hundred regulars to reinforce the garrison at Fort
Amherstburg, across from the American military base at Detroit.
These will not be enough to counter any American thrust across
the Detroit River, but Brock hopes that their presence will
stiffen the resolve of the militia, and more important, convince
the Indians that Britain means business. For it is on the Indians
that the security of Upper Canada depends. If he can rouse the
Indians, the United States will be forced to concentrate much of
its limited military strength on the northwestern frontier,
thereby weakening any proposed thrust along the traditional
invasion routes toward Montreal and the St.Lawrence Valley.
BROCK ON INDIANS
Brock views the Indians as a means to an end. His attitude
toward them changes with the context. They are "a much injured
people" (a slap at American Indian policy), but they are also a
"fickle race" (when some insist on remaining neutral). To Brock,
as to most white men, Indians are Indians. (It is as if
Wellington lumped Lapps with Magyars and Poles with Scots.) He
makes little distinction between the tribes; Sioux and Shawnee,
Wyandot and Kickapoo are all the same to him - savages, difficult
to deal with, inconstant but damned useful to have on your side.
Brock means to have as many oddly assorted Indians on his side as
he can muster, and that is the substance of his secret
communication with the Red-Haired Man.
The Indians, in Brock's assessment, will fight the Americans
only if they are convinced the British are winning. If he can
seize the island of Mackinac in the far west at the outset of the
war, he believes the Indians will take heart. Some will
undoubtedly help him attack Detroit (for Brock believes the best
defence is offence), and if Detroit falls, more Indians will join
the British - perhaps even the Mohawks of the Six Nations, who
have been distressingly neutral. The main American invasion,
Brock believes, will come at the Niagara border along the neck of
land between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Anything else will be a
To put his domino theory into practice, at the outset Brock
needs Indians to subdue by their presence, if not their arrows,
the defenders of Michilimackinac. He expects the Red-Haired Man
to supply them. The secret letter is deliberately couched in
euphemisms, and even Brock's immediate superior, the cautious
Governor General Prevost, is not aware of it:
CONFIDENTIAL COMMUNICATION TRANSMITTED TO MR.ROBERT DICKSON
RESIDING WITH THE INDIANS NEAR THE MISSOURI
As it is probable that war may result from the present state of
affairs, it is very desirable to ascertain the degree of
cooperation that you and your friends might be able to furnish,
in case of such an Emergency taking place. You will be pleased to
report with all practicable expedition upon the following
1st. The number of your friends, that might be depended upon.
2. Their disposition toward us.
3. Would they assemble, and march under your orders.
4. State the succours you require, and the most eligible mode,
for their conveyance.
5. Can Equipment be procured in your Country.
6. An immediate direct communication with you, is very much
7. Can you point out in what manner, that object may be
8. Send without loss of time a few faithful and Confidential
Agents - Selected from your friends.
9. Will you individually approach the Detroit frontier next
spring. If so, state time and place where we may meet.
Memo. Avoid mentioning names, in your written communications.
Almost five months will pass before Brock receives an answer
to this memorandum. And when on July 14, at Fort George at the
mouth of the Niagara River, an Indian runner finally arrives with
a reply from Robert Dickson, it will already be outdated by
events. Long before that, the Red-Haired Man and his friends,
anticipating Brock, will have departed for the British post at
St.Joseph's to prepare for the invasion of the unsuspecting
island of Mackinac.
Interesting is the discription of the physical General Brock,
this answers why in one of his writings he said about himself:
"I speak powerful words, and I look big." The CBC Production does
not tell you about his physical size, only some of his words that
he wrote. In Pierre Burton giving us a picture of his size, we
can understand why he wrote "...and I look big." He was big!