The Raid On Black Rock

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The War of 1812 is full of battles that would define Canada for years to come. Some battles went well for Canada, some did not. Some battles were won, but the win came at great cost. That is the type of battle we have with the Raid on Black Rock.

After the Battle of Stony Creek on June 6, 1813 returned the Niagara Peninsula to British and Canadian control and ended the attempt by the United States to conquer the western part of the province, the British were feeling brazen in the war and began to conduct raids into the United States. The first raid would be on July 5 at Fort Schlosser, just above Niagara Falls. The raid went extremely well, so a second raid was planned, this time for a place called Black Rock.

It was in the early hours of July 11, 1813 when Lt. Colonel Cecil Bisshopp set out with over 200 men from various regiments and battalions to cross the Niagara River and land below Black Rock.

So, a little about Lt. Col. Bisshopp. He was the heir to his father, Sir Cecil Bisshopp, the 8th Baronet Bisshopp of Parkham Park in Sussex and he had first joined the British army with the First Foot Guards as an ensign in 1799. In 1800, he was promoted to lieutenant and in 1812, he was a major. From 1811 to 1812, he served as a Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons for Newport, Isle of Wright. In 1812, he was then assigned as the inspecting field officer for the militia of Upper Canada, which earned him the rank of Lt. Col.

It was at Black Rock that the British would meet 50 New York Militia under the command of Major Parmenio Adams who was stationed at the nearby Fort Gibson to guard Black Rock.

Adams had started as a lieutenant in the light infantry before becoming the captain of the Grenadiers and then the division inspector of Infantry for the New York State Militia, beginning in 1816.

The British and Canadians moved with, and this is the quote, “great rapidity to the attack of the post. Adams and his men soon fled, allowing Bisshopp’s forces to get to work. They would spike two 12-pounder and two six-pounder guns at the batteries, steal a 12-pounder and two nine-pounder guns, along with several kegs of ammunition, 177 muskets and 180 barrels of provisions. They then burned down the barracks and the blockhouse, as well as a ship. This ship was thanks to Captain George Miller, who had participated in several engagements on Lake Erie and lived in that area. During the attack, he went into the harbour and brought the vessel out of its moorings and turned it over to the British. Since he was well-known in that area, the guards assumed he was on their side and assisted in cutting the vessel adrift from the dock for him. As soon as the ship was free, he turned it over to the British at Black Rock.

Before leaving, the British decided to take hundreds of bags of salt, an important commodity, and it was a decision that would have terrible consequences.

It seemed like an overwhelming victory but Brigadier General Peter B. Porter had a house nearby. He was the Quarter Master General for the state of New York and was on watch that night.

Just getting down to sleep, he would hear several British troops run by. Wearing only his linen nightshirt, he would go out the window, grab a horse and ride into the evening towards Buffalo to get troops. A few minutes later, Bisshopp’s troops would seize his house. Porter would make it to Fort Buffalo and he would assemble a force of troops to counter-attack. Porter’s force consisted of 90 men from Adams’ garrison, 50 Buffalo militia and 30 Seneca warriors. This will be the first time in the war that the Americans use Indigenous troops.

Let’s look at Porter, who was a pretty interesting man. He had been admitted to the Bar in 1793 and began to practice law in New York State, serving as the clerk for Ontario County from 1797 to 1804. In 1802, he was elected to the New York State Assembly and in 1809, he moved to Black Rock, New York. That same year, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and as a close friend of President James Madison, he was one of the ones who convinced him to take up arms against the British and start the War of 1812.

Thanks to the delay grabbing the salt, the American force was able to ambush Bisshopp’s men in the dark as they were marching along the beach. The British, who were not expecting anymore American resistance were caught completely by surprise. This skirmish lasted 20 minutes and the British quickly crossed back into Canada with everything they had plundered but they suffered heavy casualties.

According to a report on the raid, published in an issue of The War, and American newspaper, on July 27, 1813, it was stated the following:

“The enemy after a contest of 20 minutes retreated in the utmost confusion to the beach, embarked on several of our boats and pulled for the opposite shore. All the boats got off without injury except the last, which suffered severely from our fire and from appearance, nearly all the men in her were killed and wounded.”

One man who died from his wounds from the raid was Bisshopp. Bisshopp had been shot three times and died of blood poisoning several days later.

The War related in its article about Bisshop, mistaking for the name Bishop, “Col. Bishop was badly wounded and carried into the boat.”

In the raid, the British suffered 13 killed, 23 wounded, four wounded and missing and two missing. The Americans for their part captured 17 prisoners, while losing 3 militia men and suffering six wounded.

The article in The War states the three men killed on the American side, stating:

“On our side, sergeant Hartman, Jonathan Thompson and Joseph Wright were killed.”

One man injured in the battle was Captain William Caulfield Saunders, who was also captured by the Americans. He was mentioned in The War in the issue I had related before, where it was stated:

“Captain Saunders of the British 49th was wounded while stepping into his boat, he was conveyed to General Porter’s house.”

Years later, he would write about the experience of the raid. I will highlight some parts of the papers written by him.

“I received a rifle shot in the left side of the chest, which passed out through the right shoulder blade from which a large stream of blood flowed, when hit, it appeared and struck me at the moment as if a Harlequin had struck with his wand. No sensation.”

While running from the man who had shot him, who was an Indigenous man aiding the Americans, he pointed ordered a volley on him. Pointing to the Indigenous man with his arm elevated, a musket ball hit his arm, knocking the sword from his hand and leaving his arm, in his words, “dangling only be a few sinews.”

He then fell to the side and inured a rib falling on a tree stump. Captured by the Americans, the general with the Americans ordered his surgeon to deal with the injury to Saunders. He goes on his papers to say.

“The surgeon attended, cut off my clothes, bound up my wrist, but did not stop the flow of blood from the orifice made in the chest. Don’t know whether or not I bled from that or the shoulder bone. The surgeon declared my case hopeless and that I had less than six hours to live. They called again in the evening and told me that a handsome coffin and due honours awaited me.”

He goes on.

“I told them to give the coffin to some of my men as I felt assured of not then requiring if they did so for two days after continued delirious, the wound in chest from unremitting care and attention closed in about three weeks. The write proved more obstinate and continued open for two years, bones constantly exfoliating, then would close for several months and bone again appear.”

Before I end the episode, let’s look at the major players who survived the battle.

Adams would go on to become the Sheriff of Genesse County from 1815 to 1816 and from 1818 to 1821. He would help to build the Erie Canal and in 1822, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, serving until 1827. He would pass away on Feb. 19, 1832.

For Porter, after the war he was given command of all of the American forces on the Niagara Frontier. From 1815 to 1816, he was the Secretary of State of New York and from 1828 to 1829, he was the U.S. Secretary of War under President John Quincy Adams. He was also a slave owner, with five slaves. His son, also named Peter, would die at the Battle of Cold Harbour during the American Civil War, his grandson, also named Peter, served in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Information comes from FortyFirst.Org, Black Rock Historical Society, Wikipedia, Brock University, Flames Across The Border, From Brock To Currie,

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