I’m on the board of directors for Fort la Présentation Association, a non-profit organization located in Ogdensburg, NY. The Fort la Présentation Association’s main goal is to reconstruct the French mission fort that was located on the St. Lawrence River, along with preserving and presenting the history of the fort and Ogdensburg. Fort de la Présentation was a significant location on the St. Lawrence from before the French and Indian War all the way to the War of 1812.
Over the weekend, I helped at one of the Association’s events that we partner with Forsyth’s Riffle Association to put on. The event is the “Battle of Ogdensburg,” where re-enactors from across New York and Canada commemorate the “Invasion of Ogdensburg” or the 2nd Battle of Ogdensburg.
The actual event occurred on February 22nd, 1813 during the War of 1812. Meaning that today, February 22, 2017, is the 204 anniversary of the Battle!
During the early years of the United States, Ogdensburg, and well basically all of Northern New York, was the northern frontier of the country and during the War of 1812, the area was the front lines of the War. The St. Lawrence County Historical Association has a wonderful listing of all the sites in the county related to the War of 1812. A link to that web page is listed below.
The 2nd Battle of Ogdensburg Went Something Like This:
In 1813, Fort de la Présentation, had been renamed, Fort Van Rensselaer and was under the command of Captain Benjamin Forsyth and his rifle regiment, along with support from the local militiamen. IN early February, Captain Forsyth had received information that a large number of American prisoners were being held at the jail in Brockville, Ontario. The British considered some of those prisoners to actually be “deserters” from the British army and that they would be executed as an example for other British soldiers thinking about deserting. It seems that these so called “deserters” were really Americans from what Captain Forsyth learned. Not wanting American prisoners to be unfairly executed, Forsyth, his rifle regiment, and a number of citizens from Ogdensburg for a total of about 200 people, decided they would attempt a daring rescue of the prisoners on February 6th.
The raid was successful!
The combined American rescuers, were able to free all the prisoners in the Brockville jail minus one man, who actually was a convict. They left him in jail. They also took a number of prominent Brockville citizens as hostages on their way back to Ogdensburg. The hostages were let go once the Americans were back in Ogdensburg. The Americans were also able to capture 120 muskets, 20 rifles, and two casks of ammunition.
This raid, really angered the British forces located at Fort Wellington at Prescott.
On a side note, Prescott is located directly across the St. Lawrence River from Lighthouse Point, where the American fort was located. Today, Fort Wellington is part of Parks Canada and you can go there and walk around and tour the fort. It’s pretty cool!
The British forces at Fort Wellington were under the command of Colonel “Red” George MacDonnell. Colonel MacDonnell decided that his forces would attack Ogdensburg as payback for the raid on Brockville. He also personally did not like Captain Forsyth. So on the morning of February 22nd, MacDonnell split his forces into two different groups and they crossed the frozen St. Lawrence River to reach Ogdensburg. 300 men were under the command of Captain Jenkins and they headed straight to Fort Van Rensselaer, while MacDonnell took about 500 men into the Village.
The assault on the Fort was initially a failure in part because of the amount of snow, Captain Jenkins was wounded multiple times and eventually his men had to fall back. The majority of the American forces also were located at the Fort, which probably didn’t help the British.
Meanwhile in the Village, Colonel MacDonnell had better luck because the Village was only being protected by about 50 members of the local militia. MacDonnell’s plan was to capture the cannons the militiamen had and then use those cannons on the rest of the American’s at Fort Van Rensselaer!
The story goes that during the street battle in the Village, all of the American militia retreated except the Sheriff Joseph York, who continued to load and fire one of the cannons at the oncoming British soldiers. Colonel MacDonnell was so impressed with York’s bravery that he commanded his troops not to fire on York and instead took him prisoner.
Colonel MacDonnell’s plan worked. The British were able to capture the cannons and a few American prisoners including York. The British continued to Fort Rensselaer where Captain Forsyth and his men were still located. Forsyth refused to surrender to MacDonnell and supposedly told the British commander via messengers that “…there must be more fighting done first.” While MacDonnell’s forces fired at the Fort, the Americans slipped out the back unnoticed and escaped from Ogdensburg.
Click through the photos from the two days of re-enactments for commentary about the battle re-enactment.
Battle of Ogdensburg: February 18th
Battle of Ogdensburg: February 19th
In history, after this battle, the Americans decided not to reinforce Forsyth and his men, so that they could retake Ogdensburg. The British eventually left Ogdensburg alone and for the rest of the War of 1812, Ogdensburg was left undefended by the Americans.
By 1814 Captain Forsyth was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was active in the patrolling and skirmishes near Lake Champlain and north in Quebec. He died during the fighting at Odelltown, Quebec in June of 1814.
The re-enactment was very fun to watch! Last year, I did not have the opportunity to watch it but I have been able to attend the other re-enactment event the Fort Association puts on, which is Founder’s Weekend, a French and Indian War re-enactment. At Founder’s Weekend last summer, I dressed up in some borrowed colonial clothing and told ghost stories that pertained to New France and the French and Indian War.
As a board member of the Fort la Présentation Association, it’s really awesome to attend these events and be able talk with both the re-enactors and the spectators. At the Battle of Ogdensburg there was also an Open House at the Ogdensburg Am-Vets, where people could check out cool displays related to the War of 1812. The Fort Association always has historical reproduction children toys for kids to play with. While some of the re-enactors put their muskets, rifles, other period reproductions, and even handmade items out on display for the general public to look at and learn about. For example, there was a woman in period clothing spinning wool on a spinning wheel.
The men, women, and even children who attend this event and others like it, are very focused on preserving history and being authentic. More importantly though, the re-enactors make history a living, breathing, and exciting concept for general people to learn about and interact with. It’s really awesome!
If you have any questions or comments, let me know in the comment section below!
There’s also a list of links and a book, if you’re interested in learning more about the 2nd Battle of Ogdensburg and those who were involved.
Thanks for reading!
For More Information:
St. Lawrence County Historical Association map on the War of 1812 sites located in the county:
Forsyth’s Rifles, Inc. : http://www.forsythsrifles.org/
Fort de la Présentation: http://www.fort1749.org/
An account of the Battle of Ogdensburg: http://www.warof1812.ca/o_burg.htm
Fort Wellington: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/on/wellington/index.aspx
A book has been written about Fort de la Présentation, which was helpful in writing about the 2nd Battle of Ogdensburg. James E. Reagan, Warriors of La Presentation (Ogdensburg, NY: Oswegatchie Press, 1999), 130-135.