The 2nd Battle of Ogdensburg: 204 Years Later

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.

Some Thoughts:

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:

http://www.slcha.org/warof1812/sites.php

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.

 

 

A Grave Site Located in the Woods

We’re going to be looking at War of 1812 graves located basically in the middle of nowhere in the woods. It also happens to be the 204th  anniversary of Elijah Sacket’s death and his companion’s death.

RoadSide_Marker

This marker is for two soldiers who perished on a march from Plattsburgh to Sackets Harbor in the spring of 1813. The location of the graves and marker are on County Route 24, which is also known as the “St. Lawrence Turnpike” or the “Russell Turnpike.” The road ran all the way from Malone through to Carthage via Russell and was very important during the War of 1812 because it allowed Sackets Harbor to be connected to Plattsburgh via Malone. This allowed transportation of troops and supplies during the war. The actual information on both the roadside marker and grave marker are lacking any real substantial information, so I decided to do some research.

HINT, HINT- If you see something interesting and historic, but lacking information, research it! And, share your findings because someone, somewhere is probably also interested.

Researching Elijah Sacket was not easy. There’s still some unanswered questions. Records are not the clearest and some have been lost to time. So from what I could find, this is the story of Elijah Sacket, a militiaman during the War of 1812.

First off, there are two Elijah Sacket(t)s! Both lived during the same time and were involved in their local militias.

Just for your records, the first Elijah Sackett (two “T”s) was born in 1751 and lived in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. He was involved in the American Revolution; eventually he moved to Ohio and died at the old age of 86 in 1837. He’s not our guy but at least he seems to have lived an interesting life!

Back to our Elijah Sacket (only one “T”).

Elijah was born in 1768 in Sheffield, Massachusetts. He moved with his parents (Benjamin and Dorothy) and siblings to New York State shortly before the American Revolution began. In 1789, he married Dorothy Hitchcock. Eventually with his wife he moved to Hartford, NY located in Washington County. Elijah and Dorothy had five children: Elisabeth, Erminia, Electa, Ebenezer, and Erwin.

Elijah had been part of the militia in Washington County from 1800 to 1807 in Colonel Solomon Baker’s Regiment of the Brigade of the Militia of said county. During that time, Elijah was promoted from private to lieutenant.

Sometime between 1807 and 1809, Elijah decided to move his family to Northern New York. They settled in Gouverneur, where Elijah worked as a miller. He must have decided to join the local militia, the 123rd Regiment, which was also known as Benedict’s Regiment (Thomas Benedict) located in St. Lawrence County.

Elijah’s movements during the War of 1812 are unclear thanks to the lack of both surviving and digitized documents. His name does not show up on any digital records of muster rolls for the regiments of St. Lawrence County. Solely based on his grave site in Pierrepont, NY, we know that Elijah was en-route to Plattsburgh from Sackets Harbor. He died from some kind of sickness, which was very common in the military camps during the War. Oddly enough, Elijah has a second gravestone in Gouverneur, where his wife and some of his children are buried.

The unknown soldier is still a mystery. I haven’t been able to find any real information from the muster rolls for St. Lawrence County. As I already mentioned, Elijah is not listed on any lists I was able to find online and there was nothing related to the death dates of April 7th and 13th.

Researching Elijah Sacket was difficult. Many of the online resources I found had a lot of conflicting information or just general lack of information, which made things confusing.

For example on Ancestry.com I found a record that listed Elijah Sacket as “Benedict’s Regiment, NY Militia, Private” and another listed him as “Elijah Sacket (1768-1813) lieutenant, Washington County Regiment, NY.” This is the same Elijah, just the information is not a lot to go on and are about two different times during Elijah’s life. Finding other sources online helped piece together what little is known.

I also think it’s interesting to look at the maintenance of a very small grave site, along with the remembrance of soldiers who died during the War of 1812. A lot of books and articles on the War of 1812 call it the “forgotten war.” Have we forgotten the War of 1812? I’m not sure. Being a historian who’s interested in local and early American history, I know it happened and I’ve done some research on it (as in this blog post). I also know that Northern New York played a very important role being the Northern frontier to Canada (British Territory) during the War.

The town of Pierrepont is in charge of the maintenance of the property. As you can see in the images, it’s not a very noticeable place and parking isn’t easy. Today when I was at the site taking pictures, it was obviously I had been the only visitor so far. So what happens when a place isn’t easily accessible. Do we forget about it? Should the effort be put in to preserve it and remember it? How do we make it so that people notice this marker more?

Maybe by spreading the word that it exists. I’m not sure if there are “right” answers to these questions. But on that note, this is the final resting place of two soldiers who fought to protect early America and they died 203 years ago to the day. Let’s spread the word that they lived.

GraveMarker

If anyone has thoughts or ideas on how to find more information on Elijah’s movements during the War or how to figure out the identity of the unknown soldier, leave a comment or send me a message.

The following is a list of resources I found online that were helpful in figuring out the story of Elijah Sacket. They also might be helpful if you have your own personal genealogical research you’re working on.

Elijah Sacket Family Tree Information:

Thurmon King’s New Sackett Family Tree, http://sackett-tree.org/getperson.php?personID=I1439&tree=1, accessed 04/09/2016.

The Sackett Family Association: Sacketts in the Military, http://sackettfamily.info/militarysacketts.htm, accessed 04/08/2016.

Information on the Grave Site:

Soldier’s Graves, War of 1812, Town of Pierrepont, http://stlawrencecountycemeteries.org/Pierrepont/soldiers.htm, accessed 04/11/2016.

Images of the Grave Site:

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=28033906, accessed 04/09/2016.

http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=77837, accessed 04/10/2016

Elijah Sacket and St. Lawrence County:

What was going on in St. Lawrence County 200 years ago? Here’s a town-by-town look, from Canton to Waddington,” July 3, 2012. http://northcountrynow.com/news/what-was-going-st-lawrence-county-200-years-ago-heres-town-town-look-canton-waddington-061006, accessed 04/08/2016.

St. Lawrence County Quarterly, Volume 3, 2011. The entire journal is about the War of 1812 in St. Lawrence County. There’s a lot of cool information and a little information on Elijah Sacket. I found a copy at the Potsdam Public Library.

De Kalb’s Own General: Thomas Benedict,” Bryan Thompson, De Kalb’s historian. http://www.dekalbnyhistorian.org/LocalHistoryArticles/DeKalbGeneral/DeKalbGeneral.html, accessed 04/10/2016.

Documents of the Senate of New York, Vol.9   https://books.google.com/books?id=LKIlAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA498&dq=elijah+sacket&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiglsLvzofMAhULWxQKHc0IB304ChDoAQgbMAA#v=onepage&q=elijah%20sacket&f=false, accessed 04/09/2016.

Information on the War of 1812:

War of 1812 Bicentennial, http://slcha.org/warof1812/bicentennial.php, accessed 04/07/2016.

St. Lawrence County War fo 1812 History Trail, http://slcha.org/warof1812/sites.php, accessed 04/07/2016.

A note on Ancestry.com: I do not have a subscription to Ancestry.com, the Potsdam Public Library does. If you’re in the Library using their WiFi, you can get access to Ancestry.com through their website. It’s really cool that the Library has access to Ancestry.com and it helped when I was researching!