war of 1812

The War of 1812 in the Town of Alexandria


From the Thousand Islands Sun, courtesy of Jeanne Snow, editor

(4 Sep 1996 issue, reprinted from a 3 Jun 1946 article written by the late Ernest Cook)

If the battle of Sackets Harbor had not been such an important engagement in the War of 1812, because of its key position from a military point of view, the Battle of Goose Bay, right here in Alexandria, might have drawn more of a top position in north country history. As it was, it provided a thrilling adventure for a band of brave men who could use their wits as well as their guns.

And you could expect, with the St. Lawrence river the importnat waterway it was and is, and also the dividing stream between two nations, that some naval engagements would take place along Alexandria's shore line. For many years the St. Lawrence River had been the great waterway for travel into the regions being settled on both sides of the river. It was on this stream that history was early being made.

Few people realize the importance of the St. Lawrence in the history of North America. Just a few miles down the stream from Alexandria was located the very first naval-yard in all of North America. This was the naval station established by the French at the Maitland of today. There the French built boats for war and the station was an important one in their plan for the conquest and holding of their vast domain in North America.

It was about the 20th day of July, 1813, that Major Kimoch of the Forsyths rifles regiment came down the river in two small gunboats, having on board 32 picked men from this regiment, besides a crew of volunteers for each boat. Also, there were probably nearly 40 volunteer riflemen on board--men who were anxious to join in the adventure of a coming naval battle.

What Major Dimocki was sent down the river for was to locate, and, if possible, intercept some bateaux, which had been reported ascending the river loaded with supplies for the British troops at Kingston. It was an important mission for the United States did not want those stores and munitions to reach the armed forces at Kingston fort. It might be that Major Dimoch spotted the British boats becalmed in a bay, and he had completed a part of his mission, but not the hardest part, should the British give battle.

Now Major Dimoch's boats, the Fox and the Neptune, were rigged with sweeps [oars] so he could push along the shore regardless of the lack of wind. He made his plans and landed some men on the shore to prevent any escape of the British, should they start for land. Directly he pounced upon the 15 bateaux and actually captured them, also an armed boat that was escorting the lighter craft. His next move was to take the captured boats into Goose Bay and started up Cranberry Creek, going as far as the falls.

Next he quickly landed some of his 6 and 12 pound guns on the rocks and awaited events from the other side. Anxious to know if the British were making any move, he sent a skiff down the stream to learn the position of the enemy. The report they brought back was not so cheerful. They told that the British had stationed two small gun-boats at the lower gap of Goose Bay, and the upper gap there was an 18-gun brig, the Elmira. This strong boat had with her several bateaux armed with 6 pound guns, and there were probably 600 men with this fleet. It was plain to see that the British had pulled a clever trick. They had actually bottled up Major Dimoch, who could not now move out because of the strong battle line of the British, and could probably not do much damage bottled up in a creek. All the British would have to do would be to sit tight and await Major Dimoch's move. In fact, they could take their time and not press the battle, for the British commander knew he was master of the situation, no matter what happened. That was the way the picture looked to the British at this time. The real battle had not started.


after Growth of a Century by John A. Haddock, 1895

Elijah Adams, son of Robert Adams and Nancy Andrus, came from Vermont, where they were married in 1790, to Rutland in 1803, thence to Houndsfield, and moved into the town of Alexandria in 1824. They were three days and three nights getting from Houndsfield, to their first home on the margin of the sheet of water then known as Round Lake, where they resided about five years, removing to the farm now occupied by their granddaughter, Mrs. A. McDonald, with her husband and family. The transaction of the early inhabitants and the dates of the occurrence of many events, is as indelibly written on the memory of Elijah Adams as if stamped on parchment at the time of the occurrence.

The story of the fight on Cranberry Creek, as it comes down from preceding generations, some of the participants having tarried in this section long after that occurrence, is as follows: Previous to July 20, 1813, one Major Dimock, of the Fourth rifle regiment, accidentally learned that 18 bateaux, loaded with pork and hard bread, were about to pass up the river on their way to Kingston. He hurriedly gathered together quite a number of the yeomen of the surrounding country and secured the little gunboats Fox and Neptune, at Sacket's Harbor, dropped down the river to encounter the convoy and the barges.

The night of the capture Major Dimock took position at the foot of the Lake of the Islands, well out of the wind, which was blowing a gale down the river. The bateaux, for safety, had put into Simmons' Bay. In the night (the Captain of the Canadian Gunboat having taken up quarters ashore with Simmons) Dimock wandered down to the vicinity of the Canadian command, rowed out, got aboard of a Canadian convoy, and found the sentinel asleep. He had previously arranged with his own crew to make all haste in coming to his help at the firing of a pistol. He immediately fired a shot, after capturing and disarming the sleepy sentinel. Dimock's boat soon bore down upon the Canadian squadron and captured the entire force, gunboat and all.

Dimock, fearing recapture, having learned that a messenger had been dispatched to Kingston for reinforcements, conducted his now numerous fleet across the river into Goose Bay, and thence up the Cranberry Creek, pushing up the creek as far as he could go, which was to the promontory projecting out into the creek in the town of Alexandria, near the point in later years occupied as a saw mill site by Alexander D. Peck. The bateaux were huddled together at this point. In order to protect the packed bateaux, loaded with barrels of pork, the 18-gun brig "Elmira," was sent down the river by the British at Kingston as soon as they learned of the disaster to their subsistence. The pilot of the "Elmira" was directed by a scout who had watched the capture from the time it was made up to the time of the arrival of "Elmira."

Not being able to get into Goose Bay with the Elmira, her commander ordered two smaller gun boats, one of which entered the Bay and the mouth of Cranberry Creek, and, when near enough to be effective, commenced firing. When just above Dan Northrup's log roll-way, two men were detailed to proceed down below that point and fell trees across the creek. Two heavy pines were felled, completely blocking a retreat. Then the "dance commenced" in earnest. The British soon learning that their retreat had been cut off, sent out parties to clear away the obstructions. Eleven of their detachment were killed right there. One of the men engaged in felling the trees across the creek was killed at his post. He was named James Buchanan. The second kept up as effectual a fire as he could, and until a squad was sent down to clear the woods for the British, and a bombardment of the woods was kept up until the choppers cleared away the obstructions.

James Buchanan was buried on the point in front of which the Canadian gun boat was sunk. In all, seven were killed of the Americans, and from 15 to 20 British. The British gun boat, crippled by the loss of her men, withdrew as soon as possible. Capt. Dimock, with what remained of the pork and hard bread, dropped down out of the creek, hugging the southwest shore, until he arrived at the low lands between Island No. 9 and the main land, where he found he could drag the bateaux across through a deep place, and this was done. Starting them up the river, with the Fox and Neptune, Captain D. dropped down to the lower gap, poling their vessels, but when out in the main river they hoisted sail, the wind still continuing favorable.

In a few minutes he found himself along side of the Elmira. He pulled down his flag and lowered all his sails. He was ordered to come up along side of the steamer, but answered back that his steering gear was out of order; he had passed the Elmira before her commander took in the situation. As soon as out of range of a broadside, Captain Dimock hoisted sail, ran up his flag, and gave the Elmira a parting shot with one of his six-pounders. The Elmira, as soon as she could get around, gave the little Fox and Neptune a broadside at long range, which proved a waste of ammunition, but she gave chase to the fleeing gun boats and bateaux, and forced Dimock's fleet to take refuge in French Creek.

It is related that most of these captured stores were scattered and wasted, and that several of the bateaux were re-captured--but there is so much that is traditional about the matter that it is difficult to reach the exact truth. It is certain that this large amount of stores did not reach the headquarters of the Northern army.

The losses in the engagement at Cranberry Creek were small when compared with even some of the skirmishes of the Civil War, but that affair filled an important space in chronology of those primitive times. The British loss is placed as high as 12, and the American loss at 2. There were but few wounded on either side.

A map of the area has been extracted from the 1892 map of the Town of Alexandria.

Having thus given the account of a son of a eye-witness and participant in the affair at Cranberry Creek, or Goose Bay, we append Major Durham's account of that matter, which is believed to be very nearly accurate:

"One of the most stirring affairs that took place among the Thousand Islands was the spirited action at Cranberry Creek, now better known as Goose Bay, near Alexandria. This seems to be the only case on record where a deputy collector of a port exercised the authority to grant letters of marque; but this was certainly one instance, and whether others of a like nature occurred, there is nothing to substantiate.

"Be that as it may, on the 14th of July, 1813, two armed boats, the Neptune and Fox, the first a private craft, armed with one six-pounder, and a swivel; the second, a government boat, left Sacket's Harbor under letters of marque issued by the deputy collector of this district. The Neptune was manned by 24 volunteers, under the command of Cap. Samuel Dixon, and the Fox by 21 men of Twenty-first infantry, under Lieutenants Burbank and Perry.

"The expedition was fitted out by Marinus W. Gilbert, of Watertown, with the object of cutting off a detachment of the enemy's boats laden with stores, and expected up the river about this time. The boats touched at Cape Vincent, halted for a short time at French Creek (Clayton), and then pushed on to Cranberry Creek, where they held a review, put their boats in complete order, examined and cleaned their arms, and sent an express to Ogdensburg for intelligence, and at 5 p. m. the next day the looked-for intelligence came. At 9 o'clock that night the two boats left the creek, and at 4 o'clock in the morning they discovered a brigade of British bateaux, lying at Simmons' landing, under the protection of his Majesty's gunboat Spitfire, just ready to proceed to Kingston.

"Pushing quickly to the shore, Lieutenant Perry, with Sergeant James and 27 men landed to cut off their retreat, while the remainder seized the gunboat and bateaux. So complete was the surprise that the fifteen bateaux and the gunboat were captured without the firing of a single shot by either party. By 9 o'clock they were safe in Cranberry Creek again, and at once 69 prisoners, under a guard of 15 men, started for Sacket's harbor in charge of Lieutenant Burbank.

"The capture was of great value, but owing to the folly of some of the party in sinking some of the bateaux without orders, it proved of but little profit to the promoters of the expedition. The Spitfire was armed with a 12-pound carronade, and had a crew of 14 men. She also carried a large amount of military stores. The bateaux carried 270 barrels of pork and 270 bags of hard bread.

"On the morning of the 21st, just as the rising sun tipped with gold the island summits, 250 of the enemy, with four gunboats and a couple of transports, were discovered making their way up the creek. Thirty men met them and gallantly disputed their landing, while 20 more took position to further dispute their advance; and in the meantime a rapid fire opened from the six-pounder, which so seriously disabled two of the enemy's gunboats that their crews were obliged to leave them and cut flags from the shore to plug the shot holes. In a short time the enemy retired to their boats, and, pulling beyond the fire of our men, sent in a flag of truce demanding a surrender to 'stop the effusion of blood.'

"To this our men replied by advancing and opening fire, when the enemy hurriedly retreated, and the battle of Cranberry Creek was ended, with a loss on our side of only three killed and wounded, while that of the enemy ws considerable.

"Suffice it to say that the expedition returned safely to Sacket's Harbor although when rounding Tibbett's Point it was attacked by an armed schooner, the Earl of Moira, and though several times hit by her shots, none were captured."

If you have additional information, comments, or suggestions, please contact: Nan Dixon

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