The Town of Champlain has a rich history related to the War of 1812. As a town bordering Canada and Lake Champlain, it saw numerous incursions, occupations and skirmishes. More military activity occurred here than in any other town in Clinton County. Wayside panels have been placed around town that highlight particular historical sites. These sites are noted on the two interactive maps shown below.
Interactive Maps (Below)
Wayside Panels and Historic Markers in Champlain Related to the War of 1812
The Town of Champlain in the War of 1812
(adapted from the 2006 Champlain Historic Calendar essay;
the 2010 calendar has a longer, more detailed essay with letter excerpts and diary entries from
Judge Pliny Moore, whose property was used by the British troops.)
The Village of Champlain has a rich history related to the War of 1812. Although Champlain did not see much fighting or destruction of property, it served as the first step in the invasion of the United States from Canada within the Champlain Valley. On four occasions, American armies of three to five thousand troops were camped in the village. The British army of ten to fourteen thousand soldiers also camped in the village on their way to the Battle of Plattsburgh.
The Start of the War of 1812
On June 18, 1812, Congress declared war with England after several years of building tensions. Nine days later, General Benjamin Mooers of Plattsburgh received word of the declaration and assumed command of the New York militia in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties. The militia was sent to several border towns including Chateaugay, Champlain, Chazy and Mooers. The role of the state militia was to defend the border. At this time, the United States Army was not in a position to perform raids into Canada.
No barracks or blockhouses existed in Champlain at the start of the war. This made the leading citizens of Champlain uneasy and prompted several of them to form the Champlain Committee of Safety. The leader of the committee, Judge Pliny Moore, recommended to General Bloomfield that two or three blockhouses be built to house the troops during winter and protect Champlain from Indian incursions across the border. The blockhouses were built on the edge of the village at an unknown location.
November of 1812 – Dearborn’s Occupation of Champlain Village
On November 19, 1812, Major General Henry Dearborn assumed command of the Northern Army at Pliny Moore’s house in Champlain. Dearborn's plan was to invade Canada through Champlain and attack Montreal. His army consisted of 3,000 regulars and 2,000 militia for a total force of 5,000 soldiers. For comparison, the British only had about 3,000 men stationed between Champlain and Montreal. Dearborn and his officers stayed in Pliny’s house and used it as their headquarters.
On November 20, 1812, 600 advance guard troops under the command of Colonel Zebulon Pike marched to Lacolle Mill in the early morning and surrounded a blockhouse but a group of American militia came around from the other side and engaged in a fight with their comrades. This resulted in a total state of confusion as both armies were firing on each other. After the failed attack, Dearborn's advance guard retreated back to Champlain leaving between two and five soldiers dead and several wounded.
The Winter of 1813
Early in 1813, there was a belief that the British would engage the Americans on Lake Ontario in western New York. General Dearborn commanded that all of the regulars at Burlington and Plattsburgh as well as a corps of soldiers in Champlain be moved west. This left the Champlain border mostly undefended and many of the inhabitants believed that British raids would now occur unchallenged.
May of 1813 — Herrick's Occupation of Champlain
With Dearborn's army at Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario, the Champlain border was again undefended. The New York and Vermont militias were called out to provide protection. Captain Oliver Herrick arrived in Champlain on May 5 with a company of Vermont and New Hampshire volunteers. Herrick's men were in Champlain for less than one month. In early June, the men were met by Lieutenant Sidney Smith's two boats, the Growler and Eagle, and sailed up to Isle-aux-Noix where they engaged the British and were captured in an ambush. All 41 soldiers of Herrick’s company became prisoners of war.
June of 1813 — Davis’ Occupation of Champlain
With Herrick's men captured by the British at Isle-aux-Noix, Champlain was again left defenseless. General Benjamin Mooers was upset by the lack of troops in Champlain and complained to Colonel Isaac Clark in Burlington. On June 20, Colonel Samuel Davis arrived in Champlain with a detachment of troops and remained there until July 14.
After Davis departed Champlain, the Champlain Committee of Safety, led by Pliny Moore, wrote a letter to General Hampton at Burlington requesting that the protection of the Champlain border be continued. The committee told Hampton of several incursions by the British and Indians and their belief that they were at the mercy of these troops.
That next day, General Hampton wrote a letter back to the committee. He brazenly told them that his military was not there to police the country. He said that if Champlain’s citizens chose to live on the border, they had to be prepared for the consequences. He also implied that they needed to defend their own village.
August of 1813 – Murray’s Raid
The next time Champlain saw major conflict was in August of 1813. British commander Colonel John Murray was given an order that included “the destruction of public buildings, military stores, and vessels…” He set out from Isle-aux-Noix and sailed to Alburg, Swanton, Burlington and Plattsburgh. Two of the ships that he used were the former Eagle and Growler that were captured on June 3.
After the raid on Plattsburgh on July 31 where they burned Pike’s Cantonment, Murray and his troops headed to Chazy Landing and burned the store of Judge Matthew Saxe. In a letter written to Pliny Moore on that day, Saxe warned of the British raid and mentioned the belief that they would march to Champlain and burn the blockhouses there.
On August 3, while rowing back to Swanton, Murray sent a small party of soldiers up the Great Chazy River where they marched to Champlain. The soldiers burned a barracks, a storehouse and several blockhouses. The storehouse contained hay for the military. Finally, Murray's soldiers captured a company of Clinton County militia. They were later exchanged for British prisoners.
September of 1813 – Hampton’s Raid into Odelltown, Quebec
In September of 1813, General Wade Hampton marched to Champlain with three to four thousand troops. His army comprised two regiments of regulars, militia, a squadron of cavalry and artillery with ten guns. Upon reaching Champlain on September 20, two detachments of the army went to Odelltown. That next day, on September 22, his men left the village and marched to Chazy. After Hampton left, a division of Vermont Militia came to protect the border. Many went back to Vermont, though, at harvest time.
October of 1813 – Major Perreault’s Threat to Champlain’s Residents
On October 1, a small party of American militia attacked Odelltown and surprised a picket guard. British Major J. Perreault was furious about this attack and warned the citizens of Champlain that he would let loose his Canadian and Indian force on the village if the American militia tried any more attacks. His threat was printed in the national newspaper Niles Weekly Register:
A British major. — The following gasconading notice was sent out to judge Moore, of Champlain, by major Perreault, who commands about sixty Canadians and indians at Odletown. A few nights previous to the promulgation of this petty mandate, our militia had attacked a picket near the lines which so excited the ire of the British major, that he issued, without delay, the following “humane advertisement.”
LA COLE, 10th October.
“Citizens of Champlain! — I am happy that humanity should still have so much power over me so as to inform you that should any of the militia of Champlain, be found hovering this side of the line, I will let loose upon your village and inhabitants, the Canadian and indian force under my command. You are probably aware that it has been with greatest difficulty I have till now withheld them. But your cowardly attack at midnight, of a small picket of ours, has torn asunder the veil which hid you from them — So beware!
J. PERREAULT, major commanding ad. post.
“P. S. Major Perreault would be obliged to the honorable judge Moore, to acquaint the citizens of Champlain of the tenor of the above humane advertisement.
On October 12, 102 Americans, led by Colonel Isaac Clark, sailed down the lake from Burlington and attacked the British at Missisquoi Bay. Clark again attacked the British on October 27 and captured a number of cattle that had been smuggled from Vermont. The two attacks prompted Major Perreault to carry out his threat against the citizens of Champlain.
November of 1813 – Perreault’s Pillage of Champlain
In Pliny Moore's diary, he noted five incursions by the British into Champlain. On October 28, the day after Clark’s raid, 300 British were in the village under the command of Major Perreault. On November 2, 1,000 British soldiers under Perreault invaded Champlain and pillaged stores. On November 10, six British officers rode through the village. And on November 14, 50 cavalry arrived in the village, stayed one night and left. Two days later, on November 16, 50 British soldiers and eight officers entered the village and three of them visited Pliny at his house.
Ezra Thurber of Rouses Point agreed with Pliny Moore that the American army should stop their raids into Canada from Champlain. Thurber wrote, “can it accomplish any good on the general scale of national affairs. The fact is, us that lives on this frontier must pay for it — retaliation is determined on by the enemy.”
March of 1814 – Wilkinson’s Occupation of Champlain
The winter of 1814 was the start of the next round of military campaigns. General James Wilkinson was now in command of the Northern Army and he believed that he could make a successful attack into Canada again and conquer Montreal. In March of 1814, Major Benjamin Forsyth, along with 300 Riflemen and Dragoons, arrived in Champlain. Forsyth’s goal was to protect the border and to prevent further trade between the Americans and British. By March 29, there were 4,000 men in Champlain which consisted of 304 artillerists who had 11 pieces of small caliber cannon as well as 100 cavalry.
On March 30, Wilkinson’s troops made a failed attack on a blockhouse at Lacolle Mill. A number of troops on both sides were killed and wounded. Two days later, Wilkinson returned to Champlain and remained for a week.
June of 1814 – Forsyth’s Raid into Odelltown
On June 22, 1814, Forsyth and 70 of his Riflemen crossed the border into Odelltown but were attacked by 250 British troops. Forsyth was able to win the battle with one soldier killed and five wounded. Several days later, Forsyth went across the border again to ambush the British. Forsyth was able to draw Captain St. Valier Mailloux’s (variously spelled Mayhew, Mahew and Mayo) 150 Canadians and Indians into the ambush, but unfortunately, he stepped on a log to see the battle and was shot in the chest by one of the Indians.
Forsyth was taken to Pliny Moore's house where he died that same day. That next day, he was buried in the Old Burying Yard on Oak Street in an unmarked grave so the British would not know he was dead. In the 1860’s, the cemetery was moved to Glenwood Cemetery and all of the graves except his were relocated (Pliny Moore’s grave was also moved). In the late 1800’s, a house was built on the site.
To seek revenge for Forsyth's killing, the American soldiers shot and killed Captain Mayo. Mayo was taken to Champlain in a blanket and brought to the basement of Pliny Moore's house which was considered more of a neutral location. British surgeons were allowed to treat Mayo but he died eight days later.
July and August of 1814 – Izard’s Occupation of Champlain
In July of 1814, General George Izard was placed in command of about 4,500 troops in Champlain. That same month, Sir George Prevost, the Governor General of Canada, received secret instructions from Lord Bathurst to undertake an invasion of New York along Lake Champlain. Prevost was placed in command of 10,000 soldiers and started to mass his army at Isle-aux-Noix. Many of these soldiers had fought in Spain and Portugal during the Napoleonic War and were seasoned soldiers.
Prevost was able to keep the news of his army's buildup secret. Izard was unaware of this buildup until early August and the Secretary of War John Armstrong in Washington did not know until much later. On July 27, suspecting that a British attack would occur at Sackets Harbor (this was part of Prevost’s deception), Izard received orders from the Secretary of War to supplement the Army of the Niagara at Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario. Izard and the border inhabitants were shocked by this command.
Izard was now very aware of the troop buildup and delayed leaving Champlain in the hope that the Secretary of War would reverse his order to move the troops to Sackets Harbor. Izard wrote on August 11, one month from the day of the Battle of Plattsburgh:
“I will make the movement you direct, if possible; but I shall do it with the apprehension of risking the force under my command, and with the certainty that every thing in this vicinity but the lately erected works at Plattsburg and Cumberland Head will, in less than three days after my departure, be in the possession of the enemy. He is in force superior to mine in my front; he daily threatens an attack on my position at Champlain; we are all in hourly expectation of a serious conflict. . . . Let me not be supposed to hesitate about executing any project which the government I have the honor to serve think proper to direct. My little army will do its duty.”Izard wrote the Secretary of War again on August 20 when he realized that he had no choice but to leave Champlain:
“I must not be responsible for the consequences of abandoning my present strong position. I will obey orders and execute them as well as I know how. Major General Brisbane commands at Odell Town. He is said to have between five and six thousand men with him. At Chambly are said to be about four thousand.”
August of 1814 – The British Occupation of Champlain
On August 27, Izard left his encampment in the village of Champlain. Several days would pass while Champlain was visited by the Indians and British. The main invasion of the British started on Monday, August 31, when the right wing under General Brisbane entered the village. That next day, on September 1, the left wing marched down the Odelltown Road (Route 276). Sir George Prevost commanded this wing.
Because the British army was so large, the force was divided into two wings and three brigades. It consisted of 3,700 soldiers in the 1st Brigade, 5,600 in the 2nd Brigade, 3,100 in the 3rd Brigade, 2,800 in the Light Brigade, 300 in the Light Dragoons, 400 of the Royal Artillery, and 100 Rocketeers, Sappers and Miners. A total of 10,000 to 14,000 soldiers were now camped in the village.
The British army’s occupation of Champlain in August and September was mostly peaceful in nature. Their goal was not to plunder the village but to march to Plattsburgh and engage the Americans. However, Generals Prevost and Brisbane issued orders urging the Champlain townspeople to abandon their allegiance to the government and invited them to provide provisions to his army. When few villagers came forward, Prevost commandeered wagons and teams and loaded them with baggage and stores. Brigadier-General Alexander Macomb later wrote a letter to the Secretary of War about the Battle of Plattsburgh and noted Prevost’s occupation of Champlain. The letter was written on September 15, 1814:
“The governor-general of the Canadas, Sir George Prevost, having collected all the disposable force of Lower Canada, with a view of conquering the country as far as Ticonderoga, entered the territory of the United States on the 1st of the month, and occupied the village of Champlain — there avowed his intentions, and issued orders and proclamations, tending to dissuade the people from their allegiance, and inviting them to furnish his army with provisions. He immediately began, to impress the wagons and teams in the vicinity, and loaded them with his baggage and stores, indicating preparations for an attack on this place.”
While in Champlain, the British army used Pliny Moore's stone farmhouse on as a commissary. The British army remained in Champlain until September 4 while their navy continued to prepare their warships for battle on Lake Champlain. When Prevost could wait no longer, he ordered his army to start their march to Plattsburgh. The right wing marched down Prospect Street to Elm Street and passed over the Great Chazy River in front of Pliny Moore's house. The army marched 12 hours over the Elm Street bridge and up the hill to the State Road (Main Street to Route 9). The army then continued south to Chazy.
The left wing of the British army marched down Route 276 and headed to Coopersville and Honey Mooers’ corners where they met up with the right wing. Both armies marched to Chazy and camped there that night.
On September 11, the Battle of Plattsburgh occurred and the British were defeated. They retreated to Chazy at midnight unbeknownst to the Americans. On September 13, most of the British army marched back into Canada except for one brigade. Power’s brigade stayed in Champlain until September 25.
Dewey’s Tavern and its Role in the War of 1812
Dewey’s Tavern was built on the main road that connects Champlain and Rouses Point to Canada. Only a mile or two from the border, it served as a tavern (hotel) for people traveling. During the war, it became a central spot for the negotiation of two of the four prisoner of war treaties the Americans had with the British.
Towards the end of the war, both countries had taken many prisoners and were looking for ways to exchange them. The first treaty had been signed in November of 1812. On April 15, 1814, American Brigadier General John Winder, who had been paroled by the British and sent to Washington, met with British Adjutant General Baynes at Dewey’s. Washington did not like their agreement and another was signed on July 16 at the Tavern. This agreement was never ratified but it was still adhered to.
Dewey’s Tavern also serves as an internment site for American soldiers killed during the raid at the Lacolle stone mill in March of 1814. Legend also has it that as the British retreated to Canada, they left many of the wounded at the tavern. When the soldiers died, they were buried in the Dewey family cemetery in the field across from the school.