The war of 1812 was a different kind of war as the war started because of a trade dispute. As a result of the Napoleonic wars, the British stopped neutral American ships and forced American citizens to serve in the British navy against their will. Such a fundamental disregard for American sovereignty led to an American ban on trade with Britain. When British did not cease their behavior soon enough, the US decided to declare war. However, the Anglo-American tension that dominated the prewar era did not exist in the Adirondack region. In the years since the American Revolution the Adirondack region had changed. Especially along the shores of the two lakes, the population had swelled and industry had developed substantially. This led to an increase in trade and friendship with Canada which had been largely unaffected by the tension. The agricultural development and population growth in the Adirondacks diminished the ferocity of the war.
The war of 1812 was mostly a nuisance for the people of the Adirondacks at first. The war of 1812 officially began on June 18th 1812. By the time of the war, 100,000 people lived in the region on the shores bordering Lake Champlain (Bellico, 205). Overall there were now 500,000 settlers in Central and western New York; a massive increase compared to the 7,500 people that lived in the area in 1790 (Jenkins, 75). Farmers densely populated Lake Champlain because of the fertility of valley. Trade disputes with European nations did not impact these farmers. Many of these farmers were not greatly affected by the trade disputes with the European nations. For that reason, they saw the war as a disruption to their growing prosperity. Because of this perhaps, the first few years of the war only saw intermittent cross border raids by both sides (Ibid, 84). This ensured that war was not too damaging for the people of the Adirondacks.
In the fall of 1814, however, all of that changed and the region became a hot bed of military activity. Between 1812 and 1814, both sides had been constructing fleets to use on lake Champlain. These fleets would be put to good use. A British Army composed of 14,000 men advanced southward down the lake. Facing these men were merely 5,400 American troops. Before the battle started, the British navy, which had supported the advance, fought the American fleet. The two sides’ were evenly matched. The British led by Captain George Downie had four ships and twelve smaller gunships. Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough commanded the American navy of four ships and ten gunships. . The two navies began to fight early in the morning on September 11th 1814. The British commander died early in the fighting and the British flagship was battered until she, along with the rest of the fleet, surrendered. Even though the British army outnumbered the American army significantly, the British general chose to retreat rather than fight. This was one of the last battles of the war and the largest battle in the Adirondacks and the war ended three months later (Ibid, 85).
The relatively brief and bloodless fighting in the Adirondacks reveals that it was the region’s nature that prevented the conflict from growing (Ibid, 84). The lakes region had gone from wilderness to rural farmland. Trade and prosperity and the population grew. All of these effects contributed to the lack of intense fighting. In the American Revolution, the colonists’ felt like they were fighting for their lives. The War of 1812 however, was about a trade dispute that they had no part in. For this reason, the character of the war in 1812 was vastly different from the American Revolution.
Adirondacks, Visit. “Autumn in the Adirondacks: Out-of-the-Ordinary Fall Festivals.” Syracuse.com. http://www.syracuse.com/travel/index.ssf/2014/08/autumn_in_the_adirondacks_out-of-the-ordinary_fall_festivals.html, 2014. Web. 09 May 2016.
Bellico, Russell P. Sails and Steam in the Mountains: A Maritime and Military History of Lake George and Lake Champlain. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain, 1992. Print.
Bellico, Russell P. Chronicles of Lake George: Journeys in War and Peace. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain, 1995. Print.
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Jenkins, Jerry, and Andy Keal. The Adirondack Atlas: A Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2004. Print.
Tanner, Benjamin. Macdonough’s Victory on Lake Champlain and Defeat of the British Army at Plattsburg by Genl. Macomb. 1816. Engraving. Libary of Congress, Washington D.C.