More on the War of 1812: Fort Bender

Thanks to all who came out to the High Falls Center & Interpretive Museum last Tuesday for the most recent installment in our Lunch Hour Lecture series. Jim Fischer gave a fascinating talk on the confrontation between Rochester’s small militia, now known as the “Valiant 33,” and the forces of British naval commander James Yeo, which took place at the Port of Charlotte on May 14-15th, 1814, during the War of 1812.

 

Jim Talk%2c 5-13-14 (2)

Local historian Jim Fischer speaking at the High Falls Lunch Hour Lecture Series on May 13.

 

The idea of British troops invading Rochester seems almost incredible now, but in 1814 it came very close to reality. As Mr. Fischer described in his talk, the militia managed to avert the crisis–in part by perpetrating a clever hoax that fooled the British into thinking Rochester’s defenders were much more numerous than the 33 men actually present.  Nevertheless, these few citizen soldiers were prepared to fight against overwhelming odds to protect their homes and the United States military supplies stockpiled at Rochester.

Their preparations even included constructing a fort, where the militia intended to make their last stand if the British overpowered their defenses at Charlotte and approached Rochester. Christened “Fort Bender,” presumably because resident Hastings R. Bender must have played some key role in its creation, it was located near the Lower Falls along the road that connected the village with the Lake Ontario shore (our present-day Lake Avenue).

First-hand accounts describe Fort Bender as being located on the south side of  “the Deep Hollow,” a reference that means little to modern residents of Rochester but would have been immediately recognizable in the 19th and early 20th centuries.   The Deep Hollow was a steep ravine that carried a meandering creek to meet the Genesee River, roughly in the vicinity of the present-day Tops Friendly Market and Dunkin Donuts on Lake Avenue. The road that is now Lake Avenue crossed the Deep Hollow on a narrow wooden bridge, and militia member Elisha Ely later recalled loosening the planks so that the bridge could quickly be rendered unusable.

The most vivid description of Fort Bender comes from the reminiscences of Edwin Scrantom. As a ten-year-old boy in 1814, Scrantom and two friends set out from his home in what is now downtown Rochester in search of his father, who was with the militia at Charlotte. Scrantom described:

“…a journey of seven long miles, over most of which the forests hung and walled the road in on both sides; and for variety there were patches of ‘corduroy road’ that went through swamps that had the interlaced and matted growth of a century where nature had run wild and run mad…

Coming up to (the Deep Hollow) we found an earthwork thrown up on the south bank behind which, not far apart, were two small cannon pointed through an opening, and so planted that while a company of men were crossing they could be mowed down like hail devastating a field of wheat. There were also several men stationed here to watch an enemy’s approach, so that when warned, their first work was to remove the plank from the bridge, and then stand to their guns! The road beyond descended a great deal, and was enclosed on each side by thick woods, and we all felt inclined to back out, though neither broke his fears to the rest. Inquiring of the soldiers, they discouraged us, and two of them said, ‘Go back! Go back! What good can you boys do? You may all of you get killed.'”

(“A Boyhood Adventure,” by Edwin Scrantom, written in 1874 and republished in the Rochester Historical Society Publication Fund Series, Vol. III.)

No trace of Fort Bender remains today, and the Deep Hollow itself has disappeared from the map. After defying the efforts of Rochester’s building developers for years, it was finally filled in to the level of the surrounding streets in the early 1960s. The large vacant lot that can still be seen behind the Dunkin Donuts parking lot on Lake Avenue is the only reminder of this vanished landmark that once figured in Rochester’s military defense strategy.

 

Deep Hollow Creek 1875

A detail from Plate 19 of the 1875 Hopkins City Atlas of Rochester. In 1814, Fort Bender was located where Deep Hollow Creek passes under Lake Avenue.

 

–Amie Alscheff, Local History & Genealogy Division

Sources

Hanford, Franklin. “Visits of American and British Naval Vessels to the Genesee River, 1809 to 1814,” in Rochester Historical Society Publication Fund Series, Vol. III, Rochester, NY: Rochester Historical Society, 1924.

O’Reilly, Henry. Settlement in the West: Sketches of Rochester. Rochester, NY: W. Alling, 1838.

Scrantom, Edward. “A Boyhood Adventure,” in Rochester Historical Society Publication Fund Series, Vol. III, Rochester, NY: Rochester Historical Society, 1924.

 

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Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 2:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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