Rochesterville and the War of 1812


Careful readers of previous posts will note that Hamlet Scrantom (1773?-10 April 1850) settled in Rochester and moved into his new home on July 4, 1812. History buffs will know that the War of 1812 began only 16 days before, June 18, 1812, and the treaty ending the conflict was signed December 24, 1814. The more well-known battles of the war – such as Fort McHenry (Baltimore) and New Orleans – took place far from the area, but most encounters occurred in the frontier between the United States and Canada. Given that the war overlapped with the earliest dates of settlement on the Genesee, as well as the village’s proximity to the Canadian frontier, what impact did the war have on the new hamlet of Rochesterville?

On May 14, 1814, Sir James Yeo of the British Navy appeared offshore by the mouth of the Genesee River with a fleet of his ships. Rumor had it they were there to burn the Main Street Bridge, which could be used to deploy American troops to other theaters of conflict.

Having heard of a raid on Oswego eight days earlier by this same fleet, and believing the young settlement was the next target, 300 men and boys formed themselves into a local militia, drawing on troops from Rochesterville, Greece, Pittsford, and other nearby communities. The militia occupied an elevated spot near Lake Ontario, where they could observe the maneuvers of the British fleet.

Eventually a boat set off from Yeo’s ship with a flag of truce. Francis Brown (Rochesterville’s first mayor and Brown Street’s namesake) was chosen to lead a delegation down to the water’s edge to hear the enemy’s demands. It was later reported that Brown addressed the landing party as follows, “I say, hello mister! You don’t come on this ground ‘til I know what you are after! So just stay in the boat and say your say out!”

1812_james lucas yeo

James Lucas Yeo, early 19th century portrait.

The commander demanded the surrender of the militia’s stores (i.e., supplies, most likely flour, pork, and whisky) or risk destruction of the area. He also noted that if public property in the area was surrendered, private property would be respected. He then produced a paper signed by the citizens of Oswego that said the United States government had left a large quantity of stores and munitions in Oswego, but the residents of the town would not risk their lives to protect it.

Obviously, the British hoped the capitulation of their neighbors to the east would serve as a precedent for the Genesee region. Brown noted that he had to consult his superiors and then left. Upon his return, he noted, “I am ordered by the general to tell you we shall keep the stores until the King shall send a force sufficient to take it away. So, if you want them badly, you must get them the best way you can.” The British emissaries thereupon returned to their ship.

1812_fair jeanne

Fair Jeanne, an 1812-Replica Tall Ship arriving at Port of Rochester

Like Civil War Confederate General John Bankhead Magruder 48 years later, Brown and his colleagues then put on a display that left the invaders flummoxed. The militia marched off to the left into the brush and marched around to the right. They emerged from the brush and appeared atop the hill in a different order than before, so that it appeared from a distance to be a new company of soldiers. They marched off again and another body of men appeared in front when they came to another part of the hill. These men too marched off and disappeared.

The maneuvers continued until the British thought there was a large army of combatants awaiting them. The British fired a few random shots (to no avail) and then sailed away.  Thus ended Rochesterville’s contribution to the “Second War of American Independence!”

-Christopher Brennan



Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Rochester continued to do its part in its own way for all the years we lived there 1960–1992 and we are always proud to say that is where we came from!

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