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By Mark Pavilons
Canada is currently known as the global peacekeepers. For us to get to this point, we have to understand our roots and historic conflicts.
A King author examines the Canadian-American schism in his latest book, “Fire & Desolation: The Revolutionary War's 1778 Campaign as Waged from Quebec and Niagara Against the American Frontiers.”
This is a particularly interesting and a somewhat neglected chapter of the American war for independence, told by one of the best. King City's Gavin Watt, author of 11 books about Loyalist military history, recounts our history in a fresh, well presented way, providing new insights into marginalized Loyalists, First Nations, British and rebel contributions.
Fire & Desolation picks apart the battles and tactics used during the infamous Wyoming Valley and Cherry Valley Massacres.
Watt explained these events both took place in 1778 and were labelled as “massacres” by American historians. The first took place in the Wyoming Valley on the Susquehanna River in upstate Pennsylvania. Then, several months later, the Cherry Valley Massacre occurred in the Mohawk River country of upstate New York. Although the details prompting these events are most complicated, their bloody outcomes convinced the American Congress to punish the Six Nations' Iroquois Confederacy and its allied tribes. The following year, the American Continental Army retaliated by destroying the Natives' settlements throughout eastern Indian Territory.
Watt noted that although the conflict began as a rebellion of disgruntled American colonists against Britain, it soon evolved into a world-wide conflict as the two sides gathered in allies. In the early stages, the 13 rebelling colonies unsuccessfully attempted to co-opt their northern neighbours – Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Britain then turned to the German States to provide troops; the American rebels allied with France for assistance on land and sea, and the next year with Spain.
“Of course, not all Americans embraced the rebellion and there were often as many Americans under arms for the British Crown as there were against. That American Natives were immediately involved on both sides of the conflict was an added complication and ultimately a disaster for them. With Americans of all derivations arrayed against each other, the conflict was clearly America's first civil war.”
There are some key historic facts that Watt wants everyone to know. As a result of this war, the most powerful Native confederacy in North America was shattered; French Canada was preserved; English Canada was expanded, and a second country took root.
Several “unsung heroes” emerged from all of this. Watt found several who played key roles in our past.
They included Brigadier Sir John Johnson, Superintendent & Inspector General of Indian Affairs, settled Montreal. Mohawk War Captain Joseph Brant Thayendanegea, Brant's Volunteers, settled Brantford on the Grand River. Mohawk War Captain John Deserontyon, Fort Hunter Mohawks, settled Tyendinaga on the Bay of Quinte near Deseronto. Major Edward Jessup, Loyal Rangers, settled Prescott. Major James Rogers, King's Rangers, settled at Frederickburgh on Lake Ontario near Napanee County Lieutenant Claude-Nicolas-Guillaume, Sieur de Lorimier, Quebec Indian Department, continued at Kahnawake on the St. Lawrence River south of Montreal.
Through his research, Watt admitted that he still has a lot to learn.
An avid re-enactor for decades, Watt has worn the uniform of the day, and experienced the mock battlefield. He has been involved in re-enactment since the 1970s and has been involved in parades, military events and celebrations both in Ontario and in the U.S. He's been active in three 18th Century recreated units – the 1st and 2nd battalions, King's Royal Regiment of New York and the 1758 New York Provincial Regiment.
And that's how his stories of the men and their regiments come to life in his books.
American accounts of the history of the day tend to be quite different from our perspective and Watt sheds some light on these Canadian founding fathers. Pulling from his wide network of historians both here and south of the border, his “gigantic” personal library and collection of documents, Watt put the pieces together nicely in this easy-to-read account of these campaigns.
A benefit of reenacting was his growing friendship with American historians who were every bit as passionate about their Revolution as he was about their rebellion.
Despite his prolific writing, he said he still knows very little and this further fuels his appetite.
Fire & Desolation, published by Dundurn Press, is available in book stores.
If you'd like to find out more about his books or his research, visit www.gavinwatt.ca or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Excerpt: Canada is currently known as the global peacekeepers. For us to get to this point, we have to understand our roots and historic conflicts. A King author examines the Canadian-American schism in his latest book, “Fire & Desolation: The Revolutionary War’s 1778 Campaign as Waged from Quebec and Niagara Against the American Frontiers.”
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