Cape Vincent

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War was declared on the 18th of June, 1812. On the 26th of the same month General Jacob Brown wrote Governor Tompkins that in his opinion a "strong detachment should at once be sent onto Cape Vincent." In order to keep Kinston, which was well fortified and a point from which military expeditions would be sent out by the British, "in as much alarm as possible." In less than three weeks after the declaration of the war, a detachment of troops from this county, and a considerable force under Colonel Bellinger, were on the ground. John B. Esselstyn, who afterwards became colonel, was in command of the militia.

Drafted militia, some from the Mohawk valley, were stationed at Cape Vincent, and also a body of riflemen belonging to the company of Captain Benjamin Forsyth. Besides these, it will be seen, from a statement made on another page, that a detachment of light artillery and dragoons were among the defenders of this frontier. During the winter of 1812-13 a line of sentinels was established along this shore and on the ice, fourteen miles in length. At this time one Corporal Dean went over to Wolfe island, fell in love with a young lady the name of Button, and, like a brave soldier, laid siege to her heart and captured it. Button bay was called after her father.

On a still night, not long after the surrender of the fair prisoner, a soldier of this line of sentinels called out in loud tones, "Button, button, who has got the button?" His comrade next beyond evidently knew, for he relied in the same loud voice, "Corporal Dean." And then for the whole sentry stretch of ten miles, four above Cape Vincent and six below, the words were caught up by the soldiers, till the air fairly rang with reverberations of buttons, Deans, and corporals.

The soldiers' barracks, stood, one building on the corner of James street and Broadway, and the other at the foot of James street. A building, now used for a school-house, on Murray street, was occupied as a hospital. The barracks, a store belonging to Henry Ainsworth, another store of J. B. and R. M. Esselstyn, two or three small vessels that had been built here, the house of Major Esselstyn, which stood below Port Putnam, several barns, and considerable lumber, were burned by the enemy at different times during the war. The house and barns of Dr. Avery Ainsworth, in Pleasant Valley, were also fired and destroyed by the Indians. Gen. Wilkinson's army, as well as the troops encamped here, burned a large quantity of staves belonging to the Esselstyns, to cook their messes and keep themselves warm. For this loss of property Congress seems to have granted only partial remuneration. In a letter dated January 21, 1821, Mr. R. M. Esselstyn complained to Congress, through the Hon. W. D. Ford, that the losses should be met, inasmuch as they could not have been averted by him at the time. He added, "I think I have proved to a demonstration (and if I have not I can) in the case of John B. and R. M. Esselstyn, for losses sustained in the burning of our warehouse and the property we had in it," that the destruction was caused by the enemy while the place was "in the military occupancy of the government." The unsettled claim amounted to $630.25.

Other persons also made application of a similar character. During the summer of 1813, Mr. Eber Kelsey went to Albany to look after payment for "services done and supplies furnished" our soldiers. Governor Tompkins was not at the capital when this visit was made, and Mr. Kelsey left a paper for him, setting forth his claims. Among the items specified is one "for the use of the schooner 'Neptune' thirty-one days" in the transportation of troops and munitions of war. He stated in this paper that General Brown allowed him only two dollars a day for the services of the schooner, and he thought it ought to be increased to three dollars. In closing he reminded the governor that the schooner was the one in which "your Excellency sailed from Sacket's Harbor to Oswego, last fall",--the fall of 1812. There is another item for "furnishing hay and other necessaries to a detachment of light artillery," as appeared from a certificate of Captain Siger and Lieut. Johnson, and ordered paid by Col. Macomb. According to Captain Mead's certificate, there is also a claim "for damage done by a detachment of light dragoons," to the amount of $71.00, as apprised by John B. Esselstyn, Esq., Elnathan Judd, Esq., and Mr. John Nash."

The plundering and burning of the warehouses referred to was done on the sly by British gun-boats; and these war-boats were frequently seen passing up and down the river in front of the village. Marauding parties, however, sometimes came to grief, as the following incident illustrates: Just as daylight, one morning, a gun-boat came up the river and stopped at the foot of James street, when the crew and soldiers leaped ashore and hurried into the nearest garden, where they began to plunder the small fruit and vegetables. But the boat had been seen through the gay light of the coming day, by a body of Forsyth's riflemen, as it passed Port Putnam. Suspecting that the British might land, the sharpshooters followed along the shore, through the woods, and reached the garden but a few moments later. They immediately attacked them, and a skirmish ensued which resulted in the capture of all the party except three or four. Several were wounded and three were killed, as the matter is now remembered by one who was living here at that time. The prisoners were sent to Greenbush, on the Hudson river, and the dead buried at the corner of Broadway and Murray streets. It may be remarked that only two American soldiers were killed at Cape Vincent, or near it, during the progress of this war of 1812. One was a man by the name of Draper, who went over to Wolf island with a number of volunteers from among the soldiers, to rout a party of Indians who were watching of opportunities of theft and scalping. The raid was poorly managed, and Draper was left on the field, having been shot by the enemy when carelessly exposing himself. Some of the volunteers received trifling wounds. The other soldier was accidentally shot by a comrade, who pointed and snapped a gun at him, supposing it to be unloaded. The dead man was buried some distance back in the forest, and until a recent period these words might have been seem cut in the bark of a beech-tree, to designate the spot neat which he lay: "A. Cutter shot by J. Weaver." The burial-ground of the woods, where all the American soldiers who died of disease were likewise buried, was in the rear of the M. E. church, and perhaps half-way to Williams street.

The "Royal George." A British war-ship of 24 guns, once stopped at Cape Vincent, but withdrew without making any demonstration. On the 23rd of August, 1813, Major Esselstyn was taken prisoner on the "Stateroad" near Chaumont, while escorting several relatives and friends to a place of safety. He was removed to Canada, held about two weeks, and then exchanged for a British office of equal rank. The British fleet which attacked Sacket's Harbor on the 29th of May, 1813, was fitted out at Kingston, and on its way to the harbor captured a boat, loaded with flour, from Cape Vincent. It will thus be seen that this town was a point of much interest during the period which we are considering although no battles or other great events occurred to draw the attention of the country at large to it.

This portion of the history should not be concluded without recording a most thrilling tragedy which happened in a private dwelling that stood near the corner of Broadway and Esselstyn streets. It appears that a British soldier had left his Majesty's service and taken his sword in behalf of the United States. His name was Moore. Some time during the month of May, 1813, a troop of British soldiers, having learned that Moore was at Cape Vincent, in command of a small body of American soldiers, surrounded the house where he was stopping, and demanded that he should go back to Canada with them. They waited a little time on the outside and ordered him out of the house. He refused to come. Then several British soldiers went into the room where he had placed himself, but Moore drew his sword and would not be taken. Stepping into a corner, he asked for only a fair fight,--his swordblade against their bayonets. His comrades had fled upstairs; and single-handed, he actually kept every one of them at bay till the order was given to shot him down. It was a cowardly act, and he lived long enough to call those upstairs, as well as his assailants, cowards. The bullet, which passed through his body and bedded itself in the ceiling, was found a few years ago when the house was taken down. (Jefferson County History, by L. H. Everts, 1878 - Transcribed by Holice B.Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtmantop



This topic is treated elsewhere, and it need only be said that no person at the present hour attempts to justify the patriot movement in 1838.

After the United States, as well as the State authorities had pronounced strongly any action on American soil in aid of the Canadians, whoever sympathized with the cause ought not to have used the protection of the stars and stripes to secretly assist it. The sympathizers should have gone into the Dominion, and not have stolen arms and held secret meetings here. Many who read these words will remember the hunter-lodges, the mysterious language of signs among members of the lodges, the discussions that were in the night air about attacking Kingston, the robbery of the Watertown arsenal, the burning of the "Sir Robert Peel" near Wells island, the memorable trip of the "United States" across the lake and down this river, when the patriots gathers at Windmill Point and the delusion came to a quick and disastrous end. (Jefferson County History, by L. H. Everts, 1878 - Transcribed by Holice B.Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtmantop



During the Civil War the State of New York placed 426,000 men in the army and navy. Cape Vincent contributed of this number her full quotas. The quota under the call of October 17, 1863, was 44; under that of February 1, 1864, it was 70; March 14, 28; July 18, 56; December 19, 40. The guns which battered Fort Sumter in 1861 were scarcely cold before the loyal citizens of this town began to urge the necessity of saving the nation from the disgrace which that act was designed to bring upon it. On the 6th of August, 1862, a permanent war committee was appointed at a meeting of the citizens, which continued till 1865. In February of this year (1865) the committee reported that $235.85 still remained in its hands unexpended of the money raised to pay bounties. They were authorized and directed to use the balance at their discretion in providing for the families of the volunteers. A special town-meeting was held on the 12th of January, 1864, when it was voted--263 against 52--to tax the town sufficiently to pay a bounty of $300 to each person who should thereafter volunteer into the service of the United States and be credited to Cape Vincent. Previous to the appointment of this war committee the volunteers received little or no bounty although small sums were given them by individuals as they left home, and they went under the stimulation of a patriotism that no man could lay to the charge of greenbacks. Nor must we forget the meeting of the ladies on Thursday evening, the 21st of August, 1862, when arrangements were made for a Union festival, which was held a week later, in the freight depot, with great success. Several hundred dollars were then raised for the purpose of establishing a soldiers' relief fund, and this sum was increased from time to time by the ladies as the families of soldiers here needed help, or requests were made to them for hospital supplies at the front. At the preliminary meeting the committee of the village was made to include two ladies from each school district of the town, whose names are given in the report of the proceedings. It seems that certain cows and sheep had been donated to the ladies for the benefit of the relief fund, and on the occasion of the festival they were sold. If we had the names of the farmers who gave the stock they would be put in this place.

During the years of the war, large meetings were held in different parts of the town,--four-horse teams sometimes starting out of the village of Cape Vincent with banners and music, gathering audiences at Millen's Bay, St. Lawrence, or around the steps of the church in French Settlement,--at which the citizens would endeavor to inspire one another with the vital responsibilities of the hour. The meetings of this village were usually held in Hemlock hall. A large crowd once convened in the passenger depot. A celebration was held on the Fourth of July, 1863, for Union funds; and the energy displayed here through those anxious years of blood and suffering, those years when sons went from some of our homes never to return, those years when it was as much a glory and a martyrdom to sincerely fight for the liberty of the nation as ever characterized the land of the brave, those years which made centennial freedom possible, from the grand old river to the great Gulf--the war energy exerted in Cape Vincent then must go on record as a constituent element of the county and the State, which made the town a loyal and patriotic one. (Jefferson County History, by L. H. Everts, 1878 - Transcribed by Holice B.Young. Original HTML by Debbie Axtmantop


© Kevin Subra.   This site was begun September 7, 2000 in order to encourage interest in the history and ancestry of Cape Vincent. Thank you for visiting! E-mail the webmaster, or visit his Subra Family website which he is developing to help his family get to know THEIR history!

Thanks to Holice B. Young and Debbie Axtman for their previous efforts in launching this project!


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