Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

5 posts categorized "1812"

08 November 2012

Tecumseh's warriors: First Nations and the War of 1812

 Subscriptions for Brock Monument (title sheet)

Public Domain Mark
This work (Correspondence, addresses, &c. connected with the subscriptions of various Indian tribes in Upper Canada, in aid of the funds for the re-construction of Brock's monument on Queenston Heights, by publisher: R. Stanton), identified by British Library, is free of known copyright restrictions.

With work still continuing on our War of 1812 digitisation project, Team Americas’ ex-intern Brendan Cull delves back into some of the items he discovered during his time here:


While at the Library I had the opportunity to sift through a variety of resources related to the War of 1812. As I dove feet first into historical documents and current research, it became clear to me that the reverberations of the battles fought were far-reaching both geographically and historically. Recently, many communities and groups in North America have been organizing re-enactments and celebrations to commemorate and explore the period. For example, the Royal Canadian Mint has honoured national heroes such as Sir Isaac Brock, Tecumseh, and Laura Secord with special issue coins

The War of 1812 affected many cultural groups and highlights the complex relationships between European settlers and First Nations. One item which caught my attention in particular contains a collection of official communications between Canadian government officials and First Nations leaders. “Correspondence, Addresses Etc. connected with the subscriptions of various Indian tribes in Upper Canada, in aid of the funds for the re-construction of Brock’s Monument, on Queenston Heights” [BL Shelfmark: C.42.b.1] contains a series of letters which connect various First Nations groups to the aforementioned British war hero, Sir Isaac Brock (who was killed in the Battle of Queenston Heights alongside his British and First Nations comrades). It begins with an appeal for fundraising, but fast becomes a fascinating record of the thoughts and feelings of various groups, including the Chippewas, Hurons, Wyandotts, Munsees, Oneidas, Mississagas and Mohawks, regarding their involvement in the war effort. These formal statements express outrage towards the defacement of Brock’s final resting place and their commitment to honour Brock’s memory, and by proxy that of their relatives who fought alongside him. By making financial contributions towards the re-erection of Brock’s Monument, the First Nations strove to commemorate their own involvement in many of the same battles in which Brock and, famously, Tecumseh had fought.

These letters are made even more telling when one considers that the American Army would not accept First Nations men amongst its ranks, whereas the British showed some encouragement to them to join in the conflict. An article entitled “Canadian Indians” in the March 9, 1813 edition of the Montreal Gazette [BL Shelfmark: MC270] reports that President James Madison mocked the British for fighting alongside the “red people”. The author makes it clear that while Madison had a negative view of First Nations people, not all Americans subscribed to this judgement; in fact, he draws on personal experience to counter Madison’s stand. These documents give us a sense of not only the politics of the conflict but also the role of the First Nations groups who had an important stake in its outcome.


24 August 2012

The Battle of Bladensburg: some War of 1812 project notes

Battle of Bladensberg

Map of the Battle of Bladensburg showing Washington. British Library Manuscript [Add. Mss. 57715 (f.10)]

Today marks 198 years since the Battle of Bladensburg, during which a British force landed at Benedict, on the Patuxent River, and marched on Washington D.C. The resulting battle was a victory for the British and ended with the burning of public buildings in the city.

As part of the War of 1812 digitisation project that myself and Matthew are working on I’ve come across the above map of the battle, a black and white reproduction of which can be found in Lossing’s The Pictorial Fieldbook of the War of 1812 (held in a later edition at the Library, DSC 81/8962). The image above is just a low-res copy as we've as yet to start the digitisation in earnest.

Digitisation will start in September, with the first selections (all maps) heading off to Imaging Services. There’s some interesting material in there, including maps of the Battle of New Orleans and a map of the Battle of Moriaviantown. There are also some interesting general maps and atlases which show the landscape and settlements of early nineteenth century North America as well as the theatre of war.

When the first materials go up we’ll let you know.


25 April 2012

Malaria in Ontario: a World Malaria Day post

Rideau Canal (route)
Route of the Rideau Canal, insert from the map, Map of the District of Montreal, Lower Canada [Shelfmark: Maps 70715.(2.)]

Today is World Malaria Day so it seemed appropriate to do a short post related to one of the world's most prevalent diseases. Regarding the collections, there are a number of items which could drive interesting narratives here but this piece focuses on malaria in Canada. This might seem odd but malaria is not solely a tropical disease, coming in two main strains one of which is tolerant of temperate climates. Indeed the P. vivax strain of malaria was long endemic in parts of England, as this blog post from the Wellcome Library points out.

Scientific evidence illustrates that malaria in all its forms was introduced to the Americas subsequent to Columbian contact. Malaria was established in many parts of North America before the nineteenth century and Canada was no exception, but the construction sites of the Rideau Canal provided a particularly strong foothold. The construction of the canal led to the creation of semi-drained, marshy areas into which dense populations of workers were added, an ideal environment for mosquitoes and malaria transmission.

Rideau Canal (Locks)
Rideau Canal significant works, plate from, Papers on Subjects Connected with the Duties of the Corps of Royal Engineers [Shelfmark: P.P.4050.i]

As a result parts of the canal's construction were dogged by significant malarial sickness, as described by the engineer John MacTaggart in 1829, “In the summer of 1828 the sickness in Upper Canada raged like a plague; all along the banks of the lakes, nothing but languid fevers; and at the Rideau Canal few could work with fever and ague; at Jones Falls and Kingston Mills, no one was able to carry a draught of water to a friend; doctors and all were laid down together.” [from Three Years in Canada, Vol. II, p. 21, Shelfmark: 792.f.8]. While today malaria is almost unheard of in this part of North America, these nineteenth century outbreaks resulted in many deaths in the project's labour camps.

Away from Canada, malaria is still a source of misery for millions around the world. The Library contains a significant amount of published material relating to malaria, largely as a result of the significant twentieth century developments in understanding how the disease was transmitted and could be treated. There is also a large amount of material online, especially because the drive to reduce the incidence of malaria is one of the Millennium Development Goals.


20 March 2012

¡Que Viva La Constitución de Cádiz!

 Constitution of cadiz

 BL Shelfmark: 8042.a.34

Yesterday – March 19th – marked the bicentenary of the Spanish Constitution of 1812, also known as the Constitution of Cádiz. Here at the BL we have one of the original 1812 Cádiz imprints of the Constitution. It is considered a classic liberal document – ensuring universal manhood suffrage, national sovereignty, freedom of the press and free trade. One of the more interesting aspects of the drafting of the constitution was the debate that ensued regarding the relationship between the rights guaranteed in the 1812 constitution and the people of Spain’s colonies. The elite representatives from the Spanish colonies - known as criollos - pushed for greater representation and authority including limited suffrage for indigenous peoples and free people of African-descent. Some have argued that this was an attempt on the part of the criollos to secure their own political power vis-à-vis Spain without creating new republics – and new citizens. On the other hand, by partially accommodating the criollo representatives many peninsular representatives hoped they could thwart the ongoing movements for independence and the abolition of slavery. The historical momentum for independence was, however, too strong and the implementation of the constitution in the Americas laid fertile ground for the emergence of the Latin American republics. To this day the Constitution of Cádiz remains a key document in the history of Latin America.

For those of you interested in thinking more about constitutions and politics in the Americas you can check out Prof. Linda Colley’s lecture tomorrow: "Liberties and Empires: writing constitutions in the Atlantic World, 1776-1848.


03 March 2012

3 March 1931: O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner

O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner 9kb

O! Say Can You See. The Star Spangled Banner. New York: Geib & Co., 1817. H.1860.ww.(38)

During the night of 3 September 1814, while on a mission approved by U.S. President Monroe, Francis Scott Key witnessed the massive British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. As dawn broke Key was astounded to see the American flag still flying. To commemorate this stunning victory he immediately wrote a 4-stanza poem entitled "Defence of Fort McHenry". Recognising that the poem perfectly fit the popular British drinking song "Anacreon in Heaven", Key's brother-in-law had the poem published and it soon began gaining popularity as "The Star-Spangled Banner". On 3 March 1931, nearly 120 years after it was first penned, it became the national anthem of the United States. This edition, published in New York in 1817, is one of the earliest examples of American sheet music held by the British Library.

From the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library online exhibition, Singing the Dream.

Read more about the Star-Spangled Banner on the Library of Congress's Treasures pages, and we've also briefly posted on the origins of the tune here.


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