Skirmish at Sturgeon Creek

A Kentucky Marine unit headed up by Lieutenant Harrison was ambushed at Sturgeon Creek, Point Pelee by natives July 14, 1814.   Lieutenant Harrison and 8 of his solders were killed and buried on the site a few days later.

The Skirmish on Sturgeon Creek, Point Pelee July 14, 1814

Was an event in the War of 1812/1814 about which very little is known. There is no “official” record of the details other than notations of the death of 3 rd Lieutenant Carlisle Harrison and accompanying soldiers were killed on July 14, 1814 at Sturgeon Creek, Point Pelee (Pointe au Play)

(From The Historical Register And Dictionary of The United States Army 1789-1903

by Francis Bernard Heitman, Vol. I; Washington Gov’t Printing Office, 1903, Univ. of IL Press, Urbana, 1965.)

Harrison Carlisle

KY. 3 lt 28 inf. 30 Jun 1813; r q m Aug 1813 to Jun 1814; 2 lt 17 Mar 1814; killed 14 July 1814 in action with Canadians disguised as Indians at mouth of Sturgeon’s Creek U.C.
               

(Known Military Dead During the War of 1812, by Clarence Stewart Peterson P.L. Ed.)

                Harrison, Carlisle, 2 Lieut., 28th Inf. Killed 7-16-14

                Harrison,                 Lieut. Killed 7-16-14 near Malden

 

                (Kentucky Soldiers in the War of 1812 by Sam E Hill, Adjutant General)

                Does not have a listing for Carlisle Harrison or reference to any death on July 14, 1814

 

(A Dictionary of All Officers: Who Have Been Commissioned, or Have Been Appointed and served in the Army of the United States. By Charles Kitchell Gardner)

July 16. Affair at Pointe au Play, mouth of Sturgeon’s Creek U. Can., below Malden, between a party of 13 men under Sec. Lt. Carlisle Harrison of the 28 Infy (who was killed) and a party of Canadians disguised as Indians.   Our loss was 9 killed and 4 wounded; but one man escaped unhurt.

 

(The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society Frankfort, Kentucky)

Twenty-Eight Regiment United States Infantry

Has no information on Carlisle Harrison
(Historical Register of the United States Army from its Organization September 29, 1789 to September 29, 1889)  

Organized under the act of January 29, 1813. Consolidated May 17, 1815, with the Smith Blair, Chas l. Harrison, John McKenzie, John NcNair, Rowland Madison. Let 17th 19th, 24th,28th, and 29th regiments of Infantry to form the present 2 nd Regiment of Infantry, United States Army. Field and Staff Col. Thomas Owings, Lieut. Col Anthony Butler, Majors Wil. Trigg and James Smiley….. 3 rd Lieutenants: Carlisle Harrison, James Howerton, Joseph Madison, Richard Mitchell, James Nelson, Thos. P. Wagon, Ensign: Wm Preston……
U S Army a Complete History, The Army Historical Foundation — has no record of the Sturgeon Creek event
From the above citations it can be assumed that an action did take place on or about July 14, 1814.

Following the Battle of Lake Erie September 10, 1813 the British withdrew from Detroit (September 28 & 29) and Amherstburg, before doing so they burned / destroyed anything that would have been of value to the American forces under General Harrison, buildings, food, equipment, etc.
The American’s established a temporary camp at Fort Covington just south of Amherstburg as they began the conquest of Upper Canada. On the site ruins of Fort Amherstburg they constructed Fort Malden to serve as a base for guarding Detroit from any potential British naval attack. On the ruins of Fort Detroit, Fort Shelby was constructed following the American defeat of the British forces at the Battle of the Thames, October 4, 1813.
American forces operated out of Fort Shelby with Fort Malden being a secondary location. As winter closed in the American forces were desperate for food, supplies and shelter, the British having destroyed everything including firewood before leaving. There was no meaningful agriculture in Michigan. The closest American supplies were in southern Ohio, some 200 miles away, the 60 mile wide Black Swamp of northern Ohio and Indiana prevented easy access. The alternative supply was from the farms and merchants of Upper Canada.
It should be noted the civilian population of Detroit was about 75% of French descent with close family ties to the residents of Upper Canada. Food, supplies and necessities would likely have been available to them. The other 25% of the population would likely have been dependent on the military resources.
Many of the soldiers of General Harrisons invading force who were primarily from Kentucky were dispatched before winter to other Forts where there were more adequate supplies were available.
To put in perspective the dire difficulties at Fort Shelby (Detroit) if would be worth while consider the flowing observations –
Excerpts from History of Detroit and Wayne County and Early Michigan – Silas Farmer
With regard to the lack of supplies for his army, General Hull, in his report to the Secretary of War, made after the surrender (August 16, 1812), says-

It was impossible, in the nature of things, that an army could have been furnished with the necessary supplies of provision, military stores, clothing and the comforts for the sick, on pack-horses, through a wilderness of two hundred miles filled with hostile savages.
Shortly after skirmish at Longwoods, March 4, 1814 Colonel Anthony Butler returned to Kentucky, Lieutenant Colonel George Croghan assumed command.

On March 21, 1814 the Americans evacuated from Fort Malden.
Letter by James Madison   February 26, 1814

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States

It has appeared that, at the recovery of the Michigan Territory from the temporary possession of the enemy, the inhabitants thereof were left in so destitute and distressed a condition as to require from the public stores supplies essential to their subsistence, which have been prolonged under the same necessity which called for them.

The deplorable situation of the savages, thrown by the same event on the mercy and humanity of the American commander at Detroit, drew from the same source the means of saving them from perishing from famine; and in other places the appeals made by the wants and suffering of the unhappy description of people have been equally imperious.

The necessity imposed by the conduct of the enemy in relation to the savages, of admitting their co-operation, in some instances with our arms, has also involved occasional expense in supplying their wants; and it is possible that a perseverance of the enemy in their cruel policy may render a further expense for like purpose inevitable. On these subjects an estimate from the Department of War will be laid before Congress, and I recommend a suitable provision for them.

 

Extract from letter Judge Woodward to James Monroe, Secretary of State- March 5, 1815

The desolation of this territory is beyond all conception. No kind of flour or meal to be procured, and nothing for the subsistence of the cattle. No animals for slaughter, and more than half of the population destitute of any for domestic or agricultural purposes.

The fencing of their farms entirely destroyed by the incursions of the enemy, and for fuel for the military. Their homes left without glass, and in many instances even the flooring burnt. Their clothing plundered from them by the Indians. It is a literal fact, and it will scarcely be deemed permissible to shock the feelings of human nature so much as to state it, that the inhabitants of the River Raisin have been obliged to resort to chopped hay boiled for subsistence. Many, possessing neither the firmness of mind or body sufficient to sustain the calamities with which they have been assailed, have sunk into the asylum where the wicked cease to trouble and the weary are at rest.  
The state of agriculture in the Michigan can be summed up by the fact that the first export of flour did not occur until 1827.

Thus raiding parties were routinely sent out to gather/requisition (without payment) food, supplies and livestock as far as 60 miles to the east. These actions caused severe hardship for the Upper Canada farmers who struggled to feed their families in the best of the times. The loss of their total resources caused many to leave the area. Other’s pledged allegiance to the American’s with the hope they would receive favorable treatment from the American’s soldiers.
The American soldiers primarily Kentucky young volunteers for 6 month enlistments suffered during this period, in January and February of 1814, 700 soldiers died at Fort Shelby from disease, malnutrition and exposure.
On July 3, 1814 a forces of 700 soldiers (17th,, 19th, and 24th U.S. Infantry plus Ohio Militia   sailed from Detroit under the command of Commodore Arthur Sinclair to liberate Fort Mackinac lead by Lieutenant Colonel George Crogham, returning July 26, 1814. They did not capture Fort Mackinac but did burn buildings in Sault Ste Marie. They lost the gunboats Tigress and Scorpion to the British. Lieutenant Colonel George Crogham was soon replaced by the returning Colonel Anthony Butler.
The purpose of the Lieutenant Harrison expedition to Point Pelee is not known, there are no records of the activity at Fort Malden during the period of American occupation. It has not been possible to locate any references for the period from American sources.   Fort Shelby was abandoned in 1826 when Detroit defenses were relocated to Fort Wayne, a few miles to the south. Records may have been lost during the move.
It could be assumed that resources remaining at Fort Shelby would be limited. Why would 3rd Lieutenant Harrison of the 28th U.S. Infantry and a dozen soldiers set off for Point Pelee by boat on July 14, 1814.
Seeking provisions for the Fort, not likely on Point Pelee as there was very few settlers in the area. The local native population was also very short on provisions.
Exploring the north shore of Lake Erie they came across an opening in the shore line that could be a passage through the Point Pelee land mass and they decided to reconnoiter the “stream”.
What actually happened at Point Pelee on July 14, 1814 is not clear.
There are three accounts which have a similar theme but differ in the facts-
Account #1.

The excerpt following account of Mr. James Robinson’s experience was given by that gentleman to Mrs. E. M. Sheldon Stewart in 1853:

 

“At one time, when a boat load of soldiers were landing from a boat at Sturgeon creek, the Indians attacked them and killed nine of eleven men. As soon as the news of the massacre reached Detroit, our company was called up at midnight and sent to Malden. We remained at Malden till the next day at 4 o’clock P. M., then marched below Malden and camped at McCormick’s. From there we marched rapidly to Sturgeon creek. McCormick went with us and showed us where the lieutenant lay who had been killed. I saw the mutilated remains of others who were killed in the fight. Mallott dug a grave for the lieutenant, and another for the remains of the others. Before the graves were filled, some of us were sent into the woods for evergreens to lay over the bodies. The woods were so dense that we could not see the sun. After they were buried, a scout came and told us the main army were coming, and we went back to meet them.”

            Note this account was recorded some 39 years after the event.
Account #2.

Niles’ National Register Volume 6

On the 16th Lieut. Harrison with a party of 13 men, landed from a boat at the mouth of Sturgeon’s Creek, about 40 miles below Malden. A party of Canadians, dressed as savages, lay concealed in the bushes, fired upon them, killed Lieut. Harrison and eight men, wounded four. Only one escaped unhurt, who succeeded in bringing away the bodies of all his murdered companions, and the wounded.

The Niles Register was a national newspaper published from 1811 to 1836 from Baltimore. It is a valuable source of information about the War 1812/1814. Dispatches concerning the war were regularly published. The dispatch concerning the skirmish could have been “enhanced” by the survivors to avoid criticism.

Note the difference in the date.
Account #3

Sandy Antal book “Invasions” and “A Wampum Denied: Proctor’s War 1812”

In August 1814 Ojibwa warriors lead by Chief John Naudee an American boat that had run aground near Point Pelee, killing nine soldiers and wounding another four.

Comments on the above references

It is not known the depth or width of the mouth of Sturgeon Creek at the time of the incident but until the extensive dredging that has taken place in recent years the creek would not have likely accommodated a lake going sailing ship capable of carrying 13 men. The six mile long creek serves as an outlet for the surrounding marsh area and elevated sandy areas. It is a very slow moving body of water. The mouth of the creek would likely have been partially filled with beach sand from Lake Erie. Maps / sketches of the day show a narrow opening with a “large” interior basin. Today even faster moving creeks with much greater water volume are subject to sand blockages where they discharge into Lake Erie.  It would be more logical to beach the boat as suggested by Robinson and then walk inland to determine the characteristics of the stream.
If the action took place while the Americans were in the boat on Lake Erie as suggested in the Niles report they should have been able to escape with much fewer casualties.
If the Americans were on foot the natives would not have allowed the surviving soldier(s) the time required to load the deceased soldiers into the boat before finishing the task at hand.
“A party of Canadians, dressed as savages” is not likely true. The only way the Americans could have determined the attackers were not Indians would have been if there were some communications by a member(s) of the attack group and the speaker spoke “good” English. It could have been an Indian who was well spoken such as Chief John Naudee Chief of the Ojibwa and well known to the Indian department officials.
There were very few “Canadians” living in the area. Unless the local settlers / merchants (Militia) had been called out to confront an Americans landing they would not have been in the area. At the time of the attack there were serious actions taking place in the Niagara Frontier, any spare British/Canadian “soldiers” would have been there.
Point Pelee was a large marsh area infested by mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, poison ivy / oak and other unpleasant things, not a pleasant place.
The date in the book “Invasions” should be July rather than August otherwise the similarity of the content with other reports is a confirmation of the event.
The general gist of the account of the incident by James Robinson is plausible.

Dorothy Goyeau (now in her late 80’s) of Leamington lived on the Point with her family who were early settlers at Lot 11/12 of B Concession Mersea Township. There was an area of the farm that was restricted, e. g. could not be farmed, as it was believed to contain the remains of an officer in one grave and a number of other soldiers in another grave. There was a pear or apple tree planted nearby. The family passed down the story that in 1914 there was a ceremony on the site and a “grave” marker stone was erected. The site is estimated to be at 42.0.57 N — 82.33.59 W about ½ mile or 1 KM from the mouth of the Sturgeon Creek.
Mrs. Goyeau recently (April 2014) prepared a sketch of the farm which indicates the location of the graves. It also makes a reference to a possible Indian burial site.
The site was allocated to Mathew Elliott in the original allocation of land in Mersea Township in 1797. Mathew Elliott died in May of 1814. Lot 11 was mainly the basin of Sturgeon Creek, in 1870, the “dry” land of Lot 11 was amalgamated with adjacent lands of Lot 10 and 12.
The present day local Caldwell First Nation council has no knowledge of the event or any burial site in this identified area.  The Walpole Island Heritage Centre has very limited information about Chief John Naudee and no knowledge about the Sturgeon Creek affair.
What is known about the area–

 

  1. Sturgeon Creek in the Point Pelee (Pointe au Pelee) area is a shallow slow moving creek that discharges into Lake Erie on the west side of Point Pelee. The creek provides an outlet for excess water from the interior marshs of Point Pelee. The water level of the creek and interior marsh areas would be very similar to Lake Erie. As the water level of the Lake Erie fluctuated the amount of dry land within the Point would vary.
  2. Point Pelee is a triangular shaped sand spit (7 kilometers long and 4.5 Kilometers wide at its base) jutting into Lake Erie from what is now Essex County, the western side has a sand beach, with a sand dune ridge on which is now constructed a paved road, the interior and eastern shore is mainly marsh with some trees and agriculture.   Point Pelee National Park has “semi tropical” vegetation and is a resting place/flyway for migratory birds and insects crossing Lake Erie in the spring and fall migration. The water currents at the point of Point Pelee can be very dangerous, many ship wrecks have occurred in the area prior to navigation aids being installed.   Between 1835 and 1885 at least 50 named ships were wrecked on Point Pelee.
  3. In the 1800’s there was an Ojibwa / Chippewa Indian village / camp in the interior of Point Pelee on the banks of Sturgeon Creek. This group later relocated to the Walpole Island Indian Reserve.
  4. British forces (Regular, Rangers, Militia and Native Warriors) withdrew to the Niagara area from Fort Amherstburg (Malden) and Detroit following the Battle of Lake Erie, September 10, 1813 and again in March 1814 following the Battle of Longwoods. All available British forces were involved in conflicts on the Niagara theater, Fort Erie, July 3, 1814, Battle of Chippewa July 5, 1814, Battle of Lundy’s Lane July 25, 1814, siege of Fort Erie August 2, 1814.
  5. European settlement in the area of Point Pelee was very limited in the early 1800’s. The first commercial “business” was established in about 1830 in what is now Leamington. The area was “surveyed” in 1797, land was acquired by land speculators without consideration of its suitability for agriculture. The land in the vicinity of Sturgeon Creek was allocated to Matthew Elliot Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Western District.
  6. Many of the local weekly newspapers in operation in 1914 have ceased publication, all potential sources have been checked for references to this incident with no success.
  7. The Caldwell Indian Band have purchased a significant area of the Sturgeon Creek area and are most interested in the project and wish to be part of the endeavor. A meeting was held with the Caldwell Indian Band Council by Chris Carter and Marvin Recker on April 24, 2014 to inform them of the project.
  8. There is a “five” / “ten” acre municipal park a few hundred yards south of Sturgeon Creek, the municipality is prepared to consider any memorial proposal.   On April 24, 2014 Chris Carter and Marvin Recker met with Mayor John Paterson and Brian Sweet of the Municipality of Leamington concerning the project.
  9. There is no record either verbally or in writing of the number of Indian casualties as a result of the conflict.

In a document “The Caldwell First Nation Land Claim: Historical and Documentary Research, February 1999” published by Jerry Pickard by Kathryn Schwenger contains a very interesting passage.

“A letter from Drummond to Prevost, January 21, 1814, makes reference to Indians being deployed from Point aux Pins (Rondeau) to Point Pelee, with a light infantry and part of the militia following through the woods as part of a military operation to prevent American incursions. Correspondence two months later records two “Patawatimie” arriving from Point Pelee area to report Indians are in Place and will take up their war clubs as soon as the Americans attack.”
The War Office in London urged Drummond and Provost to retake Detroit during the winter of 1813/1814. Plans were prepared for a force of 1,700 men with the necessary resources to be transported via 132 horse drawn sleighs. It was felt that when Lake Erie was frozen there would be no way for Fort Shelby to be supplied by other posts in the area. However the British resources for this campaign did not exist, the Royal Scots and the 89th Regiment were sent, resulting in the Battle of Longwoods March 4, 1814.
The Drummond correspondence file is believed to be in the Ontario Achieves in Toronto (York University)

During 1814 there had been a number of attacks by Americans from the south shore of Lake Erie on Port Dover , Port Talbot and other location. Protection for Pointe aux Pins (Rondeau) and Point Pelee would be a consideration.
The light infantry as noted above could have been the Western (Caldwell) Rangers who would have departed from the area following Longwoods, by July as they were in the Niagara area, Battle of Chippewa, etc.. The Militia would likely have departed to return to their crops by July, they would not likely have “lived” within the Indian village on Point Pelee. Chief John Naudee, also known as Oshawan, an Ojibwa of Walpole Island was known to the British Indian Department would / could have remained in the area as an assistant to the Superintendent to the Indians in the Western District to send and receive communications with the British Indian Department and support the Indian need. He is reported to have been able to speak English.

 

 

Marvin Recker

1460 Norman Ave

London, ON N6K 2A7

(519) 471-9546

 

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