Monday, August 16, 2021

On This Day in 1812

By Catherine Ulrich Brakefield

The city of Detroit is located on the original site of Fort Detroit, founded by French officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac in 1701. 

Somewhere around 1710, Cadillac was removed from his post when his fellow constituents felt he had used his position for his own gain. Alphonse de Tonty became the new fort commandant. 

The British gained control over Fort Detroit after the French and Indian war. However, early in the War of 1812, Americans gained control of Fort Detroit.

But then on August 16, General William Hull surrendered Fort Detroit without a fight to the British. 

Why did General Hull surrender his 2,000-man army, most being militiamen? Michigan, for much of the war, remained under British rule.

         General Hull was fifty-nine years old at the time and a veteran of the American Revolution. However, later history would say that Hull, seeing the English and Indian forces gathering beneath the wooden-wall fort lost hope of defending the settlement. However, the general was very concerned about his daughter and grandchildren who were inside the fort with him.

         British General Isaac Brock allowed the 2,000 militiamen to return to their homes on the frontier. But the United States Army troops became Brock's prisoners and were taken to Canada.

         This was a painful blow to militiamen's morale. They returned to their homes, knowing the Shawnee chief Tecumseh would increase his raids against the Americans in Michigan's frontier now a part of Great Britain. 

 It didn't help US Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry either. The British now gained naval supremacy over Lake Erie.

A British flotilla blockaded the shipbuilding areas surrounding the waters of Lake Erie, and only a sandbar and a few American cannons stopped the British ships from defeating the newly built American squadron.

The surrendering of Fort Detroit on August 16 took the sails out of many stout-hearted men yearning for freedom from British tyranny.

Commandant Perry wasn't about to allow the dream of American independence to end on his watch. He was determined to see Lake Erie and Fort Detroit back into the hands of the Americans; now all he needed was prayer and a plan.

On September 10, 1813, Perry came up with one. Though British ships were equipped with longer range cannons, Perry figured they lacked the firepower of the American vessels.

Perry ordered the USS Niagara and the USS Lawrence, the two largest ships they had, to set full sail and go straight into the British ships.

Well, the captain of the Niagara wasn't so keen about charging through the waters ducking beneath the volley of British cannonballs, so he hightailed it to a safe distance. This left Commandant Perry on the Lawrence to go alone into the cannon fires.

Despite all Perry's maneuvers, the cannons aboard the Lawrence did not have the destructive capability he hoped for. The Lawrence was directly hit by two British vessels, and it was only a matter of time before she went down. Perry snatched up the Lawrence flag, and he and his crew evacuated the burning vessel, departing on small rowboats.

Perry miraculously escaped unscathed, thanks to the brave actions of Cyrus Tiffany, a free African-American who had placed his body in harm's way to shield Perry from debris and gunfire.

Perry could smell the fire on his clothing; he'd come close to death that day. Ahh, but he could taste the pungent spice of victory upon his lips, too.

He jumped onto the Niagara and took command of the ship, encouraging his men with words of gratitude and faith. After all, their cannons damaged the British fleet, and Perry, with the help of God Almighty Himself, wasn't ready to admit defeat.

Suddenly, the limp white sails billowed with gust after gust of wind. Yes! The wind had come just at the appropriate hour.  

He knew for certain now that they had the favor of God on their side. The men, encouraged, set their sails for a victory.

With the strong favorable wind and sails billowing overhead, they watched as their intended goal grew forever larger. Two smaller gunboats and schooners followed their brave leader toward the British ships. It was the story of David and Goliath upon the wind-tossed waves of the Erie. Perry gave the signal and they opened fire.

The British saw the American ships and the billowing sails reaching heavenward and panicked. Perry had only retreated to bring another fleet to defeat them. In two of the British ships, their riggings were entangled from the previous battle. The crewmen were exhausted and disheartened. They had little fight left in them. The British flotilla surrendered at 3:00 P.M.

This Lake Erie victory secured more naval vessels for America. Perry nearly busted his buttons, seeing his fleet expand and repaired the British vessels. They soon proudly waved the red, white, and blue colors of the US flag amidst sun-kissed waters. Without a navy, Great Brittan was forced to evacuate Fort Detroit.

William Henry Harrison pursued the fleeing British out of Fort Detroit and by September 18, 1813, the British had fled across Burlington Heights and into Ontario.

One man's cowardice caused the fall of Fort Detroit. And one man's courage caused not only Fort Detroit, but also Lake Erie and the British fleet that reigned the lake to fall into America's hands.

Fort Detroit and Lake Erie continued to fly the American flag throughout the War of 1812. This prevented any possible British invasion of Ohio or Pennsylvania from Canada.   

         Because of William Hull’s cowardice and neglect of duty in surrendering Fort Detroit, in 1814 Hull faced court-martial charges and he was sentenced to die. However, President James Madison commuted the sentence because of his service in the revolution.

Detroit became a city in 1815 and is located on the north bank of the Detroit River and nestled between Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie.

Detroit became recognized as the key to the transformational hub. Manufacturing industries sprung up like giant mushrooms throughout the city’s decades of shipping, shipbuilding, and carriage trade.

Then in 1899 Henry Ford built his first automobile factory, and Dearborn and Detroit soon became known as the world’s car capital. 

Detroit became the throbbing heartbeat of the new industrial age in America. It was a time like no other, with new industries and new wealth springing up upon this newly sown mechanical field, feeding the multitudes.

It all began on this day, August 16 some two hundred years ago. And the same analogy that caused William Hull to fail in 1812 plagues Americans today.

Peter Marshall said it best, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." God tells us to "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV).

Often fear can motivate our decisions. Did you know that "fear not" is found in the Bible 365 times? Don't let fear keep you from your God-ordained calling. "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10 NKJV).



Destiny of Heart: Fear haunted Ruby McConnell while she cared for her ill husband, nursed a newborn, and prepared to leave the prairies of Colorado and their little cabin for a future unknown.

 Civil unrest, an incurable sickness, and lost love, plunge the McConnells into a battle for survival.

“…through the lives of characters and families so beautifully detailed, you become emotionally immersed in every page, every struggle, every triumph. ‘God can’t wipe away a person’s past...But He can help us rewrite the ending.’” L. S.

 Catherine says, "My readers inspire my writing!" She is an award-winning author. Her inspirational historical romances include Wilted Dandelions, her faith-based Destiny series Swept into Destiny, Destiny’s Whirlwind, Destiny of Heart, and Waltz with Destiny.

She has written two pictorial history books. Images of America: The Lapeer Area, and Images of America: Eastern Lapeer County

Her short stories have been published in Guidepost Books, Baker Books, Revell, CrossRiver Media Publishers, and Bethany Book House Publishers.

She and lives with her husband of 48 years and their Arabian horses in the picturesque hills of Addison Township, Michigan. Catherine loves spoiling her two handsome grandsons and two beautiful granddaughters! 


  1. Thank you for the post! Isn't it true that there is usually someone with a vision to overcome a problem, and it isn't always the person the task was assigned to? Here's to the pray-ers and the visionaries!

    1. Connie R. Absolutely! One person may look a disaster and think it's finished and another sees the possibilities of a victory. Praying that this Afghanistan take-over will bring courageous men to the forefront.