British soldiers resumed their soldiering. They drilled, cleaned their muskets, stood guard but now bundled in heavy wool coats, mittens, scarves and oversized boots, if lucky. The loyalists settlers were home reconnecting quietly with their families that they had to leave while scurrying from one part of Upper Canada to another anticipating American attacks. As a result some of their summer duties had to be taken up late such as chopping and storing wood for heat and fuel for cooking. The Haudenosaunee warriors also had to take up family duties in exactly the same way for they too joined their neighbours and friends in defense against a common enemy.
Everything was hand made. Their homes, furniture, tools, clothes, candles for lighting as well as their food be it dry stored hung inside the cabins from the rafters or in cold storage near or under the floor boards. Loyalist settlers and their Haudenosaunee neighbours had all of this in common. Either you built it, grew it, hunted it, repaired it or you simply didn’t have it. The need to “give thanks” on a daily basis for what Mother Earth through the Creator provided was none negotiable or forgotten.
The loyalist settlers and Haudenosaunee knew of and respected their mutual cultural celebrations and often participated in them. Ayewate, a Mohawk boy, and Catherine the loyalist daughter of a family that lived on opposite sides of the Grand River shared Christmas Eve again in 1812.
When Ayewate, his mother and father arrived, by snowshoe, at Catherine’s family’s cabin they were greeted with smiles and hugs. They presented their hosts with a bundle of sweat grass while feeling the warmth of the cabins heat and inhaling the assorted smells of wonderfully homed cooked food.
They sat at a beautiful pine table near a very large fireplace made completely of fieldstones. Bees wax candles placed strategically flickered and created a golden glow throughout the room. The underside of the iron pots containing assorted concoctions were being licked by the flames as is they were also enjoying the contents.
They told stories, spoke deliberately, laughed often, ate well, drank homemade wine and celebrated their blessings and being together.
It was a silent night, a holy night, all was calm, all was bright…………….for now.
Christmas in 1812, in Upper Canada, was full of anxiety yet still quite normal. Six Nations Territory on the Grand River was also seemingly safe from the immediate threat and consequences of war.
Horse drawn sleds glided along the narrow roads. The snow and ice evened the potholes. People settled into their homes occasionally visiting neighbours on snow shoes or toboggans. Children played outside making snow angels, trails and snowballs. Potatoes, corn, beans, squash and cabbage were stored in some manner in a cool place. The longer it stayed in its natural outdoor freezer meat had to be chipped out of the ice. This was natures’ refrigerator and freezer.
Christmas in 1813 along the Niagara Frontier was not as calm as the year previous. The Americans managed to get a strong foothold at Fort George and the town of Newark (now Niagara on the Lake). Defeated at Stoney Creek, that summer, the Americans literally barricaded themselves in the fort. In December 1813 they decided to retreat to Fort Niagara, the American side of the Niagara River.
It was a very cold winter yet they chose to destroy both Fort George and Newark, burning them to the ground. They took all the food, personal belongings and animals they could carry leaving the inhabitants with nothing but, literally, the clothes on their back huddling and shivering around snow drifts.
Oh the weather outside is frightful, But the fire is so delightful, And since we’ve no place to go, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! These four lines are such an antithesis to the comforting intent of this 1945 composition. It reminds me of a Louis Armstrong music video that showed images of bombing and destruction as he sang “It’s a Beautiful World”. The visual and audio intentional contrast impacted me deeply and has remained with me to this day.
Early November, 1814, our counties and the Six Nations Territory were given a Christmas gift by invading American General McArthur. Much of the harvested food was to last over the winter but was taken, eaten by his men or destroyed. Grist Mills, Wood Mills and homes were burnt and beasts of burden were confiscated. The War of 1812 was already being negotiated into a peace and the Americans were basically out of Upper Canada. McArthur’s “raid of vengeance” was simply mean and unnecessary. We weren’t naughty we were nice and did not deserve his “lump of coal”.
As we huddle around our fireplaces, with family and friends, bellies full from the medley and abundance of food of the season remember your ancestors and the two rather black Christmases they didn’t enjoy and count your blessings.
“It’s a Beautiful World” is such a great song. My wish for Christmas is: Can we please make it like that for everyone?
President of Real People’s History
Chairman, War of 1812 Bicentennial Commemoration Steering Committee,
Brantford & Brant
Developer of School Curriculum: Six Nations Iroquois Program Teacher’s
Historic Niagara Education Committee, CDSB and DSB, War of 1812
Western Corridor Alliance, Route 1812 subcommittee
Author, Western Hooves of Thunder, War of 1812
Life Time Achievement Award for his contribution to Six Nations
Honourary Vice President, United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada
PBS/WNED TV, Bi-National Education Advisory Group, War of 1812 200th
Polish Kombatants Association of Canada, his father was a WW2 Polish
Ontario’s Equity & Communications Strategy committee
History & Heritage, Shining Star Award, 2011, Brantford/Brant County/Six
Honourary Eagle, St John’s College for outstanding support during
Historical Re-enactor, Butlers Rangers Amer. Rev. and Caldwell’s Rangers
War of 1812Kindest regards, Zig Misiak
War of 1812 Bicentennial
Commemoration Steering Committee