Capital in Flames

The American Attack on York, 1813

Today's Toronto was the frontier town of York in 1813 when it suffered its most traumatic day. Though it was the capital of Upper Canada and a naval dockyard, York had weak defenses. In April 1813 warships under U.S. Commodore Isaac Chauncey landed 1800 soldiers and General Zebulon Pike led them into battle against British, Canadian and native defenders commanded by Sir Roger Hale Sheaffe. The attackers were advancing when a mighty explosion ripped the earth open. One general was killed and the other withdrew. Though the Americans had won, the invasion was a disappointment as the vessels they hoped to seize were not there and supplies they hoped to capture were burned. Discipline broke down and gangs of invaders burned public buildings – and the loyalty of some citizens came into question. The young town suffered a trauma few of its 700 inhabitants would forget. Malcomson relates the landmarks of the battle to the modern city so that readers can “walk the ground” themselves.

Robert Malcomson The late Robert Malcomson was a leading expert on the War of 1812 and the Age of Sail on the Great Lakes and the author of several books, including Lords of the Lake: The Naval War on Lake Ontario, 1812-1814 and A Very Brilliant Affair: The Battle of Queenston Heights, 1812.

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