A Concise History of the Lincoln Militia

by Calvin Arnt, August 2005.


The Niagara region of present-day Ontario was once wilderness - Indian country - at the time of the American Revolution. The British sustained a presence at the north end of the Niagara river at Fort Niagara, and a presence at the south end of the Niagara river at Fort Erie. The only development regionally was a small cleared area of land used for farming near what is present-day Butler's Barracks in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. This was used to feed the garrison at Fort Niagara, which was occupied by British Regulars, the King's Regiment (8th), the 34th Regiment, and a brigade of Americans loyal to the Crown, Butler's Rangers. Later, many of the King's Native Allies also sought refuge there after Rebel forces burned their villages. After that war, many of the American colonists and Natives who had correctly maintained their loyalty to the Crown found themselves on the losing side and were forced to flee their homes as refugees. Most of them came north to British North America, and a great many of those came and settled this wilderness and formed the colony of Upper Canada. This migration increased even more after 1796, when the British officially turned over command (peacefully) of Fort Niagara to the American army by Jay's Treaty. The British had already been building a temporary fortification at Fort George, with the intention of having a more secure and permanent establishment, eventually at Fort Mississauga. The latter never materialized until long after the war.

The Niagara region instantly became important, partly because of its proximity to the border, but also because Niagara-on-the-Lake, or as it was known at the time, Butlersburg, Butlersberry and eventually Newark, was the first capital of Upper Canada. Seeing its vulnerability due to the British evacuation of Fort Niagara, and its geographical location, Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe moved the capital to York in 1796; site of present day Toronto. But Newark and the Niagara region, coupled with shipping waterways along the Great Lakes, remained an important centre for commercial enterprise, and eventually, warfare.

Most of the loyalists from Butler's Rangers, and a few from other loyalist regiments, settled in the Niagara region after the Revolution and were its first settlers. Most of the Native Allies had been given land along the Grand River away from the region. The second group of settlers in the area were mainly Scottish merchants. Most of them had little or no military experience, little or no affiliation with the Revolutionary War, and many had come straight from the United Kingdom, or at best had spent a year in Montreal before settling down in the 'New Settlements' as this area was also called. Thus, there was a cultural difference between them and the American Loyalists who had already been there. Finally, a third group of settlers came to the area in large masses, who are referred to as 'Late Loyalists.' These were Americans who came from the new republic and settled here. The reasons they came varied. Some families had been loyal to the Crown during the Revolution but had managed to stay after the war and tried to live peacefully, but found that their efforts were wasted. Others had family who were already here and were enticed to settle here with their extended family. However, a major reason why Late Loyalists came to Upper Canada was because of the ease there was in getting land quickly and affordably; in many cases for next to nothing. British officials wanted to create a new, loyal and vibrant colony that would be the envy of Americans, but one needs people to build such a colony, and enticing them with land proved very successful. The problem with many of these Late Loyalists however, was that their loyalty was in question. By the time war broke out in 1812, one could not say that all the inhabitants of Upper Canada were in complete solidarity with the British. In fact, a group of settlers in the Niagara region went turncoat and fought for the American Congress. The Canadian Volunteers were chiefly responsible for burning Newark.

Rivalry and suspicion was high between these three groups leading up the the War of 1812. At first it dealt with competition in commercial areas, but it eventually spread into the military. By the outbreak of war, Loyalists and their offspring had their influence in the local militia reduced from full control to about half. The Scottish merchant class had, through the years, been able to secure their places in command. It was considered an issue of pride and esteem to be an officer in the militia at this time. The Loyalists thought that the Scots had no military experience, but the Scots were the community's leaders and had the right friends in power. Neither of them trusted the Late Loyalists, and this latter group of people believed that the first two, with their close attachment to the British system, prevented democracy to develop.

Military Organization

Butler's Rangers were officially disbanded in 1784, but soon afterward in 1788, British officials organized the Nassau Militia, named thus because the region was called Nassau county. Military service was compulsory for males between the ages of 16-60 unless you objected for religious reasons. The Nassau Militia was a military presence here from 1788-1793. After that, the region was renamed Lincoln county, and the militia's name was converted to Lincoln Militia. Since the area's founding, John Butler had been the Lt. Colonel of all the Niagara-area militia and controlled all the promotions in the Nassau/Lincoln militia. The militia rolls at the time show names of many men who had served in Butler's Rangers. Regrettably, John Butler died in 1796, and Lt. Governor Simcoe appointed Robert Hamilton as Butler's replacement; a man with no military experience, but a wealthy Scot known throughout the whole region. It wasn't long before Scottish names appeared on the officer's rolls. The militia's strength and numbers fluctuated a lot during this time, and battallions grew or shrunk and some were absorbed into other units. Although the militia was present and active, it was by no means relied upon by the British establishment. In many private letters and journals, various military officials wrote about their distrust and embarrassment in the militia.

There were five regiments of Lincoln Militia. The first regiment drew its men from the area of the Niagara river at Newark, west to present day Granthan and Louth areas of St. Catharines then called Twelve Mile Creek, and south from Queenston to around present day Brock University. The second regiment drew from Stamford, nowadays called Niagara Falls, west to Thorold, and Pelham. The third regiment drew from the area of present day Fort Erie, then called Bertie to Port Colborne (Humberstone), Welland (Crowland), the Willoughby/Chippawa area, and Wainfleet. The fourth regiment drew its members from the Vineland area of present day Lincoln and West Lincoln, then called Clinton, to Grimsby, Caistor and Gainsboro, near present-day Smithville. The fifth regiment drew its men from Ancaster, then known as Head-of-the-Lake to the areas of Barton, Binbrook, Glanford and Saltfleet; present-day Stoney Creek and most of Hamilton.

A typical county militia regiment in Upper Canada would have one Colonel, three Majors, 12 Captains, 14 Lieutenants, and 14 Ensigns. The Colonel usually also had an Adjutant and Quartermaster assigned to his service as well. Each Captain also had men under his command, which typically was one Sergeant Major, two or three Sergeants, six or more Corporals and Lance Corporals, and anywhere from twenty to eighty Privates.

Most of the militia was sedentary, meaning that they were only called out if there was a crisis. However, after 1811, by law there had to be two flank companies in each militia regiment who were expected to train a lot more regularly, under the guidance of British military officials. They were made up of almost all volunteers, and were expected to report to duty with their own firearm and a dark coat. Any regimental coats or military accoutrements were prioritized for flank companies before any other militia received them. There is some debate and disagreement as to whether militia flank companies were as clearly defined as regular units, i.e. Light and Grenadier companies. When we formed the group we decided to solicit the opinion of the Commanding Officer and he recommended that it is easier just to pick one. Hence, we chose to portray a Light company; Captain James Crooks' company of the 1st Regiment. The sedentary militia were only required to train once a year until 1808, after which it was increased to two to four times a year but in most cases this did not happen. Due to the suspect loyalties of the Late Loyalists, only those whose loyalties were unquestioned were put in the flank companies and/or made officers of the sedentary companies. This generally meant that you had to be a United Empire Loyalist, or the offspring of one, or part of the Scottish merchant circle.

At the start of the war, Britain was wholly concerned with defeating Napoleon in Europe. Massive amounts of British Regulars did not begin arriving in Upper Canada until after Napoleon's defeat. In 1811, King George III had around 10,000 troops in North America. Around half of these were guarding the Halifax port, another 4,000 guarded Lower Canada, specifically Quebec City. The remaining 1,200 troops were sprinkled throughout the forts and outposts of Upper Canada. British officials seemed willing to give up its frontier without much effort in order to preserve the heart of its North American empire; Halifax and Quebec. If they lost Upper Canada, they could always find wood elsewhere. Locals could sense the government's willingness to abandon them, which created more than a little bit of nervousness. However, this also sharpened other people's resolve who were in the militia. After the Detroit campaign, morale improved greatly in the area, and after the battle of Queenston Heights, the British realized that they could likely hold on to the colony, and sent more troops. Thankfully, Upper Canada was saved, and it was in no small measure due to the militia showing resolve and heroism in the first battles, which changed the opinion of military strategists in both armies. Much of General Brock's earliest successes of the war must be largely attributed to militia and Natives who were unwilling to be pushed from their homes a second time by the so-called bearers of 'liberty.' Lincoln Militia regiments fought in larger battles and several smaller skirmishes. Some are listed here:

1st Reg't: Queenston Heights, Fort George, Lundy's Lane.
2nd Reg't: Queenston Heights, Frenchman's Creek, Black Rock, Chippawa, Lundy's Lane.
3rd Reg't: Frenchman's Creek, Black Rock.
4th Reg't: Queenston Heights, Lundy's Lane.
5th Reg't: Detroit, Queenston Heights, Frenchman's Creek, Lundy's Lane.

Later, members of the Lincoln Militia were called out for duty to track and subdue insurgents during the 1837 Rebellions, and their descendants fought in the Fenian Raids, the Boer War, WWI, WWII, Korea, and many modern peacekeeping missions. In 1846, Lincoln County divided into Lincoln and Welland counties, and militia regiments, or battalions as they became known, were reformed. This changed many times, with several name alterations, until 1936 when they became known as The Lincoln and Welland Regiment, to which they are still known as today in our modern forces.

*Some of the preceding summary and the introduction on the home page was paraphrased from the following:

Couture, Paul Morgan. A Study of the Non-Regular Military Forces on the Niagara Frontier: 1812-1814. Microfiche Report Series 193. Parks Canada, 1985.

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