War of 1812 - Table of Contents

Flint Hill and the War of 1812
Flint Hill, Buffalo, New York

Reprint of a Brochure by the Friends of Flint Hill

The name ''Flint Hill" dates to the early years of the nineteenth century and described the area of the main road between Conjockety's (Scajaquada) Creek and the present Jewett Parkway.

This was the farm of
Judge Erastus Granger, a central figure in the founding of Buffalo. Granger was among the first permanent residents; a historical marker at the Main Street entrance of Forest Lawn Cemetery commemorates his accomplishments. Granger held various offices: he served as Federal Indian Agent, agent for the Holland Land Company and was the first Postmaster General appointed to office by President Thomas Jefferson.

TEXT CONTINUED BELOW THE ILLUSTRATIONS


Click on photos for larger size and additional information

Memorial plaque at Main St. and Humboldt Pkwy.

Memorial plaque in the meadow at Delaware Park

Detail


Scajaquada Creek in Forest Lawn, the southern boundary of Flint Hill

The first floor of a garage in the Flint Hill area is constructed of Ononadaga limestone - which contains chert, another name for flint.


Erastus Granger built his home in 1806 on land that is now part of Forest Lawn Cemetery. Here he became acquainted with the great Seneca orator Red Jacket. His home became a refuge for residents fleeing the burning of the village of Buffalo in 1813 by the British.

A group of settlers from Cayuga County known as the Plains Rangers came to Buffalo, in 1807. Among them was
Dr. Daniel Chapin, a veteran of the American Revolution. Chapin built his log cabin near the present Jewett Parkway.

The War of 1812

Soon after the War of 1812 began, troops, both militia and regulars, began to assemble at Buffalo and along the Niagara Frontier. Overall command went to Major General Stephen Van Renneselar of the New York Militia, much to the disgust of the commander of the regulars, Brigadier General Alexander Smyth.

When, on October 13, 1812, Van Renneselar launched an army across the Niagara River at Queenston (opposite Lewiston, New York) and was defeated with heavy losses, Smyth took over command of the "Army of the Niagara Frontier."

What this army needed more than anything else was training, discipline and effective leadership. In Smyth they got a man personally brave but a disastrous leader who seemed to believe that mere numbers and inspirational proclamations (bombast according to most people) could take the place of training, discipline and careful planning.

With his army at a strength of 4,500, Smyth planned an assault across the upper Niagara for November 28 but when an advance party landing at dawn met heavy resistance, and the main army had only 1,200 men embarked at noon, Smyth called off the operation He rescheduled the operation for November 30 and December 1 but after a council of war, that was canceled too. Smyth's failure to use what most believed to be the overwhelming force at his command provoked rage amongst both civilians and soldiers.
Peter Porter called him a coward and a duel resulted; some of his soldiers smashed their muskets against trees in disgust, others discharged them in the direction of the general's tent. Prudently, Smyth requested leave to visit his family in Virginia. He never returned to duty. The army he left now went into winter quarters, many of them to a camp on Flint Hill.

Starvation rampant

Although the abundance of flat rock outcrops at Flint Hill made it a dry and desirable place to set up camp, the arrival of harsh weather, poor sanitation conditions, and a lack of provisions and warm clothing added to the misery of the demoralized troops. The organization of supplies by Smyth, and indeed, by the government itself, was poor. According to letters, upon their arrival in camp, the troops were short of blankets, coats, socks, or boots, and many had only summer linen uniforms. Unable to rely on contractors who were to supply food, Smyth pleaded for public aid to feed his forces. Nevertheless food was scarce and when it did arrive, it was often spoiled. Colonel Winder at Fort Niagara experiencing the same conditions, reported: "We are literally starving at this end of the line for bread."

Disease

Adding to the unbearable situation, Colonel McFeeley at Fort Niagara reported a "dreadful contagion" in his garrison, "which carries off between three and five a day." In addition to dysentery, typhoid and measles, exposure to cold hastened their deaths. Added to the sick were the arrival of wounded from artillery fire between the nearby batteries of Black Rock and Waterloo. Surgeons who attended those wounded in battle and those sick complained of the lack of medicine and instruments. There is an account of this which came from an American prisoner of the British. It reads:

That the enemy have about 3,000 regular troops one mile and a half in rear of Black Rock, under camp at a place called Judge Granger's, where the General (Smyth), his aide-de-camp and several officers of rank live. That their camp is unhealthy, that they die from eight to nine daily; that the place of burial of the dead, which he states are put into holes two or three of which are made every day, and into each put two to four dead men.

The doctors say the disease is as bad as a plague. The patients are first taken with a pain in the head and in an hour and a half or two hours afterwards invariably die. Besides this disease he mentions their being afflicted with the pleurisy, dysentery and measles.


William Hodge, proprietor of the nearby "Brick Tavern on the Hill" at the present Main and Utica Streets, was pressed into service making coffins for the deceased. He reportedly made 300 coffins during the winter of 1812-1813. Dr. Daniel Chapin offered land on his farm for burial. However, as described previously, much of the ground was rocky, the graves often were no more than one foot deep. In the spring of 1813, the bodies were exhumed and reburied in the present spot in the meadow where the ground was sandy and easily dug. The grisly responsibility of re-interring the dead rested with Chapin and Captain Rowland Cotton, on whose property line the burials took place. To mark the spot, Chapin planted two yellow willows at each end of the burial mound.

Deserters executed

Circumstances under Smyth were particularly harsh for those who chose to desert. An anonymous soldier gave the following account:

They (the soldiers) have frequently expressed their discontent, and once stacked their arms, swore they would go home, and if their officers resisted would put them to death. Whenever they can desert they do. Four for desertion and one for mutiny have lately been shot at the camp, which nearly caused a rebellion.


Both pioneers, Barton Atkins and William Hodge recalled this first execution in Buffalo as taking place underneath a large oak on the grounds of the camp across from the present corner of Dewey and Main Streets. Another account places the site near the present corner of Florence and Crescent Avenues. In any case, it was under a large oak in the spring of 1812 that soldiers knelt in a row to be shot for desertion. Their bodies were then hung to discourage others who might have the same idea.

In the spring of 1814, Flint Hill would again he the scene of military maneuvers with the encampment of a section of General Jacob Brown's Left Division. As history records, Brigadier General Winfield Scott trained this division for the "Niagara Campaign" which would invade Canada in the early morning of July 3,1814.

Flint Hill memorial

The willow trees planted by Chapin at each end of the burial mound survived to witness the placing of a boulder and memorial brass marker to more fittingly mark the spot where the three hundred soldiers found final rest from their sufferings. The marker, dedicated by the Buffalo Historical Society on July 4,1896, simply reads "to the memory of the unnamed soldiers of the War of 1812 who died of camp disease and were buried here." The beauty of nature surrounding this hallowed spot gives tribute to the three hundred souls that now rest on Flint Hill.

Friends of Historic Flint Hill

Friends of Historic Flint Hill remain dedicated to the preservation of War of 1812 sites and to informing the public about that conflict which was so important to Buffalo's early years.

For more information, or to arrange a tour or presentation, please contact
Michael Riester.



Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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