Hamilton Civic Museums

History of Battlefield House

Hamilton Civic Museums Update

  • Dundurn National Historic Site, The Hamilton Military Museum, Hamilton Museum of Steam & Technology, Whitehern Historic House, and Fieldcote Museum are open to the public.
  • Battlefield House, Hamilton Children's Museum, and Griffin House are closed to the public to accommodate ongoing construction projects.
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The Gage Family of Stoney Creek

Mary Jones Gage
The widow Mary Jones Gage settled in Stoney Creek with her two children, James Jr. and Elizabeth, who were 16 and 14 years of age at the time. They came to Upper Canada from New York State in 1790 after the American Revolutionary War in which her husband, James Gage Sr., lost his life defending Fort Clinton against the British.

Elizabeth Gage (Westbrook) 1777 to 1859
In 1796, daughter Elizabeth married Major John Westbrook who made their home in Brant County. Their marriage was blessed with 16 children, two of whom died in early childhood.

James Gage Jr. 1774 to 1854
In 1796, Mary’s son James married Mary Davis. James and Mary made their home at the Gage House with James' mother and had ten children.

Mary Davis Gage 1777 to 1853
The Davis family had come to Canada from a plantation in North Carolina and later settled on Mud Street in a house they called, "Harmony Hall".

Sara Galbraith 1846 to 1914
image of Sarah CalderSara Calder was the great-granddaughter of Mary Jones Gage; the second child of Ann Eliza Gage (the last child born to James and Mary Gage) and Levi Beemer. She was responsible for the construction of the Battlefield Monument and the preservation of Battlefield House as a museum.

On December 6, 1888, a group of citizens formed the Wentworth Historical Society. Sara was president of the Ladies' Committee of the Society responsible for organizing fundraising events and preserving historical artifacts. Between 1894 and 1899, the ladies organized several successful fundraising events to build a monument in honour of the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Stoney Creek. In 1899, the ladies voted to sever ties with the Wentworth Historical Society and formed the Women's Wentworth Historical Society. They purchased the Gage homestead for $1,900, and on October 23, 1899, Battlefield Park was officially opened by Lady Aberdeen.

The Battle of Stoney Creek

On June 5, 1813, American forces marched from Niagara and set up camp at the Gage family homestead. In the early morning hours of June 6, 700 British troops marched from Burlington Heights - where Dundurn Castle stands today – and defeated 3,000 American soldiers under the cover of darkness. The Battle is considered a turning point in the War of 1812 as the Americans, who occupied Fort George at the time, never penetrated as far into the Niagara Peninsula again.

Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813 by James E. Elliott

"That night a child might understand The Devil has business on his hand"

Excerpted from Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813
By James E. Elliott 
Copyright © 2009 James E. Elliott. 
All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission 

Image of John NortonAlthough John Norton fielded no more than a handful of warriors at Stoney Creek and, by his own account, their part was limited, Indians nevertheless played a significant role – out of all proportion to their actual numbers – in how the action played out. The Americans believed at the time, and continued to believe for dozens of years afterwards, that they were attacked by a large contingent of native warriors.

There were plenty of survivors of Queenston Heights at Stoney Creek – particularly in the Second Artillery – who had first-hand knowledge of just how terrifying Norton’s warriors could be in battle. Likely every soldier in Chandler’s command had heard some version of the recent River Raisin massacre in Michigan Territory where, after the battle the American wounded were slaughtered by Indians. All the way down the peninsula, the spectre of Indian ambushes had been a constant fear, even though Norton’s numbers amounted to little more than a corporal’s guard and had only made contact once.

These anxieties were probably not far from the mind of Second Lieutenant Ephraim Shaler of the Twenty- Fifth Infantry when he left his unit’s new position to the right of the artillery and returned to its initial position on William Gage’s lane. The young officer checked on the cooks left there to prepare the next day’s meal and “just as I was about to leave the lane and go back to my regiment (it being at this time between one and two o’clock in the morning) I heard one of the most dreadful shrieks that ever fell on mortal ear and which seemed to come from one of the sentinels. I observed to an officer nearby that a sentinel had been shot with an arrow and the Indians were then tomahawking him, which I have no doubt was the fact, for not a gun had been fired.”

That silence, however, was only momentary before the first sentry discharged his musket, thereby raising the alarm. The assistant adjutant general, Major John Johnston, noted the time. It was 2:20 a.m.

On the edge of the woods the two British light companies moved rapidly to bag the remainder of the advance picket. They were now within a few hundred yards of the American line and still invisible. But as Clausewitiz disciple Helmuth von Moltke so famously observed: no campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy. For the British, neutralizing the pickets was the last thing that went according to plan that night.

Image of James FitzgibbonsBehind the light companies, some of Vincent’s staff officers came forward to the head of the column to watch the action. Completely heedless of Harvey’s “perfect order and profound silence” command, they began to cheer. Five companies back in the column, Lieutenant James FitzGibbon heard them and understood immediately what it meant: “The instant I heard their shout I considered our affair ruined.”

For the men in the ranks, constrained by the enforced silence, the outburst from the staff officers was both a welcome release from the tension and an invitation they could not resist. Section by section, company by company the troops began to cheer and yell “huzza!” And at least some of the men mimicked Indian war cries.

“The moment I heard the shout spread amongst the men,” FitzGibbon said, “I considered our situation very critical. For I was aware that it would be almost impossible to make the men silent again, and that consequently orders could not be heard or obeyed.” As Clausewitz warned, command and control of troops in a night action is crucial for success. FitzGibbon immediately told his company not to take up the shout and with the help of his three company sergeants, Joseph Buchanan, John Cole and Alexander Nicholl, “succeeded in keeping them silent and in good order,” for the moment at least.

The Irish subaltern was appalled at the behaviour of his fellow officers, considering them responsible for squandering a golden opportunity. “Never was surprise more complete – never was anything more brilliant than it would have been had we kept silence … but our officers began that which they should have watched with all their care to prevent; for they ought to have known that in darkness and noise, confusion must be inevitable. I think I could have killed some of them had I been near them at the moment.” Certainly any chance of a Paoli-style rout had evaporated.

Image of John ChandlerOn the other side, the sudden tumult was also having an effect. Ephraim Shaler, the Twenty-Fifth Infantry lieutenant, was standing less than 50 yards away when the roar began. Though he could see nothing in the dark, he was convinced by the yelling that he was surrounded “by all the Indians in Canada. The war whoop was given and the air seemed rent with the yell of Indians, which was quickly followed by every sentinel discharging his piece and retreating to the main guard.”

Some of Shaler’s countrymen claimed they distinctly heard Indians yelling and troops shouting, but Norton, who noted the troops were cheering loudly, made no mention of his small band of warriors taking any part. Of the dozens of accounts of the action from American officers, only one – that of Captain John Thornton of the Twentieth Infantry – appears to have got it right. “There were but few Indians with the British,” Thornton wrote, “but the latter set up the savage yell before the attack was made. This artifice was unworthy of regular troops and it excited no other sentiment but contempt among our soldiers.”

Back on the American line, Chandler’s acting ADC, Lieutenant Donald Fraser, was startled to discover the enemy – “British & Indians” – had penetrated American defences. “The first we knew was a horrid yell in Camp."

Smith’s Knoll

During the Battle of Stoney Creek, the American artillery was positioned on a rise of land located north-east of the Gage homestead. Historical records indicate that following the battle some of the soldiers were buried here in a mass grave. In 1899, Allan Smith, while ploughing on this rise of land, uncovered human remains and bits of cloth with the insignia of both British and American regiments. The area became known in the community as Smith’s Knoll.

On May 3, 1908, an area known as the Soldier’s Plot at Smith’s Knoll was consecrated and by 1910, a stone cairn and statue of a lion were installed. On August 1, 1910, the ‘Lion’s Monument’ at Smith’s Knoll was unveiled as a memorial to the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Stoney Creek. After significant community consultation and restoration of Smith's Knoll, Battlefield Cemetery was reopened on June 4, 2000.

Image of William GreenWilliam Green of Stoney Creek - 1794 to 1877

Local legend has it that at 19 years of age, having learned the password of the American troops encamped in Stoney Creek, ‘Billy the Scout’ rode through the woods to Burlington Heights and delivered this information to the British. He then led the British Army back to the Gage Homestead where they staged a surprise night attack and successfully stopped the American advance into Upper Canada.