Sir Isaac Brock

The British general Sir Isaac Brock (1769-1812) captured Detroit and became known as the "hero of Upper Canada" during the War of 1812 against the United States.

Isaac Brock, born on Oct. 6, 1769, at St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey, entered the army as an ensign in 1785. Rising by purchase according to the custom of the time, he became a lieutenant colonel in 1797, commanded his regiment in the North Holland expedition in 1799, and later fought in the naval battle of Copenhagen. Sent to Canada with his regiment in 1802, he was promoted to colonel in 1805 and commanded the garrison at Quebec until 1810. He then was placed in charge of all British troops in Upper Canada and was promoted to major general in 1811; after October of that year he was also in charge of the civil government.

Brock brought to his job military skill, magnetic personal character, and expert knowledge of the land and people. Many of the Canadian settlers were former Americans, and one of Brock's problems was keeping the loyalty of the volunteer militia. The local tribes posed another problem. Brock had to influence them against raiding the American frontier, at the same time keeping them loyal to Britain. As for the regular army, Brock wrote that although his own regiment had been in Canada for 10 years, "drinking rum without bounds, it is still respectable, and apparently ardent for an opportunity to acquire distinction."

When the United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812, Brock organized the defense of Upper Canada. He called a special session of the legislature at York (present Toronto), and although it refused to suspend habeas corpus, it did vote supplies. After an American invasion was repelled by the newly formed militia, Brock launched a counterattack. Commanding an army of 1,330 men, including 600 natives led by Chief Tecumseh, Brock sailed down Lake Erie to Detroit, where Gen. William Hull had an American army of 2,500 men. Although Brock was outmanned, he did not hold his ground or retreat but in a daring move advanced on Ft. Detroit, and Hull surrendered without firing a shot. For this achievement Brock was acclaimed the "hero of Upper Canada" and named a knight commander of the Order of the Bath.

From Detroit, Brock hurried to the Niagara frontier to repel another American invasion of Canada, but on Oct. 13, 1812, he was killed at the battle of Queenston Heights. As he fell, his last words were, "Never mind me—push on the York Volunteers." The war continued for over 2 more years, but Upper Canada was saved for Britain because of Brock's victories at Detroit and Queenston Heights.

In 1824, on the twelfth anniversary of his death, his remains were placed beneath a monument at Queenston Heights erected by the provincial legislature. In 1840 a fanatic blew up the monument, but in 1841 a new and more stately monument was erected, a tall shaft supporting a statue of Brock.

Further Reading on Sir Isaac Brock

A biography of Brock is D. J. Goodspeed, The Good Soldier: The Story of Isaac Brock (1964). The best account of Brock's role in the War of 1812 is Morris Zaslow, ed., The Defended Border: Upper Canada and the War of 1812 (1964).

Additional Biography Sources

Richardson, John, Major Richardson's Major-General Sir Isaac Brock and the 41st regiment, Burke Falls Ont.: Old Rectory Press, 1976.

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