Remembering the Battle of Matilda, 1812

It seems only fitting that with the Iroquois Festival Committee celebrating “A Call to Arms…Dundas Militia…War of 1812”, all day in Iroquois on Saturday, September 15, that one of those key area battles be recalled.

The Battle of Matilda was fought on September 16, 1812.

When it was over, Canadian forces has suffered one killed and several wounded. The Americans, who had begun the fight by attacking military bateaux, just past the Iroquois Point, experienced considerable losses. How many American troops, of the original 500, fell that day, has never been fully determined. 

The Dundas region often bore the brunt of fighting once war was declared by United States president, James Madison, on June 18, 1812. 

The narrowness of the St. Lawrence River in several places from Upper Canada to Quebec City, as well as a series of small islands scattered along the waterway in this region, made it an ideal setting for either side for staging surprize attacks. The river was also the main source of transportation for armies, supplies and commerce for both nations. 

Strategically, any military planner understood that the army which ultimately controlled the St. Lawrence, essentially controlled the war. 

On September 16, under the protection of Captain Ault and his Dundas Regiment’s No. 1 Flank Company, accompanied also by a detachment of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, led by Major Heathcote, a convoy of military boats was moving military stores from Montreal to Kingston when American invaders opened up on them.

As the American militia continued to fire on the Canadian convoy, two ships full of US troops made their way toward Presqu’isle Island. They planned a toe hold landing. Captain Ault, figuring out the plan, ordered Ensign Clark and part of the Dundas regiment to stop them.

In the race to the island, the Canadians won. 

Ensign Clark’s men hastily dug in, using bushes and trees on the Island as camouflage. They opened murderous fire just as the American troops began their landing.

The unexpected fire from the forest threw off the American invasion plan, and US troops finally withdrew to Toussaint’s Island, taking shelter in the woods. To the Americans’ dismay, one of their small boats went adrift and was picked up by the Canadian militia.

As the word of the attack spread, large numbers of area men, some well past fighting age, rushed to join the Dundas Regiment. Captain Shaver, Captain Ault, Colonel Allen McDonnell (names well known in this region), took over command. 

From Prescott, Lieutenant Fraser brought in a nine pounder gun whose fire was directed at Americans in King Peter’s Bay. Two companies of the Grenville Militia, commanded by Captains Monroe and Dulmage, rushed to the battle.

In the following hours the American attack was stopped dead.

For the first time, the 1st Dundas Regiment had been called upon to defend this area in the war. Men and officers proved their mettle in what came to be called the Battle of Matilda.

But the war was far from over. The Americans would be back.

To commemorate the Battle of Matilda, a group of SD&G Highlanders will be visiting its location (County Road 2 and Galop Lane) at 11 a.m. on Sunday, September 16, enroute to ceremonies in Mountain for the Hill 70 Memorial.

The 15-20 uniformed young troops (during this professional development training exercise), accompanied by their piper, will make a stop at the local battle site. Their visit, September 16, coincides with the 200th anniversary of the fight. 

Area residents are welcome to join them at 11 a.m. 

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