June 18, 2012

200 Years Ago Today: The War of 1812 Begins

Perry's Monument, Put-in-Bay, Ohio
This marks the 200th anniversary of the day President James Madison declared the United States of America to be at war with Great Britain and its American Indian allies. Overshadowed as it is by the Revolutionary War and Civil War, the War of 1812 often gets the short end of the publicity stick. But for awhile at least, it gets to take center stage.

Even though I haven’t yet found an ancestor who served in the War of 1812, I feel a kind of connection to it. You see, my city—Columbus, Ohio—was born along with the war. It was created by the Ohio legislature in 1812 to be the new capital of the state, largely because of its handy central location and river access. Nearby Franklinton (now absorbed by Columbus) was already a hub for staging troops and munitions for the war effort. Because Ohio was America’s western frontier at the time, it was on the front lines of the conflict, particularly as the nations wrestled over control of the Great Lakes and strategically-located western forts.

Sometimes in my quest to gather records, documents, and snippets of history, I tend to forget that the outcome of these wars was anything but assured. What if Commodore Perry had not defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Erie? Put-in-Bay today is a happy-go-lucky island, an Ohio version of Key West. But back then it was ground zero for a desperate fight. If the British had won control of Lake Erie and taken Put-in-Bay, what would stop them from taking control of Cleveland and Sandusky, a short boat ride away? What if Fort Meigs had fallen, like Fort Detroit and Fort Dearborn (Chicago) did, leaving much of the Northwest Territory virtually defenseless? Our maps and our stories today could be very different.

I’ll try to share a few resources for learning about the War of 1812 and the men who served in it as the weeks go on. For now, I invite you to read a brief synopsis of the war’s history and impact on Ohio in an article, “The Fight that Forged Ohio,” that appeared in the June 17th edition of The Columbus Dispatch. I think reporter Ken Gordon did a good job with it.

And I’d encourage you to take a look at Derek Davey’s article, “Genealogically Speaking: The War of 1812,” in the June issue of The In-Depth Genealogist newsletter. He explains the role that geography played in the war, and makes some great recommendations for finding service records and using various types of resources to study War of 1812 ancestors.

I hope to find a War of 1812 soldier in my family so I can try Derek’s suggestions myself. I’m curious to know how many others have identified an ancestor who played a role in this conflict. Have you found or researched someone who served in the War of 1812? 


  1. I'm like you in that I haven't found anyone yet. Odds are there's one out there somewhere.

    1. Yes, we'll just have to keep looking, Michelle.


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