by Rolf A. Piro
William Berczy’s plan to settle thousands of people in the Lake Erie Region was a brilliant idea to strengthen the British land forces by keeping the Americans at bay during an invasion attempt in Upper Canada.
This grand plan has been a vital element of the British American War of 1812, and while nearly forgotten deserves to be remembered
(rap) Toronto – 1794 was an eventful year in Ontario when the capital of Upper Canada was moved from Newark in the Niagara region to Toronto, thus making the capital less vulnerable to attack by the Americans. The war hawks in the United States spoke of a struggle with Britain that they believed resulted from previous war engagements.
George Washington, President of the United States of America (1789-1797) with military experience obtained in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary war was holding a peace conference with The Six Nations in 1794 hoping to win the loyalty of the First Nation in Ohio and Michigan and Upper Canada. Joseph Brant and his assistant Robert Nelles had been well informed about the political developments. The answer appeared to be in William Berczy’s proposal that would strengthen the weak land based defense forces in this sparsely populated area. In a letter to Governor Simcoe dated March 24, 1794 William Berczy submitted a petition for a land grant of 1 million acres to the Governor and Counsel of Upper Canada. The proposal foresaw settling part of that province of Ontario with German settlers from Europe and the United States Ambassador. Hammond had promised British ships and support. The Government Council found the water based initiative by the British Navy to control the Lake Erie Region to be sufficient in nature. Berczy’s proposal was to provide land settlement with people and therefore became an important element in the defense of the Great Lakes region. The failure to implement Berczy’s proposal ended in near disaster after the battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813 when the British Navy nearly lost control of Upper Canada. The weak defense force consisted mostly of Indians and a small number of military people that were no match for these large numbers of invading American land forces. General Procter’s supply lines were cut leaving his army without food, forcing him to retreat from Detroit and Amherstburg towards the western end of Lake Ontario for supplies.
Warning the British Forces Laura Secord style
John Christopher Reiffenstein, an army soldier, that came from the noble German family of Thurn and Taxis spent his military time with Proctor in Detroit and Amherstburg and saw Tecumseh the famous Shawnee Chief get killed at the battle of Moraviantown, at Fairfield (Schőnfeld) nearby. Reiffenstein understood the gravity of this situation and immediately hurried through the primeval forests to Burlington Heights to warn the British military in “Laura Secord style manner” of the impeding attacks, Reiffenstein was virtually doing the same as Laura Secord by reporting the military dangers of an invasion force what he believed to be 8,000 soldiers. Reiffenstein overstated the American invasion force by 2,000 American soldiers when a real count later turned out to be 6, 000. This inaccurate information apparently misled the military and a court martial was ordered that later Reiffenstein honourably acquitted. Berczy also known as the co-founder of Toronto’s plan deserves to be remembered as a strategist for his foresight in the historic developments of the Great Lakes region.
The Berczy narratives concerning an Expedition in Upper Canada for settling a part of the Province of Ontario is located in the Baldwin Room of the Toronto Reference Library. The narratives constitute an important part of Canadian history that is to be included in the history books.