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Jun. 15, 2019 | Saturday
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Niagara History Unveiled: First Nations Monuments
First Nations monuments at Queenston Heights. (Richard Harley/Niagara Now)

“Indians at Queenston Heights”
October 13, 1812

Warriors of the Six Nations of Iroquois (Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, Tuscaroras), mainly of the Grand River, fought as allies of the British in this historical battle with the Americans.  Speaking different dialects and with different religious beliefs, these Indians were drawn together for the battle by John Norton, a resourceful and courageous commander.

Norton, (Teyoninhokarawen) a man of Cherokee and Scottish ancestry, was a Mohawk by adoption.  With John Brant (Ahyouwaeghs), the youngest son of Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), and John Bearfoot, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, the Iroquois fought for their own survival as a people and in support of the British.

In the mid nineteenth century, the people of Canada chose to commemorate the services of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock with a monument on Queenston Heights.  Other heroes, including Major-General Roger Hale Schaeffe and Laura Secord were also remembered; however, these were not the only people who helped to protect Canada from the Americans during the War of 1812.  The indigenous contribution as British Allies during the war wasn’t recognized until much later.

On October 2, 2016, the beautiful Landscape of Nations was officially opened in Queenston Heights. This collaborative effort of governments, local people and First Nations people created a memorial, a quiet place for contemplation and reflection.

The Landscape of Nations, however, is not the first acknowledgement of the Native allies from the war of 1812.

During the 1970s a Queenston villager, Margaret Torrance, spearheaded a group committed to honour the First Nations People.  It was decided such a monument was to be erected in Queenston near those of General Brock’s horse, Alfred, and the stone marker near the Mackenzie Printery which was dedicated in 1861 by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward V).  The people working with Torrance discussed the need for a suitable monument, and decided that a simple rock that they found in the area would be appropriate.

Torrance had become interested in the role that John Norton played in Canadian history after reading a review of “The Journal of Major John Norton, 1816” published by the Champlain Society in 1970.  Torrance went to Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England to look at Norton’s diaries for herself and realized how important John Norton was to the War of 1812 efforts.

Later, in time for the bicentennial of the War of 1812, Torrance was instrumental in getting the Champlain Society to republished Norton’s diary which is the only publication that the Society has ever reprinted.

The suppression of information about the contribution of indigenous peoples to the war efforts was partially due to the actions of the Family Compact, that powerful group who governed Upper Canada, and later, Ontario.  They wanted the lands of the province for settlement so they chose to negate the efforts of the First Nations people by expunging the names of all who were involved in the War of 1812.

This was a less than successful enterprise because Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief who allied himself with the English during the war continued to be known, even after his death, for his assistance to Major General Brock, particularly during the Battle of Detroit.

As a result of the many efforts to erase history, in spite of the published Norton diaries and the monument in Queenston which named him as a hero, it wasn’t until the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, that John Norton’s name gained some prominence.

Norton (1784- 1825) was the son of a Cherokee father and a Scottish mother.  He had been adopted by a Scottish soldier after the American Revolution who returned to Scotland where Norton was raised and educated.  He later returned Upper Canada to serve in the military sometime in the 1790s.   

Upon his discharge from the British Army, Norton became acquainted with the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant, who eventually adopted him.  Norton was able to speak English, French, German, and Spanish. He later learned to speak twelve Indian languages and dialects during his life.  He translated the gospel of St. Matthew as well as Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake into Mohawk.

Norton worked with Brant as an interpreter and helped to forward the Five Nations Indians’ cause with the British.

In 1812, Norton led the Indian supporters of the British regular army at the Battle of Queenston Heights. So valuable was Norton’s contribution as a strategist and fighter that General Sheaffe, the British leader after Brock’s death in battle, made Norton a captain in the British army.

After the war, Norton continued to live in North America, although he made numerous trips back to England and Scotland on behalf of First Nations peoples.

His date and place of death are still in question.  It is said he died sometime between 1825 and 1831.  His place of death is believed to be in New Mexico but again not proven.

The wording on the monument in the village of Queenston opens this article.

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To learn more about the topic of this story you can visit the Niagara Historical Society & Museum website at, www.niagarahistorical.museum, or visit the museum for yourself.

The Niagara Historical Museum is located at 43 Castlereagh St. in Old Town, in Memorial Hall. Visit, or give them a call at 905-468-3912.

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