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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Learn about the man who burned down the town
John B. Lee, author of a book about the infamous Joseph Willcocks, will deliver a lecture on the Anglo-Irish man's life. SUPPLIED

History has laid the blame for the devastating fire in the town of Newark, now Niagara-on-the-Lake, in December 1813 on Joseph Willcocks, who led a team that reduced the homes of an entire community to ashes in one night.

The story of the man behind this destruction, however, is “too complicated to tell,” says John B. Lee, author of “King Joe: The Life and Times of Joseph Willcocks,” a book detailling the Anglo-Irish gentleman’s life from birth to death.

Lee will deliver a lecture about the infamous man, based on his book, at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum on Thursday evening, April 18, called “Is Newark Burning?”

He is the poet laureate for Brantford, Norfolk County of the Canada Cuba Literary Alliance, as well as author of nearly 100 books.

On the bone-chilling, frigid night of Dec. 10, 1813 — a year and half into the War of 1812 — Willcocks and the members of his Canadian Volunteers, acting on instructions from American Gen. George McLure, to order the residents of Newark out of their houses before setting every home in the town on fire.

“What is interesting to me is not so much the horrifying details of that awful night in 1813,” said Lee, “but how did Willcocks evolve from being an ultra loyal gentleman volunteer at the Battle of Queenston Heights, to being so disillusioned, so outraged, that he burned Newark to the ground – the town he’d been living in for several years?”

Willcocks had, in fact, been a successful politician.

From 1808 until 1812, he was elected without opposition in West York, 1st Lincoln and Haldimand ridings.

Eventually, he moved to Newark, where he published the Upper Canada Guardian from 1807 to 1812, the only newspaper of the day critical of colonial government.

Even Sir Isaac Brock, with war on the horizon, appealed to Willcocks in 1812 to help secure an alliance with the Six Nations Confederacy, whose reserve was in Willcocks’ constituency.

The lecture on Willcocks will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the museum, located at 43 Castlereagh St.

Admission is $10, or free for museum members. To reserve a spot, call 905-468-3912 or email Amy Klassen at aklassen@nhsm.ca. Seating is limited.

Copies of “King Joe: The Life and Times of Joseph Willcocks” will be available for purchase at the museum.

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