OSWEGO — The 225th anniversary of the British evacuation of Fort Ontario will be commemorated at the State Historic Site in Oswego on Saturday, July 17.
The re-enactment will feature living history demonstrations by the Revolutionary War interpretive unit of the Continental Arms Collectors Association, fort staff, and volunteers from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
At 2 p.m. there will be a short program on the flag bastion describing the original 1796 event and 1896 centennial commemoration by Oswego County Historian Justin White and Fort Ontario Historic Site Manager Paul Lear. This will be immediately followed by the change of flags from British to American. Retreat will be at 4:30 p.m. Regular admission will be charged.
“Fort Ontario and seven other British posts located on U.S. territory on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River were held by the British for 13 years after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783,” said Lear. “During this time the fort’s British garrisons stopped all commercial traffic on the Oswego River and impeded westward expansion as well as trade with British-Canada. No settlement was allowed within 2 ½ miles of the Oswego.
“Under terms of the Jay Treaty, ratified in February 1796, these posts were to be turned over to the United States by June 1 that year. However, the small and widely disbursed U.S. Army was unable to reach the posts quickly enough, and the British graciously agreed to secure them until they arrived later that summer.”
In July 1796, Captain James Bruff of the Engineers and Artillerists at West Point was ordered to Oswego with troops and two field pieces to relieve the British garrison at Fort Ontario. When he neared Oswego Falls (Fulton), Bruff received word from the fort’s British commandant that his stores had been shipped, and he was anxious to depart for Canada with his few remaining troops.
Bruff hurriedly sent Lt. Theophilus Elmer downriver to secure the fort and await his arrival. On the morning of July 14, the British sailed away and Bruff’s detachment of U.S. troops arrived at Oswego a few hours later. The next day Bruff wrote the Secretary of War informing him of his arrival at Fort Ontario and that he “immediately landed the detachment and artillery and marched in, the music playing the President’s March, and under a federal salute, displayed from the Citadel.”
Bruff reported that he found the barracks and other buildings clean and in good order, and the gardens filled with vegetables and fruit. Fort Ontario was the last British Northwest post turned over to the United States.
Within days of the British departure a seasonal but lucrative forwarding trade and settlement began to develop at Oswego which became a small but important transshipment point. From Oswego the forwarding firms of Townsend, Bronson, & Company, and Porter, Barton & Company conducted most of the transportation business on the Great Lakes; these firms owned a string of warehouses and docks at Oswego, Lewiston, and Black Rock on Lake Erie.
Goods shipped through Oswego were mostly salt, furs, Indian annuities, farming tools, and military supplies and stores. The salt trade was the chief commercial business and by 1810, 11 vessels called Oswego their home port. The forwarding business, which acted much as modern shipping companies, supported blacksmiths, carpenters, coopers, sail makers, and other tradesmen and clerks involved in making and maintaining boats, docks, and warehouses.
By the War of 1812 there were 30 houses, six warehouses, five stores, five wharves, a post office, custom house, three physicians and three taverns, surrounded by private residences. There were no churches or lawyers in Oswego before the War of 1812 [Life and Writings of DeWitt Clinton][Clinton, 1849, pps. 77-81].
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Oswego County Historical Society (OCHS). The first founding board of trustees originally met to recognize the 100th anniversary of the evacuation of the British from Fort Ontario in 1796. This honored a momentous event in local, state, and national history which attracted thousands of spectators, some of whom arrived by chartered excursion trains.
The event featured a morning reception of guests and visiting troops, an afternoon parade and review by 2,000 troops of the 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment and New York National Guard, orations by Secretary of War Lamont, Commanding General of the Army Miles, NYS Governor Morton, other prominent men, and official salutes upon the arrival of military officers.
Since that time, the Oswego County Historical Society has preserved and promoted the history of the greater Oswego community and collected and maintained thousands of artifacts, manuscript collections, photographs and beyond that document the county’s rich history. The Oswego County Historical Society was instrumental in preserving portions of Fort Ontario as a state historic site and saving the human remains in the post cemetery from being moved to a national cemetery after WWII when the fort was decommissioned.
Fort Ontario State Historic Site is located at the north end of East Fourth Street in the City of Oswego. For more information on the fort or event contact Paul Lear at 343-343-4711 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.nysparks.com or www.historicfortontario.com.
The Oswego County Historical Society’s collections are housed in the Richardson-Bates House Museum, 135 E. Third St., Oswego.
For more Oswego County history, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com.