War of 1812: The Battle of York,1813

November 28, 2018 | lfeesey

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The War of 1812 came to the town of York — now Toronto — on April 27, 1813. Departing from New York's Sacket's Harbor, Commodore Isaac Chauncey's squadron positioned itself at three strategic locations. 

York US Fleet

The American's 14 ships and 1,700 troops greatly outnumbered the 300 British forces stationed at Fort York garrison, some Indigenous warriors and another 300 poorly trained militia. The warriors and then the garrison tried to fend off the invaders to no avail. British Commander General Roger Hale Sheaffe ordered his troops to retreat to Kingston. The local militia leaders were left to negotiate the terms of capitulation. 

It was all over by early afternoon except for Sheaffe’s last parting gesture. Rather than have the large supply of munitions fall into the hands of the enemy, he ordered the destruction of the garrison magazine. When the Americans took over Fort York the munitions exploded, killing and maiming 250 Americans and mortally wounding Field Commander Zebulon Pike. 


The Americans occupied York from April 27 to May 1, 1813. During this period, they commandeered public stores and destroyed most of the military and government buildings. The Palace of Government, meeting place of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada and the adjoining courthouse were torched. 

 Library elmsley house

While in York, some officers under the command of Commodore Chauncey borrowed books from York’s first subscription library. It had opened on December 9, 1810 in the house of John Elmsley. The officers sailed back with the books. 

Chauncey learned of the purloined library books after the squadron had arrived home to Sacket's Harbor.  Under Chauncey’s orders, the books were packed up in two crates  and returned to Canada.  Unfortunately by the time they arrived, the library had closed. The books were ignored and then auctioned off in 1822.

You can read more about The Battle of York in this free-to-access book by Barlow Cumberland book published 100 years after the event:

 Battle of york book

Explore hundreds of digitized items related to the War of 1812 — maps, letters, paintings and more — on Digital Archive Ontario.