Trivia: The Burning of Buffalo by the British

On December 30, 1813, British forces and their native American allies sacked and burned to the ground the frontier village of Buffalo in far western New York State. Try your luck with our trivia questions to see how much you know about the War of 1812, Buffalo's role in the war, and why the British targeted it.


What Was the British Motive for Burning Buffalo? # Today a bustling city of nearly 300,000, Buffalo in 1813 was a quiet village on the far western frontier of New York State. In a word, revenge. Earlier in December, Brigadier General George McClure of the New York State militia had ordered his troops to evacuate Fort George, a British garrison on the Canadian side of the Niagara River that the Americans had seized and occupied since May 1813. McClure also ordered his evacuating troops to burn the nearby village of Newark, which is today known as Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario. Months earlier, American forces had torched the provincial capital of York (now known as Toronto). Angered by these American acts of destruction, British Lieutenant General Gordon Drummond, born in Canada, was determined to avenge these acts, and he took it out on the American villages of Buffalo and Black Rock.

What Caused the War of 1812? # Canadian re-enactors recreate a battle from the War of 1812 during Canada Day celebrations in Guelph, Ontario. Britain and France, locked in combat during the Napoleonic Wars since the beginning of the 19th century, both enacted economic sanctions that hurt U.S. efforts to expand its international trade. On top of that, Americans were outraged at the British practice of impressing U.S. merchant sailors into the service of the Crown, as well as British support for native Americans fighting the expansion of European Americans into new territories. These mounting grievances against Britain prompted President James Madison to send a message to Congress that listed in detail the British acts and the injurious effects they were having on American interests. Both houses of Congress voted to approve a declaration of war against Britain, which was issued on June 18, 1812.


What Much Larger City Did the British Torch During the War of 1812? During the sweltering August of 1814, the 8,000 residents of America's new capital city found themselves the target of invading British troops who were marching northwest toward Washington from the Chesapeake Bay. As the 4,000-strong British force neared the nation's capital, most Washington residents fled into the surrounding countryside. The British made short work of American defenders in nearby Bladensburg, Maryland, despite the superior numbers of the U.S. troops. This left open the door to Washington, which the British quickly captured on August 24, 1814. The British burned most of the city to the ground, including the White House and the U.S. Capitol, only the shell of which remained.

Which Side Won the War of 1812? The war ended in a stalemate. Both sides had suffered considerable losses and were eager to see an end to hostilities. Somehow forgotten in the haste to put an end to the war were some of the earlier grievances Americans had about British impressment of U.S. merchant seamen into service for the crown and the illegal boarding of U.S. merchant ships by the British. Under the Treaty of Ghent, signed in the Belgian city of that name on December 24, 1814, all territories conquered by either side reverted to their pre-war owners.

Photo credit: Thom Evered

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