Our Masonic history is the sum total of many individual narratives.
Shortest Fellowcraft Degree in Ontario History
Did you know that the shortest Fellowcraft Degree in Ontario’s Masonic history occurred at the start of the War of 1812?
Our story begins at the historic town of Amherstburg, Ontario, on the Detroit River, a few miles south of modern day Windsor. The time is the summer of 1812.
The first invasion of Upper Canada, now Ontario, in the War of 1812 occurred on the Detroit frontier. The American General Hull believed that the conquest of this part of Upper Canada would be a “mere matter of marching.” Accordingly, Hull crossed the Detroit River on July 12 into Canada, fully expecting that the local population would either surrender or join with the American Army. He also planned to capture Fort Malden, located at Amherstburg, from the British.
At Adoniram Lodge in Amherstburg, a meeting was being held just as Hull’s forces were crossing over into Canada. (The famous Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, a Freemason, often attended this Lodge, but was apparently absent at this meeting.) Captain Fox, a member of the Lodge and an officer in the local Amherstburg Militia, was being Passed to the Second Degree, when the news of the invasion was delivered by a Brother to the Tyler. Captain Fox later recalled.
“The Master finished up in less than 5 minutes and the 20 Brethren in the room cleared out, the Lodge being called off.”
Captain Fox was then ordered as a Militia officer to carry dispatches describing the invasion to General Brock at military headquarters at Niagara. Consequently, the Masons in the local Canadian Militia from Adoniram Lodge were among the first to respond to the American invasion.
Back at Niagara, having been alerted to the invasion by Brother and Captain Fox, General Brock hastily assembled an armed expedition of British Regulars, Militia and a few Iroquois warriors with Chief John Norton from the Grand River to travel to the Detroit River. On his arrival, Brock met with the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh who had assembled a large force of several hundred of his own warriors from the Ohio and Michigan territories for battle. Many of the British Regulars and Canadian Militiamen were of course Masons; however, so too were Chief Norton of the Iroquois, Chief Tecumseh of the Shawnee, and many of their warriors.
By this time American General Hull had retreated back across the Detroit River and was bottled up in Fort Detroit. Hull’s plans to attack Fort Malden had come to nothing. Everyone at this point expected a bloody battle on the American side of the Detroit River.
On August 16, Brock ordered the artillery to fire into Fort Detroit, and then sent a message to Hull. Counting on the violent reputation of the warriors, Brock pointed out that he could not control their actions once active fighting began. To Brock’s great surprise, Hull immediately surrendered the Fort and the entire Michigan Territory. Several of Hull’s senior officers were so disgusted they threatened to shoot him; he later faced a court martial for cowardice over the quick surrender.
Thus it was that the British won the opening rounds of the War. Local Freemasons played a crucial role in this action, and would continue to serve with distinction throughout the entire War.