The Patriot War – Part 3

Patriots Open a Second Front Along Michigan Border

As noted in the last post on the Patriot War, Buffalo New York opened its arms to fleeing Canadian rebels in December 1837. Buffalo citizens pledged money and munitions to help the rebels and many joined the growing “army of liberation.” But Buffalo was not the only center of military mobilization.

An army of American sympathizers, the western Patriots, formed in Detroit to “liberate” western Upper Canada (now Ontario). Henry S. Handy, a self-appointed general, took charge. He appointed fellow Patriots E. J. Roberts and Edward Alexander Theller as Brigadier Generals. With their ranks padded by hundreds of Canadian rebels, they prepared for war.

On January 5, 1838, Handy’s men stole a small schooner, the Anne, and readied it for battle. The target was to be Fort Malden and Amherstburg in Upper Canada, located near the downstream end of the Detroit River.

On January 7, Brigadier General Thomas Jefferson Sutherland arrived from Buffalo to take command. General Handy refused to give him command and Sutherland had to settle for second place.

The attack began January 8. Sutherland crossed the river and led 300 men on an assault of Amherstburg by land. The Anne under command of Theller fired cannon into the town in support of the Patriots. Though fewer in number, the better trained Canadian militia, managed to repulse Sutherland’s army, which retreated to Sugar Island in the Detroit River.

The next day, Theller again fired cannon at Amherstburg. The local militia peppered the schooner with musket fire, tearing its rigging to bits and killing the helmsman. In the rough weather, the Anne ran aground. The Canadian militia (including a company of former American slaves) waded to their armpits in the freezing January water, boarded the Anne, and captured Theller and his crew.

General Handy removed the Patriots from Sugar Island. He knew the Amherstberg raid was a lost cause, and he preferred to get his troops to safety for battles ahead. (A month later, Sutherland was captured taking a shortcut across the Lake Erie ice on his way to Ohio. He spent the rest of the Patriot War in jail with Theller.)

The Amherstburg raid was the first of four major assaults on the western parts of Upper Canada by Patriot rebels based in Michigan and Ohio.

This is the third in a series of guest posts on the Patriot War by blogger and author Shaun J. McLaughlin. Visit his blog at To learn more about his two Patriot War books, one history and one fiction, visit

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