Doyle helped gun crews pound British positions in artillery duel
by Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
The female hero of a cross-battle artillery battle during the War of 1812 is finally getting her due from New York state, County Clerk Wayne Jagow learned this morning.
Doyle carried red-hot cannonballs to artillery placed atop Fort Niagara's "French Castle" for immediate firing during the November 1812 engagement, a prolonged exchange of cannon fire by U.S. and British artillery crews on opposite sides of the Niagara River.
Doyle was, at the time living at Fort Niagara with her children, following her husband's capture by British forces during the Battle of Queenston.
"Betsy Doyle was an American hero in the tradition of Molly Pitcher and Rosie the Riveter," Jagow said, noting Doyle's gallantry wasn't limited to her role in the artillery battle.
"A year later, she actually put on a soldier's uniform and stood guard all night to help motivate militia tasked with defending the fort right before the British overwhelmed it," Jagow said. "Here you had a woman on the early-American frontier acting as gutsy as any John Wayne character."
Jagow received word of Doyle's induction into the state's Women of Distinction from Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane. Maziarz's office shepherded Doyle's nomination to the listing of truly noteworthy and heroic woman honored by the state. An exhibition focusing on Doyle will be on display in the Well of Albany's Legislative Office Building from March 19 to 30 as part of Women's History Month.
Jagow noted that County Historian Catherine Emerson had done extensive research on Doyle to support her nomination as a Woman of Distinction.
"Kate (Emerson) really put her heart and soul into this," Jagow said. "Kate's been a great champion of Fort Niagara and our county's role in the War of 1812, so I think she felt a certain kinship with Betsy Doyle."
Maziarz, who introduced the resolution that led to Doyle being honored by the state government 200 years after her heroics, said, "Betsy Doyle was a true heroine for her actions, and her legacy to this area is something that I am glad is not going unnoticed. This being the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, I find it only fitting that she be inducted in a year of great significance."
Maziarz noted the Women of Distinction award is a significant honor.
"Women's History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate the enormous contributions of great women from our past," Maziarz said. "The Women of Distinction exhibit singles out just a few of these extraordinary people as examples of women's achievements that continue to this very day."
Top county leaders were pleased to learn of Doyle's recognition.
Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, whose district includes Fort Niagara, and who is a colonial and early-American history buff himself, said the award was a long time in coming.
"Betsy Doyle was a tough woman living in tough times," Burmaster said. "The commander of Fort Niagara during the War of 1812 even compared her to Joan of Arc. And if you go to the fort, you will find plaques honoring her heroics. But it's time that the rest of New York state learned about her."
Burmaster wasn't the only lawmaker pleased by the news.
Legislator Tony Nemi, I-Lockport/Pendleton, who chairs the Community Services Committee of the Legislature—the body with oversight of the County Historian's Office—called the nomination "a major coup."
"Here you have a woman who helped protect America during one of the earliest tests of our freedom and independence, and most schoolchildren—most adults, for that matter—have never heard of her," Nemi said. "Hopefully, this award changes that."
Nemi commended Historian's Office personnel for their work.
"Kate Emerson and her team put in a lot of hours on this, and this is a worthy outcome," Nemi said. "Betsy Doyle deserves her place in the history books."
Nemi also praised Maziarz and his staff for their efforts.
"We often expect Senator Maziarz and his team to go out and fight for our region's future, but sometimes we have to ask them to stand up for our past," Nemi said. "Betsy Doyle was a warrior. Today, we also know she was a war hero."