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Old Fort Niagara, State Parks events will mark 250th anniversary of Devil's Hole Battle

by jmaloni

Press release

Tue, Sep 3rd 2013 07:00 am

On Sept. 14-15, Old Fort Niagara and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will present a weekend of special programs that commemorate the 250th anniversary of two historic skirmishes that occurred at Devil's Hole on Sept. 14, 1763. On that date, Seneca warriors, angered over British policies, ambushed a wagon train headed north along the Niagara Gorge. When British troops rushed to the convoy's aid, they, too, were ambushed and decimated just north of the first attack.

Saturday's events will take place at Devil's Hole State Park, where re-enactors representing British soldiers and Native American warriors will establish a period camp. Musket firings over the gorge and living history programs will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. At 1 and 3 p.m., a special walking tour that includes period characters will recount the actions of 250 years ago.

Due to limited parking at Devil's Hole State Park, visitors are advised to park at the New York Power Authority's Power Vista lot and use a free shuttle that will run from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission to the Devil's Hole event is free.

Sunday's activities will take place at Old Fort Niagara and feature special tours focusing on the fort's role in the 1763 conflict known as Pontiac's War. Throughout the day, the fort will present musket and artillery firings, activities for children and a 2 p.m. presentation on frontier diplomacy of the time. Sunday's programs will require the fort's normal admission fee.

The event is made possible through a grant from the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Commission.

Old Fort Niagara is located in Youngstown, 14 miles north of Niagara Falls via the Robert Moses Parkway North.

Schedule of activities:

Saturday, Sept. 14 - at Devils Hole State Park

  • 11 a.m.: Native American opening ceremony.
  • 11 a.m.-4 p.m.: Camps open to the public; Demonstrations of period skills, uniforms/clothing and equipment.
  • 11:30 a.m.: Musket demonstration over the Niagara Gorge.
  • Noon: Musket demonstration.
  • 1 p.m.: Walking tour - "The Engagement at Devil's Hole"; interpreting the events of September 1763 on the original ground. Visitors will meet re-enactors portraying original combatants as a narrator relates the history of the engagements.
  • 2 p.m.: Musket firing over the Niagara Gorge.
  • 3 p.m.: Walking tour repeats.
  • 4 p.m.: Moment of silence/closing ceremony.

Sunday, Sept. 15 - at Old Fort Niagara

  • 10 a.m.: Native American opening ceremony.
  • 10:30 a.m.: Special tour - "Fort Niagara in Pontiac's War."
  • 11:30 a.m.: Artillery demonstration.
  • 12:30 p.m.: Trade demonstration.
  • 1:30 p.m.: Special tour - "Fort Niagara in Pontiac's War."
  • 2:30 p.m.: Presentation - "Frontier Diplomacy at Fort Niagara in 1763."
  • 3:30 p.m.: "Reveille Race for Kids."
  • 4 p.m.: Closing ceremony.

Devil's Hole 250th Anniversary Commemoration Historical Background

Pontiac's War, Pontiac's Conspiracy, or Pontiac's Rebellion, was a war that was launched in 1763 by a loose confederation of elements of Native American tribes primarily from the Great Lakes region, the Illinois Country, and Ohio Country, who were dissatisfied with British postwar policies in the Great Lakes region after the British victory in the French and Indian War (1754-63). Warriors from numerous tribes joined the uprising in an effort to drive British soldiers and settlers out of the region. The war is named after the Ottawa leader Pontiac, the most prominent of many native leaders in the conflict.

When the Native tribes of the Great Lakes rose against the British in the spring of 1763, they quickly captured every small military post west of Niagara with the exception of Detroit. Since Detroit was always supplied through Niagara, the desperate plight of its isolated garrison further increased the importance of the portage road around Niagara Falls. Throughout the summer of 1763, supplies and reinforcements for the beleaguered garrison flowed across the carrying place. The road was poorly protected, however, and far from the main garrison at Fort Niagara.

Exposed as it was, the portage road was sure to be attacked. The blow fell on Sept. 14, 1763, as a number of lightly escorted wagons were returning to the Lower Landing (Lewiston) for another load of provisions. A large number of hostile Seneca Indians lay in wait along the road. As the wagons approached the creek flowing into Devil's Hole, they rumbled across a small wooden span later known as "Bloody Bridge." It was here the Senecas sprang their trap. John Stedman, a civilian employee of the army, was able to spur his horse out of danger and escape to Fort Schlosser at the Upper Landing. The rest of the teamsters and guards perished. The Senecas, well aware of the importance of interrupting the movement of provisions, systematically destroyed the draft animals and threw harness and wagons into the gorge. It was weeks before the British could again transport supplies to Detroit in the necessary quantities.

British misfortunes were not yet over, however. Gunfire from the ambush was heard at the Lower Landing two miles down the river. Two companies of troops led by Lt. George Campbell were encamped there on their way to Detroit. Hearing the firing, Campbell ordered his men forward at the double - directly into a second ambush. Eighty British soldiers died slightly north of Devil's Hole in "Campbell's Defeat," the worst of the war. Only eight wounded men eventually made their way back to Fort Niagara.

One of the most intriguing stories of this incident concerns a reputed survivor, drummer Lemuel Matthews of the 80th Regiment of Foot. Trapped in the second ambush, Matthews either jumped or was thrown into the 300-foot-deep Niagara Gorge. The horrifying fall was broken when his leather drum sling snagged a tree limb. Matthews escaped and later lived out his days near Queenston, only a short distance from the site of his miraculous escape. Though the story might be apocryphal, it was current as early as 1812, nine years before Matthews' death.

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