Fort Wellington
Prescott, Ontario, Canada

Constructed: 1812 - 1814
Used by: Great Britain, Canada
Conflict in which it participated:

Prior the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), all of North America was just a big, cozy, friendly place for anyone loyal to Britain's King George III (1738-1820) (except for the French parts)(and the Indian parts). Upon the surprising conclusion of that war, however, Canada suddenly found itself with a hostile neighbor to its south, staring across many many miles of border.

The sudden insecurity of the St. Lawrence River was of particular concern for what remained of the British Empire in North America, in that it connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. Kingston, Montreal and Quebec, Canada's three main population centers, were now vulnerable to the insane whims of those American crackpots.

Fort Wellington's peculiarly Canadian-looking citadel, as seen from just inside the main gate
The town of Prescott was founded in 1784 by Loyalists fleeing from those crazed Americans. Prescott became an important port along the St. Lawrence River, and when the War of 1812 officially began on June 12, 1812, Great Britain scrambled to protect it, lest American forces wade across the river and capture it, closing this vital waterway to all things British.

Great Britain didn't really have any troops handy to secure Prescott, so local (Canadian) militia occupied a couple of houses on the eastern edge of the town, and surrounded them with a simple log stockade as the first outpost against the scourge to the east.

In December of 1812 work commenced on a real fort, which was named for Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). This first iteration of Fort Wellington was little more than earthen ramparts surrounding a one-story blockhouse, but given the relatively small scale of what was expected in this part of the world, it turned out to be plenty: By the time the fort was completed in December of 1814, the war was ending.

The only War of 1812 activity in which Fort Wellington participated was as a collection point for British and Canadian troops, who in early 1813 crossed the frozen St. Lawrence River into the United States, destroyed an American military installation at Ogdensburg, and then fled, snickering, back into Canada.

After 1814 Fort Wellington's garrison slowly dwindled down to nothing, and the fort was left to the elements.

In 1837 many Canadians rebelled against the Crown. Their grievances didn't actually extend to the Crown, but were more directed at their local government, which was felt to be corrupt. The two rebellions, one in Lower Canada in November of 1837, and the second in Upper Canada shortly thereafter, were relatively swiftly quashed by government troops and militias, and the leaders from the Lower Canadian uprising escaped to the United States...and in the US in the 1830's there was no shortage of dudes who yearned for the freedom of Canada from the evil British yoke.
Fort Wellington's teeny adorable little caponniere! Kind of a cheap way out of making an actual bastion, but stick a bunch of muskets out those loopholes and you'd have a bristly obstacle against a smallish attack.

In the aftermath of the failed uprisings in Canada, refugees from the fight joined with like-minded Americans and formed the Hunters' Lodge. This group dedicated itself to the end of the "moneyed aristocracy" of Canada, plus the concept of Free Banking, which would break the government's monopoly on printing and issuing currency (Can you imagine? "I would like to pay with currency issued by the Bank of Beaverbutt, Saskatchewan." "What is the exchange rate betwixt Beaverbutt Dollars and Bank of Mooseweenie, Ontario, Pounds?" And we think Bitcoin is confusing!).

In November of 1838 the Hunter Patriots had had enough of their secret handshakes and weird rituals (the four ranks of Lodge members, which I am not making up: Snowshoe, Beaver, Grand Hunter and Patriot Hunter) and decided to get the uprising rising back up! The Hunters decided that Prescott would be a swell place to begin what would doubtless become the glorious liberation of Canada from an evil aristocracy and...a reasonable banking system.

But the British had infiltrated the Hunters' Lodge organization, fortunately, and knew what was coming. Thus, when 250 Hunter Patriots attempted to paddle across the St. Lawrence River on November 12, 1838 and invade Prescott, Fort Wellington, though in the midst of being renovated, was fully manned and ready for action. The mighty Patriots were prevented from landing at Prescott, were swept along in the current of the St. Lawrence, and ran aground a few miles north of Prescott. They managed to free themselves the next morning and finally landed a smidge north of their intended invasion point, where they heroically occupied a windmill.

An absolutely gorgeous panoramic shot of Fort Wellington's northeast corner, featuring its main gate and single pointy bastion. Forty seven million thanks to photographer John Stanton, and for publishing it!

The Patriots successfully defended the windmill from an assault by 600 Canadian militia with a handful of British soldiers on the morning of November 13 and held their position for a few days, but the US and Royal Navies cooperated in closing the area off from any Hunter reinforcements. When British troops and artillery showed up in numbers on November 16 and commenced to pounding the windmill, the Hunter Patriots finally surrendered. The Patriots were tried in Kingston, and eleven were executed.

As transparently ridiculous as this scheme appears now, the dream of the liberation of Canada at the hands of well-meaning Americans continued at least into the 1860's, when a group of Irish Civil War veterans tried again. Visit our Fort Erie page for that story.

Troop levels at Fort Wellington fell year by year, until in 1854 it was once again abandoned. Twas regarrisoned in 1866 to keep an eye on the post-Civil War doings of the insane Americans, but was abandoned again in 1869. Canada became an independent nation on July 1, 1867. This dampened the enthusiasm of the folks who desperately longed for Canada to be free of Great Britain, so those folks pottered off to worry about other unnecessary things.

Fort Wellington was proclaimed to be a National Historic Site in 1925, and is today maintained by Parks Canada.