Panel of experts gathers to discuss facts and fictions of War of 1812

The Buffalo News

By Harold McNeil

News Staff Reporter

August 23, 2012


In an effort to make sure that America’s forgotten war is no longer forgotten, the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, along with WNED-TV and the Legacy Council, has launched a series of free lectures about the War of 1812.

The first in that series, a discussion exploring several perspectives on the war, was held Wednesday night at WNED studios. About a dozen more events are planned for late summer through the fall in Western New York, as the region celebrates the war’s bicentennial.

“The War of 1812 is a period in American history that most Americans don’t know that much about,” said Douglas DeCroix, executive editor of Western New York Heritage Press. “So, it’s one of the reasons we’re here tonight, to try to do something to rectify that.”

DeCroix moderated Wednesday night’s panel.

Even the experts are sometimes stymied by the myths and misconceptions.

“It’s often a difficult task, if not an unpopular one, to be that guy who comes in, tries to set the record straight and pries out those old, long-cherished myths that often die very hard,” DeCroix said.

The panelists included Jare Cardinal, director of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum; Eva Doyle, a retired Buffalo Public School teacher and columnist for the Criterion, Buffalo’s oldest black newspaper; David F. Sherman, managing editor of the Bee Newspapers; William H. Siener, former executive director of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society; and Mike Vogel, a retired Editorial Page editor for The Buffalo News.

“Our panelists here are like several moons orbiting the same earth,” Sherman said. “We all have very specific domains of history that we just devour, and mine is that the Village of Williamsville, which was called William’s Mill, really was America’s garrison.”

Though she has long been a student of history, Doyle acknowledged that her curiosity about the War of 1812 and its impact on African-Americans was piqued only in recent years. She recommended two books that she came across in the Grosvenor Room of the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library: “Amongst My Best Men: African Americans and War of 1812,” by Gerard T. Altoff, and “The Black Phalanx: African American Soldiers in the War Independence, the War of 1812 and the Civil War,” by Joseph T. Wilson.

Cardinal shared information about how members of the Native American nations in both Canada and the United States became involved in the war. She said the Six Nations in Canada got the Indian nations on the American side of the border involved by floating rumors of a threat by British forces in Canada to invade Grand Island.

“Grand Island was a very important place for the [Native Americans], especially the Senecas. It was their territory even though Britain and the United States, and even New York State, had been vying for it,” Cardinal said.

She also dispelled what she said were myths about Red Jacket’s involvement.

“It seems in this region, the main person that everyone points to is Red Jacket, the man, the myth.”

Cardinal disputed claims that he was a leader of the Senecas.

“He was in no way a leader; he didn’t even fight in the war. There are enough oral histories taken of native peoples that Red Jacket never fought. He was given a commission, but he never fought. That was not his role within that society. He was the speaker for the women. He wasn’t even a chief.”

“I do admire him, though. I’m not condemning him,” Cardinal said.

The series will continue next week, featuring speaker Anthony S. Pitch, a journalist, who will expound on the burning of Washington, D.C., and the birth of the national anthem during a lecture at 7 p.m. Monday in the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, 3755 Tonawanda Creek Road, Amherst.

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