September 4, 2012
by Rick Ohler
The War of 1812 may have taken place 200 years ago, but it will seem like a current event as the Griffins Mills Presbyterian Church hosts another of its Living History programs on its Mill Road property on Sat., Sept. 8. The public is invited to see displays depicting life in 1812 on the grounds of the church where an encampment of soldiers from the U.S. Regulars and New York Militia will be billeted. Joining them will be Lockport gunsmith James Brown, who will set up his collection of the guns of 1812, both military and civilian, including a couple of original firearms, as well as military accoutrements. There will be music by Fiddlesticks, a hot dog stand run by Boy Scout Troop 513, a dedication of War of 1812 graves at the nearby cemetery, vintage clothing, men’s and women’s, and history galore.
At 6 p.m. the program moves inside the 1834 church building where Dolley Madison, wife of then-President James Madison (played by Denise Reichard), legendary Native American orator Red Jacket of the Seneca Nation (played by his direct descendant Al Parker), and Erastus Granger, owner of the farm where Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo sits today (played by Tom Schobert) will have a discussion, in period costume, of course. They will talk about this often forgotten and usually misunderstood conflict between the British and Americans that saw the village of Buffalo and many smaller villages along the Niagara River burned and the disputed boundaries between Canada and the United States solidified. They will explore the role that Native Americans played on both sides.
James Brown, a lay preacher as well as a gunsmith, returns Sunday morning to preach in period Anglican pastor’s attire at the 9:45 service. All are welcome, and there is no charge for any of the weekend’s activities.
The Griffins Mills Presbyterian Church is a small congregation that has thought big for most of its 202 years. They were at the forefront of the abolition movement beginning years before the Civil War in the mid-19th century, acting as a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves making their way to Canada and freedom. They hosted speeches by abolitionists and were vocal in the condemnation of slavery. Two years ago, as this oldest congregation in Western New York celebrated its bicentennial, church leaders organized a Living History Civil War encampment, Underground Railroad tour, the delivery of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln himself and a talk by abolitionist Sojourner Truth.
While Griffin Mills Presbyterian’s involvement in anti-slavery affairs is well known, what isn’t as well known is how the hamlet, then a bustling mill town and bigger than the fledgling outpost that would become East Aurora, figured in the War of 1812. From a story written by church members Alan Davis and Bill Petrie called “Griffins Mills and the War of 1812” comes this description of the situation:
“When Buffalo was burned on December 30, 1813, many people fled toward Griffins Mills. Many sought refuge at the Griffins Tavern. Many had to roll up on the floor and sleep as well as they could. In early 1814, Major General Jacob Brown was ordered to form the Left Division of the Army of the North to lead a major attack across the Niagara. Brigadier Gen. Winfield Scott was head of the Buffalo unit. He instituted a major training program to get the troops prepared with experienced officers and proper discipline. There was one major deficiency—not enough regulation blue uniforms. They hastily ordered more, but there was insufficient blue cloth and grey cloth was used instead. Some of this cloth for uniforms may possibly have come from the mill in Griffins Mills.” The hamlet also supplied members of the local militia, some of whom are resting in the Griffins Mills Cemetery.
This latest Living History event is an ambitious undertaking for so small a group. This year’s main organizers, Alan Davis and Pat Petrie, who both reside in Griffins Mills, are confident of successful weekend. They are also determined to keep the event free to all. “It’s not a fundraiser,” said Davis. “We like to give back to the community by calling attention to our rich history. And we find that when we give, we get back, as we generate interest in our church.”
The church is located at 1807 Mill Road, West Falls, about two miles from the Village of East Aurora. For information about the event, contact Alan Davis at 818-2356 or Pat Petrie at 652-5165. Email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.