A re-enactor portrays a warrior at a recent Fairfield Museum event marking the Battle of the Thames. On Oct. 5, a much bigger re-enactment will be held on the historic battlefield near the museum 200 years to the day after the original War of 1812 battle. (Courtesy of Fairfield Museum)
This time, we all win.
Celebrations in Chatham-Kent around the bicentennial of the Battle of the Thames promise to honour the memory of the great First Nations leader and Canadian hero Tecumseh who was killed at the Thamesville-area battle on Oct. 5, 1813.
It has been exciting to learn Chatham-Kent is planning for a new monument to Tecumseh at the municipally-owned Battle of the Thames/Tecumseh Monument site on Longwoods Rd. about five kilometres east of Thamesville.
That new plan will be the latest honour for a truly monumental figure.
Tecumseh has long been a hero in my London. Family lore has an ancestor on my mother’s side meeting the Shawnee chief at some point early in the 19th century.
That claim may never prove verifiable. Much easier to prove is how Tecumseh’s intelligence and courage in war and peace and the legends around his death inspired writings by both my parents.
Family-shaped folk tales had the dying Tecumseh, his body flayed by the victorious Kentucky invaders, magically transformed into a turtle after he crawled into a log.
In this way, our family had its own variation on the search for Tecumseh’s bones, a tale with many twists.
Untwisted was our take on the cowardice of British Maj.-Gen. Henry Procter, whose flight at the Battle of the Thames made the death the year before of Tecumseh’s ally and fellow hero, Sir Isaac Brock, all the more to be lamented.
It was an article of family faith that Brock — had he survived Queenston Heights — would never have lost east of Thamesville or betrayed Tecumseh and our First Nations allies.
These were our prejudices, strong and breathless.
Two centuries later, it would seem organizers of the Battle of the Thames committee and others involved in Chatham-Kent’s bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812 have prepared it all beautifully.
There are so many aspects — from a re-enactment on the battle site on Oct. 5 to augmented reality games to dinner theatre to tours of the battlefield and a finale event at the Fairfield Museum and more — but this column will focus on just a few examples.
Among the best things about the bicentennial celebrations in the London region have been the dramas, including works from such London friends as Marion Johnson and Jeff Culbert.
After successful performances around the region, Johnson’s and George Henry’s play Like A Hero Going Home: The Final Days of Tecumseh, will be staged at the Thamesville United Church on Sept. 29. Doors of the church at 107 Elizabeth St. — the same street where Thamesville CanLit superstar Robertson Davies was born in 1913 — open at 5 p.m. The church’s signature roast beef dinner follows at 5:30 p.m. The play about Tecumseh is at 7 p.m.
Also inspired by the war’s bicentennial is Chatham-area playwright Karen Robinet’s War Finds a Way: Fairfield 1813 about the battle’s terrifying consequences for the peaceful Moravian mission at Fairfield.
“The most challenging part was trying to separate the many myths and fictions surrounding Tecumseh and the battle itself from the truth,” Robinet said in media material for the Theatre Kent production, its first at the St. Clair College Capitol Theatre.
Based on official transcripts, Robinet will also see that Procter finally has his dramatic day in court. Robinet also directs the play, which runs Oct. 3-5.
What of the brave Kentuckians’ side of the battle?
Happily, there is word the Chatham-Kent Museum, the Kentucky National Guard and Timmins Martelle Heritage Consultants will be presenting an archaeological dig — dubbed Fallen at the Forkes —in Chatham’s Tecumseh Park.
The dig may help determine if the site is home to graves of the those who fell during the Skirmish at the Forkes, a conflict the day before the fateful Battle of the Thames.
Looking to the days ahead, it all seems marvellous and moving.
Here is the enduring truth for all Canadians from superb Canadian actor and film star Graham Greene, who has provided Tecumseh-worthy moments for the Battle of the Thames committee and all of us: “You have history here.”
TECUMSEH IN 268 WORDS
Tecumseh was a Shawnee warrior and a First Nations leader who formed a Native confederacy in the early 19th century. The aim of the confederacy was to stem American expansion into Native lands. Following the outbreak of war in June 1812, Tecumseh and his confederacy allied themselves with the British in the Western District (now the London region). After the British naval defeat at the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813, British Maj.-Gen. Procter began an inland military retreat out of the Western District . . . a mass exodus of soldiers, British settlers and Native warriors along with their families, all fleeing an impending American invasion. The American army, 3,500 strong and led by Tecumseh’s foe, Gen. Harrison, pursued the exodus up the Thames River to a site east of present day Thamesville. It was here that Tecumseh’s warriors along with about 500 British soldiers confronted the U.S. army at the Battle of the Thames on Oct. 5, 1813. The British and First Nations forces were defeated and Tecumseh was killed. Tecumseh, through his leadership, vision, oratory skills and passion, succeeded in uniting many disparate tribes under a common vision. His death, and the resulting collapse of the confederacy, had profound effects on the future of the First Nations in North America and paved the way for further American expansion into Native lands. Tecumseh is a highly respected and admired historical figure to Canadians. To First Nations peoples, Tecumseh and his vision are much more than historic. They have a contemporary relevance which reflects the continuing First Nations struggle that persists 200 years after his death.
— Chatham-Kent Tourism media material
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IF YOU GO
What: Events around the 200th anniversary of the Battle of the Thames, Oct. 5, 2013, east of Thamesville. Re-enactments, plays, dances, exhibits, discussions, arts festivals, concerts and more are among the activities.
When: Related events continue, with specific programs from Sept. 26 through Oct. 6.
Where: Venues around Chatham-Kent, including Chatham-Kent Museum, Fairfield Museum and the battlefield site.