Trans-Atlantic friends celebrate War of 1812 bicentennial

Ecuadorian Tall ship Guayas entering the port of Baltimore as part of the Star-Spangled Sailabration commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812MONDAY, JUNE 18: If you live in the region of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., then you’ve seen the huge preparations for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. More than a million people are expected to converge on Baltimore to see an international array of tall ships, among other festivities. That’s a prediction published in The Washington Post. How glorious to recall a war in which combatants are now best friends!

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laughed about this with British guests at a reception. She began: In our relationship, it’s always spring. It’s always being renewed, it is always durable, it is a cornerstone of both of our nations’ foreign policies, and it has such a great resonance between our two peoples.

Clinton then told an 1812 story: It was my predecessor in one of my other lives, Dolly Madison, who actually saved the extraordinary portraits of George and Martha Washington. Having received word from her husband, who was truly being a Commander-in-Chief in the field, that unfortunately the British truly were coming—(laughter from the audience)—she rushed from the White House, taking some treasures with her, leaving behind the meal that she had prepared for her husband and his officers. And the British officers ate the meal before they burned the White House. (laughter from the audience) So, we are looking forward, but nevertheless, there are certain memories that are also of significance.


A milestone in the War of 1812 took place on Lake Erie in September 1813, but the financially strapped City of Detroit is more focused on survival than on launching major international celebrations. The big news in Detroit actually is about U.S.-Canadian cooperation in trying to complete a second bridge from the city into Ontario. That complex deal was just unveiled this week—negotiated secretly to counter well-heeled opponents backed by the private owner of the existing bridge to Canada. Even though there is relatively little public sign of it, the Midwest is coming up on the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie, when Commander Oliver Hazard Perry penned his most famous lines. The words were scrawled in a hasty note to army commander General William Henry Harrison (later our 9th president). Perry’s exact words were: “We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry.” Of course, with apologies to Perry, Americans now tend to remember the line as revised by Pogo possum: “We have met the enemy—and he is us.”

Will you be in or near Michigan this month? Although Detroit isn’t planning much for the bicentennial, this summer, a special traveling exhibition on the War of 1812 is opening at the museum on Belle Isle, still a major gem in the Motor City’s crown. The Detroit News reports that the exhibit eventually will appear in many other cities.


Each year, June 21, is National Aboriginal Day (also widely called First Nations Day) in Canada. So, Canadian commentators on the bicentennial are paying particular attention to the Aboriginal role in the War of 1812. In the United States, centuries of anti-Indian policies have twisted our historical perspectives on native peoples. Americans tend to find our “war heroes” among the U.S. armed forces. From a Canadian perspective, however, native peoples were heroes of the War of 1812. Here is a fascinating column by the Globe and Mail’s James Bartleman, headlined: “Remember the native warriors duing War of 1812 bicentennial.” Bartleman writes, in part: Ontario, and probably a good part of the rest of present day Canada, would now be part of the United States were it not for the native warriors who overwhelmingly came to the defence of the British Crown in the first year of the War of 1812-1814. When Congress declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812, former president Thomas Jefferson, speaking from his estate at Monticello in Virginia, said “the acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighbourhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching.”

Want more from Indian perspectives? ReadTheSpirit publishes the memoir of Warren Petoskey, a well-known advocate for Indian concerns who is part of the Odawa people. The Odawa homeland once spanned Michigan and Ontario and these families moved regularly through the Great Lakes waterways. Warren writes in inspiring ways about Indian appreciation for the spirituality of the earth. He tells stories handed down to him through many generations. And he writes about the difficult legacy Indian families face even in this new millennium.

Want a more detailed history of the War of 1812? Wikipedia has quite a detailed overview, plus dozens of links to additional articles about individual participants and battles.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email