Battle of Moraviantown, 1813 (Battle of the Thames)

The Ontario Heritage Trust and the Battle of the Thames Commemoration Committee unveiled a provincial plaque on Friday, October 4, 2013 to commemorate the Battle of Moraviantown. The event occurred near the Tecumseh monument at the original Battle of the Thames site in Chatham-Kent.

The plaque reads as follows in English and Anishinaabemowin:


    In September 1813, during the second year of the War of 1812, the United States won control of Lake Erie, cutting British supply lines with the east and forcing the British to withdraw from the Detroit River region. Then, on October 5, 1813, 3,000 Americans, including their Aboriginal allies, defeated 950 British, Canadians, and Natives at this site. Among those killed was the famous Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, who had worked to unite the First Nations in neighbouring American territory to resist settler expansion into their homelands and unwanted influence in their lives. The battle placed a small part of Upper Canada under enemy occupation until 1815, when the War of 1812 ended and it returned to British control. Tecumseh's dream, however, largely died with him, as the war only delayed American expansion into Indigenous territory in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.


    Mdaam-giiziz 1813, megwaa niizh biboonan gii-mii-gaading pii 1812, Chi-mookmaanag gii-tebitowaad iw Lake Erie. Giw British Kye gii-miigwesiiwag mneswinan giw East ge gii-kwanoshkonaawaan giw British maa Detroit ziibiing. Miidash Oct. 5 1813, nswi mdaaswaak chi-mookmaanag ge giw Nishnaabeg gaa-naadmaa-gejig, gii-maazhaawaan zhaangsmidna naanmidna British Canadians, ge Nishnaabeg maa gaayaajig. Giw dash gaanzijgaazjig bezhig Kiiaawi gaa-maamoo Kenjgaazad Shawnee gaa-niigaanzid. Tecumseh gaakji nokiid jibskaabiindaadwaad Nishnaabeg maa beshgwong ge giw chi mookmaanag gaa-yaajig gii-ndawendaa naawaa wii-tebidoowaad Upper Canada miinwaa Nishnaabe Kiinsan kye gii-nda wenziinaawaa iw. Maa gaashi miigaadwaad gii-yaamgad mgiizhe iw Upper Canada giw e-mgoshkaa-jiiyajig giidnizwaad naangim 1815. Dash iw gii-miigaadwaad iw pii 1812 gii-shkwaa miigaadem mii dash neyaab giw British gaa-zhi-nda wendmowaad. Tecumseh’s iw gaa-bwaadang, manjiidigwaa niibna giw gaambwajig ge waawaaj gegwa wiin giimbwad. Dash iw gii-miigaadwaad gii-yaasnoomgad chi-mookmaan ji-maajiiging maa Nishnaabe gaadnizwaad Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, ge Illinois.

Historical background

In September 1813, during the second year of the War of 1812, 10 ships and schooners of the United States Navy won control of Lake Erie in a battle against a six-vessel Royal Navy squadron. In its wake, British supply lines from the east to the southwestern region of their colony of Upper Canada (Ontario) were cut, forcing the province’s defenders to withdraw eastwards. American forces crossed the Detroit River and followed the British and the First Nations who had allied with them, catching them beside the Thames River on October 5, 1813, between modern Bothwell and Thamesville. In the ensuing Battle of Moraviantown (or Battle of the Thames), 3,000 Americans defeated 950 British, Canadians and Natives. Among those killed was the famous Shawnee leader, Tecumseh.

After the United States gained independence from Great Britain in the American Revolution of 1775-83, its government, states and citizens worked aggressively to alienate First Nations territories and open them for Euro-American settlement. In 1805, two Shawnee half-brothers — Tecumseh, a political and military leader, and Tenskwatawa, a religious and prophetic figure — responded by forming an alliance among the First Nations in the easterly portions of America’s Old Northwest (largely north of the Ohio River in the lower and western Great Lakes region). The Shawnees, Potawatomis, Ottawas, Wyandots, Ojibwas, Mingos and others who listened to Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa over the next several years hoped to protect their people from the degradations associated with land losses, exploitive trade practices, escalating newcomer intrusions into their lives, and other pressures exerted on them by the dominant society. Part of their vision called for the creation of an independent Aboriginal homeland where Native communities might evolve on their own terms and in their own time with enough territory to ensure social stability and economic viability. Fearful of the growing strength of these “Western Tribes,” American forces marched against their political centre, the village of Prophetstown in Indiana. In the resulting Battle of Tippecanoe on November 7, 1811 (at which Tecumseh was not present but Tenskwatawa was), the Americans held the field and then burned Prophetstown — but at the cost of hardening Aboriginal resolve and bringing on war between the United States and the Native peoples.1

During those same years, relations between the United States and Great Britain degenerated, principally over issues connected to American anger at the naval and maritime practices of the United Kingdom (imposed due to its life-or-death war against Napoleonic France and its allies), exaggerated views within the American republic over how much support the British provided to the Western Tribes, and desires by the United States government and its citizens to conquer the British North American colonies. In June 1812, the United States declared war; a month later, an American army crossed the Detroit River and invaded Canada.2

The British and the Western Tribes formed an alliance against their common enemy, although their objectives were different. The primary concerns of the British were to preserve their territories and not make concessions to the United States on maritime issues beyond those it had offered in the diplomatic dance that occurred before London learned of the outbreak of hostilities. For the First Nations gathered around Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, the preservation of their homelands and control over their future were their principal goals, and the British, in return for Indigenous help in preserving Upper Canada, were willing to support their allies in trying to achieve their war aims. (Beyond the Aboriginal populations associated with the Shawnee leaders, other Native peoples fought in the war, such as those who lived on the upper Mississippi River, who also opposed American expansion but did so outside of the western tribal confederacy, peoples in the Canadian colonies, who participated in the defence of their homes within British North America, and Natives who allied with the Americans, principally from New York State and the easterly portions of the Old Northwest. In addition, other people chose to follow a path of neutrality across the Great Lakes region.)

The War of 1812 afflicted the world’s oceans, the Gulf Coast of the United States, North America’s eastern seaboard, the upper Mississippi River and the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River region, with the latter being the main point of confrontation. Before hostilities came to a close early in 1815, American forces launched seven major invasions into Upper Canada and Lower Canada (Quebec) while both sides also engaged in additional operations to thwart their enemy or achieve other advantages. Six of the American invasions of Canada failed, but one — which culminated in the Battle of Moraviantown and the death of Tecumseh — enjoyed success at the local level.

The British and their Native allies repulsed the initial American invasion at Detroit and achieved a number of other successes that saw Michigan fall under British and Native control in 1812 and 1813. In response, the Americans established forts in Ohio to preserve their existing front lines and set the stage for recapturing lost territory. They also built and otherwise assembled a squadron of warships and armed schooners to challenge the Royal Navy on Lake Erie. British and Canadian forces, under the command of Major-General Henry Procter, along with the Western Tribes that followed Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa, as well as other First Nations warriors, opposed American initiatives in 1813, but could not dislodge them from their forts or prevent the build-up of enemy resources. At the same time, the British and their allies increasingly suffered from lack of supplies and provisions on the hard-pressed Upper Canadian front.3

The course of events on the Detroit River front shifted dramatically with the American victory in the Battle of Lake Erie on September 10, 1813. With his primary supply lines cut, and with his forces, Native allies and dependents facing starvation, in addition to a large American army assembling to invade Canada, General Procter believed he had to withdraw to the Chatham area on the Thames River, if not farther east, to secure his forces for future campaigning. Tecumseh and many of his followers opposed the move, wanting to continue the fight along the Detroit border, but relented and joined in the march away from the lands they most wanted to defend while hoping that the British and First Nations could regain ascendancy in the weeks or months ahead.

American Major-General William Henry Harrison (who had commanded at Tippecanoe and who had played a leading role in the alienation of Native lands) crossed into Canada with his army on September 26, 1813 and then cautiously followed Procter eastwards. On the morning of October 5, after some earlier actions, and with his enemy near, General Procter formed his troops to resist the Americans two or three kilometres away from Moraviantown, using the Thames River to the south to secure his left flank, while the Native warriors with him mainly deployed on his right in the Backmetack Marsh (although some took post beside the Thames). The American force (which included about 200 allied First Nations warriors) went into battle led by mounted Kentuckians, who quickly rode through and overwhelmed the thinly deployed British lines before dismounting and turning their attention towards the main body of warriors, who suffered defeat as the rest of Harrison’s force joined the battle, during which Tecumseh fell in action. Many of the warriors, soldiers and their dependents retreated east to the western end of Lake Ontario. British losses numbered around 30 killed, plus 600 captured or wounded (including men taken before and after the battle). The number of First Nations casualties is not known, but over 30 Aboriginal bodies were found the day after the fighting ended. The Americans had about 30 men killed or wounded at Moraviantown.

The battle takes its name from the nearby Indigenous community of Moraviantown (or Fairfield). It was a Moravian Christian mission to the Delawares (or Munsees) that had been established north of the Thames River in 1792 by refugees from the Ohio country who had been persecuted by the Americans. After the 1813 battle, United States forces burned the settlement. Its people, however, re-established themselves after the war south of the river at New Fairfield or New Moraviantown (now Moravian of the Thames First Nation).4 General Harrison then withdrew to the Detroit River region. A court martial convicted Henry Procter of mishandling the withdrawal from the Detroit River and the Battle of Moraviantown, with the result that he never commanded troops again.5

With Tecumseh’s passing and American ascendancy in the eastern portions of the Old Northwest, the western tribal confederacy began to disintegrate as some members made peace with the United States and as Tenskwatawa’s influence fell into decline. Some of the warriors who retreated to the Niagara region with their families, however, continued fighting into 1814, while others returned to their homelands and engaged in hostilities south of the western Great Lakes. After the Battles of Lake Erie and Moraviantown, the Americans occupied a portion of southwestern Upper Canada until the return of peace in 1815. Despite this, the rest of British North America survived the second and third years of the war.

In late 1814, the United States and Great Britain negotiated a peace treaty, which when ratified brought the War of 1812 to a close in February 1815. The Treaty of Ghent between the two powers re-established the status quo of 1811 and returned captured territories to their pre-war owners. The outcome of the war fulfilled Great Britain’s primary aims of retaining its North American possessions, an achievement that probably would not have been possible without the support received from its First Nations allies, especially in 1812 and 1813. In effect, Britain had fought a successful defensive war, which is quite different from the old platitude that the two sides had fought each other to a standstill. Additionally, the British government did not make any concessions on other pre-war Anglo-American disputes related to maritime or other issues as a result of hostilities.

The United Kingdom’s First Nations allies in the Old Northwest did not achieve their main war aims. Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa’s confederacy had collapsed and many of its members, as noted, had made peace with the United States before the conclusion of negotiations for the Treaty of Ghent. (Those treaties not only highlighted the independent nature of First Nations diplomacy, but also underscored the profound regional nature of Native affairs in recognizing how different the situation was for distinct groups of Indigenous peoples.) Despite the weak state of Aboriginal affairs in 1814 on the Detroit front, the British government had considered continuing hostilities to compel the United States to cede land for a separate Indigenous home. Yet, with uncertainty over the stability of Europe, despite Napoleon’s abdication in 1814, and concern to protect Britain’s interests on the continent, along with weariness following two decades of war with France, the tremendous drain the European conflict had imposed on public finances, widespread desires to re-establish prosperity through trade, and a view that national dignity had to be maintained for the United States and Great Britain to achieve a lasting peace, London decided that it was not in the best interests of either the United Kingdom or its Canadian provinces to continue fighting over Indigenous aspirations within the borders of the United States. Article IX of the Treaty of Ghent, however, required the British and the Americans to end hostilities with the First Nations and restore the possessions, rights and privileges that the Aboriginal peoples had enjoyed in 1811 within the larger treaty principle of re-establishing the pre-war status quo. Naturally, this provision was more important in the United States than in Canada because of the widespread hostility of Natives within the republic’s boundaries to the nation’s government and citizens. Thus, while Britain achieved its objectives with the American republic and the United States failed to realize its ambitions with the United Kingdom in its conflict, the war between the First Nations and the United States in the Old Northwest, which had broken out at Tippecanoe in 1811, only slowed, but did not halt, Euro-American expansion into that region.

The Ontario Heritage Trust gratefully acknowledges the research of Dr. Carl Benn in preparing this paper.

© Ontario Heritage Trust, 2013

1 The best biography of Tecumseh is John Sugden, Tecumseh: A Life (New York: Henry Holt, 1998). A Native-authored memoir of the campaigns associated with Aboriginal resistance in the Old Northwest is that of Black Hawk in Carl Benn, ed., Native Memoirs from the War of 1812 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, in press, 2014). For studies that place First Nations issues in this region in a broader perspective, see: Robert Allen, His Majesty’s Indian Allies (Toronto: Dundurn, 1992); Colin Calloway, Crown and Calumet (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987); Gregory Dowd, A Spirited Resistance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992); and Adam Jortner, The Gods of Prophetstown (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). A study on Canadian-resident Aboriginal peoples, whose experience of the events of the period differed from those of the Old Northwest, is Carl Benn, The Iroquois in the War of 1812 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998).

2 Perhaps the best single-volume history of the war is J.C.A. Stagg, Mr. Madison’s War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983). An overview of the war in the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi regions centred on the First Nations may be found in Benn, Native Memoirs, “Chronological Overview.” A short history of the war is Carl Benn, The War of 1812 (Oxford: Osprey, 2002). Standard and accessible histories of merit include Donald Hickey, The War of 1812, revised ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012); and J M. Hitsman, The Incredible War of 1812, 1965; revised by Donald Graves (Toronto: Robin Brass, 1999).

3 Good studies of these events may be found in Sandy Antal, A Wampum Denied (Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1997); and Sugden, Tecumseh.

4 For a good history of the site and a collection of documents, see Linda Sabathy-Judd, trans. and ed., Moravians in Upper Canada (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1999). A first-hand description of the arrival of the Americans in the village from 1813 may be read on p. 520.

5 A.M.J. Hyatt, Henry Proctor Biography, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. An interesting study of the legacies of the Battle of Moraviantown related to efforts to commemorate both Tecumseh and the battlefield is Guy St. Denis, Tecumseh’s Bones (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005).


Allen, Robert S. His Majesty’s Indian Allies: British Indian Policy and the Defence of Canada, 1774-1815. Toronto: Dundurn, 1992.

Antal, Sandy. A Wampum Denied: Procter’s War of 1812. Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1997.

Benn, Carl. The Iroquois in the War of 1812. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.

------. The War of 1812. Oxford: Osprey, 2002.

------. Native Memoirs from the War of 1812: Black Hawk and William Apess. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, in press 2014.

Calloway, Colin G. Crown and Calumet: British-Indian Relations, 1783-1815. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

Dowd, Gregory Evans. A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745-1815. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. Revised edition. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012.

Hitsman, J. Mackay. The Incredible War of 1812: A Military History. 1965. Revised by Donald E. Graves. Toronto: Robin Brass, 1999.

Hyatt, A.M.J. Henry Procter Biography. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, accessed June 4, 2013.

Jortner, Adam. The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Sabathy-Judd, Linda, trans. and ed. Moravians in Upper Canada: The Diary of the Indian Mission of Fairfield on the Thames, 1792-1813. Toronto: Champlain Society, 1999.

St. Denis, Guy. Tecumseh’s Bones. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.

Stagg, J.C.A. Mr. Madison’s War: Politics, Diplomacy, and Warfare in the Early American Republic. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Sugden, John. Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1997.