Port Bruce, Ontario Site of the Royal Salute Tuesday, August 25, 1761
Following Wolfe’s victory at Quebec in 1759 the British gained control of a vast territory which included all of what is today known as Ontario as well as land further to the west including Detroit. Sir William Johnson, Baronet, of Johnstown, New York, Supt. of Indian Affairs, was one of the most powerful and influential persons in North America at the time. Johnson, an Irishman, had earned his title with victories in the French and Indian Wars and was highly respected by the Indians. He is also known to Canadians for being the husband of Molly Brant, brother-in-law to Mohawk Chief, Joseph Brant and ancestor of poetess Emily Pauline Johnson.
Following reports of Indian unrest in the newly acquired territory, Johnson who was an experienced negotiator with Indians, set out from his home at Johnstown, New York for Detroit voyaging the length of Lake Erie by bateaux in a “tedious passage of 15 days.” He describes sea conditions, nightly encampments and discussions with the Indians. To historians and residents of Port Bruce the journal entries for August 24 and 25, 1761 are of interest. They describe Johnson’s ordeals with strong winds and very high seas. Johnson describes the passage through narrows at the north part of the Long Point, then the sailing “along a kind of beach about sixteen miles; then along a high sand bank, about twenty miles or more” until arriving at a river with a good harbour for boats where the party camped for the night. While there is much confusion over later historical documents and maps as to the names of the rivers at Port Burwell, Port Bruce and Port Stanley, historians have concluded that the distance of 20 miles from the Sand Hills puts the party at the mouth of what is now known as Catfish Creek on the evening of August 24, 1761.
Members of the Party encamped at the Catfish Creek harbour
With Sir William Johnson were his son Lt. John Johnson, Capt. Slosser, the Royal Americans under the command of Ensigns Francis Slosser and Robert Holmes of the 60th regiment in four “battoes” (bateaux or large boats) and the Yorkers under the command of Lt. Amos Ogden in eight boats and one birch canoe. Accompanying them were a group of Mohawk Indians giving a total of 13 boats in the expedition. Major Gladwin joined the party at Long Point. Mr. Bream in a passing boat joined the encampment at the harbor where Port Bruce now sits. Also participating at the salute was Lt. Thomas Lottridge of Albany, New York, brother of Capt. John Lotteridge, carrying a large packet from General Amherst. And finally joining the festivities at Port Bruce was a Frenchman, Mr. Gambling [Gamelin] who apparently enjoyed the refreshments after the salute.
The Royal Salute
Sir William’s journal entry for Tuesday, August 25, 1761 given on page 244 of Vol. 13 of the Sir William Johnson Papers (University of Western Ontario Library has a copy) gives the following details of the events of that day. A transcription follows:
Tuesday 25th, — A fine morning; wind at N. E. Several bales of blankets, &c, being wet, I gave orders for halting here this day, in order to dry them and prevent their spoiling. About 8 o’clock, a boat appeared in sight, coming after us, which taking for Mr. Bream, I sent Lieutenant Johnson and Ensign Slosser in a boat to meet them, and know who they are, and where come from. At nine, Mr. Bream came to our camp. He had been round the Grand Point, which he says is twenty-two miles long from the carrying place; very low toward the end, which is swampy, and about two miles broad; lies mostly S. E., and is about a third of the lake in length. He set off again immediately, and is resolved to visit the islands toward the end of the lake. All that land along the lake very barren as far as I could see; timbered chiefly by white oaks. At 10 o’clock, Tom. Lottridge arrived here from Niagara, which he left the 21st. inst., and brought me a large packet from General Amherst, with the news of the surrender of Belle Isle to his Britannic Majesty, the 7th of June last; also an account of our defeating the Cherokees the tenth of last July, and burning fifteen of their towns; also the reduction of Pondicherry in the East Indies. On which I gave orders for the Royal Americans and Yorkers, at three o’clock, to be in arms, and fire three volleys, and give three cheers; after which, each man is to have a dram to drink his majesty’s health. I also acquainted the Indians with the news, who were greatly pleased at it. All the officers dined and spent the afternoon with me, and Mr. Gambling, the Frenchman, who got very drunk this night, and told me several things very openly.
Johnson and his party camped at the Kettle Creek harbour the next day (present day Port Stanley) and continued on arriving at Detroit on September 2nd.
The transcription of Sir William Johnson’s Journal is given in:
The Papers of Sir William Johnson, Prepared for publication by Milton W. Hamilton, Ph.D., Senior Historian, Division of Archives and History and Albert B. Corey, Ph.D., Litt.D., Director and State Historian, Volume XIII, Albany, The University of the State of New York, 1962; pages 244 and 245. The transcriptions are in 13 volumes and the University of Western Ontario in London has a copy.
Two good narrative histories about Sir William Johnson detailing the salute at Catfish Creek harbour are given by:
Hamilton, Milton W., Sir William Johnson, Colonial American, 1715 – 1763, National University Publications, Kennikat Press 1976, pp 287/288. (Western has a copy)
Hamilton comments on the events of 25 August as follows:
”Surely this picture of this handful of men on the shores of the great lake, weeks away from their settlements in the east, making the welkin ring with volleys of musketry and their shouted toasts, drinking and celebrating the king’s health and victories in the far corners of the earth, is one to remember. The dusky natives, whose own habits of self-congratulation over warlike deeds were often violent orgies, could well understand and partake in the rejoicing.”
Pound, Arthur, Johnson of the Mohawks, p. 330 (Copy at Western ) After citing the events of August 25 the author writes:
“A jolly time was had by all. Note the delighted showmanship of the Johnsonian salute on that thin shore between the vacant lake and the almost as vacant forest. Across a planet Erie speaks to Pondicherry; red-clad chests with hard times ahead of them swell a bit at thought of the heroism of other red-clad chests before other Indians. The thing is done with snap and style, as if all the world looked on, instead of only a few miserable, coppery folk, there for a handout. The King’s health, sirrah! What eighteenth century soldier would not cheer with a dram in sight? But Sir William, we observ, kept sober enough to pump information worth while out of the Frenchman, Gambling, who seems to have overestimated his resistance to English liquor.””
The Royal Salute has also been mentioned in two local histories which are available at the Aylmer Library; Sim’s History of Elgin County, Vol. II, Port Bruce, p. 82, Old Port Bruce, letters by Levi Young, p. 7. Univ. of Western Ontario, history professor Fred Landon also wrote on the event.
In addition to these descriptions, Tom Lee, noted archeologist of Port Bruce in one of his artful maps of Port Bruce portraying events of the village’s past gives a wonderful coloured drawing of four Royal Americans / Yorkers with raised muskets firing into the air with a notation “First Royal Salute ever fired in Ontario.”
Submitted, January 20, 2000
By Bruce Connor Johnson Jr.