Isaac Chauncey’s mortification

Booknotes looks at plundered books and the Battle of York

181 British and American soldiers

181 British and American soldiers

Mike Selby

On the morning of April 23, 1813, just as the sun was beginning to rise, an invasion force of American soldiers landed on the beaches of Lake Ontario. A small group of First Nation warriors tried to stop them, but the Americans were far too many. They were then met by British forces, who were also defeated.

Surviving members of both groups retreated to Fort York, where their remaining gunpowder caught fire. The resulting blast killed about a quarter of the American troops, including their general. An officer named Isaac Chauncey took over, and spent the next week ordering his troops to loot and set torches to every settlement building in sight. This incident is often referred to as the Battle of York, one of the battles of the War of 1812.

Upon returning to Sackets Harbor in New York, Chauncey inspected the supplies his men had plundered from York. It was there he found something which disturbed him greatly: a box of books.

Chauncey ordered the books to be returned to York immediately. Either not knowing or somehow forgetting, York’s library had been destroyed under his orders. The returned books were kept packed away by some of York’s survivors, who in later years sold them off to help rebuild the city (York became modern day Toronto).

Existing records and correspondence from that time have identified the titles of three of the books: “The Works of Dr. Jonathan Swift” (1754), “Alexander Pope’s Poetical Works” (1752), and “Sermons to Young Women” (1803) written by James Fordyce.

Toronto marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of York in April of this year, with parades, battle re-enactments, First Nation ceremonies, and even a visit from Prince Philip. And then something unsuspected happened. A small group calling themselves the Sackets Harbor Battlefield Alliance arrived at the Toronto Public Library, and returned the stolen books.

Of course these weren’t the exact originals — those had already been returned and sold off during the war. But the delegation from Sackets Harbor had spent the past six years engaged in fundraising, and was able to purchase the same editions of the three books mentioned above through a rare book dealer.

Canadian songwriter Mike Ford was on hand and he began to sing about the book theft, while Toronto library staff began to calculate fines for books which were 200 years overdue.

A spokesperson for the Sackets Harbor group was extremely happy to see the returned books’ reception, stating, “Chauncey’s mortification is being relieved.” She appeared a bit perplexed, though, on just exactly why Toronto was celebrating a battle in which Canada was defeated. A Toronto journalist set her straight:

“In Canada, we lose with style.”

Just Posted

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

Ryan McKenzie of the Kimberley Trails Society made an in-depth presentation to City Council describing the initial steps of the Electrify the Mountains eBike trails project. This is a look at the project one map.
Kimberley City Council hears details on Electrify the Mountain project

At the meeting of City Council on Tuesday, June 8 Ryan McKenzie… Continue reading

The Kimberley Public Library invites kids of all ages to join the 2021 BC Summer Reading Club. Kimberley Public Library file
Kimberley kids invited to join summer reading club at Public Library

The Kimberley Public Library invites kids of all ages to join the… Continue reading

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday, June 10, mentioned Grand Forks among two other COVID “hot spots” in B.C. Photo: Screenshot - YouTube COVID-19 BC Update, June 10, 2021
PHO Henry says West Kootenay city is a COVID ‘hot spot’ in B.C.

There are 11 cases of COVID-19 in the Grand Forks local health area, according the BC CDC

How to tell if a call from ‘CRA’ is legitimate or a scam

Expert says it’s important to verify you really are dealing with the CRA before you give out any info

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 13 to 19

Flag Day, Garbage Man Day, International Panic Day all coming up this week

British Columbia-Yukon Community News Association’s 2021 Ma Murray Awards were handed out during a virtual ceremony on Friday, June 10. (Screen grab)
Black Press Media winners take gold at B.C. and Yukon journalism awards

Publications received nods in dozens of categories

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets campers while visiting McDougall, Ont. on Thursday, July 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
71% of B.C. men say they’d prefer to go camping with Trudeau: survey

Most British Columbians with plans to go camping outdoors say they’d prefer to go with Trudeau or Shania Twain

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

Chilliwack cocaine trafficker Clayton Eheler seen with a tiger somewhere in Asia in 2014. Eheler was sentenced to nine years jail in 2018, but was released on bail in October 2020 pending his appeal of conviction.(Facebook)
Director of civil forfeiture seeks $140,000 from Fraser Valley drug dealer’s father-in-law

Clayton Eheler’s father-in-law Ray Morrissey caught with money in Fort St. John by B.C.’s gang unit

A Comox Valley shellfish operator pleaded guilty and was fined $10,000 in provincial court in Courtenay earlier this year. Record file photo
B.C. clam harvester fined $10,000 for Fisheries Act violations

Charges against three others were stayed in Courtenay Provincial Court

Frank Phillips receives a visit from his wife Rena at Nanaimo Seniors Village on their 61st wedding anniversary, March 31, 2020. Social visits have been allowed since COVID-19 vaccination has been offered in all care homes. (Nanaimo News Bulletin)
B.C. prepares mandatory vaccination for senior care homes

180 more cases of COVID-19 in B.C. Friday, one more death

Most Read