December 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 8
Gen. George McClure of the New York militia, glumly holding Fort George on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, watched his ranks dwindle as enlistments expired and soldiers headed home for Christmas. On December 10, with just a hundred men left under his command, McClure decided to withdraw.
As a final gesture before leaving, he set fire to the village of Newark. The general later said he had meant to deprive British troops of winter quarters; but the only buildings left standing after the fire were Army barracks full of tents, provisions, and artillery. The British were splendidly outfitted for winter, but some four hundred Newark inhabitants, largely women and children, were left homeless.
As the year came to an end, the English exacted their revenge. On December 30 hundreds of British troops and their Indian allies stormed Fort Niagara across the river. They found the gate unlocked, bayoneted sixty-seven American soldiers, and went on to put the torch to several towns in the area, including Buffalo. The redcoats destroyed public and private property alike, and butchered farmers and townspeople. At the end of the bitter little campaign, the British commander, Lt. Gen. George Gordon Drummond, said, “This was a melancholy, but just retaliation.”
The Americans were not a great deal better pleased with McClure than the British had been. The general received a cool welcome from his countrymen when he returned, and his commanding officer disavowed the burning of Newark in a letter to the governor general of Canada.