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Module 1: Prewar Niagara
Module 2: Niagara at War
Module 3: Coping with War
Module 4: Claims for Losses
Module 5: Rebuilding Niagara
Technical Module


"Fortitude and Resolution": Women of Niagara and the War of 1812

by Spencer W. Roberts

The experiences of women living in Upper Canada during the War of 1812 have long been visible only at the edges of traditional battle narratives and military biographies. In pre-professional histories of Upper Canada and modern military histories, women are commonly portrayed as victims who merely illustrate the brutal nature of war. This study of women’s experiences during the War of 1812 challenges existing limited portrayals of women as passive objects of “untold suffering” by expanding the historical lens to include a broader range of women’s activities made visible in official records compiled as a result of the war, particularly war loss claims. Focusing on the Niagara District as a case study, evidence found through this expanded view demonstrates that women’s lives were much more dynamic and complex than a single moment of trauma can represent.

Before the outbreak of war, women were involved in the settlement and growth of the Niagara District through their acquisition of capital by land petitions and through their integral role in frontier life. Throughout the conflict, women supported the war effort by providing information, resources, and aid to the army. They ensured the safety and survival of their families by merging households, providing mutual support, applying for aid from private organizations, and even cooperating with the enemy to procure food. Women participated in local and provincial economies by taking on additional work in farms and business when male kin were absent or deceased, applying for compensation for their wartime losses, and then using their awards to rebuild homes and purchase land.

In all these activities, women were aware of and acted in accordance with their positions within the patriarchal social structures of frontier provincial life but also worked to shape those positions according to their needs and circumstances. Through an examination of the lives of women in the Niagara District, this dissertation argues that women’s unique situation in Upper Canada positioned and empowered them to shape the settlement of the province, the survival of families and communities during the war, and the reconstruction of the province in the postwar years.

The modules on this site discuss contextual information, related histories, analyses of source materials, and the narratives that emerge. They also provide interpretation of the materials included on the site and arguments about how these materials can change our understanding of the War of 1812 in the Niagara Region. To read through the modules in order, start with the Introduction. If you prefer a more traditional reading experience, you can download the print edition.

If you are interested in exploring the individuals discussed in the project or their war loss claims, visit Browse Collections to see all of the items on this site.

If you are seeking information about a specific person or topic, use the Search function at the top of each page to find relevant items and sections of the modules.

For different ways to explore individual stories, jump to:


For Cassie and the women in my family who shaped my life
in the past, present, and future


This project is the culmination of a process that began in 2011 when I decided to continue my education in history and my investigation of the stories of women who lived in the Niagara District during the War of 1812. I am grateful for the many individuals whose support, guidance, and patience during this ten-year quest have made the finished product a reality.

Along the way, I have benefited from expert advice and gentle guidance from a host of colleagues at George Mason University. Sharon Leon and Christopher Hamner shared the responsibility of dissertation chair, each providing guidance and support in the early and final stages of the process. The two other members of my committee, Cynthia Kierner and Yevette Richards, showed understanding and patience as I pushed the timeline for my program to its utmost limits. I am indebted to the entire committee for their devotion and sacrifice of time to provide comments that helped refine the project into its final form.

My colleagues and friends in the doctoral history program were crucial in the early years of the project, providing useful insights about technologies for digital history, creating a friendly environment at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM), and offering a sympathetic ear when I could not possibly transcribe yet another handwritten claim. These scholars are now spread throughout the country, pursuing their own goals and careers with remarkable success. Thank you to Alyssa Fahringer, Amanda Morton, Amanda Regan, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, Celeste Sharpe, Eric Gonzaba, Erin Bush, Janelle Legg, Jeri Wieringa, Jordan Bratt, Megan Brett, Nate Sleeter, Stephanie Seal Walters, and Zayna Bizri.

I am also indebted to the scholars and colleagues who facilitated my entrance and continued work in the field of digital history. Kevin Kee offered a course in Humanities Computing with a description just vague enough to appeal to my sense of adventure. He later hired me to work in his Digital Humanities lab and so began my long journey to completing a doctorate. Dan Cohen and T. Mills Kelly were instrumental in bringing me to Virginia to study at George Mason. The Public Projects team at RRCHNM led by Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan provided a stimulating environment in which I developed the earliest ideas about what this project would become.

Since leaving Virginia to pursue my career while still developing this project, I have been surrounded by encouraging and supportive colleagues in libraries at Georgia State University and Emory University. Special thanks to Bo Adams, Brennan Collins, Joe Hurley, Jon Bodnar, Kelsey Jordan, and Krista Graham. Your friendship, encouragement, and official support of my scholarly work has allowed me to finish this project while working full time, for which I am eternally grateful.

I also thank the librarians and archivists who collected, cataloged, microfilmed, digitized, and published materials at various institutions, including Library and Archives Canada, the Archives of Ontario, the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum, and Brock University. Most importantly, my sincere thanks to the teams of people across the interlibrary loan system who have made possible this study of Canada from afar.

This journey was made possible by my family, all of whom supported and encouraged my entrance into this unfamiliar world of doctoral scholarship. Thank you to all my parents for valuing curiosity and independence, to all my grandparents for sharing the importance of memory and the past, and to all my extended family for checking on my progress always knowing the answer would be, "Still working on it." Now it is complete.

Finally, I owe everything to my partner, without whom I would have retreated from this task long ago. Cassie, thank you for your tireless support, gracious sacrifices, gentle reminders, careful proofreading, and endless patience with my admittedly flawed approach to deadlines. You had only an inkling of what this project might entail when we met nine years ago, yet have always found the strength and courage to step up to the next challenge and help me succeed. I completed this project by relying on your understanding and encouragement, for which I can never thank you enough.