On this International Women’s Day, here’s an update on my dissertation research, which focuses on the experiences of women in Upper Canada (now Ontario) and New York State along the Niagara River during the War of 1812.
I have been asked why I chose to focus on women’s experiences. The records I’ve collected and transcribed provide excellent examples of why women’s experiences must be recovered into our histories of the war.
One of the war loss claims was submitted by Angelique Fortier. Her husband, George Benson Hall, was a well-known merchant and officer in the provincial marine during the war. A quick search of her name suggests that she was likely from Kingston, Upper Canada. She and George were married in Kingston in 1806.
George Benson Hall’s career in the British forces was filled with both respect and betrayal. He worked his way through the provincial marine to become captain of the Queen Charlotte and commodore of Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan. During the war, however, senior naval officers arrived to take charge, and Hall was dismissed by his replacement. He remained in service as the superintendent of the dockyard and naval stores at Amherstburg, near the junction of the Detroit River and Lake Erie.
Angelique undoubtedly lived with George in Amherstburg. In autumn 1813, the Halls retreated with the British army as American forces advanced from Detroit. George was appointed as naval storekeeper in Montreal, but soon after resigned. At the end of the war, the Halls returned to Amherstburg, where George continued working as a merchant. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, George struggled to find financial success up to his death in 1821.
In 1815, George submitted a claim for the loss of his house, storehouse, and other buildings on his property in Amherstburg. His claim included an extensive list of buildings materials such as wood, windows, lead, hinges, nails, cupboards, locks, and even workmanship. In total, he claimed £187.10.10, and was awarded £148 by the board of commissioners. That decision wasn’t helpful, however, because the board never administered their awards.
When a new board of commissioners was appointed in 1823, Angelique was mourning the loss of her husband, and still hadn’t received any payments for their destroyed house and buildings. She submitted a letter to the board asking for their help in receiving remuneration.
The memorial of Angelique Hall of the Township of Malden in the Western District of the Province of Upper Canada, Widow to the late George B. Hall deceased,
That the late Husband of your memorialist had filed a Claim with the former Board at York in 1816 is since dead, and no copy is found amongst his papers. Wherefore respectfully beg to refer the Board to the former claim as containing the particulars of the demand it is wished to renew
Executrix to the estate of the late G.B. Hall
Angelique submitted her claim in July 1823 through Charles Fortier, a respected gentleman from Amherstburg. When months passed without reply, she sent another inquiry through James Gordon, another former officer and provincial politician from Amherstburg.
I shall feel obliged if you will let me know, in course of post, whether the late Captn Hall’s claim has been before the Commissioner’s, and also, what has been their decision thereupon, in so far as the same may properly be communicated. The information is desired for Mrs Hall, Executive on the Estate of her late Husband, by whom an application was made on the subject to the Board some months back.
I remain dear Sir
You most ob serv
When the board finally assessed George’s original claim and Angelique’s resubmitted claim, they allowed £150 in repayment for her losses. Because of financial difficulties in the province, however, claimants were only paid twenty-five per cent of the sums awarded. In June 1824, Angelique was paid £37.10 through her attorney at that time, J.W. Gamble. (At present, that sum would amount to about £2,947 or about $4,090. Compare that amount to her total awarded amount, £150, which would now be worth $16,660. This is still short of their losses, estimated at $20,700 modern currency.)
The war loss records do not include any further information about Angelique. I have only begun to scour the entire archive of the British Military and Naval Records, but have already found a few documents that might shed light on her life.
Researching the life of Angelique Hall is important because the easily accessible accounts of George Benson Hall’s life make only brief mention of Angelique, despite her presence with him during some of the most dramatic moments of the war. Following the war, Angelique picked up his claim and tried to support herself through appeals to the government that her husband had served for many years. George’s biography ends with a brief, unexplored entry about Angelique:
What this brief excerpt does not describe is Angelique’s application to the Treasury for a widow’s pension, nor her desperate attempt to receive additional funds because she was raising six young children without any income beside the meager £25 per year. She did not receive any additional pension. Angelique not only experienced many of the struggles that George faced, but also struggled after his death to support and care for their children.
Although George was considered the “most efficient officer in the Provincial Marine on Lake Erie and perhaps in the entire branch,” his wife was still forced to fight for recognition and support from the government. Recovering her story and writing her experiences into our histories will improve our understanding of the war, the people it affected, and the struggles that haunted families long after the cannons fell silent.