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Fallen Soldier’s Wallet

Curated Submission
Late 18th - early 19th century
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
14.3 x 9.5
Materials & techniques
Niagara Historical Society and Museum 971.171.1
In May 1813 the citizens of Niagara knew that an attack upon their country was imminent. This brown leather wallet is linked to a tragic tale of loss during the Battle of Fort George, which took place on May 27, 1813. The wallet was owned by Martin McClellan, whose family farm was located on John Street in present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is said that on May 26, 1813, McClellan’s wife left the family farm and travelled three miles to nearby Lawrenceville (present-day Virgil), a safer location. McClellan went to visit his wife with a grave premonition, telling her that he believed he would die in battle against the Americans. He gave her his watch and his wallet as mementos and for safekeeping should his prediction come true.
For the previous five days, McClellan and the rest of the British garrison at Fort George had watched as thousands of American troops paraded in plain sight at Fort Niagara, across the Niagara River, preparing gunboats and artillery batteries for the impending assault. The defenders also witnessed 17 enemy vessels returning triumphantly from the burning of York (Toronto), the smoke of which could be seen rising across Lake Ontario. The small garrison at Niagara was not prepared for what was to come.
When the fog lifted on May 27, 1813, McClellan was one of the 500 defenders witnessing over 4,000 American troops crossing Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River. Under a thundering artillery barrage, 16 tall ships and 134 boats and scows approached the town. After assembling on a plain just west of the town, the Americans faced the outnumbered British and Canadian soldiers, exchanging volleys of musket fire for 15 minutes. Heavy losses forced a British retreat, leaving 300 dead or wounded on the field. One of the casualties was Martin McClellan, who fought to the death to defend his country and family. Following the American victory the British retreated to Burlington Heights, leaving the townspeople of Niagara under American occupation until December 10, 1813, when the Americans abandoned their position and burned the town of Niagara during their retreat.
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