Branch 4 History - Battle of the Genesee

By: Sue Lattea Cox

    The following account of the Battle of the Genesee was part of an article called "War on Lake Ontario," written in October, 1942 by Dexter Perkins and Blake McKelvey, City Historians of Rochester (formerly Charlotte), NY. 

The entire article can be found at

    Britain and America were again at war from 1812 to 1815.  It was only a matter of time before our Latta ancestors found themselves in the midst of the fighting.  One such instance was on Lake Ontario, on the short stretch of the Niagara frontier from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.   The control of Lakes Erie and Ontario was crucial for the victory of America.  In 1812 the transport of supplies by land, on either side of the lakes, was extremely difficult.  Roads were few and poor.  With Fort George occupying the Canadian side of the river and Fort Niagara occupying the American side of the river, there was sure to be fighting in the area of Lewiston, New York, on the lower Genesee.  The America fleet consisted of few ships, and the British vessels were much the same.  Both sides were building ships on the lakes or converting schooners by mounting guns on their decks.  The British were stationed out of Kingston, near the outlet of Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence, and the Americans occupied Sackett's Harbor on the south side of the lake.  In the spring of 1813, American Commodore Chauncey felt that his fleet was strong enough to make an attack on York (modern Toronto).  Late in May, Chauncey took part with the arm in an attack on Fort George.  The venture was successful, and the fort was occupied.  Meanwhile, the British Commodore had the rest of Lake Ontario largely to himself.  On the date that Fort George was attacked, British Commodore York attacked Sackett's Harbor.  Luckily for the Americans, he failed to take the place.  However, he took to sailing up and down the lake harassing the Americans.  He soon learned of a supply of provisions at the Genesee River, and decided to sail for that place.  He appeared off the river mouth with his squadron of six vessels, and sent 150 men ashore.  The few inhabitants of the village offered no resistance. They were shut up in one or two buildings to prevent their warning the rest of the countryside.  The British carried off between four and five hundred barrels of flour and pork comprising government stores in the warehouses of Frederick Bushnell, and in addition, a large boat anchored in the harbor with 1200 bushels of grain for the American army.  According to tradition, the British officer in charge of the landing carefully gave a receipt for the goods to George Latta, Bushnell's clerk.  Word of the raid leaked out and 80 Penfield militia arrived at Charlotte the next morning, but they were too late.  The British had sailed to Sodus, the next point to be raided.  There followed a period of 10 to 12 weeks of battles.  Three times the American and British fleets actually met and exchanged fire, once off Niagara, once off the Genesee, and once off York.  Residents on the Genesee found the second of these engagements of the greatest interest.  On the 11th day of September, the British fleet lay off the Genesee.  The inhabitants of Charlotte supposed the fleet had anchored preparing for another raid, and went into the country for militia.  Men armed and unarmed flocked from the backwoods settlements, and in a few hours a considerable number of men collected ready to right or to run, as changes of invasion should make it expedient.  There was great excitement on shore as the American ships opened fire and the British guns replied.  Smoke hid the squadrons from view, as the roar of the cannon was heard by settlers far inland.   The American ships had a longer range than the British, so kept as a respectful distance.  They could annoy the enemy without great risk to their own vessels.  The British fleet headed for Amherst Bay, there the Americans dared not follow.  The spectators on shore were left in doubt as to the outcome of the battle. The Americans then decided to abandon Fort George and concentrate on securing Sackett's Harbor.  At this time the British began to burn homes on the American side of the lake.  Earlier that year, York had been burned too.  The British hence were in no gentlemanly mood.  The next year they were to burn Washington in retaliation.  But in the meantime, they proceeded to execute night attacks.  They took possession of Fort Niagara, then set out to treat Youngstown, Lewiston, Black Rock, and Buffalo as York and Newark had been treated.  The news brought panic to the settlements of the Genesee.  Early in the morning of December 22, an express rider dashed up in front of the post office in Abelard Reynolds' house crying that Fort Niagara had fallen.  The British and, worse, the Indians were on their way.  Lewiston and Youngstown had been burned, and every man was need to defend Buffalo.  The militia of this section were promptly ordered out.  Down at Charlotte, nineteen-year old George Latta for the first time since he had been working in Bushnell's store was absent without leave.  With a week's provisions packed in his knapsack, and his rifle over his shoulder, he trudged westward over the Ridge Road until Frederick Hanford from Hanford's Landing over took him at Parma Corners with a team and drove him and eleven others to Hardscrabble, six miles east of Lewiston.  They had little to encourage them.  An eye witness of the tragedy of Lewiston reported that the citizens about Lewiston and vicinity escaped by the Ridge Road towards Genesee Falls, all going the one road on foot, old and young, men, women, and children flying from their beds, some note more than half dressed, without shoes or stockings, together with men on horseback, wagons, carts, sleighs and sleds overturning and rushing each other, stimulated by the horrid yells of the 900 savages on the pursuit, which lasted 8 miles, formed a scene awful and terrific in the extreme.  Before night the city of Rochester was crowded with militia coming in all night and next, but the whole of this proved to be a false alarm.  The enemy had never been but 10 miles this side of Lewiston.  The next week, the families had moved back to their homes.  On the Genesee, the crisis brought about a stiffening in the attitude of the settlers toward the war, a determination to resist and to win.  The Genesee settles took what measure they could to protect themselves.  Two cannon, an eighteen-pounder and a four-pounder, were brought from the arsenal at Canandaigua and dragged over the muddy forest trails by seventeen yoke of oxen.  A committee of safety, consisting of Hamlet Scrantom, Oliver Culver, Frederick Hanford, and Samuel Latta, was organized for the double purpose of establishing a patrol along the lake shore and of preventing false rumors of enemy landings like that which had panicked the village in the winter.  In May, Commodore Yeo appeared off the mouth of the Genesee again.  Recently he had made a profitable raid on Oswego, at the falls of the Oswego River.  After holding Oswego for a night, they were able to make way with two small schooners, over two thousand barrels of provisions, a quantity of cordage, and nine heavy cannon as loot.  The news of the raid upon Oswego had reached the Genesee before the British arrived.  At Rochester and Charlotte preparations were speeded to resist attack.  The eighteen-pounder was sent to Charlotte, the four-pounder to Deep Hollow, the ravine on the west side of the river above the lower falls.  At sundown on the 14th of May, the British fleet was sighted.  Thirty men arrived on the shore with power and ball at Charlotte shortly after daybreak in the fog.  As the fog lifted, a boat from the British fleet was seen coming toward the shore displaying a flag of truce.  The Americans denied the boat to land.  The British officer delivered his message from the boat.  All private property would be spared if the citizens surrendered the public stores.  Back went the spirited reply, "the public property is in the hands of those who will defend it."  By this time the number of militia had been increased by volunteers from the settlements on the Ridge.  On shore the cannon was loaded, the riflemen ready.  The gunboat fired, and then in his excitement the man in charge of the cannon fired ahead of his orders.  The boat was still far beyond range, and with this warning all hope of capturing her by surprise was gone.  After firing a few more shots, she returned to the fleet.  So ended the great battle of the Genesee.  Though the fleet did not leave the river mouth until the next day, there was no further hostilities.