Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

The War of 1812 document exhibit

Introduction | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5

     Throughout New Brunswick’s history, its politics, economy, and social well- being -- our destiny or fate if you will -- have been tied to factors beyond its borders. Conflicts, economic calamity, or prosperity did not originate in the region but the colony and later province was enveloped by these outside forces. New Brunswick, like the rest of the Maritimes, might be considered an asset or a liability in determining a solution when conflicts arose but the likely impact on the colony was a negligible factor in negotiated settlements. The consequences to New Brunswick in such cases however constituted major shifts in the colony’s history.

     The War of 1812(1812-1814) demonstrated such forces at work. The War of 1812 was a derivative of the protracted hostilities between France and Great Britain commonly referred to as the Napoleonic Wars. As Britain and France attempted to restrict the supply of goods reaching their respective shores by blocking trade routes and intercepting shipping, other countries were drawn into the conflict. Chief among the countries from the New Brunswick perspective was the United States. The escalating British zeal in creating trade embargoes and conducting their naval blockades intensified hostilities. The Americans were rankled by Britain’s broad definition of what constituted contraband items in the cargo of American commercial shipping, the searching of American vessels for deserters, and the impressment of American citizens. These were at least the professed triggers that led the Americans to declare war on Great Britain and by extension, the British North American colonies, including New Brunswick.

     Although the marine actions of the British were the provocations that propelled the British and Americans to war, there were several ancillary motives on the American side to pursue a confrontation – British espionage had embarrassed the American government, British support or encouragement of First Nations resistance to American westward expansion was an irritant, and there were several nagging issues and attitudes lingering from the War of Independence, such as commercial activities south of the St. Lawrence River and unsettled Loyalist claims. In addition, some American factions had designs on the British North America colonies, while others looked at the Spanish holdings to the south in the same way and Spain was an ally of Britain in the European theatre.

     Of course sentiment about the war was not unanimous on either side of the border. New England strongly opposed the war and the various interdictions leading up to the war because its economy was closely tied to trade both with Europe and the coastal British American Colonies. The Maritimes had a similar bent. During the three decades following the War of Independence, Britain had steered a course of placating the Americans on issues concerning trade to the detriment of commerce in the Maritimes. In the five years prior to 1812 the rhetoric and counterbalancing embargoes and restrictions by Britain and the United States created an ambiguous undercurrent that fostered opportunity for coastal trade. Despite the constraint of trade orchestrated by Britain and the Americans, both sides realized that the very trade they were banning needed to occur. As a result ports in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, especially Saint John, St. Andrews, Halifax, and Shelburne, became points of transfer to circumvent the trade restrictions, which prevented the direct shipment of goods between Britain and the United States. Some of these contrivances may not have been strictly legal but they forged a profitable enterprise and both Governments looked the other way. So when war was declared in 1812 it is not surprising there was a desire in New Brunswick and New England to continue the prosperity of the years leading up to 1812. It is little wonder that this would create some incongruity as New Brunswick attempted to profit through privateering and clandestine trade and maintain some kind of peaceful relationship with its bordering American territory, while the parent nation of each were at war.

     The documents available here provide some insights on the activities and longer term results of the War of 1812 on New Brunswick.