Peter B. Porter
any small group of people is to be blamed for bringing about the 1812 conflict,
Peter Buell Porter is certainly among them.
Born in Connecticut, and educated at Yale, Porter moved to Black Rock, New York, to practice law. Once there, he became involved in both commercial trading and politics. He turned into a strong supporter of President Madison upon being elected to the U.S. Congress. It was at Congress that Porter fell in with Henry Clay who shared his views about settling the score with Britain by seizing Canada. Perhaps it was the merchant in Porter that led him to see the conquest of Canada as a means to further US interests.
The War Hawks, as Clay's followers became known, strongly denounced British violations of American maritime rights, called for an increase of the military, and eventually goaded President Madison into war. As much as Porter desired a conflict, he was well aware of the lack of preparation by the government. Many of his proposals to boost army numbers were rejected. When war was declared Porter offered his services as a commercial trader to become the assistant quartermaster general, as well as becoming a brigadier general in the New York militia.
At Black Rock, Porter was under the command of Alexander Smyth whom he believed to be wholly incompetent. When Smyth failed in his attempts to invade Canada, Porter publicly blamed Smyth and suggested that he was a coward. Smyth responded by charging Porter with having only a personal interest in the war so that he could gain government supply contracts for the army. A duel beside the Niagara River followed; each man missed the other.
Porter continued to campaign and raise recruits for the army throughout 1813. Many of the men he raised went on to form part of Winfield Scott's army that campaigned on the Niagara peninsula in 1814. He was also successful in persuading a few hundred Iroquois from New York to participate in that campaign. Porter led this brave brigade into action at Chippawa and Lundy's Lane. Porter's men also met with great success at the siege of Fort Erie where his force helped bring about the British withdrawal. For these actions, Porter was awarded a congressional gold medal.
Following the war, Porter returned to Congress for a short while, but he soon withdrew from public affairs. He spent the remainder of his life at home on the Niagara where he died in 1844.