Stories Behind The Buckeye State
Wednesday July 17th 2024

First War of 1812 Battle Site in Ohio

Your family may be planning to head to Cedar Point for a quick getaway this summer—thoughts of thrill rides and water slides filling your heads—but did you know, 199 years ago, a small group of citizens on the shore of Lake Erie tried to escape to Cedar Point for an entirely different reason?

A Brief Overview on the War of 1812

The year was 1812 and, though the United States had won its independence from Great Britain during the Revolutionary War, tensions were still running high. Their dealings with France—a country at war with The British Empire—provoked harsh trade sanctions by the British.

Undeterred, the Americans continued to press north in search of new territory—drawing Great Britain’s attention once more. With forces tied up in battlefronts on two continents, the British couldn’t afford to get their hands dirty. Yet. If they were going to stifle America’s ambition, they were going to need help.

Tecumseh by Benson J Lossing

Closer to home, another group brimmed with unrest over the northern land’s seizure: the Native Americans. Seeing the potential alliance as an opportunity, the British were quick to supply Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, and his raiders with enough weapons and provisions to drive back American settlers.

The United States would not overlook this offense. On July 18, 1812, President James Madison signed the declaration of war, passed by congress, into law.

The First Battle in Ohio

It took three months for the fight to reach Ohio soil.  On the evening of September 26, 1812, a group of four boats carrying supplies from the Portage River Stockade to Camp Avery was forced to stop for the night at Bull’s Island (now known as Johnson’s Island) due to heavy storms. The eighteen men made camp for the night and were abruptly awoken in the morning by a local father and son with alarming news. Their family farm had been attacked by Indians, and they had narrowly escaped—fleeing eight miles to Bull’s Island.

A small party of the men followed Mr. Valentine Ramsdall and his son back to the farm, counting forty-seven Indian warriors from their cover in the woods. Completely out numbered and poorly equipped, they had no choice but to return to camp and report their findings. The group decided to relocate to Cedar Point and send a messenger ahead to Camp Avery.

The Call for Help Arrives

After traveling some ten miles southeast from Cedar Point, the party’s messenger arrived at Fort Avery around 5:00 p.m. on September 29th. Commander Joshua T. Cotton rounded up sixty-four volunteers from his regiment, gave them time for a quick meal, and set off toward Cedar Point  just after dark. They reached the peninsula around four in the morning, meeting up with the men at the camp.

Ohio Militia Camp - via The Library of Congress

The Battle Begins

It was decided that the Ohio Militia would row across the bay at dawn, hide their boats in the reeds, and split their forces in such a way that they would drive the fleeing Indians straight into an ambush. However, when the intercepting party reached the Ramsdell’s farm, they found it completely abandoned. The Indians had slaughtered most of the Ramsdell’s livestock and left their fires burning. Surmising they couldn’t have gotten much of a head start, the party of militia men set out to track them down.

For roughly the next twenty-four hours, pockets of fighting broke out between splintered groups of both the Indians and the Ohio Militia along the Marblehead coast.

Retreat Turns Sour

Commander Cotton’s brigade, fallen into the thick of battle, planned a hasty retreat to Cedar Point to regroup. They fought hard and pushed through opposing war parties to get back to Lake Erie’s shore; unfortunately, when they arrived, they found their boats—thought to be expertly hidden—sabotaged beyond repair.

Left with no means of escape, they found a nearby log cabin and used it as a makeshift fort to hold off enemy attacks. They remained there until the first of October, when reinforcements arrived.

The first battle in Ohio during the War of 1812 ended in a draw. Both sides suffered casualties and no ground was lost or won. It wouldn’t be the last fight the area would see during the war, though. As tensions continued to climb, another, more famous, conflict would occur nearly a year later: the Battle of Lake Erie.

See It For Yourself:

The Ohio Historical Marker is close to Johnson’s Island, not far from the Marblehead Lighthouse. You’ll find a small park on the south side of County Road 135 with half a dozen or so parking spaces. There are several other historical markers in the area and of quite a few interesting sights to be seen.

Wikipedia– “War of 1812
Wikipedia – “Tecumseh
Remarkable Ohio – “Marker #1-62 First Battle Site
Official War of 1812 Bicentennial Website – “History of the War of 1812
USGenWeb Archives – “Writings of S.J. Kelly
North American Forts – “Ohio Fort List
Anecestory.Com – “Ohio Cotton Message Board – “The Lake Erie Ledger” Newsletter, October 2009, Volume 22 Issue 3

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