The History of Malone: War and Famine
Posted by thedarwinexception on March 10, 2007
As we left the early pioneers of Malone, the War of 1812 was about to interrupt their peaceful existence. And interrupt it, it did. As a border outpost, the Malone pioneers knew that their homes might feel the direct impact of war. A Committee of Safety was organized, an early forerunner of Civilian Defense, with Albon Man of the nearby town of Constable as its chairman, and Hiram Horton (who was later to build the Gristmill that still bears his name) as its secretary. Militiamen were recruited and a company, commanded by Capt. Rufus Tilden of nearby Moira, manned the blockhouse erected at French Mills (later Ft. Covington), which, in a burst of patriotic pride, had been named Fort Invincible.
In October 1812, to head off an expected attack upon the fort by British encamped at nearby St. Regis, Capt. Tilden led his men across the Racquette River, surprised the enemy and took 40 prisoners.
About a month later, Fort Invincible fell to what was described as a superior British force and Tilden’s men were taken prisoner and removed to Montreal. In this give and take warfare, the American prisoners were speedily exchanged for the British that Tilden had captured at St. Regis. The British looted the fort but occupied it only briefly.
The following year, the failure of a planned two pronged American drive upon Montreal was followed by a brief occupancy of Malone by the British. Under the Montreal campaign plan, General Wilkinson was to lead forced from Sackets Harbor down the St. Lawrence, while another American force under General Hampton was to move Northward from Plattsburgh into Canada. They were to join in the vicinity of Lake St. Francis on the St. Lawrence River and proceed against Montreal, then believed to be weakly defended.
Hampton’s army arrived at Chateaugay September 15, 1813 and, after repairing the road to insure an adequate supply route, struck into Canada down the Chateaugay River. He had penetrated enemy territory about 20 miles when a force of British and their Indian Allies forced him back and he withdrew to Chateaugay.
Meanwhile Wilkinson had left Sackets Harbor and had reached a point near Cornwall when he encountered strong British opposition. The battle of Chrystler’s Farm ensued, a brief but fierce encounter with casualties heavy on both sides. Wilkinson fell back to Fort Invincible at French Mills and some 250 of his wounded and sick soldiers were brought to Malone for hospitalization. Wilkinson himself had been ill through the campaign and he came to Malone and established quarters at Harison House. The Appleton Foote hostelry at the site of the present State Armory was used to shelter the wounded and sick.
The death of one of Wilkinson’s generals, Leonard Covington, wounded at Chrystler’s Farm, gave French Mills the name it now bears, Fort Covington.
Many American soldiers died here during the bitter winter of 1813-1814 and were buried where the Dupree Woodworking plant once stood on Pearl Street.
When the American force at Fort Covington, numbering some 2,000, withdrew to Sacket’s Harbor and the still ailing General Wilkinson left Malone, the community and surrounding area were left virtually undefended.
On February 19, 1814, only a few days after the withdrawal, Col. Scott, with some 1,000 British regulars and 400 Canadian Militiamen and Indian allies, marched into Malone and halted at the point where Memorial Park now stands. There a committee of citizens met the British commander and received assurance that there would be no pillaging of homes or molesting of inhabitants. Aside from an unauthorized attempt to burn the arsenal which had been erected early in the war on the site of the Arsenal Green, this assurance apparently was fulfilled.
The British were here only here a few days. Col. Scott, maintaining his headquarters at the Appleton Foote tavern.
Although the war years were trying to its people, the conflict brought one benefit to Malone and the area. Roads were improved to bear military supplies and travel thereafter was less difficult. Where mail in early days had been brought from Plattsburgh on foot, Jonathan Thompson, whose home was at the foot of Academy Hill, began a sort of stagecoach service between Plattsburgh and Ogdensburgh, using a single horse. Eventually the enterprise grew to a point where 100 horses and many coaches were used.
Better roads brought more colonists and more commerce. Then, in 1816, the region was faced with a threat of near starvation. The year became known as “the year without a summer” when unseasonable cold killed crops and left the inhabitants without provisions for winter. A shipment of flour was expected at Fort Covington from Montreal to relieve this emergency but Noah Moody’s wagons went for it and returned empty. Historians record that men who stood before the Clark & Wead store where the Baptist Church is now located, wept for their families as they dispersed with the empty sacks in which they had hoped to bring home flour.
Later a shipment did arrive and Noah Moody went to Albany to bring back another wagon load of flour to carry the pioneers through the trying winter.
The following year, in 1817, Malone had its first visit from a President of the United States when President Monroe passed through. A new stone arch bridge was being built in Main Street and the President dismounted from his carriage and crossed on foot while the team forded the Salmon River at a point nearby.
The hardy pioneers had survived the war and the “”year without a summer” and had prospered. The future looked bright and would bring new residents, new businesses and the promise of Malone being “the hub of the area.”