Betsy Doyle, a heroine of the War of 1812, remained at Fort Niagara during the war and played an integral role in the struggles that took place there. During a prolonged duel with British forces, Doyle carried red-hot cannonballs to guns on the roof of the French Castle. A year later, she donned a soldier’s uniform and stood guard through the night. She instantly became a local celebrity for her acts of bravery. Although in December of 1813, the fort was captured by British forces, she and her children were able to escape some three hundred miles to refuge in East Greenbush Cantonment, which was purchased in May of 1812, to serve as the Headquarters of the Northern Division of the U.S. Army, and was located in what is presently known as East Greenbush, New York.
Iron cannonballs, heated cherry red, were known as “hot shot.” Fired at wooden buildings and ships, they started fires that were difficult to put out. Artillerists used special tongs to carry the hot shot from the furnace to the guns.
In 1812, Andrew Doyle joined the First Artillery at Fort Niagara. His wife, Betsy, served as a laundress or nurse with the garrison. According to the 1801 Standing Orders established for the U.S. Army, women accompanying the army were required to be married to an enlisted soldier. In October of 1812, Andrew Doyle was captured at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Betsy, however, remained at Fort Niagara with her four children. On November 21, 1812, Fort Niagara traded cannon shots with British Fort George, across the Niagara River. Betsy carried red hot shot to serve a gun on the roof of the “Mess House,” now called the French Castle. The fort’s commandant compared her to Joan of Arc. “During the most tremendous cannonading I have ever seen, she attended the six pounder on the Old Mess House with red hot shot and showed fortitude equal to the Maid of Orleans.”
~George McFeeley, Lt. Col. Commanding Fort Niagara.
On December 18, 1813, Betsy donned a uniform, musket and accouterments and stood guard on a rainy night, to shame timid militiamen. The very next night, December 19, 1813, British and Native forces attacked and captured the fort. Betsy barely escaped with her four children. April 1814, Betsy arrived at Greenbush Cantonment, near Albany, NY, having traveled 310 miles through harsh winter weather. Upon arriving, she was severely ill with fever. Because Betsy’s husband Andrew was born in Canada, he was treated as a traitor and was sent to England where he was jailed in the infamous Dartmoor Prison. In August of 1815, Andrew Doyle was released and returned to the United States. However, he never reunited with his wife and remarried in 1819. Sadly, in April of 1819, Betsy died in poverty having not been paid for her services to the Army.
- Betsy Doyle Marker Dedication, Youngstown, NY. (Dedication by Niagara County Historian, Catherine Emerson.)
Niagara Frontier Chapter President, Elfreda Stangland, presents Niagara County Historian, Catherine Emerson, with the Society's prestigious Spirit of 1812 Award for outstanding efforts in researching, documenting, and bringing the remarkable history of Betsy Doyle to the public. November 8, 2014. (Click on image for larger view.)