Bodacious Bonfires! Buffalo Burned by British Brutes

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A Brief History

On December 30, 1813, during the War of 1812, arson-happy British troops set the small city of Buffalo, New York ablaze as a means of punishing the upstart Americans.  Less than a year later, the British also ignited Washington D.C., the nation’s capital.

Digging Deeper

In fact, the British threated to burn towns down in an effort to extract ransoms from the townsfolk in exchange for not torching the buildings.  In this case, however, perhaps the British ire was somewhat justified because it was the U.S. that had declared war on Great Britain in the first place.  Of course, there were legitimate grievances against Britain, such as the impressment of American sailors into British service, basically kidnapping them, but those problems had largely been worked out.  Perhaps the United States wanted to use Britain’s entanglement in the Napoleonic Wars to its advantage and seize Canada and other territories. 

Despite much trouncing, there were some bright spots for the U.S., such as the rousing victory at the Battle of New Orleans, which actually occurred after the war was over, but hey, a win is a win!  Americans were so happy with the outcome that the period that followed became known as “The era of good feelings.” (We have not had that for a while!)

When Buffalo was burned, it was still a relatively small town, having only been founded in 1789.  The city’s growth and importance only took off once the Erie Canal was opened in 1825, and by 1900, Buffalo was the 8th most populous American city. 

Today, you may think of Buffalo as just another declining Northern city in the Rust Belt, like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit and the like, but it must not be forgotten that Buffalo is not only the birthplace of Buffalo Wings (now you know where they got the name from!), but you can still make a pilgrimage to the place they were invented, the Anchor Bar, and order up some originals, kind of like a U.S. version of Mecca.  Hard to believe Buffalo Wings have only been around since the 1960s.  Makes you wonder what the heck people ate before then!

History and Headlines officially extends its thanks to the city of Buffalo for having the resilience to bounce back from British bullies and for giving us Buffalo Wings.  We salute you!

Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite person, thing, or idea to come out of Buffalo, New York?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Buffalo Historical Society.  Papers relating to the burning of Buffalo, and to the Niagara frontier prior to and during the war of 1812.  Cornell University Library, 1906.

Feltoe, Richard.  The Flames of War: The Fight for Upper Canada, July—December 1813 (Upper Canada Preserved — War of 1812).  Dundurn, 2013.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.