War and Weddings

The War of 1812 between British colonists and American settlers lasted for a period of three years and involved alliances from various members of North American societies including British and French settlers as well as Indigenous allies. The conflict was caused by rising tensions between the former colonies, restrictions on trade, and imperial interests. Canadians like the Ryerse family were impacted by sudden bursts of violence along the Great Lakes region. In 1814 Port Ryerse was attacked by American soldiers, and all the buildings except the family home were burned. Amelia wrote extensively about this incident including the excerpt below:

A marriage certificate of John and Amelia Harris, dated July 1, 1815. Image courtesy of Western Archives and Special Collections.

“On the 14th, the Americans burnt the village and mills of Dover; on the 15th, as my mother and myself were sitting at breakfast, the dogs kept up a very unusual barking. I went to the door to discover the cause; when I looked up, I saw the hill-side and fields, as far as the eye could reach, covered with American soldiers…My mother knew instinctively what they were going to do. She went out and asked to see the commanding officer… She entreated him to spare her property and said she was a widow with a young family. He answered her civilly and respectfully, and expressed his regret that his orders were to burn, but that he would spare the house, which he did; and he said, as sort of justification of the burning, that the buildings were used as a barrack, and the mill furnished flour to British troops.”

British reinforcements had been called to the region nearly at the start of the war, and by mid-1815 Amelia’s future husband arrived in the area as a member of the British navy. The story of John and Amelia’s chance meeting is quite romantic. Amelia noted that she and a friend were travelling from Long Point to Turkey Point when she saw John, and claimed, “That is the man I am going to marry.” Less than six weeks after this meeting, John and Amelia were married on June 28, 1815 with Amelia’s relatives and some friends standing as witnesses.

The marriage of John and Amelia was one filled with love and adventure. John and his wife spent part of their early marriage travelling around southwestern-Ontario with John working as a hydrographer. He was responsible for surveying the area around the Great Lakes and mapping water systems. Amelia proved to be a valued companion to John. Her intelligence and connections among some of the oldest settler families proved to be useful, and her interest in the work is evident from their letters back and forth.

Eventually, John and Amelia began to have children with the birth of their eldest son occurring in 1817. The Harris Family settled down in Vittoria and Kingston before turning to London, Ontario in 1834.