For many Americans, the War of 1812 remains an enigma; tucked between two wars fueled by fierce passions, its causes were sparked more by special interests than national zeal.
New Englanders, who were making a fortune supplying the British in their fight with Napoleon, remained staunchly neutral. Native Americans saw the war as a clear-cut case of land-hungry frontiersmen trying to eat up a continent. Expansionists dreamed of adding Canada and Florida to the national coffers, the first faint rumblings of Manifest Destiny. Opponents called it ‘Mr. Madison’s War’; the War Hawk Congress called it a battle for national pride and freedom on the high seas.
The most clearly defined origin of the war traces its roots back to the 1807 shelling of the U.S.S. Chesapeake by the British ship Leopard, and the impressment of four of her sailors. Had Thomas Jefferson declared war then, it’s likely the majority of Americans would have rallied behind him. Instead, he clamped an embargo on American goods.
Is it possible that your ancestor fought in what is known as America’s Forgotten War?
Where to Find Free War of 1812 Records and Information
If you don’t have any knowledge of the War of 1812 (or want to learn more), start at the FamilySearch War of 1812 section on the website for information on beginning your War of 1812 research.
Fold3.com has several War of 1812 databases that are free. These include:
- Army Registers, 1798-1969
- Bounty-Land Warrant Applications Index
- War of 1812 Milestone Documents
- War of 1812 Pension Files
Roster of Ohio Soldiers in the War of 1812 – this is a free downloadable book, which you can download in several formats including PDF and Kindle.
Database, Illinois War of 1812 Veterans – this is a searable database
Index to War of 1812 Pay Rolls and Muster Rolls – this is a searchable index
Good luck with finding your War of 1812 ancestor!
Image of War of 1812 reenactors courtesy Fort McHenry National Park