Sackets Harbor is recognized by the National Park Service as one of the most significant sites during the War of 1812 in the United States. Following the outbreak of war between the United States and Great Britain in June 1812, Sackets Harbor became the center of American naval and military activity for the upper St. Lawrence Valley and Lake Ontario. The Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site includes a dozen buildings, over 70 acres, and is interpreted to the public using exhibitions, outdoor signage, guided and self-guided tours, and a restored 1850s Navy Yard and Commandant’s house. Today, as part of an initiative led by Site Manager Connie Barone, staff and volunteers are working to highlight the voices of Black and Indigenous who fought in the War of 1812. They are focused on reaching local, national, and international audiences by applying new skills in video production and making those videos accessible across multiple platforms.
Sunset at the Navy Yard, behind Commandant’s House. Photo courtesy Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site
The Sackets Harbor Battlefield Historic Site has collaborated and partnered with Canadian entities for many years. When the US-Canada Border was closed during the pandemic, Sackets Harbor Battlefield staff collaborated with the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada (UELAC) Bridge Annex as part of their 2021 virtual annual conference.
“The historic site has always had a good working relationship with our Canadian neighbors because of our shared military history,” said Barone. Barone encouraged more formal tours from places like the Royal Military College Kingston, Ontario, which had been conducting informal staff visits for years. The Sackets Harbor Battlefield site was also involved with the St. Lawrence International Partnership that began over 30 years ago to help attractions in the US and Canada collaborate. “It included museums, forts, aquariums, nature centers, and any type of cultural institution,” said Barone. “It was a very strong organization, we met every month, and organized cross-border visits.” This group dissolved, but the partnerships and collaborations continued including large-scale re-enactments leading up to the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
“In 2020, Sackets Harbor was supposed to host the annual War of 1812 North American Grand Tactical as the site had in 2010,” said Barone. “It would’ve included thousands of participants, reenactors, dozens of historians, and authors.” The event was canceled due to the pandemic. Over the last three years, the Battlefield site staff in collaboration with local re-enactors has offered smaller, outdoor programs. During the pandemic, Barone had the opportunity to participate and connect with other Canadian-based groups through Zoom presentations that furthered and sparked research initiatives to help tell a more diverse history of the historic site and to expand interpretation.
War of 1812 Bicentennial Crown Forces monument dedication 2013 with US, Canadian, and British military personnel and War of 1812 re-enactors
Barone began researching more about the history of Black soldiers at Sacker Harbor five years ago after coming across a newspaper article dated from the turn of the 20th century about the all-Black 24th regiment who left Texas in 1908, assigned to Sackets Harbor at Madison Barracks. Barone discovered that there was a Black soldier living on Hill Street with his family. “Hill Street is part of the historic site today. Archaeologists from Peebles Island (NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation) have excavated the area to examine the site to learn more. They’ve done some wonderful archeological studies and I wanted to then learn more about the families that were living there and so this article prompted me again. I wanted to learn why this soldier was living here and not in Madison Barracks. It made me think, were there other Black soldiers living in this community and what did that mean? Were they segregated in certain neighborhoods? The village was just nine or ten streets with about 1200 people, so what is this story?”
During her research, Barone discovered more African American history in Sackets Harbor that covered multiple time periods including ties to abolitionist Gerrit Smith. “There were four Black men in Sackets Harbor given land by Smith. It led me to look at their histories through the census. I discovered that these families intermarried and one of the young men enlisted in during the Civil War and now we have his whole story.”
The NYS Museum recently opened a new exhibition, Timbuctoo: Gerrit Smith’s Experiment that focuses on the 1846 NYS law that required African American men to own $250 worth of property to vote. Smith, an abolitionist, gave away 120,000 acres of land in Essex and Franklin Counties to 3,000 free Black men, enabling them to vote. This exhibition is based on filmmaker Paul A. Miller’s documentary, Searching for Timbuctoo which tells the history of this forgotten settlement. The exhibition is on view in the Adirondack Hall until December 31, 2022.
Barone also credits her longstanding relationships with cross-border organizations like the Toronto Public Library that helped with this research. A Toronto librarian discovered a court case about Mr. Endicott, a Black man who lived in Sackets Harbor, left the area, traveled to the mid-west through the Great Lakes before the Civil War, and finally settled in St. Louis. In that court case Endicott described that “He was captured by an enslaver and he appealed to his friends back in Sackets Harbor to help free him and to prove that he was a Free Black man. The Toronto librarian sent us copies of all of the court case documents that we can use to tell his story.”
When the pandemic paused in-person collaborations, the conversations moved to Zoom and included a conference with Canadian historians and re-enactors.
“I joined a Zoom presentation with Natasha Henry, a historian, educator, and the President of the Ontario Black History Society. She was presenting information about early Black history in Toronto and mentioned a Mr. Baker who served in the War of 1812.” John Baker was a Canadian soldier enslaved, later freed, and then fought for the British Crown. Baker fought at the Second Battle of Sackets Harbor in 1813 when British forces tried and failed to capture the military center of operations. This battle is listed as one of the most significant battles of the War of 1812 by the National Park Service. Baker fought with the 104th Regiment of the British Crown Forces and is believed by researchers to be the last person born into slavery in Canada to die. “I had never heard of Mr. Baker and contacted Natasha after the Zoom. She was able to connect me to the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada and its “Bridge Annex” chapter located in Cornwall, Ontario. “They had done extensive research on Mr. Baker and were working on a memorial to him.” The memorial marker was installed by the UELAC in 2021. “I reached out to see what our Sackets Harbor site staff could contribute and we decided to produce a video that could be shared at their conference.” The video was a brief overview of the Battle of Sackets Harbor and was filmed by Sackets Harbor site staff member Nicole Cronk with other staff, volunteers, and re-enactors narrating. Barone did the final interview at the Crown Forces monument that honors the members of the Crown Forces killed at the Second Battle of Sackets Harbor. The monument was dedicated in 2013 and was the first of two local monuments dedicated during the bicentennial. In 2019, in recognition for the collaborative work on the Crown Forces monument verifying names and raising funds, Barrone was presented the British Empire Medal for her work to British and Canadian soldiers who fought in the War of 1812.
“After working with the UELAC to honor Mr. Baker, it led me to continue to research other members of the Crown Forces that were Black or Indigenous. We’ve always known that the Oneida Nation played a huge role in the Battle of Sandy Creek which is about 30 miles [BC(4] away but at Sackets Harbor, we had no information about any Indigenous involvement until a couple of years ago when I discovered Moses Abram from the Oneida Nation in documents that spanned over 52 pages.” The documents describe Abram’s involvement in the battle fighting alongside US troops inside the basswood barracks. “It was the first record of an Indigenous person fighting alongside US soldiers here,” said Barone.
Building New Skills to Reach New Audiences
Barone and Cronk learned new production skills to reach local and international audiences through video and audio content, contributing to the UELA 2021 virtual conference. Sacket Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site is one of the 96 museums participating in “Building Capacity, Creating Sustainability, Growing Accessibility” project organized by MANY and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services via a CARES Act grant to support museums in reaching their audiences digitally.
“It was very important for us and for museums, in general, to not be stagnant,” said Barone. “It’s important for us to move forward and to continue to connect with our constituents in order to be relevant. It’s about keeping history relevant and in the public eye and there are so many ways to do that.”
“Connie has shown great dedication to building new skills and advocating for her continued professional development,” said Eli McClain, Building Capacity Project Fellow for MANY. “In each session, Connie displays increased proficiency and confidence using new hardware like the iPad Pro and software like Adobe Premiere Rush, Google Workspace, and Facebook. It has been a pleasure working with Connie on Building Capacity and helping her leverage new technology to strengthen local, national, and international partnerships.”
Since joining the Building Capacity program, Barone has learned video production skills including editing with Adobe Premiere Rush. Other video content included highlighting staff work, site history, historic preservation efforts, and local community events.
“When we saw the call to apply for the Building Capacity program, it was very appealing…the idea of using technology that we didn’t have or readily available. It was also beneficial to collaborate with museums outside of state historic sites. These were the main reasons we wanted to participate. At the start of the pandemic, we were asking “how can we move forward, what do we do next, and what can we do differently?”
National Park Service–Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site video: https://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm%3Fid%3DAA187B03-7793-449C-8909-170CF05B546C
NY State Parks: Sackets Harbor Battlefield:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmIcv6gkMLE
A Virtual Tour of Grant-Related Historic Sites Around the United States [Sacket’s Harbor 6 min 20 seconds]: https://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm?id=B3C45CCE-F6AD-43A6-8003-211EABB044BA