Shadrach Byfield: the story of a Bradfordian in the War of 1812


Fort George, Niagara, Canada

Fort George, Niagara, Canada

The War of 1812-1815 is little known in this country, but more important in Canada and the USA, where the action happened. It took place during the period of the bigger Napoleonic War that was raging in Europe and ended with the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, so became regarded as something of a sideshow. Probably the only vague memory of it, for older people at least, is the 1959 Lonnie Donegan hit “The Battle of New Orleans” and perhaps some knowledge that the British Army burnt Washington DC.

The war was fought over the Americans’ desire for undisturbed trade with France and the British support for Native American tribes against US expansion into their territory. It all ended in a sort of a draw between Britain and the USA, but a loss for the Indians, who were conquered and eventually driven out of their lands.

Unknown here also seems to be the part played by Bradford-born soldier Shadrach Byfield (1789-1874), who went to fight the Americans. He was born in Woolley, one of at least eight children of Aaron Byfield and Martha Hart and enlisted in 1807. After many adventures, during which he lost an arm, he returned to Bradford in 1815, married and had at least one child, Joseph. Despite his loss, he managed to earn a living at Staverton woollen cloth mill, with the help of a blacksmith-made prosthetic. He was living at Avon Villa, Trowbridge Road with Joseph in 1871, died at a good age in Bradford in 1874 and was buried in Holt Road Cemetery.

> Read Byfield’s memoirs of his life

Bradford on Avon Museum is grateful to Eamonn O’Keeffe of Canada for bringing Byfield’s story to our notice.

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