It was the summer of 1812. Intelligence had been some days received at that post, of the declaration of war by the United States, the great aim and object of which was the conquest, and incorporation with her own extensive territories, of provinces on which she had long cast an eye of political jealousy, and now assailed at a moment when England (fighting the battles of the, even to this moment, recreant and unredeemed Peninsula,) could ill spare a solitary regiment to the rescue of her threatened, and but indifferently defended transatlantic possessions.
Few places in America, or in the world, could, at the period embraced by our narrative, have offered more delightful associations than that which we have selected for an opening scene. Amherstburg was at that time one of the loveliest spots that ever issued from the will of a beneficent and gorgeous nature, and were the world-disgusted wanderer to have selected a home in which to lose all memory of artificial and conventional forms, his choice would assuredly have fallen here. And insensible, indeed, to the beautiful realities of the sweet wild solitude that reigned around, must that man have been, who could have gazed unmoved, from the lofty banks of the Erie, on the placid lake beneath his feet, mirroring the bright starred heavens on its unbroken surface, or throwing into full and soft relief the snow white sail, and dark hull of some stately war-ship, becalmed in the offing, and only waiting the rising of the capricious breeze, to waft her onward on her then peaceful mission of dispatch. Lost indeed to all perception of the natural must he have been, who could have listened, without a feeling of voluptuous melancholy, to the plaintive notes of the whip-poor-will, breaking on the silence of night, and harmonising with the general stillness of the scene. How often have we ourselves, in joyous boyhood, lingered amid these beautiful haunts, drinking in the fascinating song of this strange night-bird, and revelling in a feeling we were too young to analyze, yet cherished deeply—yea, frequently, even to this hour, do we in our dreams revisit scenes no parallel to which has met our view, even in the course of a life passed in many climes; and on awaking, our first emotion is regret that the illusion is no more.
Such was Amherstburg, and its immediate vicinity, during the early years of the present century, and up to the period at which our story commences. Not, be it understood, that even then the scenery itself had lost one particle of its loveliness, or failed in aught to awaken and fix the same tender interest. The same placidity of earth, and sky, and lake remained, but the whip-poor-will, driven from his customary abode by the noisy hum of warlike preparation, was no longer heard, and the minds of the inhabitants, hitherto disposed, by the quiet pursuits of their uneventful lives, to feel pleasure in its song, had eye nor ear for aught beyond what tended to the preservation of their threatened homes.