19th Century Silver; War of 1812; Trojan Greens
Mrs. Joseph C. Gamroth, 1965
This week’s Artifact Ambassador comes through the craftsmanship of a man from Troy, New York, named Abraham Van Benschoten Fellows. This set of silver spoons was likely created by Fellows between 1810 and 1824 when he was working as a silversmith in a clapboard building on River Street in Troy. Born in the Dutch settlement of Rhinebeck, New York, in 1786, Fellows briefly operated in Montreal but returned to his home state in 1810. Fellows had hardly gotten settled when the War of 1812 commenced. Duty called, and Fellows was mustered into the local militia known as the “Trojan Greens” rifle company.
By 1814, the war was not going well for the United States. Britain’s expeditionary force re-entered American territory for the first time since Yorktown, and on August 24th, they burned the White House. The very next morning, Fellows’ company of Trojan Greens entered New York City to protect its valuable trade and maritime installations from the advancing British.
While Fellows served his country as a part of the defense in the East, an entirely dissimilar battle raged in the West. The War of 1812 in the West, from the Northwest Territories all the way to New Orleans, rarely saw United States troops facing British regulars. Rather, this portion of the conflict was primarily fought in coordination with Native tribes who were encouraged—and sometimes joined by—the British to oppose the Americans. Wisconsin’s Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Nation allied with the British and cooperated with them in such events as the successful capture of Prairie du Chien.
This War of 1812 of which Fellows was a part left a legacy which would influence our continuing story in two main ways. First, the United States had compounded its debt of land grants already owed to Revolutionary veterans with additional promises to veterans of the War of 1812. Abraham Fellows was awarded 160 acres for his personal service. While government land was plentiful at this point in American history, the drive for Westward expansion and settlement continued to be a priority. This expansion had implications that the government would deal with for many years to come.
Second, and just as significant to our story, the United States had experienced firsthand what the British had known all along: Indian allies were not something to be underestimated. While the government’s decision to expand westward at the expense of the Natives described by our previous Ambassador—was not reversed, the War of 1812 brought on an urgency in formulating a concrete solution to what was perceived as the Native problem. The war’s immediate aftermath spurred an uptick in treaties with Native tribes that had previously been British allies. A greater interest in all Indian matters east of the Mississippi—a focus which would last over two decades—indicates the War’s effectiveness in revolutionizing the government’s approach to Native tribes. US-Native relations became both more vigorous and conscientious of the importance of proceeding with certain concessions at a deliberately cautious pace. The War of 1812 thus tells a story of costly lessons learned, and the resulting profound effects on Native relations.
Did you know that the term "Uncle Sam" was said to originate with Fellows’ Trojan Greens during the War of 1812? Learn more athttps://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2013/09/uncle-sam-the-man-and-the-meme-the-origins-of-uncle-sam.html