HOW BROCKAMOUR GOT ITS NAME
A designated heritage property, the story of Brockamour Manor in Niagara-on-the-Lake is a combination of history and true romance.
In the early years of the 19th Century, this magical property first belonged to the renowned Mohawk Chieftain, Joseph Brant. Undoubtedly, he would have thought this property to be special with its convenience to Butler’s Barracks (across the road) and the Indian Council House as well as neighbour to the home of his kinsman by marriage, the Deputy-Superintendent of Indian Affairs.
However in 1805, Captain John Powell, son of Chief Justice William Dummer Powell, acquired it and is recognized as the first person to actually build on the site. Captain Powell was the son-in-law of Aeneas Shaw, having married his daughter Isabella. Aeneas Shaw had a distinguished past and was a good friend of John Graves Simcoe, the two men having become fast friends during the American Revolution – where they fought on the British side. Following the revolution, the triumphant new state stripped Aeneas Shaw of all of his estates and belongings – which were considerable at the time. Undaunted, he packed up his family, left the United States and ventured to New Brunswick to start over.
His friend, Simcoe, was later sent by Britain to found the Province of Upper Canada and organize the Queen’s Rangers. Simcoe sent word to Aeneas to join him – and so he did. He was soon made a member of the Executive Council of the Province.
Aeneas Shaw was the first to visit the site of Toronto and he reported so favorably upon it that Simcoe sent him with a hundred men of the Queen’s Rangers to hew a clearing and establish a little garrison. There he built the first home in Toronto – a log cabin. He also built the first frame house in Toronto and being of proud Scottish descent, named it, Oak Hill in honour of the ancestral estates in Scotland.
When Captain Powell built his home for his wife and family in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) in 1809, Isabella’s sister, Sophia, joined them; their father, Aeneas Shaw, was a frequent visitor. As destiny would have it, this would lead to meeting a stunning young man named Isaac Brock, with whom the young Sophia would fall completely in love. It is here that our story turns to romance.
Isaac Brock was an exceptional child. Although his mother was widowed when he was just eight years old, they were financially well off and remained a very close knit and loving family. Brock was particularly close to his brothers Savery, who served with him in the 49th Regiment, and William who was a banker. Even from Canada he wrote to them often.
Brock’s exploits as a member of the British forces are distinguished. Having turned around the 49th Regiment of the British army into one of the best in the service, Brock was made a Brigadier-General in 1808. In 1809 Brock was ordered to Upper Canada to assist in organizing the British troops. It was here that Brock’s fate would be sealed and his memory cherished as a hero of Canada.
Wherever Brock went he was loved. Exceeding 6 feet in height, he cut an imposing figure, but made friends easily. He preferred a woman of intellect and breadth of vision to one whose face was fair and mind ordinary. His private life was irreproachable and the friends he made among both men and women remained his loyal supporters.
As tensions grew between Britain and the United States and conflict seemed inevitable, Brock traveled from one end of the Province of Upper Canada to the other. His travels brought him often to the home of Captain Powell to speak of war with Aeneas Shaw and of love with his daughter, Sophia. It is here our love story turns to tragedy.
It is not clear on what date in time Isaac Brock and Sophia Shaw first met. But, meet they did – and in love they were. The little that is known of Sophia proved her to have been of a gentle, devoted nature; anxious to serve, loyal to her memories and beloved by all those who knew her. She was exactly the sort of person that would have appealed to the big hearted soul of Brock. But, while Brock wooed and won the heart of Sophia – he was unable to offer her a home, for he could not afford to marry. While he probably shared his secret with Sophia, it was unknown to others as Brock needed to maintain his status in society and thus, never spoke of his troubles.
His secret, learned after his death, was unfortunate and not of his doing but speaks well of his character. His good brother William, the banker, had lent him money to purchase a military commission, which was often done in those days. William never intended Isaac to repay him, but as a matter of record – or maybe of error, the sums were recorded in his books. Unfortunately, William lost heavily in ships in the wars with Napoleon and in 1811 he became bankrupt. Brock was shown to be a debtor in the sum of three thousand pounds and the creditors came knocking. It was a terrible blow to Brock as he had only his salary of a thousand pounds per year as Administrator (Governor General) of Upper Canada, on which to live. However, he came to the aid of his brother sending him power of attorney to collect from his salary until all his debts were paid. And, all of this happened just at the time he had met the woman he wanted to marry! The best they could do was to become secretly engaged.
On June 18, 1812 the United States declared war on Britain and committed itself to take over the lands of Canada – a colony of Britain, which according to Thomas Jefferson, could be done by a “mere matter of marching”. How those words would haunt him!
Brock seared his legend into the hearts of Canadians during the War of 1812. First, with his bold and confident strategy at Detroit where, against all odds, he convinced General Hull to surrender, thus recapturing the Upper Canada lands lost – without firing a shot! It was this decisive victory that earned him the respect and admiration of the Canadian people and the title of Sir Isaac Brock from Britain – although he would not live to know it.
During the early hours of October 13, 1812 Brock awoke to the sounds of cannon fire as the Americans again invaded Upper Canada at Queenston Heights. Jumping onto his horse he raced toward the battle, stopping only at the home of his love to say a brief good-bye. And Sophia, who kept a brave face, although her heart must have been pounding with anguish, met him and provided a cup of coffee to keep him warm.
It was the last time she saw him alive. While rallying his men, who were in disarray upon his arrival on the battle scene and leading them in a counter attack, he was easily identifiable in his red coat. A skilled American marksman stepped forward, shot and thus ended the life of Sir Isaac Brock. Sophia stayed true to his memory living with her sister Isabella, who also became widowed, in the Powell house where Brock and she had met. It is this circumstance that gives this home its name, “Brockamour” – signifying the “love of Brock”.
Please visit us and enjoy this magnificent home filled with North American history and romance!