About 80 local citizens withdrew up the Thames River July 17, reliving the retreat of British troops during the War of 1812.
But rather than travel on foot along the riverbank or by canoe up the river, the residents retraced the retreat in the comfort of air-conditioned buses – part of the Last Days of Tecumseh bus tour. The air conditioning was welcome as Chatham-Kent was enveloped in a heat advisory.
The tour, sponsored by the Kent Historical Society, began in Tilbury and worked its way up Riverview Line to Chatham, before heading east out of town on River Line to the final battle site where Chief Tecumseh fell.
Along the route, actors in period costumes, playing everything from soldiers and spies, to missionaries, the tour participants.
Sheila Gibbs, one of the event organizers who played a spy when the tour buses stopped at McCrae house, west of Chatham, said interest in the tour was surprising.
“We booked a bus, but had to book another,” she said. “More people were interested than we thought there would be.”
Gibbs played “Harrison’s angel,” a female spy for U.S. general William Henry Harrison. The spy lived along the Thames River and traded information with the U.S. troops in exchange for preserving her family’s farm, crops and animals, Gibbs said.
Local historians Jim and Lisa Gilbert, who dressed in period costumes, acted as tour guides. Jim Gilbert set the scene.
“We basically traced the route of the Tecumseh Parkway, meeting various characters, that were historically correct, along the way,” he said. “There were citizens, an American soldier, a Kentuckian, a Moravian missionary and spies. The re-enactors showed what the retreat meant to the average person, as well as the military.”
The timeframe for the tour was Oct. 6, 1813, one day after the Battle of the Thames where Tecumseh fell.
Bruce Warwick took part in the tour, and praised everyone involved.
“Just imagine 80 people on two buses following the same footsteps that were taken in 1813,” Warwick said. “With people like Lisa and Jim Gilbert, and the remarkably talented re-enactors we met along our journey, you know this was history brought to life.
Everyone on board was really pleased to take this tour and learn so much about our history right here in our own Chatham-Kent.”
This isn’t the only tour of the summer for the Last Days of Tecumseh. Gilbert said there is another in August.
“We had 80 people on the buses this time, with a waiting list, and we’ll have the same thing in August: 80 people on the buses plus a waiting list,” he said.
The Gilberts also conducted the tour in late June for a group of Shawnee natives from Oklahoma and other parts of the U.S., he said.