Settled in any community, the local pub is as important to American history as any other place you can name. More than purveyors of spirits, the publican provided a space for community members to talk about politics and current affairs as well as sports and local gossip. Check your story – the founding fathers accomplished a lot at the local watering hole.
Here in the falls we also had a tavern that influenced the history not only of the region, but of the country, and it was owned by a man as popular as any (unsurprisingly), a man whose you know the name, even though you may not know it. realizing it: Gad Pierce.
Pierce came to town in 1807. A farmer and innkeeper, he opened his tavern at Main and Portage in 1812, just as a little thing called the War of 1812 was beginning. The English on the Canadian side had the advantage of trained soldiers, but neither the Americans nor the British in Canada were really well prepared for the fight on the Niagara frontier.
Pierce, assessing the situation and feeling firmly that the U.S. government was unprepared for the prospect of an impending invasion that would threaten everything he and his neighbors possessed, determined a course of action.
He convinced the townspeople, the Tuscaroras, and anyone he could find at the bar to go to Lewiston and bring their horses and guns. Aware that the motley ensemble could in no way fight the British, he choreographed a performance.
He handed out canes, sticks, chopsticks, farming equipment – anything that might be dimly visible or gleam in the sun when viewed from the Canadian coast. Then he organized the group into lines and they did their best imitation of walking, back and forth so the Brits could see. From Canada, it appeared that real military men had arrived on the Niagara frontier to defend American soil. The group marched to Fort Niagara.
Once inside, they quietly slipped away in small groups, returning home to gather their families and get out of Dodge before the inevitable invasion began. The trick preempted the action long enough that the War Department began dispersing troops to defend Niagara in the meantime.
Pierce sent his family to safety and stayed behind to defend his tavern. In 1813 Pierce was shot and fled into the woods for safety. The war, of course, was not kind to the Niagara frontier. Ask the folks at Black Rock.
After the war, Pierce rebuilt his tavern and resumed his life.
Of course, once in a while, in a pub, you can hear about less noble behavior, and although we don’t know the details, something happened in 1834 that may not have made his mother proud. A notice published that year offered a $5 reward for the arrest of Gad Pierce, who had recently escaped from the Niagara County Jail where he was being held for assault and battery.
Nobody is perfect.
Pierce lived to be 66 and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Its name lives on as Pierce Avenue.
If you want to visit Gad Pierce’s Tavern today, you can; you can even bring the kids. Because this site now houses the Niagara Falls Public Library on Main Street.
Oakwood Chronicles is a monthly feature on some of Oakwood Cemetery’s most famous residents and employees. For more information, visit www.oakwoodniagara.org.