Online Primary Sources for the War of 1812

The burning of Washington. The surrender of Detroit. The writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Naval battles on oceans and lakes. The death of Tecumseh. The rise of The Prophet. The last time a foreign army was on United States soil. The launching pad for presidential careers. These and so much more form the War of 1812 which,  by the way, lasted for 32 months. Its bicentennial is June 18, so we thought it appropriate to spend some time with this topic. Initially, we were just going to list primary sources, but since so many know so little about this war, we have decided to open this entry with some informative secondary sources. The Smithsonian Magazine has special coverage on this conflict while PBS has an excellent two-hour video replete with re-enactors and interviews with distinguished historians and writers. Essays exploring the various perspectives –  native American, British, Canadian –  accompany the video along with other topical writings and a  guide to the battlefields and historic sites rounds out this presentation. Digitalhistory provides a brief yet informative summation of the war’s main events. The National Park Service presents The War of 1812 Bicentennial with links and lesson plans. Some additional secondary sources of interest are: A British View of the War of 1812 from Naval History Magazine; dozens of articles and biographies from The Canadian Encyclopedia; more biographies from The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online as well as a quite informative section on the war itself; Border Troubles and Indian-Anglo Conflict in the War of 1812, a podcast symposium from the Newberry Library; African American History at War of 1812 Sites from Cultural Resource Management; Sea Power in its Relations to the War of 1812 by Alfred Thayer Mahan; Naval War of 1812 by Theodore Roosevelt; War of 1812 from American Military History;  The War of 1812: A Resource Bibliography; The War of 1812: Still a Forgotten Conflict? from The Journal of Military History; and the various online state encyclopedias. And consult this publication series: the U.S Army Campaigns of the War of 1812.


This Library of Congress site – A Guide to the War of 1812 – gives access to such primary sources as the Annals of Congress and the American State Papers. While it does guide you to the Papers of James Madison, there are no transcriptions available. And since the ongoing book publishing project is still not available to the public for free, this older nine-volume work, The Writings of James Madison, will prove of assistance. The multi-volume The Documentary History of the Campaigns upon the Niagara Frontier in 1812-1814, edited by E.A. Cruikshank is still invaluable as is his Documents Relating to the Invasion of Canada and the Surrender of Detroit, 1812. The Historical Register of the United States for the years 1812-1814 provides verbatim source documentation concerning the War of 1812. The Ohio Fundamental Documents site provides access to the Transcriptions of the War of 1812 in the Northwest (which includes William Henry Harrison’s correspondence with the War Office) as well as a Short Chronology. The naval aspects of this war are admirably covered in The Naval War of 1812: A Documentary History that also includes British sources as well. The Battle of Lake Erie: A Collection of Documents provides contemporary sources by the participants themselves. And this 1814 Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Distinguished Officers in the American Navy includes three pieces by Washinton Irving. Official letters of the military and naval officers of the United States, during the war with Great Britain in the years 1812, 13, 14, & 15  and Collection of the official accounts, in detail, of all the battles fought by sea and land… augment research with original sources. The Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections (MPHC) is a goldmine of information; for example, ” This section [a selection of material from various volumes dealing with native Americans during the War of 1812] is composed of a large number of primary sources, such as speeches made by Native Americans and letters of British and American military commanders, as well as several secondary sources.” Almost 300 reproductions of prints concerning this war are available. UPDATE (3-12-14): Additional primary/secondary materials for the American “side” is available – Online Primary Sources for American History: The War of 1812.


Select British Documents of the War of 1812 is a four-volume work published by the Champlain Society that is devoted to bringing Canadian historical documents to light. The Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections, already mentioned, provides information as well, especially volume 15 – Copies of papers on file in the Dominion archives at Ottawa, Canada, pertaining to
the relations of the British government with the United States during the period of the war of 1812. And the Wisconsin Historical Collections also yield British-related sources on this war, especially volumes 12,19, and 20. Contemporary reportage from the British perspective can be found in the [London] Gazette (which can be searched back t0 1665) and Hansard (record of speeches and debates in Parliament back t0 1803). And mention must be made of the Naval Chronicle, that forty-volume work published during the Napoleonic Wars, the time period during which the War of 1812 occurred.


Archives Canada: War of 1812 contains extracts of original source material from the Canadian side. And Early Canadiana Online gives access to hundreds of Canadian publications on this war. The Library and Archives Canada has released thousands of pages of governmental records; i.e., muster rolls. 1812; the war, and its moral: a Canadian chronicle is a Canadian-based rendition of this conflict.

Here is a link to dozens of writings on the war published between 1812 and 1819. And selected diplomatic documents are readily available.

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