Interview with Alastair Sweeny

Interview with Alastair Sweeny

Posted on July 25 by admin
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Fire Along the Frontier has just released! Author Alastair Sweeny was kind enough to stop by and answer some questions that we had about his new book. Make sure you also follow Alastair on twitter @AlastairSweeny.

Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.

Alastair: It’s an attempt to dig deeper into the economic and political reasons why the US declared war, and what they really hoped to achieve (behind the spin), and whether they were successful.

I also explore the role played by commodities in the war, particularly timber and hemp, crucial for the Royal Navy, Britain’s bulwark against Napoleon. Canada supplied the bulk of the Royal Navy’s timber, used for hulls and masts, Russia the bulk of the Navy’s hemp, used for rope and sails. Napoleon invaded Russia to stop the hemp trade to the Royal Navy, while the US invaded Canada. Both invasions were timed to go off at the same time, and if Napoleon had achieved his goals, he would have defeated Britain.

I wanted to look at the major battles from the standpoint of how well they were managed, and how British professionalism prevailed against American amateurism.

I also came to have suspicions about the conduct of Governor Sir George Prevost in the War.  He was either a bumbling incompetent or Canada’s Benedict Arnold. I explore some new findings about this man, grandson of a financier of the American Revolution and a nephew of US VP Aaron Burr.  Some historians support Prevost.  I lay out the evidence, and leave it to the reader to decide.

Here’s one of many examples of Prevost’s actions.  If Isaac Brock had waited a week before leaving Niagara for Detroit, he would have received an letter from Prevost restraining him from invading the US. Brock’s successful capture of Detroit set the Americans back a year in their invasion attempts, and ultimately saved Canada from capture.

I conclude that virtually everything Prevost did was counterproductive to British success in the War.

Caitlyn: How did you come up with the idea for this work?

Alastair: I am something of an expert in business history, and thought I should apply my skills to the business aspects of the war.

Having helped Peter C. Newman with his Hudson’s Bay Company books, and having done research in the HBC archives, I was aware of the role played by the North West Company and John Jacob Astor in the war, and wanted to explore this further.

Caitlyn: How did you come up with the title?

Alastair: 1812 was a war along the frontier, and the metaphor for war is fire.  For examples in the burning of the settlements in western upper canada, of the public buildings of York, and the burning of Washington.

Caitlyn: Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it.

Alastair: That the War of 1812 was was not a minor war on the fringes of civilization, but the western front in a world war between the British and Napoleon.

Caitlyn: Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

Alastair: People interested in Canadian, business and military history.

Alastair Sweeny is author of a biography of George-Etienne Cartier, as well as two recent business books, BlackBerry Planet, on RIM’s smartphone, and Black Bonanza, on Canada’s oilsands. He lives in Ottawa.