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History of the York Rangers
Chapter VIII

The War of the Patriots alias Filibusters

THE bickering on Yonge Street having turned against him, and himself having escaped after a series of adventures worthy of a Stuart prince, and Dr. Duncombe’s insurrection having faded out, William Lyon Mackenzie took post on Navy Island in the Niagara River to prepare an invasion of Upper Canada by patriotic Canadians. This movement he confidently expected would be seconded by the mass of the population; and judging by the lists in his hands his confidence was based on good reason. Arms both small and large they had no difficulty in procuring by robbing the arsenals of the United States, which were being guarded with studious connivance.

Up to the end of December, 1837, Mackenzie had rallied to him about two hundred restless spirits most of whom were British subjects, but with an American “General”—one Van Rensselaer—who like many gallant soldiers of all ages exchanged intellect for intoxication and brains for brandy. This army was demonstrating feebly against the Canadian shore, where, a loyalist camp under Col. Cameron and then under Allan Macnab was with gradually increasing forces eagerly awaiting a landing. On December 29th, provisions and military stores were being sent over from the American side to Navy Island by the steamer Caroline, which thus steamed into troubled waters to her own magnificent destruction.

Col. Macnab being a choleric man, not much versed in the niceties of international relations, permitted Capt. Drew of the Royal Navy to cut out the Caroline. Which, calling for volunteers or rather saying that “he wanted a few fellow’s with cutlasses who would follow him to the devil," Capt. Drew, R.N., proceeded to do. The, to him, trifling details that he took the steamer not at Navy Island, but at Schlosser on the American side and that he left behind the body of Amos Durfee with the head blown off, produced an international episode of volcanic proportions.

Mackenzie and his insurrection of British subjects were both immediately superseded by a filibuster movement, commanded by new and unheard-of generals, whose conflicting commissions proceeded out of the lodges of secret societies. Invasions were planned to make descent upon various vulnerable places in Upper Canada. Some of the “generals” like Generals Sutherland and Theller, having conquered the country by proclamations, actually came and were duly sentenced when captured. Others like Handy, of Illinois, merely organized pompous confusion. Still others like General Bierce, and Admiral Bill Johnson, stood back in safety after sending brave men to their death.

The Americanizing of the war produced a sudden and decisive effect on the people of Upper Canada. So long as it w as merely a case of William Lyon Mackenzie there was a good deal of something less loyal to the administration than indifference. Many a veteran of 1812 and his sons would gladly have struck a pike through the Family Compact if they could have avoided tearing the old flag. But the events that began when the Caroline, splendidly blazing, went over the Horse Shoe Fall, closed up the ranks of Canadians and the people seemed to rise as one man.

From a return of commissions issued from March, 1838, to March, 1839, we find the officers of two East York and two West York Regiments, and no less than nine North York Regiments. Among these officers we are struck by a persistence of names that occur in the rolls of 1812. Duncan Cameron was colonel of the 1st North York; and Heward, Cawthra, Richardson, Playter, Denison, Shaw, Selby, Jarvis, are among the commissioned in these suddenly organized invasion-expectant legions.

A return of the 4th North Yorks, commanded by Col. C. C. Small, of Toronto, and mustering at Richmond Hill, on June 4th, 1838, shows how plentiful and willing men were and how woefully lacking were arms. Of a total of 725 men, 701 were present, and only 5 absent without leave. Of arms and accoutrements, the regiment possessed thirty-one English muskets and five hundred rounds of ammunition.

The same return of commissions in March, 1839, gives also the lists of officers of the forces culled out on the first outbreak of the Rebellion of 1837. Among these were the Queen’s Own, whose name still sounds familiar in Toronto, and the Queen’s Rangers, a portion of whose designation has been continued in the present regiment of York Rangers. The Lieut.-Col. and organizer of the Queen’s Rangers was Samuel Peters Jarvis, who named it after Simcoe’s famous corps in Which his father, “the Secretary,” had held a commission. No native Canadian ever saw more of fighting in his own land than did Col. Jarvis; and when we consider that he was at Detroit, Queenston Heights, Stoney Creek and Lundy’s Lane; that he fought a duel according to the code in Toronto, that he commanded the right wing at Montgomery's Tavern and was present to admire the pyre-like glory of the Caroline as she took the plunge, we feel that he had an unerring instinct for war, and while by profession a lawyer was by preference a soldier and a good one.

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