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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXV.—The Rebellion—Upper Canada—1830 ash 1837


Sir Francis Bond Head, Governor of Upper Canada—1836. He takes sides with the Family Compact—Mackenzie defeated at the polls-He rushes into rebellion—1837. Seditious Gatherings—Rebel Plans —Apathy of the Government—The Rendezvous at Gallows Hill —The Alarm in Toronto —Rally of the Citizens, December 4th—Death of Colonel Moodie—Night attack of the rebels—Van Egmond's exploit—Rebels routed at Gallows Hill, December 7th.

We now proceed to trace the contemporary events in the upper province. The great majority of the liberal party in Upper Canada sought reform only by constitutional measures. A small minority were betrayed into rebellion by party leaders stung to resentment by the disappointment of their hope of radical changes. The mass of the population maintained an unshaken loyalty, and the revolt was suppressed almost entirely by the volunteer militia, without the aid of Imperial troops.

The agent chosen by the Home Government to calm the increasing political agitation of Upper Canada was by no means well adapted for that purpose. Sir Francis Bond Head was a half-pay Major and Poor-Law Commissioner, known to fame chiefly as a sprightly writer and dashing horseman, who had twice crossed the pampas of South America from Buenos Ayres to the Andes. His military training and somewhat impulsive temperament rather unfitted him for the performance of the civil duties which the critical relations of parties in the province made necessary.

On his arrival at Toronto, in January, 1836, he was almost immediately involved in the political strife that agitated the colony. Mackenzie, the most radical and extreme of the Reform party, had been elevated by the persecution of the Family Compact into the position of a popular leader, for which neither his talents nor his weight of character adapted him. Moderate Reformers, of the Robert Baldwin stamp, were left behind by the more violent agitator and his allies. Sir Francis, unjustly attributing to the whole Reform party the extreme views of the latter, threw himself into the arms of the Family Compact, and adopted those principles of irresponsible administration against which the Reformers had been so long contending.

Conceiving that the very principles of the British constitution were at stake, he threw himself actively into the political contest. By published addresses and popular harangues, he so roused the loyal enthusiasm of the people that the Reform party was badly beaten at the polls, and its leaders were excluded from Parliament. Mackenzie seems now to have abandoned all hope of the redress of political grievances by constitutional means, and to have secretly resolved to have recourse to violence to accomplish his purpose.

A dispatch from the Colonial Office instructed the Governor to form a responsible executive by calling to his Council representatives who possessed the confidence of the people. But, misled by the apparent success of his policy, lie declined to make these concessions, which would have satisfied all moderate Reformers. Thus" the extreme wing, composed of partizans of Mackenzie, became more and more exasperated, and prepared for the subsequent revolt.

Mackenzie, soured and disappointed, now joined hands with Papineau in the desperate scheme of revolt. By seditious articles in his paper, and by inflammatory speeches throughout the country, he incited his partizans to insurrection. Sir Francis Bond Head, with a chivalric confidence in the loyalty of the people, allowed Sir John Colborne to withdraw all the soldiers from Upper Canada to repress the menaced outbreak in the lower province. Emboldened by impunity and by the removal of the troops, the rebel faction armed and drilled with assiduity. As no overt act could be proved against Mackenzie, the Governor, apparently unaware of the imminence of the danger, made no effort for his arrest nor for the prevention of the outbreak.

In the month of November, Mackenzie, Rolph, Morrison and other insurrectionary leaders, arranged at a secret conclave at Toronto the plan of operations. The rebels were to rendezvous on Yonge Street, near Toronto, on the night of December the 7th. They were then to march on the city, seize four thousand stand of arms deposited at the City Hall, and rally their sympathizers among the inhabitants. Through the precipitance of Dr. Rolph, the time for the attack was changed from the 7th to the 4th of December. On that date about four hundred imperfectly armed insurgents assembled at Montgomery's tavern, four miles from Toronto. Mackenzie wished to make a sudden assault, which would probably have placed the city in his power, but it was decided to wait for reinforcements. The rebel leader and three or four others advanced toward the city to reconnoitre. They met and captured two mounted citizens, Messrs. Powell and Macdonald, who were patrolling the road. These, shooting one of their guards, escaped and gave the alarm. The Governor was roused from bed and his family placed for safety on a steamboat in the harbour. The alarm bells rang. Loyal volunteers hastened to guard the City Hall. Pickets were posted, and the city put in a state of defence against a surprise.

Colonel Moodie, a retired half-pay officer, riding to the city to apprise the authorities of the rising, was stopped by a rebel guard. Rashly firing his pistol, he was immediately shot by one of the insurgents, and died in a couple of hours. On both sides blood had now been shed, and a bitter civil strife seemed pending.

The next day the Governor, to gain time, sent Robert Baldwin and Dr. Rolph, who had hitherto concealed his treason, with a flag of truce to inquire the demands of the insurgents. Dr. Rolph, it is said, secretly advised them to wait till dark, and promised them the aid of a large number of sympathizers in Toronto. Under cover of night they approached the city, but were fired on by a loyalist picket, concealed behind a fence. After firing a volley, the rebels turned and fled headlong. Mackenzie in vain attempted to rally the flying mob. They refused to renew the attack, ana most of them threw away their weapons—the evidences of their crime—and hastened to seek safety at their homes.

The following day Mackenzie could muster only five hundred men. Dr. Rolph and others implicated in the revolt fled to the United States. The loyal militia throughout the country, clad in frieze, and armed with old flint-locks, pikes, and even pitchforks, hastened to the capital for its defence. Colonel McNab, at 'Hamilton, on hearing of the revolt, seized a steamboat lying at the wharf, and in three hours it was under weigh, crowded with the gallant men of Gore.

Van Egmond, who had been a colonel in the French army during the wars of Napoleon, now took military command of the rebels. On the morning of the 7th, he fired the Don bridge, and captured the Montreal mail. About noon, Colonel McNab, with a large body of men and two field-pieces, advanced against the rebels, who were posted in partial cover of a wood at Montgomery's tavern, or Gallows Hill, as it was called. The, loyalists opened a sharp fire of musketry and artillery. After a short resistance the insurgents fled, leaving behind a number of wounded. Mackenzie, an outlawed fugitive, with a reward of XI,000 on his head, skulked through the wintry woods, and after many hairbreadth escapes, got across the frontier into the United States. In a week the rebellion, was crushed, and the muster of ten thousand gallant militiamen—Reformers and Conservatives alike—who had rallied amid frost and snow, demonstrated the unshaken loyalty of the people to the British crown.

Shortly after, an attempted rising in the London district, under Dr. Duncombe, a political disciple of Mackenzie, was promptly suppressed by the loyal militia under Colonel McNab, and the leader fled over the border.


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