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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter XXVI—The "Patriot" War-1837 and 1838


Border Ruffians seize Navy Island, December 13th—1837. Mackenzie proclaims " The Republic of Upper Canada " — Capture and destruction of the Caroline, December 28th—Sir Francis Bond Head recalled—Suceceded by Sir George Arthur—1838. Sir George adopts a coercive policy—Executions and transportations—Von Schultz seizes Stone Mill, at Preseott, November 11th—Battle of Windmill Point, November 16th—The rebels routed and leaders hanged.

The rebel leaders ought now to have seen the hopelessness of their revolt. Their subsequent military organization and wanton invasion of the province were utterly without palliation or excuse. The American Government was guilty of grave dereliction of duty in permitting its frontier to be made a base of hostile operations against an unoffending neighbour. Secret societies, known as "Hunters' Lodges," were organized in many of the American border towns for the purpose of aiding the Canadian Rebellion. Among their members were a number of Canadian refugees, but the greater part were American citizens. Mackenzie, Rolph, and other insurgent leaders, organized an "Executive Committee" at Buffalo, for the purpose of directing the invasion of Upper Canada. They offered a reward of £500 for the capture of Sir Francis Bond Head, and generous prizes of land to all volunteers for the "Grand Army of Liberation."

On the 13th of December, 1837, a mob, described by a Buffalo paper as "a wretched rabble, ready to cut any man's throat for a dollar," under the command of a border ruffian named Van Rensselaer, took possession of Navy Island, about two miles above the Falls of Niagara, Here Mackenzie proclaimed the "Republic of Upper Canada," and invited recruits. Few Canadians joined his standard, but about a thousand frontier vagabonds, intent on plunder, collected together. They were supplied with artillery and stores taken from the United States arsenal. They threw up entrenchments of logs, and opened fire on the Canadian shore.

An American steamer, the Caroline, was actively engaged in transporting men and stores to Navy Island. Colonel McNab, after remonstrance with the American authorities, resolved on her capture. On the night of December 28th, Lieutenant Drew, with a boat party, gallantly cut her out from under the guns of Fort Schlosser. Unable, from the strength of the current, to tow her across the river, he ordered her to be fired and abandoned in the rapids. She glided swiftly down the stream and swept grandly over the cataract. In this affair five of the "patriots," it is said, were killed and several wounded. The capture of the Caroline was strongly denounced by the United States authorities, and it seemed for a time as if it would embroil the two nations in war. It was certainly extenuated, however, by the strong provocation received, and was subsequently apologized for by the British Government. Sir John Colnie reinforced the Upper Canadian frontier, and compelled the evacuation of Navy Island.

Although the loyalty of the Canadians had been so amply demonstrated, yet, in utter defiance of international comity, simultaneous attacks on Canada were organized at Detroit, Cleveland, Sandusky, Watertown, and in Vermont. The jealousy and quarrels of the commanders, and the vigilance and energy of the Canadians, frustrated the designs of the marauders.

The administration of Sir Francis Bond Head being attended by such disastrous circumstances, he was recalled by the Home Government. He was accused of intensifying grievances when he might have redressed them, and of trifling with the rebellion when he might have prevented it. On his return to England he published a narrative of the stormy events of his administration, which by his friends was considered an exoneration, and by his enemies an aggravation of his acts. He subsequently devoted himself to literature, in which he was remarkably successful, and died in the year 1875, at the advanced age of eighty-two.

Sir George Arthur, the new Governor, adopted the coercive policy of his predecessor. He was promoted from the government of the penal colony of Van Diemen's Land. He ruled with a firm and heavy hand, having little sympathy for the now accepted theory of responsible government. The jails of the province were crowded with political prisoners, for whose pardon numerous petitions were presented to the Governor. His reply was a sharp rebuke. Reform, he said, had been the cloak of their crimes, and they should have an impartial trial—no more. Two of the leaders, Lount and Matthews, were hanged at Toronto, amid the regret of many loyal subjects.

Lord Glenelg, the Colonial Secretary, now humanely and wisely interposed his influence to prevent the needless effusion of blood. Many persons condemned to death had their sentence commuted to imprisonment in the provincial penitentiary, or to transportation to Van Diemen's Land, and the less culpable ones were released on giving bonds for their future good conduct. Many, however, who were suspected of sympathy with the rebellion, fled from the country.

During the summer several raids were made from over the border. On the night of May 28th, the notorious "Bill Johnston," with half a hundred fellow-ruffians, boarded the steamer Sir Robert Peel, at Well's Island, on the St. Lawrence. The passengers were driven ashore in a stormy night, and the steamer, one of the finest on the river, was pillaged and set on fire Johnston and his gang eluded pursuit amid the labyrinth of the Thousand Islands.

On the 10th of November, a body of "patriots," under Yon Schultz, a Polish refugee, landed at Windmill Point, near Prescott. »The windmill, a circular stone, building of immense strength, flanked by several stone dwelling-houses, offered a very formidable defence. A force of about five hundred men, under Colonel Young" of the regular army, advanced against the invading brigands. Two armed steamers patrolled the river, and prevented the arrival of reinforcements or the escape of the enemy. Driven from post to post with severe' loss, the invaders took shelter in the windmill, and adjacent buildings. The besiegers had to await the arrival of artillery from Kingston. Meanwhile the "patriots" remained for three days ingloriously hemmed in, unable to escape, and then surrendered at discretion. Yon Schultz and ten others of the brigands were subsequently executed at Kingston by sentence of court-martial; others were transported, but most of them were pardoned and released.

Thus in disaster and defeat ended the utterly unwarrantable "patriot" war, waged for the most part by lawless American banditti upon a population loyal, with few exceptions, to their native or adopted country; and even when desiring a reform in its institutions, seeking it only by constitutional means. The interruption of peaceful industry and the large military expenditure caused by these wanton invasions, greatly retarded the prosperity of the country; and the criminal abetting of the outrage on Canadian territory by American citizens was the cause of much international ill-feeling and bitterness.


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