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
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