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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part I: Chapter XXVI. The Civil War—Montgomery's Farm


SIR FRANCES HEAD has in his published writings made two contradictory statements with regard to his knowledge of the preparations for insurrection. According to one, he sent the troops out of Upper Canada :n order to tempt Mackenzie to an overt act of revolt ; being well aware of the insurgents' design. According to the other, he knew nothing about the rising till he heard of it at midnight, on December 4th. The truth probably is between the lines of the two statements. Head was, as he said, extremely desirous of forcing into apparent rebellion men like Bidwell, whom he had been ordered by his superiors to promote to the judicial bench. lie hoped that the outbreak of actual insurrection would justify his boastful despatches his ridiculous stump orations, his incessant denunciations of the advocates of Responsible Government as "rebels." As to the cost to the people of Upper Canada in blood and treasure, as to the sacrifice of life on either side in the struggle, this charlatan descendant of a Jew quack took no account whatever, provided he carried his point, provided his purposes were served, what did that matter to the descendant of Moses Mendez? Meanwhile, trusting, as the political quack always does trust, to chance, and desirous above all things of self-display, this foolish coxcomb actually sent to Lower Canada the two companies of regulars which Sir John Colborne had left for the defence of the Toronto Government House and stores. Nor did he take the simple precaution oi calling out a single regiment of militia; it was enough that the winter seemed likely to be an open one, and a small steamer was kept moored in the harbour in case the gallant Lieutenant-Governor should find it convenient to fly from his post. Nor, f the insurrection did not succeed, can its supporters impute any blame to Sir Francis Head. The force by which he apparently proposed to defend his Government consisted of a single artillery-man. There were some ten field-pieces, which had been moved from the Fort to the City Hall. Four thousand stand of arms, muskets with bayonets, belts and ammunition, were deposited in the City Hall at the disposal of any one who might choose to take them.

Mackenzie saw that the time had come for action. His first proposal, made at a meeting held in the beginning of November, at Mr. Doel's brewery on Bay street, was in effect to take a strong party of "Butcher's foundry-men, and Armstrong's axe-makers," go with them to Government House, seize Sir Francis, confine him in the City Hall, and take possession of the muskets deposited there, and at once arm the innumerable friends who would rally to their support. It will be observed that Mackenzie, in making this proposal, did not insist on a demand for independence, but would "have been content with the grant of Responsible Government and a fairly elected Assembly, the very privileges soon afterwards conceded by the beneficent liberal "legislation which followed Ford Durham's mission as Lord High Commissioner to Canada. The plan thus proposed, though bold, was perfectly feasible. The prestige of Head and the Family Compact must have broken down under a bloodless coup d'Hat which would have made them ridiculous. But Dr. Morrison, apprehensive, as Mr. Findsey thinks (Life of Mackenzie, II., p. 56), of the fidelity of some one. present at the meeting, threw cold water on the proposal. A few days later a more daring plan still was adopted, with the concurrence of Dr. Morrison and the other leaders. The entire available forces of the insurgents were to be concentrated at Montgomery's hotel, on Yonge Street, a few miles north of the City Hall, and were thence to make a descent upon the city, capture Head, and seize the arms at the City Hall. The attack, which it was expected would be a surprise, was to take place at night, between six and ten o'clock. Dr. Rolph, as the executive, was to have supreme control of the enterprise, Mackenzie to carry out its details. Among the many deliberate falsehoods which Head endeavoured to blacken the character of political opponents who were what no impartial historian can say that Head was, honourable and high principled, was the charge that Rolph and Mackenzie intended to rob the banks and set fire to the city. As Mr. Lindsey well remarks in commenting on this preposterous canard, the insurgents were, as a rule, of the wealthiest class of farmers in the county of York. Such men as Samuel Lount and David Gibson were supposed by Head to be mere bank robbers. Sir Francis Hincks, in 1838, a time when it was still perilous to defend the insurgent leaders even from unjust accusations, repels Head's mendacious char e. against the personal character of men like Rolph and Mackenzie with an honest warmth creditable to his true Irish heart, more especially when we remember that Mackenzie had, Scotchman-like, regarded young Hincks with harsh distrust as "a mere Irish adventurer."

Head was repeatedly warned from the most reliable sources that preparations for a rising were taking place. The ablest of Canadian Methodist ministers, the Rev. Egerton Ryerson, with a brother clergyman, warned Attorney-General Hagerman of the incessant drillings and patrollings going on in that part of York County in which they had lately been ministering. Captain Fitzgibbon warned Judge Jones of the pike-heads and handles being distributed at Markham, and got snubbed for his over-officious zeal. Besotted in their self-conceit. Head and his Government would accept no advice, nor take any precaution.

Meanwhile the breakdown of Papineau's movement in French Canada damped the ardour of Mackenzie's followers, who had very unwisely overestimated that gasconading poltroon, and had overlooked the fact that the Catholic Church alone could control the action of the French Canadians. As soon as the work of actual lighting began, Papineau had basely withdrawn, leaving braver men to fight their way out of the difficulty into which he had led them. As to the Church, as soon as she had allowed the insurrectionary movement to grow to such a sufficiently alarming proportion as might enhance the value of her own mediation, she spoke in decisive tones, and all good Catholics abandoned the standard which she denounced as rebellious and infidel.

Late in November the last details of the military arrangements had to be settled, for which purpose Mackenzie made a hurried tour of the country north of Toronto, visiting Lloydtown, Holland Landing and other centres of the movement. He distrusted, without reason indeed, as was plainly manifested in the fight at Montgomery's hotel, his own want of military skill, and secured the services of Colonel Van Egmond, a veteran Colonel of Napoleon's grand army. This gentleman had acquired a large property in Canada, all of which he risked and lost in his unselfish endeavour to serve the Canadian cause. Colonel Van Egmond, who was advanced in years, was captured subsequently to the battle of Montgomery's Hotel, and died in the hospital of the prison where he was confined.

On the night of December 3rd, Mackenzie, having visited the house of David Gibson, one of the leaders already mentioned, learned, to his no small dismay, that the day of rendezvous had been m his absence altered by Dr. Rolph's sole order, from Thursday, the 7th of December, to Monday, the 4th. This, of course, Mackenzie thought would throw all their plans into confusion, and was a violation of the undertaking into which all the. leaders had entered, that the day of rising should not be changed except by general consent. But there is 110 reason to think that Dr. Rolph acted otherwise than in perfect good faith. And the issuing of a warrant for Mackenzie's arrest, which followed at once on the publication of the latest issue of the Constitution, and the issuing of arms to a. city volunteer company, seem to have fully warranted Rolph's action. Had his plan been but privately carried out, Toronto would have fallen into Mackenzie's hands on the morning of Tuesday, December the 5th. Fifty resolute men could have done it. Nor can it be considered wise in Mackenzie to endeavour to change the day of rendezvous back to the original date. How much better to have accepted the situation than thus to play at cross-purposes. In vain aid he send messages to Colonel Fount, who sent word that the men were already on the march, and that no further change could be made. Mackenzie saw that the die was cast, and resolved, come what might, to abide the issue.:

Montgomery's hotel was a frame building of two stories, and of the type still familiar in many a backwoods settlement. Round the front aspect of the house, which faced towards Toronto, ran a platform, or " stoop," raised on three steps to avoid the slush in spring thaws. On one side of the door was the usual large bar-room, over the mam entrance a lamp, and before the house a huge sign-board raised 011 high, bearing the usual hospitable announcement. Thither Mackenzie repaired on the evening of the 4th of December, the day appointed by Dr. Rolph for the rendezvous. The hotel belonged to John Montgomery, who had rented it to one Lingfoot, a man who, if anything, was a Loyalist. Montgomery is stated by Mr. C. Findsey to have had no direct connection with the insurrection. A strong contrary opinion has been expressed by Air. Wilcox, the companion of Mackenzie's flight after the battle, and by Mr. Brock, at present of Toronto, then one of Mackenzie's officers. It is evident, say these gentlemen, that Montgomery knew all about his house being constantly made a place of meeting by "the patriots. But the anticipation of the day of meeting had spoiled all commissariat arrangements. Mackenzie could procure neither beef nor bread till the next morning, and when, late in the evening, Colonel Fount arrived with some ninety men, dispirited by a tramp of thirty miles through the Yonge Street mud, little comfort awaited them beyond what might be had from bare boards and bad whiskey. Mackenzie now advised two measures, one a most sensible one, to cut off all communication with the city by placing a guard across Yonge Street. This was done at once, and had well nigh succeeded in preventing the news of the rising from reaching the Lieutenant-Governor that night. The other was that an immediate advance on the city should be made by Fount's company of riflemen and pikemen. Against this proposal Colonels Fount and Gibson and Jesse Floyd protested. They seem, from a military point of view, to have been quite right. Fount's company were utterly exhausted by a thirty-mile tramp through heavy mud. They had not received any provisions. Men m such a condition were not fit for a further forced march, to conclude, perhaps, with a fight against fresh and well-fed opponents. Mackenzie then offered, if accompanied by three others, to ride into the city, ascertain the state of matters, and return with Dr. Rolph and Dr. Morrison. Captain Anderson, one of Mackenzie's most trusted officers, and two others rode with him towards Toronto. On their way they met a mounted patrol consisting of Alderman John Powell and Mr. Archibald Macdonald. Mackenzie explained that the rising had taken place, and said he must send them as temporary prisoners to Montgomery's hotel, where he would give orders that they should be well treated. He then put them on parole as to their being possessors of weapons. Powell gave his word of honour that he was without a weapon, but he had not ridden far before he dropped behind his mounted escort, and, drawing a pistol, shot Anderson in the back. Anderson fell dead, his murderer gallopped away, and as he passed Mackenzie he fired the other pistol at him. The clumsy flintlock, however, failed to accomplish his deadly purpose.

Meanwhile a meeting of Loyalists was held at the house of Colonel Moodie, near Richmond Hill, in consequence of the march of Lount's men having been observed on the neighbouring part of Yonge Street, at four o'clock in the afternoon of that day. Several of the loyal gentlemen resolved to ride> if necessary, through the guard at Montgomery's hotel, in order to carry the news to the Lieutenant-Governor hi Toronto. The other members of the Loyalist party were stopped by the insurgent guard, and conveyed as prisoners into the hotel, where, by Mackenzie's orders, they wrere treated with every respect. But Colonel Moodie had, most unfortunately, been drinking heavily. He acted like a madman, drew a pistol ;.n either hand, and fired right and left upon the guard. It was not to be expected that the tire, under such circumstances, should not be returned. Moodie fell, and was removed to the hotel, where he died two hours afterwards. Air. Lindsey, who certainly is the most reliable authority, says that the fatal shot was fired by a man named Ryan, who stood on the steps in front of the hotel, where the moonlight, falling full on Moodie, gave him a good mark. But two gentlemen, who were present when Moodie fell, state that the shot was fired from a crowd of men on the other side of the road, where there was an open clearing, and that the unhappily successful marksman was a farmer from Simcoe.

When Powell had passed Mackenzie, after riding forward for a little, he dismounted, and, fancying himself pursued, hid for some time behind a log. He then proceeded to the city with the first news of the revolt. He first waited on the Chief Justice, together with whom he went to Government House, where courtly historians record that Sir Francis Head "had gone to bed with a sick headache:" Hurried orders were given to assemble the chief government officials. Torches tlared in the streets, where excited groups continued to gather until dawn, and the city bells, with loud clangor sounding the alarm, gave warning to the insurgent camp that the time for a surprise had gone by. It had, in reality, not gone by. In the city, the Lieutenant -Governor, terrified and incapable, put his family and household effects on board the small steamer ready for flight, should Mackenzie capture the city. A son of the Hon. William Hamilton Merritt, then a pupil in Upper Canada College, thus describes the scene of that morning in Toronto : " It was a curious sight to behold ; guards of civilians hanging about Government House; the shops all closed ! People hurrying silently in all directions, some with arms, some without. And then, at the Town Hall, where were assembled the cannon, with torches ready to be lighted, and the arms distributed. Melancholy exhibited in every countenance. All was new and strange! Nothing was done that day, but various movements took place in their turn. All was exciting." The judges, the city aldermen, and other leading gentlemen, set the example of coolly forming themselves into a com-pan\ for defence of their Government. Sheriff Jarvis got together a small corps of volunteers who were supplied with arms. But still the condition of Head and his Government may be described as one of panic all the forenoon of Tuesday, December 5th. Two hundred resolute men. had that opportunity been seized, might have captured the Government House and sent the Lieutenant-Governor flying in the steamer he had provided for the purpose.

At the insurgent camp, at Montgomery's hotel, all the conditions were favourable for an advance on Toronto at that critical moment of the insurrection. Colonel Lount's men had recovered from the fatigue of their long march of the day before. New companies and straggling bodies of men had poured into the camp all night. On Tuesday morning the insurgents mustered between seven and eight hundred men, an ample force to have earned all before them. The greater number were armed with pikes of Lount s manufacture, a rude but most effective weapon, especially for street fighting. Many had the old heavy-handle pea-rifle, which those who possessed t were pretty sure to know how to use. A sufficient commissariat, too, had been procured. Lingfoot, the "Loyalist" tenant of John "Montgomery, was not unwilling to take the rebel money which Mackenzie most honourably paid for all expenses incurred. Requisitions were made on several neighbouring houses belonging to Loyalists, but Mackenzie and his lieutenants would permit no violence nor injury to property, in this respect showing a very different spirit from that displayed by the Loyalist forces when their time came for reprisals. Ample supplies of fresh and salt beef, too, as well as of bread, had been procured from a *truly loyal" butcher, some two miles north of Montgomery's hotel. If the men had been refreshed with a good breakfast, and then had marched on the city, the attack must have succeeded. For, by Head's own account (Sir F. 13. Head's Narrative, p. 331), he had but three hundred supporters in the city that morning, besides which he was notoriously unpopular, while Mackenzie had many ardent supporters in Toronto ready to join his force had it once advanced. And Mackenzie himself strongly urged an immediate advance. He was overruled by his lieutenants, especially by David Gibson, on the ground that the detachments from the west had not yet arrived, and that nothing was known of the state of things in the city, where the alarm bells warned them that their enterprise had been discovered, and would no doubt be resisted. Thus was the favourable moment lost by the want of proper discipline, and of subjection to those in authority. In fact, one of the gravest errors of the insurgents in planting the rising had been the neglect of securing communication by means of emissaries w ho would not be suspected, and by devious routes. They had trusted too much to receiving communications through leading men such as Rolph and Morrison, every movement of whom was sure to be watched by the Government. Dr. Morrison did, it is believed, endeavour to make his way to the camp at Montgomery's on the night of December 4th. A Loyalist, Captain Fridge-ford, meeting him, is supposed to have caused his return to the city (see Lindsey's Life of Mackenzie, Vol. IJ. p. 80, a curious detail of circumstantial evidence in connection with this incident as discovered at Morrison's trial for high treason in 1838). AH through the 5th every avenue which directly led to the northern part of Yonge Street was watched by armed patrols, who did not hesitate to fire on any one whom they saw approaching m the direction of Montgomery's hotel. Thus the younger Merritt, in his school diary, relates:—" In such a state, of things human life is held at a very cheap rate. Next day, by going too near where the rebels were stationed, we (several Upper Canada College students) were taken prisoners. When in durance, I saw a sentry aim his musket at a person who was running away."

As a proof of the abject state of panic to which Sir Francis Head was by this time reduced, he actually stooped to send a flag of truce to the insurgents camp, thus acknowledging them as belligerents with whom he might make terms. In his own account of this transaction, Head states that he sent the flag of truce on Wednesday, December the 5th, and that his motive was humanity. Both statements are false. It was on Tuesday, not on Wednesday, that the Hag of truce was sent, and Head's motive was not humanity, but fear, and a desire to gain time so his reinforcements of militia might arrive. Instead of sending a couple of his own officials, Sir Francis further showed the white feather by selecting as his emissaries men who were believed to be deep in the confidence of the insurgents. He first, through Sheriff Jarvis, appointed Mr. J. Harvey Price, well known to be a friend of Mackenzie's, but Price refused point blank, lest he should afterwards be said to have gone to join the camp at Montgomery's. At length Mr. Robert Baldwin and Dr. Rolph agreed to go, and arrived at Montgomery's about one o'clock. For Rolph to have undertaken this mission as the representative of Head's Government was a very great mistake. His appearance as the emissary of Head did much to discourage those whom he had urged on to take up arms. He should have declined the mission at ah hazards to his personal liberty, or should have remained with his friends, leaving Robert Baldwin to carry back Mackenzie's reply to Head's message as to their demands: "Independence, and a convention to arrange details. But, ever given to subtle policy, Rolph attempted a -middle course. He went with Baldwin and returned with him, but sought a few minutes private conversation with Fount, in which he urged an immediate advance of the whole force on the city.

It is due to Mackenzie's military reputation to say that he took immediate measures for carrying their advice into effect. He rode westward by College Avenue to what is now the head of Spadina Avenue, where a large body of the insurgents were stationed, and led them towards Yonge Street. When he arrived at Yonge Street he met Baldwin and Rolph, who brought word of the Lieutenant-Governor's refusal to grant their demands. Here again Rolph advised an advance on the city, where they might expect to be reinforced by six hundred of their friends, by six p.m. At a quarter to six the whole of Mackenzie's force were mustered at the toll-bar on Yonge Street.

Mackenzie on that occasion did all he could to animate his followers with his own intrepid spirit, but nothing he could say would supply the utter want of discipline in their disorderly ranks. They marched without order, those of Fount's men who had rifles, in front, the pikemen following. They met and disarmed a Captain Duggan of the volunteer artillery, but soon afterwards they were fired on by a party of Sheriff Jarvis's volunteers, who after the first volley ran away. A disgraceful panic ensued. Had the insurgents shown anything of the courage which, too late to save their cause, they showed when brought to bay on December the 7th, the result would have been very different. All but a score at most retreated to a considerable distance above the toll-gate. Mackenzie, aided by Lount and Alves, tried in vain to rally them, but Lount's men threw away their pikes. They said they would march no further that night. Next morning, Rolph, finding that all hope of success was lost by the failure of the insurgents, left for the United States. The particulars of his escape, never before published, will be given n the next chapter. Many of the insurgents now went back to then farms, but some new arrivals kept up the force at Montgomery's to nearly five hundred men. Thenceforth, their history is but a record of divided counsels and consequent failures, redeemed, it is true, by the courage with which they confronted, on the morning of the 7th, a greatly superior force of militia, well-armed and supported by artillery. Another error was committed by Mackenzie, though as he says ;n obedience to Rolph's express orders, burning the house of Dr. Home, a loyalist spy. This unduly alarmed the citizens of Toronto, and gave colour to Head's accusation that Mackenzie and Lount meant to fire the city. This imprudent act, Mr. Brock, one of Mackenzie's officers now surviving, tells me that he and his two brothers strongly opposed.

On Wednesday, Mackenzie, with Lount, Alves, Brock and others, gallopped to Dundas Street to intercept the Western mail, which they succeeded in effecting. But meantime S\r Francis Head had received reinforcements on a scale that enabled him to assume the offensive. On the morning of Thursday, December the 7th, Colonel Van Egmond, as originally arranged, arrived to take command. He at once approved of all Mackenzie's measures, and advised a delay '"ill night, and meantime to divert the enemy's attention and prevent an attack by sending a party of sixty men, including forty armed with rifles, to destroy the bridge over the Don, and intercept the mail from Montreal. This plan was carried out successfully, although the Don Bridge was but partially burned. But divided councils and Gibson's opposition to the measures proposed caused a delay of two hours, which, as Mr. Lindsey says, proved fatal. Three steamers had conveyed Colonel MacNab's and other bodies of militia to the Toronto wharves. At noon on Thursday, Sir Francis Head's force marched from Toronto, (he calls it in his Emigrant "an overwhelming force''), led by Colonels MacNab, Fitzgibbon and Jarvis. They presented a motley appearance. Only the chief officers were mounted and in uniform; the rank and file were ununiformed; they had a sort of extemporized military band, and were preceded by the two field-pieces from the City Hall. About one in the afternoon the attacking column came m sight of the outposts of the insurgent camp. Mackenzie rushed forward to reconnoitre. Returning to his men, he asked if " they were ready to encounter a force greatly superior in numbers to themselves, well armed, and provided with artillery. They replied in the affirmative." (Lindsey's Mackenzie, Vol. IL, 94.)

On the west side of the Yonge street roadway was a second growth of • .me wood, just- south of Montgomery's hotel. On the other side of the road was an open clearing, where a party of the insurgents were posted under cover of the fence. But the main body were now stationed by Mackenzie, who had by this time abandoned his horse, in the pine grove on the west side. Meanwhile, the militia had halted, a little more than a gunshot from the insurgents, and opened fire with grape and canister One or two of the shots knocked off an angle of the wall of a small building once used as a school house—a vestige of the battle which might have been seen till recently, The shot from the field-pieces crashed among the pine trees, throwing the splinters in all directions. Meanwhile, the militia, firing volleys of musketry as they went, with much effect, advanced both in front and on either flank, wherever they could find cover. They enormously outnumbered the insurgents, yet, says Mackenzie, "never did men fight more courageously. In the face of a heavy fire of grape and canister, with broadside following broadside of musketry in steady and rapid succession, they stood their ground firmly." Hard pressed and outnumbered, they were at length compelled to retreat, their leaders, above all Mackenzie himself, fighting to the last. An eye witness, quoted by Mr. Lindsey (Life of Mackenzie, II., 96), states: "So unwilling was Mackenzie to leave the field of battle, and so hot was the chase after him, that he distanced the enemy's horsemen only twenty or thirty yards by his superior knowledge of the count? , and reached Colonel Lount and our friends on their retreat, just in time to save his neck." Brock, who was with him all through the fight, has told me how Mackenzie, during the struggle, which lasted about an hour in all, exposed his person with the most intrepid courage. The battle was lost, and the insurrection was crushed under the feet of Head's "over-whelmiiig force." Yet the bloodshed and the courage displayed by Mackenzie and his followers were not in vain. Their appearance in arms against the tyranny of irresponsible government drew upon English Canada with enduring beneficial effect the attention of English Liberalism. Head, MacNab, and their "overwhelming force" did indeed gain a victory over the four hundred insurgents, but it was a victory which to them and their cause proved more disastrous than any defeat. On the side of the Loyalists all was exultation. Carts were ordered up to receive the wounded of both sides, of whom there were many, but the insurgents managed to carry away most of their wounded to friendly farm houses. Several of the insurgents were killed. Head, before marching back to the city, ordered Montgomery's hotel to be burned down.


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