William Lyon MacKenzie
Chapter XIV - After the Rebellion


WHILE the abortive expeditions of Bois Blanc and Point au Pele were in progress, Mackenzie was sounding the public feeling in other places. Soon after leaving Navy Island he visited some of the patriot leaders of Lower Canada at Plattsburg, and went to New York, Philadelphia, and other places.

When the question of evacuating Navy Island was before the Buffalo committee of thirteen,1 Mackenzie had become impressed with what he conceived to be the necessity of establishing a public journal to express the views of the patriots in Canada and their friends in the United States. The project was finally carried out by himself. On April 17th the prospectus of Mackenzie's Gazette was published, and the first number of the paper made its appearance on May 12th, 1838, in New York, and was continued till the close of 1840. During the greater part of this time the paper was published in Rochester, a frontier city on the Genesee River. To establish a newspaper, under the circumstances, appealing chiefly to the public interest on a single question, must have been uphill work.

In March, steps were taken to organize the Canadian refugees. At a meeting of some of these persons held at Lockport, state of New York, on March 19th, 1838, a committee was formed to ascertain the numbers, location, and condition of the Canadian refugees in the States, and to draw up articles of association, by "means of which their sufferings might be mitigated, and a redress of their grievances obtained," and "to adopt such other measures as, in their discretion, may best conduce to their welfare." This organization was called the " Canadian Refugee Relief Association." It was resolved to form branch unions and to send agents of the association through the country. Dr. McKenzie, formerly of Hamilton, was president of the association, and all correspondence was ordered to be directed to him at Lockport. Mackenzie was not present at the meeting. This association proceeded to the execution of schemes in which he took no part, and in which he was in no way concerned, either by advising or otherwise. It will hereafter be seen that several of the members of this committee were personally engaged in the ill-advised Short Hills expedition; and at least one of them appears to have been concerned in the destruction of the steamer Sir Robert Peel, in which twelve of them are said to have been engaged.

On April 12th, 1838, Samuel Lount and Peter Mathews, the first of the victims of the rebellion, were executed at Toronto for high treason. Lord Glenelg, hearing that there was a disposition on the part of the local officials in Canada to treat with undue severity persons who had been concerned in the revolt, remonstrated against such a course being pursued. But Sir George Arthur, who, like his predecessor in the governorship of Upper Canada, had fallen in with the views of the Family Compact and imbibed some of their political passions, failed to carry out his instructions to use his influence to prevent the adoption of extreme measures. The executive council determined to interpose their harsh decision to prevent the possibility of the royal clemency saving Lount and Mathews from a death upon the gallows. "Petitions," Sir George Arthur admits, "signed by not less than eight thousand persons, have been presented in their favour within the last three or four days." Sir Francis had led them into the trap, had encouraged the rebellion when it was his duty to take measures to suppress it in its incipient stages, and there can be but one name for the execution of men whom the executive had enticed into the commission of the crime for which they were made to suffer death. There is reason to believe that Lount could have purchased his life by putting the government in possession of evidence that might have tended to place others in the position he occupied; but he resolutely refused to accept it on such terms; and, instead of blaming others for his fate, continued to the last to express fervent wishes for the success of the cause in which he offered up his life.

Much has been said about the salutary effects of the execution of these men, as an example to others. Instead of striking awe into men's minds, the effect was sometimes to produce a feeling of revenge. I find a remarkable example of this in the case of one of Lount's friends, who, after he had been at the Short Hills expedition, distinctly states: "I have been doing all in my power, ever since, to avenge the blood of Lount and support the cause he died for."

A number of other political prisoners, under sentence of death at Toronto, had their sentences commuted to transportation for life; and they, with others who were to be banished without trial, were sent to Fort Henry, Kingston, for safe keeping, till they could be conveyed to Van Diemen's Land. From Fort Henry they managed to effect their escape; and John Montgomery and several others, after great suffering, succeeded in reaching the United States.

About June 1st, many persons, who had been connected with the rebellion, crossed the frontier line at the west, and took refuge in Michigan. Now commenced an organization for revolutionizing Canada and bringing about its independence; a movement comprising a much larger number of Canadians than has ever been suspected. The centre of the organization was in Michigan, and General Handy was among the most active in its promotion. Lodges were formed, every member of which took an oath to be subject to the commander-in-chief, General Handy, and not to obey any order except from him to General Roberts. Handy signed blank commissions, and sent some trusty individuals through the provinces to form revolutionary societies, and enroll all in whom he thought he could confide. In every square mile the Black River, and induced forty men to join him by falsely representing that he was authorized by General Handy to cross to the Canadian shore with the men as freebooters. They seized some flour, and being discovered and followed to the Michigan shore, the affair created a commotion that set General Brady of the United States army —who appears to have used his best exertions to put down all these expeditions—on the alert. A new guard was set on the arsenal; and on the day before Windsor was to have been captured, preparatory to a general rising in Canada, the conspiracy had collapsed from the want of arms.

Mackenzie had no connection whatever with this movement. In 1839, he made an affidavit that when he heard, through the public press, of the intended expeditions at Short Hills, and against Prescott and Windsor, he wrote to Lockport earnestly urging those whom he thought likely to have influence with the refugees—the Refugee Association Committee, no doubt—to abandon all such attempts as injurious to the cause of good government in Canada. He was still favourable to the independence of the Canadas; but he was not convinced that the means proposed were calculated to secure the object. He came to this conclusion, it would seem, in February, when he refused to "sail in the same boat" with Van Rensellaer, to be piloted as the latter might think fit.

Of the Short Hills affair, which took place in June, 1838, he first learned from the frontier newspapers. Those who took part in it, I find, claim to have had five hundred and twenty-six men, well armed and equipped; but it is quite certain that there was not over one-fifth of that number who fell in with the lancers at Overholt's tavern. The rest, if there were any such number as is alleged, must have been Canadians. A few men crossed the Niagara River in small bodies, taking with them what arms they could. These they deposited at an appointed place which was reached by a march of some fifteen miles in the woods, and they then went back for more. These arms must have been intended for Canadians. In this way, eight days were spent before the parties were discovered. Being fired upon by a body of lancers from Over-holt's tavern, they finally set fire to it, taking prisoners all who survived, but shortly afterwards releasing them. The invaders soon after dispersed, going in different directions; but thirty-one of them were captured, and it is believed very few escaped.

It is difficult to determine whether the organization set on foot by Handy was identical with what was known as Hunters' Lodges. Hunters' Societies are generally supposed to have originated in the state of Vermont, in May, 1838.

A convention of the Hunters' Lodges of Ohio and Michigan was held at Cleveland, from September 16th to 22nd, 1838. There were seventy delegates present. Mackenzie was not cognizant of the intended meeting, and the results of its deliberations were not officially communicated to him. He was not a member of the society, and by its rules none but the initiated could be admitted to its secrets. All the lodges were required to report to the central committee at Cleveland.

Sir George Arthur had his spies on the frontier to supply him with whatever could be learned of these movements for a fresh invasion of Canada. The information these persons obtained, whatever credence it might be entitled to, created great alarm in Toronto. They told Sir George that, at the end of October, there were at least forty thousand persons in the frontier States in the invasion plot, which was "carried on by means of Masonic Lodges, secretly established in almost every town along the frontier, the members of which communicate with each other by private signs, and are divided into several grades of initiation." But when Sir George Arthur had learned something of the plot, the expedition of Windmill Point was on the eve of taking place, and it had been carried into effect two days before United States Secretary Forsyth could reply to Sir George's complaint, conveyed to the President through Mr. Fox. The federal government had previously learned from its own spies some particulars of these movements; but it pleaded its inability to arrest them.

In the first ten days of November, the Hunters' Lodges were concentrating their forces for an attack on Prescott. On Sunday morning, the eleventh, two schooners, in tow of the steamer United States, left Millen's Bay for Prescott, having on board men, arms, and munitions of war. The men who came down in the steamer, about six hundred in number, were transferred to the schooners in the evening; one of these was in command of Van Shultz, a brave Pole, and the other in charge of the notorious Bill Johnson. Van Shultz proposed to land all the men in the expedition immediately on their arrival at the Prescott wharf; then, after leaving a sufficient force to guard the boats, to divide them into three bodies, with the principal of which he should march through the village, while Colonel Woodruff should lead one wing round on one side, and another person the other on the other side. The three bodies were then to meet between the village and the fort, in case any resistance were offered from that point. He was opposed to first landing on the American side, at Ogdensburg.

The principal officers of the expedition opposed the plans of Van Shultz, yet, in skill and bravery, they were all very far his inferiors. They did land at Ogdensburg; but General Bierce, who was to have commanded the expedition, fell sick with a suddenness that created a suspicion of cowardice which he was never able to remove. Van Shultz took over about one hundred and seventy men in one of the schooners, about nine o'clock on the morning of the twelfth. Bill Johnson managed to run the other schooner upon the bar, with many arms and much ammunition on board, and she never crossed to the succour of Van Shultz.

On hearing of the expedition, Captain Sandom, commanding the Royal Navy in Upper Canada, set out from Kingston in pursuit. After an engagement of an hour's duration, the invaders were driven into a large, circular stone mill, the walls of which were of immense thickness, and into a stone house adjacent; but, the fire of Sandom's guns making no impression on the thick walls, he withdrew from the attack.

Meanwhile Van Shultz, not receiving the expected reinforcements from the leaders of the expedition who remained in Ogdensburg, and hot being joined by any of the inhabitants, was reminded by the one hundred and seventy men under his command of the hopelessness of their position. They begged him to lead them back to the States. But there was not a single boat at their disposal, and the British steamer Experiment kept a vigilant look-out on the river.

On the sixteenth, Colonel Dundas arrived at Prescott from Kingston with four companies of the 83rd Regiment, and two eighteen-pounders and a howitzer. Nearly every shot perforated the massive mill. Under cover of night, the division of Van Shultz's men, who were in the stone house, took refuge in the brushwood on the bank of the river, where, with their commander, they were taken prisoners. A flag of truce was displayed from the mill, whence the firing had ceased; and Colonel Dundas accepted an unconditional surrender. One hundred and fifty-seven prisoners were taken, of whom eleven were executed, including the gallant and heroic, but misguided and betrayed leader, Colonel Van Shultz.

Van Shultz was in New York a short time before the expedition against Prescott took place, but he neither consulted nor in any way communicated with Mackenzie, who was then living there. "I knew nothing of the expedition," said Mackenzie in his Gazette of November 14th, 1840, "never saw or wrote a line to Van Shultz, was four hundred miles distant, and had nothing to do with the matter whatever; nor did any of the sufferers, when on trial, or going to the gallows, or to banishment, once name me." And he afterwards made the same remark with regard to the Windsor expedition, with which he had no connection whatever.

A few days after the Prescott expedition, President Van Buren issued a proclamation calling upon the citizens of the United States to give neither countenance nor encouragement to persons who, by a breach of neutrality, had forfeited all claim to the protection of their own country; but to use every effort in their power to arrest for trial and punishment every offender against the laws, "providing for the performance of their obligations by the United States."

Two days after the surrender of Van Shultz, Sir George Arthur issued a proclamation renewing the reward of £1,000 for the apprehension of Mackenzie. The pretext for this procedure was the pretence that he had been seen, on November 17th, in the neighbourhood of Toronto. On that very day he was in Philadelphia, where he addressed a meeting of five thousand persons. About a month after, he was warned that an attempt would be made to kidnap him, and take him over to Canada.

As Kossuth did afterwards, in the case of Hungary, Mackenzie held a series of public meetings in some of the principal cities of the States in favour of Canadian independence. The first was held at Vauxhall Garden, New York, on November 15th, the others in Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore, where large audiences attended. President Van Buren was much annoyed at a meeting having been held at the capital. In Lower Canada, Dr. Nelson had, a few days before the New York meeting, made a new appeal to arms, and had issued a declaration of independence on behalf of a provisional government for that province, followed by a proclamation offering security and protection to all who should lay down their arms and cease to oppose the new authority that claimed to be in existence before the old one had expired. Notice was taken of this circumstance by the New York meeting, which tendered its sympathy to Lower Canada.

Mackenzie was not, at this time, in the secrets of the Lower Canadian patriots any more than in those of the pretended government of Upper Canada which had been set up at Cleveland. Dr. Robert Nelson had been in New York a short time before, and, calling on Mackenzie, proposed to tell him the plans of the Lower Canadian patriots, whereupon Mackenzie stopped him, by saying, " Tell me nothing, more or less, as I am to take no part; I have no means to aid, and I want to know nothing, either as to what has been done or may be intended." On the previous June 12th, he had been indicted, at Albany, for a breach of the neutrality laws of the United States, for the part he had taken in the Navy Island expedition, and while the trial was hanging over him, he had an additional reason for being anxious to keep clear of all similar movements.

While Van Shultz had failed at Prescott, General Bierce was to revive the project of Handy at Windsor. For this purpose men were collected at various points on the frontier to the number of nearly four hundred. They marched to the junction, four miles from Detroit, equipped themselves, and made ready to cross into Canada, where they seem to have expected that they were about to commence a winter campaign. A knowledge of this movement was spread abroad ; and couriers were sent through the western district to bring men for the defence of Windsor, Sandwich, and Fort Maiden. On the night of the fifth day, when the numbers had been much reduced by desertions, General Bierce was ready to cross the river, the steamer was prepared, and a crossing was made to Windsor. On landing he briefly addressed the men, and issued a proclamation to "the citizens of Canada." On nearing a house used as a barracks for the militia, shots were exchanged between the occupants and the invaders, and a Captain Lewis, from the London district, who was with the latter, was killed. The invaders set the militia barracks on fire, and two militiamen are said to have been burnt to death. The sentinel was shot. The steamer Thames, embedded in the ice, shared the fate of the barracks. After this, the party proceeded towards the centre of the town, where the principal division was met by a militia force under Colonel Prince and Captain Spark, and driven into the woods. Bierce resolved to retreat, and leave the larger body of the men who had taken refuge in the woods. The retreating party were reduced to the necessity of picking up canoes, or whatever they could find, in which to escape. In this raid, twenty-five of the invaders lost their lives, and forty-six others were taken prisoners. Of the twenty-five, four were taken prisoners and shot in cold blood, without the form of a trial, by order of Colonel Prince. This act was condemned by Lord Brougham and others in terms of great severity ; and there can be no doubt that, whatever excuses may be made for it, Colonel Prince committed a terrible mistake.

So long as Mackenzie remained at New York, he was between four and five hundred miles from the nearest centres of frontier operations. During the last three-quarters of the year 1838, he had been occupied in the publication of a newspaper; and was now about to yield to the solicitations of his friends to remove to Rochester, where it was thought its influence would be more directly felt. In the early part of January, 1839, he visited that city, and resolved to remove there with his family and printing office. The change was made early in February. The last number of the Gazette issued in New York bore date January 26th, and the next number made its appearance in Rochester on February 23rd.

On March 12th following, Mackenzie issued a confidential circular calling a special convention, to be held at Rochester, "to be composed of Canadians, or persons connected with Canada, who are favourable to the attainment of its political independence, and the entire separation of its government from the political power of Great Britain." An Association of Canadian Refugees was formed, of which John Montgomery was appointed president, Mackenzie, secretary, and Samuel Moul-son of Rochester, treasurer. A confidential circular, dated "Office of the Canadian Association, Rochester, March 22nd, 1839," was issued, in which questions were proposed and suggestions made. While the independence of Canada was the ultimate object aimed at, another object was to prevent all isolated or premature attempts, such as had recently failed at Ogdensburg and Windsor, from being made. The notion of attempting to secure the independence of Canada, by means of invading parties from the States, was discarded. But the idea of Americans succouring the Canadians, in case they should themselves strike for independence, was unquestionably included in the plan. This was shown by one of the questions asked in the circular.

These associations appear to have differed from those of the Hunters' Lodges in very essential particulars. The Rochester Association was composed of Canadian refugees; the Cleveland Association was composed almost entirely of Americans. The former laid it down as a rule that the independence of the Canadas must first be asserted by the resident Canadians, and then, but not till then, extraneous assistance might be afforded them. Mackenzie claimed for the Rochester Association that it prevented small marauding expeditions from being organized. At the same time, its members were preparing to second the efforts of the Canadians, should the standard of revolt be again raised within the provinces. Certain it is, that no expeditions were fitted out against Canada after this time, although there were extensive organizations in the border states, of which the object was to assist in bringing about the independence of Canada. There was formed an auxiliary Association of Canadian Refugees in Cincinnati, in which there were no Americans. Dr. Duncombe was connected with it. But the plan of uniting the Canadian refugees, instead of allowing Americans to form schemes for the "liberation" of Canada, seems to have originated with Mackenzie in January, 1839.

The circular of the Rochester Association does not appear to have elicited many replies, though there were refugees scattered all over the union, from Maine to Florida, and the project came to nothing.

In 1903 there was erected in the Necropolis, Toronto, by the "Friends and Sympathizers" of William Lount and Peter Mathews, a gray granite monument, surmounted by a broken column, on which is inscribed the following: —

"Samuel Lount was the eldest son of the late Gabriel Lount, an Englishman who emigrated to Pennsylvania in the middle of the eighteenth century, and of Philadelphia Hughes his wife, a Quakeress. He emigrated to Upper Canada and settled near Newmarket, in the county of York, in 1811. In 1834 he represented the county of Simcoe in the Upper Canada legislature, and served two years. In 1836 he became a candidate again, and was defeated by corrupt practices used by his political opponents. A petition of eight thousand people asked for a reprieve, which was refused. He lived a patriot and died for popular rights.

"Peter Mathews was the son of Peter Mathews, Sr., a United Empire Loyalist, who fought on the British side in the American Revolutionary War, and at its close settled with his wife and family in the townsite of Pickering in the (then) county of York. Peter Mathews, the son, belonged to Brock's volunteers during the War of 1812.


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