This article was found pasted into a scrapbook entitled, “1838 Patriot War.” The scrapbook is located at the Flower Memorial Library Genealogy Department at Watertown, New York. This article, one of a series written by L. N. Fuller, was copyrighted in 1923 by the Brockway Company, Publishers of the Watertown Daily Times. The series appeared in the Watertown Daily Times in March, April, and May of 1923. John B. Johnson, Jr., Editor/Co-Publisher of the Watertown Daily Times has granted me permission to incorporate these pieces on my website. I feel very honored to have been given this permission. (Shirley Farone)
Stirring Times of 85 Years Ago When Jefferson, Lewis and St.
Lawrence County Men Offered Their Lives in Behalf of
Canadian Independence--Causes Which Led Up to the Re-
bellion in Canada--The Conflict Between the French and
By L. N. FULLER
(Copyright 1923, by the Brockway Company, Publishers of the Watertown Daily Times.)
There is no more fascinating or romantic chapter in the history of Northern New York than the Patriot War. Though properly a part of the history of Canada, the United States, particularly Northern New York, played an active part in it. There were many sympathizers on this side of the border who were willing to risk their lives and their fortunes that Canada might become independent of Great Britain and, to quote from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, "to assume that separate and equal station which the laws of Nature and Nature's God entitles them."
The rebellion was insignificant from a military point of view, but it was a tremendous political upheaval and it resulted in a much larger measure of self-government being granted by the crown to Canada. It extended from Montreal on the east to the Detroit river on the west.
This account of the Patriot War is devoted most particularly to the part that Northern New York played in it. It will seek to recount those stirring incidents of 1837-38, when Hunters' Lodges were formed in nearly every village in Northern New York. It will tell of the stirring times along the border, the intense excitement that prevailed all of which culminated in that futile expedition which ended with the Battle of the Windmill. It will follow those Jefferson and St. Lawrence county boys, many of whom never before had been beyond the confines of their own county. It will follow them to the other side of the world to Van Dieman's Land where they were transported; it will follow those few unfortunates who died on the gallows at Fort Henry in Kingston, martyrs to the cause of liberty.
The information which is contained in this account was obtained from many sources. None of the survivors of that stirring time lives today. But the sons and grandsons are living and they have told the story as _______sires told it to them. The Franklin B. Hough History of St. Lawrence and Franklin counties has been drawn on. The Times has obtained a number of books from the Congressional Library at Washington which contained accounts written from the patriot as well as the loyalist point of view. One person who was alive and remembers the battle at the Windmill, though a little girl at the time, has been interviewed. Newspaper clippings which have been preserved for many years have been drawn on. Books, long out of print, have been loaned to The Times and have contained much valuable information. Perhaps the most valuable source of information has been the files of The Jeffersonian, a weekly paper published in Watertown during that period. These volumes, the property of the Jefferson County Historical Society, were found in the basement of the Flower library.
There are two main events in the Patriot War as it relates to Northern New York. The first was the burning of the British steamer Sir Robert Peel in the Thousand Island region by "Bill" Johnston in the spring of 1838. The second was the expedition which culminated in the tragic battle of the Windmill, which sent a number of Jefferson and St. Lawrence county men to their death, and others to exile in the penal colony of Great Britain, the dreaded Van Dieman's Land.
The Times acknowledges the following authorities: History of St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties, Franklin B. Hough; History of Jefferson County, Franklin R. (sic) Hough; The Patriots of 1837, Alfred D. Decelles; Observation on the Disturbances in Canada, Montague Gore; Humors of 1837; Robina and Kathleen M. Lizars; Canada in 1837-38, E. A. Theiliers; The Rebellion of 1837, D. B. Read; Americans and Canada, T. St. Pierre; The Relations of the United States to the Robert Peel Canadian Rebellion of 1837-38, Orrin Edward Tiffany; The Remarkable Adventures of Captain Heustis, D. D. Heustis; Narrative and Recollections of Van Dieman's Land, Stephen S. Wright; the files of the Watertown Jeffersonian; the files of the Albany Jeffersonian and numerous miscellaneous newspaper clippings and interview.
The Background of the Rebellion.
In order propertly to understand the underlying causes of the rebellion in Upper and Lower Canada, perhaps better known to us as the Patriot War, it is necessary to go back nearly three-quarters of a century. Canada, as everyone knows, was originally a French colony. It was then but sparsely settled west of Montreal and that city and Quebec were the centers of the French population.
The seeds of the Patriot war, were sown that September morning in 1759 when General Wolfe, by a most audacious military move, landed his army on the Plains of Abraham looking over Quebec, and there met the French army under Montcalm. When the sun set that night the fate of France in the New World was sealed. By the treaty of 1763 Canada passed from the rule of France to that of England. France deserved to lose this rich colony. The profligate Louis XV, to keep up his own courts, neglected its defenses and virtually bartered it away.
A French people, intensely religious and having nothing in sympathy with their conquerors, found themselves subjected to the rule of a race entirely alien. The transfer took place just before the American Revolution, but the French people had no sympathy with the Puritan patriots to the south. Franklin attempted to win them over to the side of the colonists and was unsuccessful. Montgomery attempted to capture Quebec and fell.
In 1791 the British parliament passed the constitutional act which divided the country into Upper and Lower Canada. Lower Canada was that part which, roughly speaking is now the province of Quebec. Upper Canada corresponded to the province of Ontario. The great western plains of Canada were yet unopened by the white man.
The government in each province was to correspond to that of England. In place of the king was a governor appointed by the crown. In place of the cabinet was the executive council chosen by the governor. In place of the house of lords was an executive council named by the crown. For the house of commons was the legislative assembly elected by the people on a restricted franchise.
The British government, by dividing the colony, hoped to keep the French people in Lower Canada by themselves, where they could enjoy their own institutions. Theoretically the London government was right, but the English people, many of them loyalists who left the colonies during the war of the Revolution, were drawn to Quebec and Montreal by the opportunities for trade that were presented. Thus the English newcomers came directly into conflict with the French people who had lived there since the days of Champlain. The English dominated the executive council and the legislative council and the legislative assembly was for the most part made up of Frenchmen. An irreprehensible conflict was inevitable. The French, though greater in numbers, were weaker in political strength, as the legislative assembly possessed but little governmental power. They demanded places on the executive council and in the legislative council. In Upper Canada the same conflict was spreading. The people demanded that the legislative council be responsible to the people rather than to the crown. Under the plan as it existed then, the legislative council, being responsible only to the home government, was enabled to determine the governmental policy in the provinces, irrespective of the legislative assembly.
From 1791 until 1812 the movement was slow and the demands for reform were moderate, but underneath the placid surface there was a turmoil that was soon to blaze forth. The legislative assembly demanded the right to determine what revenues should be raised, the right to elect members to the legislative council and wished to make the judges irremovable in order to diminish the power of the crown.
The war of 1812 caused the home government to draw heavily on the provincial revenues and by the end of the war the home government was indebted 120,000 pounds to the province of Lower Canada. This was the direct cause of the legislative battle for the financial control of the province. By 1836 the controversy had become so bitter that the majority of the assembly in Lower Canada asserted its right to set aside the constitution of 1791. The home government made some concession but did not deem it expedient to make the legislative council elective. The crisis was at hand.
In Upper Canada was what today might be called the "Old Guard." Then it was known as the "Family Compact" and it represented a close political and social corporation. It was so powerful that it controlled not only the legislative council but the legislative assembly. This exclusive circle was composed for the most part of descendants of loyalists who were faithful to the king during the Revolution and as a reward claimed special privileges. Members of the aristocracy of England who had recently come to Canada naturally gravitated to this class and it soon came to dominate the banks, the Church of England, the judiciary and the public domain. It was all powerful. The natural result was the rising of a party opposed to this excluvie class, a party that might be likened to the progressives of today. They demanded an elective legislative council and a responsible government. So desperate was the struggle that the government used all its influence to bear to defeat liberal leaders at the polls. The liberals could see nothing but a resort to arms to accomplish their ends.
There were other factors which contributed to this unrest, the distribution of public lands to the Church of England being one of the main causes in Upper Canada. In Lower Canada was the war of the races. The old regime with the French language and the Catholic religion, was arrayed against the Anglo-Saxon race, with its English language and Protestant religion. The home government did not attempt to learn the exact condition of affairs. It merely sought to divide the colonies as much as possible so that they would not combine to throw off the British yoke. The British government of the Canadian colonies could not be called tyrannical or harsh. It was not even vigorous. On the contrary it was weak and ineffective, hesitating and vacillating. Lord Durham in 1838 made this caustic remark regarding the British colonial policy: "The experiment of keeping colonies and governing them well ought at least, to have a trial."Index of All Patriot War Articles
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