Nils von Schoultz
Von Schoultz was born Nils Gustaf Ulric in October 1807 in Finland and during the course of his life he moved to various cities around the world before finally settling in New York in 1836, where he changed his name to "von Schoultz". This is where he was drawn into a secret society known as the Hunters’ Lodges. Von Schoultz felt that Canadians were being oppressed by the British and did not want Canadians to suffer the fate of Poles oppressed by the Tsar's Russia at that time.
In 1838, von Schoultz was recruited by John Ward Birge to take part in the attack against Prescott in Upper Canada. Birge felt von Schoultz would be a welcome addition to the campaign because he believed von Schoultz had been an officer in the Polish army for a time and therefore had some experience with leadership and invasion tactics.
On November 11, 1838, Birge, von Schoultz and roughly four hundred other Hunters left the shores of New York and proceeded down the St. Lawrence River to put their attack plan into motion. Von Schoultz was placed in charge of a schooner called the Charlotte of Toronto, the only original vessel that would reach the Upper Canadian shore. On November 12, von Schoultz and his crew of about one hundred and fifty men landed three kilometers east of Prescott and worked to construct fortifications in the hamlet of Newport. When the men reached one of the main structures in community, the windmill, they elected von Schoultz as their leader. He helped arrange a solid defence which held up against the British forces for nearly five days, but on November 16, von Schoultz and his men surrendered to the British.
Trial and death
The captured invaders were transported to Kingston by boat where the older prisoners (including von Schoultz) were tried by a military court martial at the end of November 1838. Von Schoultz was able to gain a legal advisor and employed future Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, but the rules of the court required von Schoultz to conduct his own defense. Von Schoultz maintained that he misunderstood the desires of the Canadian people and was misinformed about their situation. Although Macdonald advised against it, von Schoultz told the court that he felt as if he had to pay for his crimes. He was the only one of the captives to actually plead guilty to his violations of law. He also placed some of the blame of his defeat at Prescott on Birge as he had not done anything to help von Schoultz and his men and had also not sent any reinforcements to the town. Von Schoultz’s demeanour throughout the trial made him appear to be a respectable man who was filled with regret over what he had done. He won over many of the people he came in contact with during the course of the trial and some of them even attempted to get Sir George Arthur (the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada) to spare his life. Nevertheless, von Schoultz was convicted and hanged at Fort Henry on December 8, 1838.
- Mary Beacock Fryer, Battlefields of Canada (Winnipeg: Dundurn Press Limited, 1986), 193.
- Oscar Arvie Kinchen, The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters (New York: Bookman Associates, 1956), 70.
- Ronald J. Stagg, “Schoultz, Nils Von,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, ed. Ramsay Cook (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2000).
- Brian S. Osborne and Donald Swainson, Kingston: Building on the Past (Canada: Butternut Press Inc., 1988), 75.
- Kinchen, The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters, 78.
- Osborne and Swainson, Kingston: Building on the Past, 74-75.
- David Beasley, Canadian Don Quixote: the life and works of Major John Richardson, Canada’s first novelist (Ontario: The Porcupine’s Quill Inc., 1977), 112.
- Biography at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- Heritage Minute: The Trial of Nils Von Schoultz on YouTube
- John Ward Birge at RootsWeb/Ancestry.com