|Part of the Rebellions of 1837|
Battle of the Windmill, Prescott
| United Kingdom
|Commanders and leaders|
Sheriff William Jarvis
|William Lyon Mackenzie
Nils von Schoultz
The American Patriot movement inducted between 40,000 and 160,000 largely American men into a broad popular secret association, the “Hunter’s Lodge” across the north-eastern states in support of the 1837 Rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada. It was a grass-roots militia that threatened British rule, but that also led to the largest deployment of American troops against their own citizens since the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.
- 1 Mackenzie's 'Republic of Canada'
- 2 The Canadian Refugee Relief Association
- 3 Henry S. Handy's 'Secret Order of the Sons of Liberty'
- 4 Formation of the Hunters' Lodge
- 5 Aftermath and Impact
- 6 References
- 7 Primary sources
Mackenzie's 'Republic of Canada'
While the initial rebellion in Upper Canada ended quickly with the Battle of Montgomery's Tavern, many of the rebels (including rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie) fled to the United States. Mackenzie established a short-lived "Republic of Canada" on Navy Island in the Niagara River, but withdrew from armed conflict soon thereafter.
Even before the Battle of Montgomery's Tavern, a large meeting in Buffalo met on the 5th of December, 1837 and appointed a committee of 13 to organize support for the rebels. On the 11 Dec., Mackenzie arrived in Buffalo, where he was met by Thomas Jefferson Sutherland, who was to become the major organizer of Patriot support for Mackenzie at Navy Island. Sutherland convinced Rensselaer van Rensselaer to become Commander in chief of the Patriot forces. Van Rensselaer was a West Point graduate who had fought with Bolivar in South America.
On Dec. 13 they proceeded to Navy Island in the Niagara River, but initially found only 24 men to accompany them. Navy Island lay in Canadian waters and hence did not implicate the United States in the military actions. The encampment was to launch an attack in support of the Duncombe uprising in the London District. Here, Mackenzie declared the provisional government of the Republic of Canada. Three hundred acres of government land was offered to each volunteer. Over the month of December, large supportive meetings were held in towns along the border, including Burlington, Albany, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit and aid was promised. By the end of the month, up to 500 volunteers had joined Mackenzie on the island. However, with the failure of Duncombe's revolt, the main purpose of seizing Navy Island disappeared and it was evacuated on Jan. 14, ending the short lived republic.
Caroline affair (December 29, 1837)
The steamship Caroline, captained by Gilman Appleby, carried supplies between Buffalo and Mackenzie's encampment on Navy Island. On December 29, Colonel Sir Allan MacNab and Captain Andrew Drew of the Royal Navy crossed the international boundary and seized the Caroline, chased off the crew, set her afire, and cast her adrift over Niagara Falls, after killing one black American named Amos Durfee. The incident sparked an international outcry. The case was finally disposed of by U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, in the course of their negotiations leading to the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842.
The Schooner Anne & Bois Blanc Island (January 8, 1838)
Thomas Jefferson Sutherland was sent by the rebellion leaders on Navy Island in the Niagara River to raise a force in Detroit in December 1837. Sutherland arrived to find that Henry S. Handy and Dr Edward A. Theller had already held public meetings and organized an invasion force. Handy was in Toronto in the fall of 1837 where he met Marshall Bidwell and learned of the rebellion from him. Handy and his brother-in-law Judge Orange Butler, then of the Michigan House of Representatives, joined G.M. Dufort of Montreal in travelling to Detroit where they formed a “war council” of influential citizens. Men came to Detroit from as far away as Illinois and Kentucky to join the movement. On January 5, 1838, the Detroit jail was raided and the Patriots seized the 450 muskets which had been stored there. The Patriots were reported to have stolen another 200 weapons from the unsecured office of the U.S. marshal in Detroit, perhaps with his help. James M. Wilson was appointed major-general; Elijah Jackson Roberts as Brigadier-General of the first brigade; Dr Edward Alexander Theller as Brigadier-General of the first brigade of Irish and French troops to be raised. Sutherland and General E.J. Roberts disagreed over who would lead the invasion force on the Schooner Anne against Fort Malden, Amherstberg, Upper Canada. Handy appointed Theller was to command the schooner Anne, while Sutherland would carry lead a flotilla to Bois Blanc Island opposite Amherstberg on the understanding he was under Roberts' command. But for some reason Sutherland stopped in American territory on Sugar Island, a little further out, instead. The Anne attacked Fort Malden on the 9th, but was beached and Theller taken prisoner and ultimately jailed in the citadel in Quebec City. Further attempts to attack Fort Malden were stymied by American troops.
Fighting Island (February 24, 1838) & Hickory Island (February 27, 1838)
A series of simultaneous attacks set for Washington's birthday (22 February) were next planned. On 23 February the steamboat Erie headed for Fighting Island, seven miles south of Detroit, carrying more than 400 troops from Cleveland under General Donald McLeod. They were poorly equipped as their arms were captured by the American authorities. The British troops crossed the ice and dispersed the Patriots on the 25th February.
On the 27th of February, General van Rensselaer led 1,500 men from Watertown in Jefferson County, New York to seize Hickory Island a short distance from Kingston. However, rivalry between William Lyon Mackenzie and Van Rensselaer resulted in the troops disbanding.
Battle of Pelee Island (March 3, 1838)
Most of the men from the earlier expeditions now collected at Sandusky Bay, Ohio, and under the leadership of Captain George van Rensselaer (a relative of the General) and General Thomas Jefferson Sutherland, took Pelee Island in Lake Erie. However, their expected arms were again captured by the US authorities, leaving them with only 200 guns for all the men. They were attacked by the British and Van Rensselaer and 3 others were killed; thirty British soldiers were killed and wounded. The retreating Patriots were forced to surrender their arms by the US authorities, and disbanded.
At the end of this period, General Rensselaer van Rensselaer and William Lyon Mackenzie were at odds, and both soon arrested for breach of the American Neutrality Laws. Thomas Jefferson Sutherland was captured by the British near Detroit and taken to jail in Toronto, where he was witness to the hanging of Samuel Lount, an organizer of the attack on Toronto.
The Canadian Refugee Relief Association
In March 1838, a committee consisting of General Donald McLeod, William Lyon Mackenzie, Dr Charles Duncombe, Dr Alexander Mackenzie and a number of other Canadian refugees met at Lockport to form the "Canadian Refugee Relief Association." Dr A. Mackenzie became the president, and General Donald McLeod the general organizer. This organization was loosely connected with the attack on the steamer Sir Robert Peel and the Short Hill raid. McLeod went on, with Duncombe, to form the Hunters Lodges soon thereafter.
The Burning of the Sir Robert Peel (May 29, 1838)
On the 29th of May, a band of Patriots disguised as Indians attacked the steamer Sir Robert Peel at Well's Island and burned it. The expedition was under the command of General Donald McLeod and William Johnston.
Short Hills Raid (June 21–23, 1838)
Twenty four largely Canadian men under the leadership of Col. James Morreau assembled at Clark's Point near Lewiston, NY, on June 11, 1838 and crossed over the Niagara River. They hoped to provoke a general uprising of sympathizers in the Niagara area. They attacked troops stationed at a tavern in Short Hills on June 20. The Pariots were captured, including Morreau, Major Benjamin Wait, and Donald McLeod.
Henry S. Handy's 'Secret Order of the Sons of Liberty'
Henry S. Handy (1804-1846) was a lawyer, newspaper editor and military engineer. He was appointed to oversee the construction of the Chicago Harbour in 1833 by the Army Corps of Engineers. After the failure of earlier efforts, in which US authorities had intervened, he organized lodges of the "Secret Order of the Sons of Liberty" along both sides of the Michigan border with Upper Canada. Handy, as "Commander-in-chief of the Patriot Army of the Northwest" planned for a revolutionary army of 20,000 to capture Windsor on the 4th of July. The organization soon merged into the Hunters' Lodges.
Formation of the Hunters' Lodge
The first Hunters' Lodge (Frères chasseurs) was formed in north Vermont by Dr. Robert Nelson early in the spring of 1838 and spread rapidly within Quebec. Early in the summer, Donald McLeod, a rebel Upper Canadian schoolmaster, and newspaper editor, was initiated in the “Brother Hunters” and informed them of the existence of Henry S. Handy’s “Secret Order of the Sons of Liberty”. They were distinct, yet again, from a third organization forming in Cleveland under Dr Charles Duncombe, who were planning an invasion of Upper Canada for the 4th of July. Under McLeod's influence, the Cleveland group adopted the form of the Hunters' Lodge. The Sons of Liberty disappeared after their failed raid on Windsor, and were absorbed into the Hunters' Lodge.
The Hunters Lodges were modelled on Masonic lodges, and adopted similar secret signs, hierarchical orders, and rituals. The Grand Lodge was at Cleveland, where Duncombe was a tireless promoter. The four degrees of the Lodge were: Snowshoe, Beaver, Grand Hunter and Patriot Hunter. Soldiers without rank were of the first degree, commissioned officers of the second, field officers of the third, and the highest ranking commissioned officers of the fourth degree.
Convention & Military Organization
In September 1838, 160 delegates from the western Hunters' Lodges attended a secret, week-long “Patriot Congress” in Cleveland, Ohio. They appointed a provisional Canadian republican government that included:
- President A.D. Smith, “chief justice of the peace at Cleveland”
- Vice-President Colonel Nathan Williams, “a wholesale grocer” in Cleveland
- Secretary of the Treasury Judge John Grant Jr, Oswego
- Secretary of War Donald McLeod
- Commander-in-chief of the “Patriot Army of the West,” Lucius V. Bierce, “an attorney at Akron.”
- Commodore of the Patriot Navy on Lake Erie, Gilman Appleby, former Captain of the Caroline
- Commodore of the Patriot Navy on Lake Ontario, Bill Johnston
Battle of the Windmill (November 13–18, 1838)
The Hunters Lodges in both the Eastern and Western Divisions agreed that they would launch a general invasion of the Canadas on 1 November. The Eastern division began their attack on Quebec on 3 November under the direction of Grand Lodges in Montreal and St. Albans, Vermont. The Western division, under the general command of the "vice-president of the provisional government" of the Republic of Canada, Col. Nathan Williams of Cleveland, planned an attack at Detroit.
However, "Major General" John Ward Birge convinced the eastern New York lodges to join him in an attack at Prescott, on the St Lawrence river instead. The leader of the attack was to be Nils Szoltevsky Von Schoultz, a Polish soldier who had been part of the Polish Rebellion. On 11 November, four hundred men boarded the steamboat United States at Sacket's Harbour, NY. Disagreements arose between Birge and Von Schoultz on the plan of attack, and Birge withdrew with 200 men to Ogdensburg for reinforcements that were never to appear. Von Schoultz and 150 men aboard the Charlotte of Toronto reached Windmill Point near Prescott on November 12 where they set up camp. All supplies to Windmill Point were cut off by British and American troops and the Canadian Hunters who had come in support were forced to withdraw.
The standoff that resulted ended November 16 when artillery pieces were brought from Kingston. 137 prisoners were taken, and 80 were killed. The Patriot prisoners were defended by John A. Macdonald, a lawyer in Kingston who was to become Canada's first Prime Minister.
Battle of Windsor (December 4, 1838)
The final planned Hunter attack was the western assault, organized out of Cleveland, on Windsor, with the intention of driving inland to London, Upper Canada. A diversionary attack from Port Huron on Sarnia was aborted when a large contingent of British troops were deployed. Five or six hundred men established a camp at Brest, 30 miles south of Detroit. Lucius V. Bierce was in command of the camp, and he contended there were not enough men for a successful attack. E.J. Roberts, an early Detroit organizer with Handy, pushed for the attack anyway. On December 3, they seized the steamboat Champlain, and the 135 men aboard landed 3 miles north of Windsor. They set fire to the barracks at Windsor. Three detachments were formed under Cornelius Cunningham, William Putnam, and S.S. Coffinbury. They set fire to the Canadian steamer Thames shouting "Remember the Caroline." The group took up a position in an apple orchard where they were attacked by the Upper Canadian militia. Twenty one Patriots were killed and twenty-four arrested.
Bierce and Roberts escaped to Detroit, where they were joined by Dr. E. A. Theller, who had escaped imprisonment in Quebec. By the 4th of December the expected reinforcements arrived, but the American government prevented a second attack. At a large public meeting, the Patriot volunteers passed resolutions rebuking the US government for taking arms against its own people. The volunteer army dispersed, ending the Patriot War.
Aftermath and Impact
Transportation to Australia
In total 93 Americans and 58 Canadiens prisoners from lower Canada were transported to Australia after being convicted in Montreal in late 1838 or early 1839. Almost all were taken on the HMS Buffalo, leaving Quebec in September 1839 and arriving off Hobart, Van Diemen's Land in February 1840. The Americans were disembarked at Hobart but the French-Canadians were taken to Sydney, New South Wales. They were interned near the present day suburb of Concord, giving rise to the names Canada Bay, French Bay and Exile Bay. The French-Canadians were treated better than the Americans, liberated sooner and assisted in getting home. Of the 93 Americans, 14 died as a direct result of transportation and penal servitude. By the end of 1844, half of those in Van Diemen's Land had been granted pardons, nearly all were pardoned by 1848, but five remained in penal servitude until at least 1850. None chose to stay in Van Diemen's Land after being pardoned.
The rebellions in 1837 must be viewed in the wider context of the late-18th- and early-19th-century Atlantic revolutions. The American Revolutionary war in 1776, the French Revolution of 1789–1799, the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804, the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and Spanish America (1810–1825) were all inspired by the same republican ideals. Even Great Britain's Chartists sought the same democratic goals.
The extended series of incidents comprising the Patriot War were finally settled by U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, in the course of their negotiations leading to the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842.
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