John Richardson (author)
Major John Richardson by Frederick William Lock
|Born||4 October, 1796
|Died||12 May, 1852
New York City
Richardson was born at Queenston, Ontario on the Niagara River in 1796. His mother Madelaine was the daughter of the fur trader John Askin and an Ottawa woman. His father Dr. Robert Richardson was a surgeon with the Queen's Rangers. As a young boy he lived for a time with his grandparents in Detroit and later with his parents at Fort Malden, Amherstburg. His time living at Fort Malden and the Town of Amherstbrug had by the far most profound impact of any area on his literature and his life.
At the age of 16 he enlisted as a gentleman volunteer with the British 41st Foot. This is when he met Tecumseh and General Isaac Brock, whose personalities marked his imagination and whom he would later immortalize in his novel The Canadian Brothers and in other writings. While stationed at Fort Malden, Richardson was witness to the brutal slaughter of an American prisoner at the hands of Chief Tecumseh's warriors at the River Raisin, a traumatic experience which haunted him for the rest of his life. During the War of 1812, he was imprisoned for a year in the United States after his capture during the battle of Moraviantown.
He was commissioned into the 8th Foot in 1813 and exchanged into the 2nd Foot in 1816 and the 92nd Foot in 1818. His later military service took him to England and, for two years, to the West Indies. His biographers pointed out that, during his stay in the West Indies, he was appalled by the inhuman treatment to which slaves were subjected, and argued that his own racial background made him both uneasy in his relations with his fellow officers, and also may have contributed to the very compassionate treatment of the Native Others in his novels. Unlike the stereotypical Indians of Fenimore Cooper's frontier tales, Richardson's Indians are portrayed in a more complex manner. His most savage characters, Wacousta, in the novel Wacousta (1832) and Desborough, in The Canadian Brothers (1840), are in fact whites turned savage.
Richardson began his fiction-writing career with novels about the British and French societies of his time. In his third and most successful novel, Wacousta, he turned to the North American frontier for his setting and to its recent history for its historical framework. He followed the same practice in the sequel, The Canadian Brothers.
In 1838, Richardson returned home from England to Canada, now promoted to the rank of major. He tried to earn his livelihood by writing fiction and by setting up a series of weekly newspapers. He was appointed superintendent of the police on the Welland Canal in 1845, but was relieved of these duties the following year. In 1849 he moved to the United States and settled in New York City, where he continued to write fiction. His attempts to build a literary career in the US failed and John Richardson died (supposedly of starvation) in New York City in 1852. He was buried in the paupers' cemetery in New York and his grave is still unknown.