Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Windmill Battle: 7. Hunters Fortify Their Position

The morning of Wednesday, November 14, 1838, dawned cold, windy, and clear. The wet snow that covered the bodies the day before had hardened to icy coffins. Shortly after dawn, the three British gunboats returned and lobbed 18-pound balls of iron into Newport, doing little physical damage but rattling the Hunter raiders’ nerves. Both sides traded shots at each other, more to stifle boredom than for military value.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Windmill Battle: 6. Trapped Raiders Get Message to General Birge

As the first attack on the windmill petered out on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 13, 1838, snow began to fall, soon shrouding the unclaimed bodies in the no-mans-land of the battlefield. As night approached, Hunter Colonel Nils von Schoultz made two attempts to get a message to General John Birge on the American side of the river.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Windmill Battle: 5. Hunters Trapped and Besieged

The Hunter raiders trapped on a wedge of Upper Canada woke in the cool, bright dawn of Tuesday, November 13, 1838, to see three armed British steamers moving into firing position on the misty St. Lawrence.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Windmill Battle: 4. Small British Gunboat Stymies Hunter Invasion

While Colonel Nils von Schoultz unloaded raiders and munitions from the Charlotte of Toronto at the windmill mid-morning, November 12, 1838, the other Hunter schooner remained stuck in the mud. It held the bulk of their supplies, including several large cannon. General John Birge, in his only meaningful involvement of the battle, attempted to free the grounded ship.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Windmill Battle: 3. Hunters Land and Dig In to Fight

After Colonel Nils von Schoultz ordered the two schooners being towed by the steamer United States cut loose early on November 11, 1838, they sailed downstream under a sliver of moon. Guided by just the loom of the shoreline, the helmsmen sought the lamplights of Prescott, Upper Canada, the predetermined target of the Hunter invasion.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Windmill Battle: 2. Hunter Army Moves Out

In early November, Hunter General John Ward Birge put the word out for the Hunter fighters to assemble for war at various towns along eastern Lake Ontario and the Thousand Islands. He timed this to coincide with a state election so that crowds of strangers on the move might look less suspicious.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Windmill Battle: 1. Hunter Army Prepares

While top Hunter commanders Lucius Bierce and Donald McLeod cautiously plotted raids on Upper Canada, an independent Hunter army began to assemble in northeastern New York in the autumn of 1838. Under the command of John Ward Birge, the army boasted a stunning amount of cannon and modern rifles, and thousands of volunteer recruits.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Robert Nelson: 2. Leads Patriotes to Defeat

Patriote leader, Robert Nelson, lead the first attack in the renewed war on colonial Canada. After a summer of planning, collecting weapons, and setting up cells of supporters on both sides of the border, Nelson began his assault on Lower Canada (Quebec) on November 3. It didn’t go well for the Patriotes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hunters Lodge: 2. Plans for Renewed War

Compared to the series of rebel raids in the winter of 1838, summer was quiet along the border. Other than the ineffectual Short Hills raid and Bill Johnston's mischief, Upper and Lower Canada faced no serious threats. Farmers, by far the largest faction of the rebel armies, needed to stay close to their crops. But, as harvest season approached, the Hunters Lodge and Robert Nelson's Patriotes began to plan new campaigns, for soon the farmers would be free to march.

Monday, August 23, 2010

John Montgomery: Escape from Fort Henry

John Montgomery (February 29, 1788-October 31, 1879) was the son of refugees who came to Canada after the US Revolutionary War. He fought for Britain during the War of 1812. Despite having a loyalist pedigree, he was tried as a traitor and sentenced to hang in the early months of the Patriot War.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Kate Johnston: Heroine of the 1000 Islands

By mid-July 1838, Bill Johnston had separated from most of his followers in an effort to stay hidden. He knew one man or a small group is harder to find than a horde, and easier to feed and supply. While hunting and fishing could sustain a woodsman like Johnston in a pinch, he still needed clothes, provisions, and his wife's home cooking to keep body and soul together. For that he relied on his relatives, especially his daughter Kate, a young woman destined to become almost as legendary as her father.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bill Johnston: 11. Fort Wallace Falls

Within hours of his attempted capture of Bill Johnston on Grindstone Island, Lieutenant George Leary of the Royal Navy sailed his armed steamer, Bull Frog, directly to Johnston's principal hideout, Fort Wallace. Inside were a few broken muskets and the flag proclaiming Sir William Johnston. The unlikely knight abandoned the fort a week earlier after his famous party.

The island most identified with Johnston was no longer a secret. Bill shrugged off the loss. As he was later quoted: "Fort Wallace is wherever I am."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bill Johnston: 10. Party, Run, and Hide

In the face of the massive manhunt for him in the summer of 1838, Bill Johnston remained cocky but retained his soldier's respect for his enemy. He knew the net was drawing tighter. Most vulnerable was his principal hideout, Fort Wallace, because it sat in plain sight. He knew the time had come to abandon the cozy cave with its water-level entrance hidden by drooping trees. But, first he insisted on one more show of bravado and defiance.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bill Johnston: 9. The Fox Bites the Hound

Reacting to Bill Johnston's sacking of the Sir Robert Peel, his proclamation of war, and his near-hero status among Americans, the United States and the British in colonial Canada each dispatched a small armada to find Johnston. More than any other, one man dearly wanted to see him hang.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bill Johnston: 8. Taunts His Pursuers

The day after Bill Johnston issued his proclamation of war, the passenger steamer Oswego was taking on a load of fuel wood not far from where Johnston destroyed the Sir Robert Peel. Several passengers noticed a dark rowboat draw up to a nearby island. Four men landed and skulked through the forest carrying pistols. They watched the Oswego for a few minutes and returned to the boat. A wildfire of speculation swept the ship—could that be Johnston? Is this another attack?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Peel Pirates: Their Fates and Histories

After William Anderson was acquitted for arson in the destruction of the Sir Robert Peel, the American authorities stopped searching for any missing Peel raiders, except Bill Johnston. The uncaptured raiders simply went home or to business as usual. Some of them joined Johnston in the Thousand Islands. A few continued to fight for the Patriots and Hunters against the British in Upper Canada.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Peel Pirates: The Trials Begin

Within days of Bill Johnston's raid on the Sir Robert Peel, American constables arrested 13 of his pirate crew, including three men who never set foot on the ship. Most people in Jefferson County, NY, supported Johnston's men and waited expectantly for their trials to start. The show began on June 23, 1838, at the county court house in Watertown. And what a show!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bill Johnston: 7. Proclamation of War

Despite having two countries combing the Thousand Islands searching for him after the burning of the Sir Robert Peel, Bill Johnston did not cower in fear nor flee to safer environs. Instead he issued a declaration of war. Picked up by newspapers, his words swept across Canada and the border states, and landed on the desks of Queen Victoria and President Martin Van Buren.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Benjamin Wait, Samuel Chandler: 2. Patriots Escape Penal Colony

For weeks after the ship carrying Patriot prisoners arrived in Portsmouth, England, the British split the Short Hills prisoners into two groups on January 16, 1839. One group, which included Linus Miller, was sent to the infamous Newgate prison, a cesspool of human incarceration. Wait, Chandler and eight others were kept for months on a prison ship moored in Portsmouth harbor, shivering in its unheated bowels, hoping for a reprieve.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Benjamin Wait, Samuel Chandler: 1. Two Men with a Common Destiny

Benjamin Wait (September 7, 1813-November 9, 1895) was born to American immigrant parents in Upper Canada. A businessman and teacher, he lived west of Niagara Falls. Samuel Chandler (October 8, 1791-March, 29 1866) was born in Connecticut. He moved to Lundy’s Lane, Upper Canada, in 1819, and built wagons. The Patriot War brought these two men of diverse backgrounds together and plunged them into an adventure that took them to the ends of the earth and back.

Monday, May 24, 2010

James Morreau: Short Hills Raid Leads to Long Drop on the Gallows

On June 10, 1838 a band of 26 Patriot raiders assembled beside the Niagara River in New York State. With liberation of Canada as their goal, emboldened by Bill Johnston's raid on a steamer, and deluded by a promise that thousands of Canadians would rise up to join them in armed revolt, they planned to strike a blow for the Patriot cause. What blow--they had no idea.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Linus Miller: From Patriot to Penal Convict

Linus Wilson Miller (December 28, 1817-April 11, 1880) was a wildly idealistic American drawn into the campaign to "liberate" Canada. He grew up on a farm near Stockton, NY, but left the agrarian world to study law. But at just 20, the Patriot War diverted his career—for eight years.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bill Johnston: 6. Destroys Sir Robert Peel

For nearly three months since the Pelee Island raid, an uneasy peace had settled along the border as the bulk of the Patriot army went back to their farms for spring planting. Into that lull stepped Bill Johnston and Donald McLeod at the head of a bold raid that became Johnston's signature event—the act that earned him his pirate moniker.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hunters Lodge: 1. Rise of Warlike Secret Society

After his army's defeat in February 1838, Robert Nelson, military chief of the French Canadian rebels, realized he could never win if he continued to publicly recruit and train his army. British spies and informers were everywhere. So, he created a secret society to build his army and raise funds. Word of his initiative found its way to the English Canadian rebels. In April, General Donald McLeod came to investigate. He liked what he saw.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Bond Head: Lt.-Gov. Stumbles into Rebel Stronghold

The man blamed by both loyalists and rebels for causing the 1837 Upper Canada rebellion, Sir Francis Bond Head, was sacked for making such a mess of things and replaced on March 23, 1838. To avoid his enemies real and imagined, Bond Head decided to travel incognito to England. Ironically, he stumbled into a rebel stronghold.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lester Hoadley: Leads Patriot Capture of Pelee Island

After General Donald McLeod's rout at Fighting Island, the remnants of his army joined another Patriot army forming in Ohio. Under the command of Colonel Edwin D. Bradley, Major Lester Hoadley and Captain Henry Van Rensselaer drilled recruits from Canada, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, preparing them for another assault on Canada--the fifth and largest so far.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Robert Nelson: 1. Invades Lower Canada and Creates Secret Society

Following the massacres of Patriotes and the brutal reprisals by the British against former Patriote towns in Lower Canada (Quebec), the defeated rebel army and its leaders fled to America. The British captured Wolfred Nelson, but Papineau and Robert Nelson found sanctuary in the US. One chose peace. The other chose war.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Papineau and Nelson: Lower Canada Rebellion Begins

A month before William Lyon Mackenzie's Patriot forces began planning, executing, and bungling invasions of Canada, Patriotes in Lower Canada (Quebec) waged battles of their own. One band of rebels even dealt the British a minor defeat.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Patriot Attack on Kingston Falters

On the evening of February 21, 1838, Patriot General Rensselaer Van Rensselaer tried to rally his army and march 6.5 kilometers (4 miles) from Clayton, NY, across the ice-covered St. Lawrence River to Hickory Island. The island, just inside the Canadian border, was to be the first step in the Patriot invasion of Upper Canada.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Van Rensselaer Spoils Bill Johnston's Plans

Five weeks after Bill Johnston held a council of war in Buffalo with William Lyon Mackenzie, Donald McLeod, Rensselaer Van Rensselaer, and Daniel Heustis, his preparations for the invasion of Canada at Kingston were ready. He had the weapons, the men, and their provisions. They were unstoppable, or so he and others thought.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bill Johnston Builds an Army

While General Donald McLeod headed off to invade Windsor, the other Patriot leaders traveled by coach to upstate New York to carry out their Eagle Tavern battle plan. William Lyon Mackenzie, Rensselaer Van Rensselaer, and Daniel Heustis stopped in Watertown. Bill Johnston continued on to Clayton. Together, they began to build an army of invasion with stunning ease.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Donald McLeod: British War Hero Becomes Rebel General

After hatching out a battle plan with Admiral Bill Johnston, William Lyon Mackenzie, and other Patriot leaders at the Eagle Tavern in Buffalo, General Donald McLeod departed that city January 18, 1838. His mission—take an army and attack Canada near Windsor to draw British attention to the western front.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bill Johnston: 5. Planning the Downfall of Canada Over a Few Beers

After William Lyon Mackenzie's rebel troops abandoned Navy Island and General Henry Handy ended his attacks on western Upper Canada, it appeared to outside observers that the Patriot War and threats to Canada had evaporated. But appearances can be misleading. Bill Johnston was spoiling for a fight.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Handy, Sutherland, Theller, Roberts: The Four Stooges Go to War

Long before the Three Stooges and brother Shep entertained the North American masses, four Patriot generals staged their own dark slapstick comedy near Detroit in 1838.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Caroline: A Burning Ship Lets Mackenzie Set the Border Aflame

On December 13, less than a week after William Lyon Mackenzie fled his bungled 1837 rebellion to the US, he took control of Navy Island in the Canadian half of the Niagara River, upstream from the falls. Backed by hundreds of armed followers, he declared himself the head of a provisional government, the Republic of Canada. They built fortifications and began a cannon bombardment of the Canadian shore.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Charles Duncombe: Dr. Jekyll Becomes Mr. Hyde

Dr. Charles Duncombe (July 28, 1792-October 1, 1867) grew up in New York State. In 1819, he moved to Upper Canada, where he lived in several southwestern towns over the years practicing medicine. Drawn to politics, he succeeded in getting elected to the Upper Canada legislature in 1830. He started out as a moderate, not a radical like William Lyon Mackenzie. But that changed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Samuel Lount, Peter Matthews: First to Hang

Not all rebel leaders succeeded in escaping to the US after William Lyon Mackenzie's brief Upper Canada rebellion in 1837. The British captured Samuel Lount, Peter Matthews, and Anthony Van Egmond in flight. Each commanded rebel troops during the attack on Toronto, and each paid the ultimate price.

Monday, February 1, 2010

W. L. Mackenzie: The Firebrand Who Spawned a Border War

The raiders and rebels who turned the Canadian-US border into a war zone in 1838 can lay much of the blame for igniting the flame on one diminutive Scotsman, William Lyon Mackenzie. Driven by uncompromising political principles, Mackenzie (March 12, 1795-August 28, 1861) spent his adult life trying to bring political reform to Upper Canada (the colony that became Ontario in 1867).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bill Johnston: 4. Battles the British in 1814

In the summer of 1814, the third year of war between the US and colonial Canada, Bill Johnston narrowly avoided capture and probable execution. While spying for America in Canadian waters, a sudden storm smashed his gig on the rocks east of Kingston. Someone alerted the British and soon a detachment of redcoats and Mohawks gave chase. Bill told his men to surrender and claim they were looking for American deserters. Being regulars in the navy, he knew they’d be treated decently as prisoners of war. He had to run though, because he believe he’d be summarily executed if caught.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bill Johnston: 3. War on the British in 1813

 That old adage "from the frying pan into the fire" sums up Bill Johnston's flight to the US. The War of 1812 seemed to follow him. The British invaded Sackets Harbor on May 28, 1813, just days after Bill settled his family there.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Seba Murphy: Dying to Get Home

On a frigid December night in 1812, an American civilian trapped in Kingston by the British-American war tried to walk home. Seba Murphy, 25, set out across the windblown ice for Cape Vincent, New York, 10 miles (16 kms) away. He lost his way in the blinding snow and fell part way through a hole in the ice. His feet frozen, was "saved" by a British patrol. He asked for medical help, but received none. His frozen feet became gangrenous.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bill Johnston: 1. A Pirate's Roots

Bill Johnston (February 1, 1782-February 17, 1870)—whose scallywag and scofflaw ways in later years came to the attention of Queen Victoria and several US presidents—spent 30 years as a loyal British subject. Then, all Hell broke loose.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bill Johnston: 2. Declares Personal War on Britain

The United States declared war on Britain in June of 1812 and attacked her colonies in Canada. Naval and land battles soon raged along the border. With Canada's military significantly outnumbered, the war threw Kingston—Upper Canada's military center—into a patriotic and jingoistic frenzy. That did not fit well with Bill Johnston's independent spirit.

Friday, January 1, 2010

1837 Rebellion: War Comes to Upper and Lower Canada

November and December of 1837 saw two armed uprisings in Britain's Canadian colonies. The rebellions were brief but the aftermath long and bloody. Following the Patriotes' rout in Lower Canada and the Patriot's defeat in Upper Canada, Canadian rebels fled to the United States. Augmented by American arms and raiders, rebel armies attacked Canada at least nine times in 1838 from bases in the US.