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.

The Canadians were refugees, driven from Upper Canada (the colonial name for Ontario) and Lower Canada (the colonial name for Quebec) after attempts to reform a rabidly polarized political system by peaceful means failed and gave way to a brief, botched, armed revolt.

Among the Americans, some were freedom fighters—grandsons of men who fought with Washington—imbued with a renewed Spirit of '76, men cut from the same cloth as those who flocked to Sam Houston two years earlier. They wanted to free Canada the same way their heroes Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett fought to free Texas.

Some were opportunists hoping to get cheap or free Canadian land. Others were Americans angered by the British attack on the Caroline in December 1837—an American ship in American waters. A secret society, called the Hunters or Patriot Hunters, capitalized on this anger (and a regional recession) to enlist thousands. They spread a violent, patriotic contagion that altered lives on both sides of the Canadian-American border.

Raiders and Rebels includes numerous biographical installments about William "Pirate Bill" Johnston. He was easily the most colorful participant in the turmoil of 1838, and is the central biographical character in my novel. A Thousand Islands smuggler, river pirate, and War-of-1812 American privateer, he was as infamous then as Osama bin Laden is today. The British in the 19th-century Canadian colonies called out the army every time his name made the newspapers. He was the man the British most wanted to hang. They spent a fortune hunting him and preparing defenses against him.

Further Reading
For a quick explanation of the political issues that kicked off the Upper Canada Rebellion and the turbulence of 1838, read about the Family Compact on Wikipedia.

Go to first article in Bill Johnston series.
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