1837-1838 armed conflicts

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History is written by the victor. The events of 1837 and 1838 have thus been given the names of "rebellions", "insurrections", "uprisings" or "troubles" by the colonial power.

Philosopher John Stuart Mill, in a review of the affairs of Canada published in December 1838 asserted: "Let us first get rid of the language of mere abuse, which men so inflamed by passion as to be lost to all perception of the most recognised moral distinctions, have heaped upon the insurgents to render them odious. They are styled rebels and traitors. The words are totally inapplicable to them. [...] Of the injuries inflicted by a foreign government, the people that suffers them, not the people that inflicts them, is the proper judge; and when such a people revolts, even improperly, against the foreign yoke, its conduct is not treason or rebellion, but war. [...] The people of Canada had against the people of England legitimate cause of war. They had the provocation which, on every received principle of public law, is a breach of the conditions of allegiance. Their provocation was the open violation of their constitution, in the most fundamental of its provisions, by the passing of Resolutions through Parliament, for taking their money from their exchequer without their consent."

In his May 1839 History of Lower Canada's resistance to the English government, Louis-Joseph Papineau writes: "I challenge the English government to contradict me, when I affirm that none of us had prepared, wanted or even envisaged, armed resistance."

In his Brief Sketch of the Life and Times of the Hon. Louis Joseph Papineau, published in 1869, Thomas Storrow Brown writes: "Though the word is familiar to us, future historians may hardly admit that there ever was a Lower Canada rebellion, and the whole record may be reduced to read that the proceedings of the Colonial Office, in 1837, caused such excitement that towards the end of the year Lord Gosford, fearing a revolt, directed the Attorney-General (3) to obtain warrants for high treason against several leading men, which the judges, there not being sufficient grounds of action, would not grant; and recourse was then had to the weak instrumentality of two magistrates. Many arrests were made of persons against whom there was no charge; many escaped them by going to the United States. Three persons only - Doctor Nelson at St. Denis, T. S. Brown at St. Charles, and Doctor Chénier at St. Eustache - headed resistance to these illegal warrants, which ended speedily in the dispersion of their adherents. Elsewhere, men where quietly pursuing their usual course of life, employed in their usual occupations."

The assertions of these men are all backed by evidence, contrary to those professed by the Lower Canada government, and the newspapers supporting it at the time. Consequently, this site prefers the more accurate expressions of "Military Repression", "Armed Resistance", or "Illegal Arrests" for the first conflict of 1837 and "Patriot War" or "Revolutionary War" for the second conflict of 1838.

In Québec, these events are sometimes referred to as La deuxième Conquête (The Second Conquest) for it all ended with the forced legislative Union of Upper and Lower Canada, officially rejected with great vigour in 1822. (Read the Letter from Papineau and Neilson to the Under Secretary of State on the Proposed Union.)

1837

March

  • March 1 - (London, England) ~ Colonial Secretary, John Russell, future Earl Russell, and the British Parliament reject the Ninety-Two Resolutions, a list of political and economic reforms drawn up by the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada.
  • March 2 - (London, England) ~ John Russell's Ten Resolutions are published. The British government rejects all of the elective assembly's grievances and reforms. One of the resolutions authorizes the Lower Canada government to use money from the Provincial Chest without the vote of the House of Assembly.
  • March 6 - (London, England) ~ The British Parliament approves the Ten Resolutions. The Governor of Lower Canada can now pay the salaries of the officials without the approval of the Assembly.

Avril

  • April 10 - (Quebec, Quebec) ~ John Russell's Ten Resolutions are published in Canada.

May

  • May 15: St-Laurent, Quebec - Louis-Joseph Papineau speaks at a county meeting held in St-Laurent and St-Marc against Lord Russell's resolutions; he advocates the boycott of imports from Great Britain and smuggling with the United States; Governor Gosford responds with a proclamation against the holding of such meetings.
  • May 18: Quebec, Quebec - Lower Canada banks suspend payment until June 23, 1838 due to civil strife.
  • May 23: Montreal, Quebec - The Permanent Central Committee of the Patriots passes a resolution in favour of free trade with the United States; led by Louis-Joseph Papineau, the Committee asks for a boycott of all taxable British imports, as a way of starving the government of funds.

June

  • June 26: St-Thomas, Quebec - Patriots hold illegal meetings in Bellechasse and L'Islet.
  • June 29: Montreal, Quebec - Patriot meeting at Montreal demands democratic rights.

July

  • July 04: Missisquoi, Quebec - Patriot meeting at Stanbridge to demand democratic rights; many American sympathizers attend.
  • July 16: Deschambault, Quebec - Patriots hold illegal meeting at Deschambault.
  • July 17: Napierville, Quebec - Louis-Joseph Papineau chairs an illegal protest meeting at Napierville with Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté.
  • July 25: Montreal, Quebec - Mgr. Lartigue tells his priests to warn their flocks that rebellion against the established authority is a sin.
  • July 26: Yamachiche, Quebec - Patriots hold an illegal meeting at Yamachiche, in the county of Saint-Maurice.
  • July 29: L'Assomption, Quebec - Patriots hold illegal meeting at l'Assomption.
  • Jul 30: Vaudreuil, Quebec - Patriots hold illegal meeting at Vaudreuil.

August

  • August 18: Quebec, Quebec - Opening of fourth session of fifteenth Parliament of Lower Canada; opened until August 26; after long debate, the Assembly refuses to vote subsidies to Gosford's government.
  • August 22: Montreal, Quebec - Founding of the Association des dames patriotiques (Association of Patriotic Ladies); urge the wearing of local clothing to avoid imports.
  • August 26: Quebec, Quebec - Governor Gosford dissolves the fourth session of fifteenth Parliament of Lower Canada.

September

  • September 5: Montreal, Quebec - First meeting of the Fils de la Liberté (Sons of Liberty) at the Nelson Hotel in Montreal.

October

  • October 23: St-Charles, Quebec - Wolfred Nelson is chairman in the two-day Grand Meeting of the Six Counties (Richelieu, Saint-Hyacinthe, Rouville, Chambly, Verchères and L'Acadie) at St-Charles in the Richelieu Valley; After a moderate speech of Papineau, Nelson declares in French that "the time has come to melt our spoons into bullets"; At the instigation of their leader, Louis-Joseph Papineau, the conference delegates approve Thirteen Resolutions based on the Rights of Man; the young Sons of Liberty erect a Column of Liberty in the square.
  • October 23: Montreal, Quebec - Mgr. Lartigue issues a pastoral letter condemning the reformist goals of the Patriots, and asking the people of Lower Canada to obey the lawful authority. A small group of dissident priests will disobey, including Curé Blanchet of St-Charles, and Curé Demers of St-Denis.
  • October 23: Montreal, Quebec - Loyalist Assembly takes place in Montreal; opposing the demands of the Patriots.

November

November 4: Montreal, Quebec - The Fils de la Liberté hold a massive Patriot rally in Montreal on the Place d'Armes; a riot breaks out when members of the Doric Club, determined to "crush rebellion in the bud", throw a hail of stones at the rebels, who fight back; Chevalier de Lorimier and Thomas Storrow Brown are seriously injured in the street fighting; under the eye of the militia, the English youths roam the streets and demonstrate in front of the house of Louis-Joseph Papineau.

  • November 4: Quebec, Quebec - Government issues proclamation banning military drill in Quebec and Montreal.
  • November 06: Montreal, Quebec - The Doric Club wrecks the offices of The Vindicator, and stones the houses of Louis-Joseph Papineau and André Ouimet, president of Les Fils de la Liberté. The patriots raise a liberty pole carrying the inscription "À Papineau, ses compatriotes reconnaissants, 1837."
  • November 10: St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec - Patriots fire on a troop of militia led by Commander Malo, and harass the soldiers with pikes; asks for reinforcements to be sent from Montreal.
  • November 11: Quebec, Quebec - Authorities start arresting Patriots; Louis-Joseph Papineau and other leaders decide to resist the arrest.
  • November 13: Montreal, Quebec - Louis-Joseph Papineau flees Montreal in disguise after a warrant is issued for his arrest. He is heading for St-Denis.
  • November 15: Toronto, Ontario - William Lyon Mackenzie publishes a draft republican constitution based on the American one.
  • November 16: Longueuil, Quebec - Patriot force of 150 led by Bonaventure Viger and Dr. Timothée Kimber ambush a fifteen-man troop of the Montreal Volunteer Cavalry led by Constable Malo en route to St-Jean to arrest Patriot leaders; shots are fired and there are several wounded on both sides; first military action in the Rebellion of 1837.
  • November 16: Quebec, Quebec - Governor Gosford issues warrants for the arrest of 26 Patriot leaders, many members of parliament, on charges of high treason, after the Rebellion of 1837's first skirmish at Longueuil; Papineau and Wolfred Nelson among those named; only five leaders will be captured.
  • November 18: St-Charles, Quebec - Thomas Storrow Brown, General of the Fils de la Liberté seizes the manor of seigneur Pierre-Dominique Debartzch, south of the village of Saint-Charles and establishes a camp with 100 rebels.
  • November 18: Montreal, Quebec - Colonel George Wetherall and a detachment of 350 British troops leaves Montreal and travels to Chambly.

November 18: Toronto, Ontario - William Lyon Mackenzie decides on a coup d'etat for December 7; to create a republican government in Upper Canada that would petition for union with the United States.

  • November 19: Quebec, Quebec - Crowd of 1000 gathers at the Marché St-Paul to support those Patriots put in jail; after rioting breaks out with loyalists, military authorities lock the gates of the city at 8 PM.
  • November 22: St-Charles, Quebec - Louis-Joseph Papineau presides over a meeting of Patriot leaders at St-Charles.
  • November 22: Montreal, Quebec - Charles Gore leaves Montreal for Sorel on the steamboat Saint George with 500 men; his plan is to meet up with Wetherall at St-Charles, and move with a combined force of 2,000 Waterloo veterans against the Patriots in the Richelieu Valley.
  • November 23: St-Denis, Quebec - Patriot leader Wolfred Nelson leads his followers in defeating Colonel Charles Gore and his 2,000 British troops at the battle of St-Denis. Gore's Waterloo veterans, 6 companies of infantry and a detachment of artillery, have no success against the deadly fire of the patriots, holed up in Nelson's distillery and behind the thick stone walls of the Maison Saint-Germain; after seven hours of fighting, the British suffer 6 dead and 11 wounded, Nelson's Patriots lose 12 men and seven wounded; a British prisoner, Lt. Jack Weir, is also killed trying to escape; Louis-Joseph Papineau, Thomas Storrow Brown, Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan and a young George-Etienne Cartier flee to St-Hyacinthe, then to Vermont. Nelson later caught trying to escaped and jailed in Montreal;
  • November 23: St-Benoît, Quebec - Patriot leader Amury Girod sets up a Patriot camp at St-Benoît, north of Montreal, intending to attack the city.
  • November 25: St-Charles, Quebec - Colonel George Wetherall and 350 British troops charge Thomas Storrow Brown's 100 Patriots holed up in the Manoir of seigneur Pierre-Dominique Debartzch, south of the village of St. Charles. The British storm the manor house, then burn the village before leaving; in two hours of fighting, they lose 7 dead and 23 wounded; the Patriots lose about 30 wounded and 28 dead, some are shot as they swim across the Richelieu River. Patriot leader Thomas Storrow Brown flees the battle before it is over, and the spirit of the Patriot forces, elated after the victory of Saint-Denis, is crushed.
  • November 25: St-Denis, Quebec - Funeral of the Patriot killed at St-Denis.
  • November 27: St-Charles, Quebec - Funeral for 24 Patriots killed at St-Charles in battle with British troops.
  • November 28: St-Mathias - Edouard Malhiot leads Patriot rebels in skirmish against Wetherall's British troops; two killed at Pointe-Olivier; most have fled on hearing of the defeat at St-Charles.
  • November 30: Montreal, Quebec - Col. George Wetherall and his troops make a triumphal return to Montreal with 30 prisoners and the Liberty Pole that had been erected at Saint-Charles.

November 30: Oka, Quebec - Patriot leaders Dr. Jean-Olivier Chénier and Amury Girod, with 200 men try to secure weapons at Oka.

December

December 1: Montreal, Quebec - Governor Gosford issues a proclamation in French and English promising a reward of 1000 pounds (4000 piastres) to anyone who can apprehend and hand over leader Louis-Joseph Papineau.

  • December 1: Middlebury, Vermont - Patriot leaders Louis-Joseph Papineau and Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan arrive in free land.
  • December 2: St-Denis, Quebec - Lt-Col. Charles Gore returns to St-Denis after earlier standoff by the Patriots; troops sack and burn the village; Gore heads to St-Charles the following day, then to St-Hyacinthe.
  • December 02: Middlebury, Vermont - At a Patriots meeting, Louis-Joseph Papineau and others opposes immediate counterstike, advocating diplomatic talks to involve the Americans. Robert Nelson and other members disagree and decide to act alone.
  • December 03: St-Charles, Quebec - Lt-Col Charles Gore and his troops arrive at St-Charles, and leave the following day for St-Hyacinthe.
  • December 04: St-Hyacinthe, Quebec - Lt-Col Charles Gore leads British troops into St-Hyacinthe from St-Charles.
  • December 05: Montreal, Quebec - Lord Gosford proclaims martial law in Lower Canada.
  • December 06: Moore's Corner, Quebec - Militia Colonel Kemp and 300 volunteers ambush a group of 80 patriots at 8 pm coming across the US border with newly acquired weapons and 2 cannon; during the 20 minute skirmish, 4 Patriots are captured, one killed; the rest retreat across the border when Colborne dispatches 600 British regulars and 3 cannon to St-Armand.
  • December 07: Montreal, Quebec - Col. Charles Gore returns to Montreal with his British regulars after fighting Patriots rebels at St-Denis and St-Charles.
  • December 10: Montreal, Quebec - British troops sent to St-Martin to guard the bridge leading to St-Eustache and St-Benoît against Patriots.
  • December 13: Montreal, Quebec - John Colborne, Baron Seaton sets out toward St-Eustache with 2,000 British Army regulars in two brigades commanded by Wetherall and Maitland.
  • December 13: Buffalo, New York - William Lyon Mackenzie sets up a provisional government and proclaims "The Republic of Canada" on Navy Island in the Niagara River; his flag is a tricolour bearing two stars, one for Upper Canada, one for Lower Canada, symbolizing the states who will enter the American union; disgusted by a lack of support, he will leave a month later, and settle for a time in New York City.
  • December 13: Brantford, Ontario - Dr. Charles Duncombe orders his 300 rebel followers to disperse after learning of Mackenzie's defeat at Toronto.
  • December 14: St-Eustache, Quebec - John Colborne leads 1,200 British regulars, a regiment of 600 from the Quebec garrison commanded by Wetherall and Maitland, and 200 militia to the town of St-Eustache, in the County of Deux-Montagnes 31 km northwest of Montreal; most Patriots have fled, but 400 rebels remain, led by Dr. Jean-Olivier Chénier and Amury Girod, holed up in the church, the presbytery, the convent and neighbouring houses; after noon Colborne gives the order to attack; nearly 100 rebels are killed, including Chénier, in five hours of withering British cannon and grapeshot fire; soldiers set fire to the church, and shoot any who try to escape by jumping out windows; 18 taken prisoner and the village burned to the ground.
  • December 15: St-Benoît, Quebec - John Colborne marches from St-Eustache to St. Benoît; gets remaining 150 Patriots to surrender their arms without a fight; the following day, Colborne orders them released, but puts the village to the torch.
  • December 16: St-Benoît, Quebec - John Colborne, Baron Seaton orders the 150 captured Patriots released, but puts the village to the torch; orders Colonel Maitland to proceed to St-Scholastique and Ste-Thérèse.
  • December 19: St-Eustache, Quebec - John Colborne frees 64 of the 120 Patriot prisoners taken at St-Eustache, then returns to Montreal.
  • December 21: Quebec, Quebec - Lower Canada Governor Gosford delegates to certain officials the power to swear oaths of allegiance; those who refuse are arrested under martial law.

1838

January

  • January 05: President of the United States Martin Van Buren proclaims the neutrality of his country.

February

  • February 10: London, England - The British Parliament suspends the Constitution of Lower Canada and names John George Lambton Governor General and high commissioner to inquire on the causes of the uprisings.
  • February 24: Elizabethtown, USA - A weapons robbery attributed to the Patriots, occurs at arsenal of Elizabethtown in the State of New York.
  • February 26: Alburg, Vermont - Robert Nelson, general of the Patriot forces, assembles between 600 and 700 Frères Chasseurs and American sympathizers to invade Lower Canada.
  • February 27: Montreal, Quebec - John Colborne officially takes duty. The martial law is proclaimed.
  • February 28: Caldwell's Manor, Quebec - A group of Patriots, under the command of Robert Nelson and Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté, invade the province and stop near Caldwell's Manor. Robert Nelson proclaims the Independence of Lower Canada.
  • February 29: US Border - Nelson and the Patriots are forced to retreat on the other side of the frontier. The American Army arrest Nelson and Côté.

March

  • March 30: London, England - Lord Durham is named Governor General of British North America. He is also made High Commisioner charged of enquring on the rebellions.

April

  • April 27: Montreal, Quebec - Martial law is revoked in the district of Montreal, 501 people are imprisoned in Montreal for treason or sedition. 5 people are also imprisoned in Quebec City.

Notes and references

See also