An Impartial and Authentic Account of the Civil War in the Canadas/Chapter VIII
Sketch of the Country around Toronto — the City — the Garrison — the Harbour — Yonge Street — Defective nature of the Evidence on which we are compelled to depend — The rising in Yonge Street — Death of Col. Moodie — The City alarmed — Effect on the Insurgents — The Volunteers — A parley — Attack on the Insurgents at the Gallows Hill — Their Dispersion — Duncombe in the London District — Success of M'Nab against him — The Rewards.
SKETCH OF THE COUNTRY ROUND TORONTO.
THE above sketch, aided by the brief description which we are about to give, will afford the reader a tolerable conception of the country around Toronto, the capital of Upper Canada.
The city of Toronto is situated on the northern side of a bay of the same name, in the township of York, in a county of the latter name, which county forms part of the home district.130
Previous to the year 1833 the city was called York, but people were wont to prefix the epithet "little" to the name, and, as this was offensive to colonial dignity, it was changed by act of the provincial parliament ; the present sonorous title, which is the original Indian name, being wisely chosen as a substitute.131
The building of the city of York was commenced in 1794. At that time the Indian station, once a considerable village, was reduced to a single Wigwam.132 The buildings proceeded under the immediate superintendence of General Simcoe, who paid considerable attention to the welfare of the then infant province.
M. Bouchette, the present surveyor-general of Lower Canada, who was then employed in naval surveying on the lakes, and who made the first survey of Toronto Bay, in 1793, thus describes the aspect of the country : —
I still distinctly recollect the untamed aspect which the country exhibited when I first entered the beautiful basin which thus became the scene of my early hydrographical operations. Dense and trackless forests lined the margin of the lake, and reflected their inverted images on its glassy surface. The wandering savage had constructed his ephemeral habitation beneath their luxuriant foliage, the group then consisting of two families of Missessaguas ; and the bay and neighbouring marshes were the hitherto uninvaded haunts of immense coveys of wild fowl ; indeed they were so abundant, as in some measure to annoy us during the night. In the spring following, the Lieut.-Governor removed to the site of the new capital, attended by the regiment of Queen's rangers, and commenced at once the realization of his favourite project. His Excellency inhabited, during the summer and through the winter, a canvass house, which he imported expressly for the occasion ; but, frail as was its substance, it was rendered exceedingly comfortable, and soon became as distinguished for the social and urbane hospitality of its venerated and gracious host, as for the peculiarity of its structure.
In 1834, the city contained about 1200 houses, and 9252 inhabitants, which at the present moment do not probably fall far short of 12,000. It is very regularly laid out, on the American plan, of streets at right angles. The streets are wide ; but, unfortunately, a considerable number of the houses are built of wood, brick not having been introduced until within a recent period. The modem houses are, for the most part, of brick or stone.
The legislature sits here, and there is a residence for the governor, besides the offices of the administration and the courts of justice. There is also a college for education, but it is, unfortunately, shut to a great portion of the people by its narrow and exclusive character.
Toronto is but ill protected from hostile attacks. Gibraltar point has, we believe, of late years been strengthened, but still the city is open on all sides to aggression. In 1813, it was taken by the Americans, but, after burning the public buildings, they evacuated it. There is, however, a small battery and two block-houses, situated at about one mile west of the town where the garrison is stationed, which, with Gibraltar point, affords some defence to the harbour. The ground between the garrison and the town is a government reserve ; it will one day or other, most likely, be covered by the city.
"The harbour of York (Toronto)," says M. Bouchette, "is nearly circular, and is formed by a very narrow peninsula, stretching from the western extremity of the township of Scarborough, in an oblique direction, for about six miles, and terminating in a curved point nearly opposite the garrison ; thus enclosing a beautiful basin, about a mile and a half in diameter, capable of containing a great number of vessels, and at the entrance of which ships may lie with safety during the winter. The formation of the peninsula itself is extraordinary, being a narrow slip of land, in many places not more than sixty yards in breadth, but widening towards its extremity to nearly a mile. It is principally a bank of sand, slightly overgrown with grass ; the widest part is very curiously intersected by many large ponds, that are the continual resort of great quantities of wild fowl ; a few trees scattered upon it greatly increase the singularity of its appearance ; it lies so low, that the wide expanse of Lake Ontario is seen over it. The termination of the peninsula is called Gibraltar point, whore a block-house has been erected. A light-house, at the western extremity of the beach, has rendered the access to the harbour safely practicable by night. The eastern part of the harbour is bounded by an extensive marsh, through part of which the river Don runs before it discharges itself into the basin."133
Immediately at the back or north of Toronto is a road leading to Lake Simcoe, called Yonge-street. Its length is thirty-seven miles, and it is perhaps the best in the province. On each side of this road are extensive and well-cultivated farms, the land being extremely fertile, and the city affording a constant market. The Yonge-street farmers are intelligent and wealthy, and have generally been attached to the liberal party, being exempt from any of the influences described in the last chapter. Montgomerie's tavern is about four miles from Toronto, on this road.
The country rises considerably north of Toronto, lake Simcoe being several hundred feet higher than lake Ontario. Lake Simcoe is computed to cover a surface of no less than three hundred square miles. It communicates with lake Huron by the river Severn, which falls about one hundred feet in its whole course. Lake Huron is higher than lake Erie ; and lake Erie higher than lake Ontario by the sum of the falls of Niagara, and all the rapids on that river ; hence, Simcoe must be higher than Ontario by the sum of all these falls.
Our sketch comprises nearly the whole of the county of York, and a portion of that of Simcoe, which two make up the Home District. In 1834, the county of York contained a population of 38,551, that of Simcoe, 7737, together, 46,288. The population of the Home District is now, perhaps, about 51,000, exclusive of the city of Toronto.
It is now necessary to state, that the evidence on which we have to depend for the details of the revolt in Upper Canada, is of a most scanty, unsatisfactory, and even suspicious nature. The Upper Canada papers being for the most part of a very inferior character, are scarcely noticed by those of New York ; hence, their statements do not find their way into the London papers so constantly as those of Lower Canada do. This deprives us, first, of an insight into the views of the anti-popular party ; and second, of the means of trying one piece of evidence against another. All we have to depend upon are the despatches of Sir Francis Head, which are really of such a nature, both as to the statements, and as to the manner of making them, as to deprive them of all claim to confidence. On reading these despatches, and comparing them with what is known of the previous state of Upper Canada, it is impossible not to believe that much is withheld from the public. In all probability, this is not the result of design on the part of the governor; he is most likely not aware that he withholds evidence ; but his mind appears to be of that peculiar construction which makes him reject anything which tells against his hastily-formed conception of the state of the province. He deceives us, it is true, but he deceives himself still more ; and greatly do we fear that subsequent events will afford melancholy proof of it.
Up to the moment of the appearance of an armed body of men in Yonge-street, there seemed to be no suspicion abroad that an outbreak was at hand. The anti-popular papers spoke indeed of "the revolutionary designs of a faction," and so forth, but that is their usual grandiloquent tone. They have over and over again spoken of the revolutionary designs of Lord Ripon, of Lord Stanley, of his late Majesty, and of her Majesty's present ministers, so that no heed has ever been taken of their inflated language. They had cried "wolf" too often to attract attention. They always write as it were in the clouds ; so that had they affirmed that "M'Kenzie and the rebels" were on the point of entering the city, and burning it to the ground, sober-minded men would have translated such hyper expressions to mean, that a democratic township meeting, or something of the sort, was intended in the neighbourhood of the city.
Sir Francis Head's statements respecting his knowledge of the intended outbreak, are not consistent with each other. In one place he says, "I was completely surprised by the rebels,"134 in another, "I was not ignorant of these proceedings"135 (armed meetings) ; and in his speech136 to the Assembly, he shows that what he calls the conspiracy, was all along known to him.
The following extract136 from Sir Francis Head's despatch to Lord Glenelg, dated 19th of December, giving an account of the insurrection up to the time, will bear out what is stated above.
I have the honour to inform your lordship, that on Monday, the 4th instant, this city was, in a moment of profound peace, suddenly invested by a band of armed rebels, amounting, according to report, to 3000 men (but in actual fact about 600), and commanded by Mr. M'Kenzie, the editor of a republican newspaper ; Mr. Van Egmont, an officer who had served under Napoleon ; Mr. Gibson, a land surveyor ; Mr. Lount, a blacksmith ; Mr. Lloyd, and some other notorious characters.
Having, as I informed your lordship in my despatch. No. 119, dated 3d ult.137, purposely effected the withdrawal of her Majesty's troops from this province, and having delivered over to the civil authorities the whole of the arms and accoutrements I possessed, I, of course, found myself without any defence whatever, excepting that which the loyalty and fidelity of the province might think proper to afford me. The crisis, important as it was, was one I had long earnestly anticipated, and accordingly I no sooner received the intelligence that the rebels were within four miles of the city, than, abandoning government house, I at once proceeded to the city hall, in which about 4000 stand of arms and accoutrements had been deposited.
One of the first individuals I met there, with a musket on his shoulder, was the chief justice of the province ; and, in a few minutes, I found myself surrounded by a band of brave men, who were, of coarse, unorganised, and, generally speaking, unarmed.
As the foregoing statement is an unqualified admission on my part that I was completely surprised by the rebels, I think it proper to remind rather than to explain to your lordship the course of policy I have been pursuing.
In a former despatch, I respectfully stated to your lordship, as my opinion, that a civil war must henceforward everywhere be a moral one ; and that, in this hemisphere in particular, victory must eventually declare itself la favour of moral and not of physical preponderance.
Entertaining these sentiments, I observed, with satisfaction, that Mr. M'Kenzie was pursuing a lawless course of conduct, which I felt it would be impolitic for me to arrest. For a long time he had endeavoured to force me to buoy him up by a government prosecution, but he sunk in proportion as I neglected him, until, becoming desperate, he was eventually driven to reckless behaviour, which I felt confident would very soon create its own punishment.
The traitorous arrangements he made were of that minute nature, that it would have been difficult, even if I had desired it, to have suppressed them ; for instance, he began by establishing union lists (in number not exceeding 40) of persons desirous of political reform, and who, by an appointed secretary, were recommended to communicate regularly with himself, for the purpose of establishing a meeting of delegates.
As soon as by most wicked misrepresentations he had succeeded in seducing a number of well-meaning people to join these squads, his next step was to prevail upon a few of them to attend their meetings armed, for the alleged purpose of firing at a mark.
While these meetings were in continuance, Mr. M'Kenzie, by means of his newspaper, and by constant personal attendance, succeeded in inducing his adherents to believe that he was everywhere strongly supported ; and that his means, as well as his forces, would prove invincible.
I was not ignorant of these proceedings, and in proportion as Mr. M'Kenzie's paper became more and more seditious, and in proportion as these armed meetings excited more and more alarm, I was strongly and repeatedly called upon by the peaceable portion of the community forcibly to suppress both the one and the other. I considered it better, however, under all circumstances, to await the outbreak, which I was confident would be impotent inversely as it was previously opposed ; in short, I considered that if an attack by the rebels was inevitable, the more I encouraged them to consider me defenceless the better.
Mr. M'Kenzie, under these favourable circumstances, having been freely permitted by me to make every preparation in his power, a concentration of his deluded adherents, and an attack upon the city of Toronto were secretly settled to take place on the night of the 19th instant ; however, in consequence of a militia general order which I issued, it was deemed advisable that these arrangements should be hurried; and accordingly, Mr. M'Kenzie's deluded victims, travelling through the forest by cross roads, found themselves assembled, at about four o'clock in the evening of Monday, the 4th instant, as rebels, at Montgomerie's Tavern, which is on the Yonge-street macadamized road, about four miles from the city.138
Postponing for the present that portion of the despatch which gives a detailed statement of what followed the intelligence of the rising, we crave the reader's attention to the following brief extract as a further elucidation of what is stated above.
Your lordship knows that at the last election, Mr. M'Kenzie and his party in vain appealed to the farmers and yeomen of this country to support them, instead of supporting me. Driven by the voice of the people from their seats in the House of Assembly, they declared that they had only been defeated by the influence of a corrupt government. However, the moment the charges made against me in the House of Commons reached this country, the House of Assembly deliberately investigated the whole affair, which they proved and pronounced to be a series of wilful and premeditated falsehoods.
Mr. M'Kenzie and his party finding that at every point they were defeated in the moral attack which they had made upon the British constitution, next determined to excite their deluded adherents to have recourse to physical strength.
Being as ready to meet them on that ground as I had been ready to meet them in a moral struggle, I gave them every possible advantage ; I in no way availed myself of the immense resources of the British empire; on the contrary, I purposely dismissed from the province the whole of our troops. I allowed Mr. M'Kenzie to write what he chose, say what he chose, and do what he chose ; and, without taking any notice of his traitorous proceedings, I waited with folded arms, until he had collected his rebel forces, and had actually commenced his attack.
I then, as a solitary individual, called upon the militia of Upper Canada to defend me ; and the result has been, as I have stated, namely, that the people of Upper Canada came to me when I called them; that they completely defeated Mr. M'Kenzie's adherents, and drove him and his rebel ringleaders from the land.
The following extract from Sir Francis Head's speech to the legislature, which assembled on the 23d of December, is couched in a similar tone.
Without either soldiers or weapons to enforce my cause, I allowed the leader of the intended insurrection a full opportunity to make his intended experiment — I freely allowed him to write what he chosen — say what he chose — and do what he chose; I allowed him to assemble his deluded adherents for the purpose of drill ; I even allowed them, unopposed, to assemble with loaded fire-arms, and in spite of the remonstrances which from almost every district in the province, I received from the peaceable portion of the community. I allowed him to make deliberate preparations for revolt ; for I freely confess that I did under-rate the degree of audacity and cruelty which these armed insulters of the law were prepared, as events have proved, to exhibit. It did not seem to me credible, that in the bosom of this peaceful country, where every one was enjoying the protection of equal laws, and reaping the fruit of his labours almost undiminished by taxes, any number of persons could be found willing to assail the lives, plunder the property of their unoffending fellow-subjects, and to attempt the destruction of a government from which they had received nothing but good.
The ultimate object of the conspiracy was veiled under a mysterious secrecy which I had no desire to penetrate ; and relying implicitly on the people, so little did I inquire into it or impede it, that I was actually in bed and asleep, when I was awakened by a messenger, who abruptly informed me, that a numerous body of armed rebels had been congregated by their leader ; that the murder of a veteran officer of distinction, a settler in the province, had already been committed, and that the assailants were within an hour's march of Toronto.
The long-looked for crisis had now evidently arrived ; and accordingly, defenceless and unarmed, I called upon the militia of Upper Canada to defend their government, and then confidently awaited the result.
With an enthusiasm which it is impossible for me to describe, they instantly obeyed the summons.139
Upwards of 10,000 men immediately marched towards the capital ; and in the depth of a Canadian winter, with no clothes but those they stood in, without food, and, generally speaking, without arms, reformers as well as constitutionalists, nobly rushed forward to defend the revered constitution of their ancestors, although the rebel who had dared to attack it was offering to his adherents 300 acres of our land,140 and the plunder of our banks.
Here then, we have the governor of Upper Canada gravely confessing that he was fully aware of the intended outbreak, that he allowed the insurgents "to make deliberate preparations for revolt ;" that he shut his eyes to the mysterious object of the conspiracy ; that in short, although he could have prevented it, as Cicero prevented the outbreak of Cataline's conspiracy in its intended form, by simply showing him that his minutest plans were known, he nevertheless permitted it to proceed to the shedding of blood, for no other purpose as it should seem, than for that of proving that his previous statements relative to the attachment of the majority of the population to the existing state of things was correct ; — a point which, after all, could only be proved by arming both sections of the population, or neither. The mere opening of the arm chests to one party, altogether destroyed that particular character which Sir Francis Head desired the struggle should assume, and for which alone he abstained from preventing bloodshed. Sir Francis Head speaks of allowing the insurgents "to make deliberate preparations for the revolt with as much coolness as though he were planning the catastrophe of a melodrama, or of a fashionable novel.
To return now to the narrative, Sir Francis Head states above, that M'Kenzie's force was about 600, but that report had stated it at 3000. We learn from a statement of M'Kenzie's, that upwards of 3500 men had assembled, but that they were obliged to dismiss them for want of arms. They had not 200 armed men among those assembled in Yonge-street ; indeed they had scarcely anything but "pitchforks to oppose the bayonets."
In their unarmed state, success entirely depended on securing the 4000 stand of arms which had been so boastfully paraded in the governor's tale, and it was to obtain these, no less than to gain possession of the city that they were assembled at Montgomerie's tavern.
In this position, on the night of Monday, it was beyond measure important that there should be no communication with the city. Everything depended on a surprise, for they could not conceal from themselves, that if the authorities should obtain a knowledge of their design, their force was insufficient to attempt the attack. The governor, they would naturally feel assured, would distribute so many of his 4000 stand of arms among the well-aifected, as he could find bearers for, when any attempt on the part of 200 ill-armed men with an incumbering crowd of some hundred more waiting for arms, would be utter madness. It was, doubtless, with these feelings that they attempted to arrest every one passing towards the city as well as all those who came from the city, and who, on their return might expose their design. It was in attempting to pass towards the city, most likely with the express object of conveying intelligence, that Colonel Moodie lost his life. According to M'Kenzie's statement, he "was shot by a sentinel whilst attempting to escape," a statement which does not differ from Sir Francis Head's account, making allowance, for the different language in which men of opposite views would naturally clothe such a transaction. Sir Francis Head says: —
As soon as they had attained this position, Mr. M'Kenzie and a few others, with pistols in their hands, arrested every person on the road, in order to prevent information reaching the town. Colonel Moodie, a distinguished veteran officer, residing in Yonge-street, accompanied by three gentlemen on horseback, on passing Montgomerie's tavern was fired at by the rebels, and I deeply regret to say that the Colonel, wounded in two places, was taken prisoner into the tavern, where in three hours he died, leaving a widow and family unprovided for.
As soon as this gallant meritorious officer, who had honourably fought in this province, fell, I am informed that Mr. M'Kenzie exultingly observed to his followers, that as blood had now been spilled, they were in for it, and had nothing left but to advance; accordingly, about ten o'clock at night, they did advance.
For this advance, however, the governor was, by the merest accident, prepared. It appears by a statement in one of the Toronto tory papers, that on the night in question, a party of six or eight persons rode out on Yonge-street. They were surprised by an armed party, and several of them made prisoners. A Mr. M'Donnell and a Mr. John Powell were among the number ; they were stopped by four men on horseback, one being M'Kenzie; were challenged with "Who goes there !" and were ordered to surrender on pain of being fired upon. At the same time, one of the party presented a pistol at Mr. Powell, who shot his assailant dead. M'Kenzie and Powell now snapped their pistols at each other, but strange to say, both missed fire ; when Powell spurred his horse towards the wood, slipped off, and gained the city on foot with the loss of his horse. The prisoners remaining with the patriots were all men of standing — such as would have proved valuable hostages had the revolt then made further progress. They were, according to the paper from which we take the above account, Colonel Wells and family. Colonel Cameron and son. Captain Stewart, Mr. Brock and Mr. Archibald M'Donnell.
Mr. Powell's escape alone defeated the design of surprising the city.
"I was in bed and asleep," says Sir Francis Head, "when Mr. Alderman Powell awakened me to state, that in riding out of the city towards Montgomerie's tavern he had been arrested by Mr. M'Kenzie and another principal leader ; that the former had snapped a pistol at his breast ; that his (Mr. Powell's) pistol also snapped, but that he fired a second, which, causing the death of Mr. M'Kenzie's companion, had enabled him to escape.
"As soon as Mr. Powell reached Toronto, the alarm bell was rung, and as Mr. M'Kenzie feared we might be prepared for him, he forbore to proceed with his attack."
When this occurred, M'Kenzie had advanced to within two miles and a half of the city, and perhaps nearer — the alarm bell, however, told them their design was known, and the weakness of their armed body forced them to retire. A letter, dated Queenston, 11th Dec. says: — "There is one remarkable circumstance relative to the insurgents' march upon Toronto. On the first day, when they approached the city, they came within a very short distance of it, and for some cause unknown, they retired about three miles back, where they remained until the governor's attack upon them; and it is confidently said, that had they advanced upon the city the first time, that they could have taken the whole town and garrison, as the inhabitants were quite ignorant of their coming, and equally unprepared for resistance."
The cause of their retreat is no longer "unknown." It was the alarm-bell rung on Powell's arrival — a bell which plainly told them that their force would certainly be out-numbered,141 and that their foes would have the advantage of fighting under the protection of stone-walls, — a position which and defeated regular troops at St. Denis, and which, therefore, would greatly multiply the chances against M'Kenzie's ill-armed band. Thus we see that as in the case of the affair of St. Charles in Lower Canada, a mere accident favoured the fortunes of the ruling party.
We shall now continue our quotation from Sir Francis Head's despatch, to show what took place immediately after the sudden alarm in the city.
On arriving at the City Hall, I appointed Mr. Justice Jones, Mr. Henry Sherwood, Captain Strachan and Mr. John Robinson, my aides-de-camp. I then ordered the arms to be unpacked, and, manning all the windows of the building, as well as those of opposite houses which flanked it, we awaited the rebels, who, as I have stated, did not deem it advisable to advance. Besides these arrangements, I dipatched a messenger to the speaker of the House of Assembly, Colonel the Honourable Allan M'Nab, of the Gore district, and to the colonels of the militia regiments in the Midland and Newcastle district. An advanced picket of thirty volunteers, commanded by my aide-de-camp, Mr. Justice Jones, was placed within a short distance of the rebels.
By the following morning (Tuesday), we mustered about 300 men, and in the course of the day, the number increased to about 500. In the night an advanced picket, commanded by Mr. Sheriff Jarvis, was attacked within the precincts of the city by the rebels, who were driven back, one of their party being killed and several wounded.
On Wednesday morning, we were sufficiently strong to have ventured on an attack, but being sensible of the strength of our position, being also aware how much depended upon the contest in which we were about to be engaged, and feeling the greatest possible reluctance at the idea of entering upon a civil war, I dispatched two gentlemen to the rebel leaders, to tell them that before any conflict should take place, I parentally called upon them, as their governor, to avoid the effusion of human blood. In the meanwhile, however, Mr. M'Kenzie had committed every description of enormity ; he had robbed the mail — with his own hands had set fire to Dr. Home's house — had plundered many inoffensive individuals of their money — had stolen several horses — had made a number of respectable people prisoners ; and, having thus succeeded in embarking his misguided adherents in guilt, he replied to my admonition by a message, that he would only consent that his demands should be settled by a national convention ; and he insolently added, that he would wait till two o'clock for my answer, which in one word was 'NEVER !'
The persons sent to Mr. M'Kenzie for the purpose of holding the above parley were Dr. Rolph and Dr. Baldwin, both men of considerable influence, and the former a man of acknowledged eloquence. The nature and result of their mission is correctly described in the extract, and the melodramatic termination is characteristic of the vain-glorious governor. The expressions "robbed," "plundered," and "stolen," however, are fallacious. They are terms applicable only to the ordinary state of society, and though sometimes applied to such acts as the insurgents committed, could only be so by a remote and figurative analogy ; there was, strictly speaking, nothing in those acts to warrant the application of the terms in question, in their ordinary sense.142
On the same day that Sir Francis Head made the above communication with the insurgents, M'Kenzie addressed the following letter to the editor of a Buffalo paper, requesting assistance from sympathising Americans : —
The reformers of this part of Upper Canada have taken arms in defence of the principle of independence of European domination ; in plain words, they wish the province to be a free state.
They request all the assistance and skill which the free citizens of your republic may choose to afford. I address this letter to your office, because you have expressed a friendly wish towards us in the Buffalo Whig. We are in arms near the city of Toronto — two miles and a half distant.
(Signed) W. L. M'Kenzie.
Yonge-street, December 6.
American editors will be pleased to copy this letter, whether they are or are not in favour of Canadian freedom. — W. L. M.
Before this letter could be productive of any result, however, Sir Francis Head found himself in a condition to make an attack upon M'Kenzie and his adherents.
"In the course of Tuesday," continues the despatch from which the foregoing extracts are taken,
... the speaker of the House of Assembly, Colonel the Honourable Allan M'Nab, arrived from the Gore district at the head of about sixty men, which he had assembled at half an hour's notice, and other brave men flocking in to me from various directions, I was enabled by strong pickets to prevent Mr. M'Kenzie from carrying into effect his diabolical intention to bum the city of Toronto, in order to plunder the banks ; and having effected this object, I determined that on the following day I would make the attack.
Accordingly, on Thursday morning I assembled our forces under the direction of the Adjutant-general of militia, Colonel Fitzgibbon, clerk of the House of Assembly.
The principal body was headed by the Honourable the speaker, Colonel Allan M'Nab, the right wing being commanded by Colonel Samuel Jarvis ; the left by Colonel William Chisholm, assisted by the Honourable Mr. Justice Maclean, late speaker of the House of Assembly the two guns by Major Carfrae, of the militia artillery.
I might also have most advantageously availed myself in the field of the military services of Colonel Foster, the commander of the forces in Upper Canada; of Captain Baddeley, of the corps of royal engineers ; and of a detachment of eight artillery-men, who form the only regular force in this province ; but having deliberately determined that the important contest in which I was about to be engaged, should be decided solely by the Upper Canada militia, of, in other words, by the inhabitants of this noble province, I was resolved, that no consideration whatever should induce me to avail myself of any other assistance than that upon which, as the representative of our gracious Sovereign, I had firmly and implicitly relied.
At 12 o'clock, the militia force marched out of the town with an enthusiasm which it would be impossible to describe ; and in about an hour we came in sight of the rebels, who occupied an elevated position near Gallows-hill, in front of Montgomerie's tavern, which had Jong been the rendezvous of Mr. M 'Kenzie's men.
They were principally armed with rifles ; and, for a short time, favoured by buildings, they endeavoured to maintain their ground ; however, the brave and loyal militia of Upper Canada, steadily advancing with a determination which was irresistible, drove them from their position, completely routed Mr. M'Kenzie, who, in a state of the greatest agitation, ran away ; and, in a few minutes, Montgomerie's tavern, which was first entered by Mr. Justice Jones, was burned to the ground.
Being on the spot merely as civil governor, and in no way in command of the troops, I was happy to have an opportunity of demonstrating to the rebels the mildness and beneficence of her Majesty's Government ; and well knowing that the laws of the country would have ample opportunity of making examples of the guilty, I deemed it advisable to save the prisoners who were taken, and to extend to most of these misguided men the royal mercy, by ordering their immediate release.
These measures having been effected, and the rebels having been deprived of their flag, on which was inscribed in large letters, ' Bidwell, and the glorious minority — ' 1837, and a good beginning ! ' the militia advanced in pursuit of the rebels about four miles, till they reached the house of one of the principal ringleaders, Mr. Gibson, which residence it would have been impossible to have salved, and it was consequently burned to the ground.
The infatuated followers of Mr. 'M'Kenzie were now completely dispersed. Deceived and deserted by their leader, they sought for refuge in all directions, ashamed and disgusted with the murder, arson, highway and mail robbery143 which he had committed before their eyes; and, detesting him for the overbearing tyranny of his conduct towards them, they sincerely repented that they had ever joined him ; and I have been credibly informed that their wives and children now look upon Mr. M'Kenzie as their most malignant enemy. Mr. M'Kenzie has fled to the United States. Mr. John Rolph has absconded. Mr. Bidwell, who took no part in the affray, has amicably agreed with me to quit, and has quitted this province for ever. Dr. Morrison and Captain Van Egmont are our prisoners. Mr. Lount and Mr. Gibson have fled, and I understand are making for the United States.
This amicable agreement with Mr. Bidwell seems a very extraordinary proceeding. The governor says he took no part in the affray ; Mr. Bidwell himself, too, in a letter subsequently written to the editor of an American paper, makes a similar assertion ; and moreover avers, that he was in no way mixed up with, or cognizant of, the revolt — Why then quit the province ? If, on the other hand, the governor's assertion, that he took "no part in the affray" is a mere quibble; but that, although not at the Gallows-hill, he was really implicated in the rising. Sir Francis Head has been guilty of neglect of duty in conniving at his departure. The proceeding, in fact, seems to involve a manifest dilemma. Mr. Bidwell was either guilty or innocent. If guilty, the governor has clearly connived at that guilt in permitting his departure ; if, on the other hand, Bidwell is free from any share in the insurrectionary proceedings, the governor is chargeable with gross tyranny in forcing him out of the province. Even were there a suspicion against Mr. Bidwell, the governor's closet was not the place to try its validity. On the whole, this is one of those arbitrary acts that no ministry ought to permit a servant of the crown to exercise ; and an explanation should be required of Sir Francis Head the instant he reaches this country.
Whilst these occurrences were going on in and near Toronto, it was reported that Dr. Duncombe, of whom we had occasion to speak in the last chapter, had collected a considerable force in the London district, but as to his intended movements nothing was said. Some reports counted his force by the thousand, but if any considerable number had collected, he was probably compelled to dismiss them, as M'Kenzie had been at Toronto, for wont of aro3 ; for it does not appear from subsequent accounts that Duncombe has ever been able to maintain a force of any degree of efficiency.
"As Mr. M'Kenzie," says Sir Francis Head, "had been particularly active in disseminating his principles throughout the London district, and as Dr. Duncombe was reported to be there with a body of armed rebels, I deemed it advisable, as soon as the militia returned to Toronto from driving Mr. M'Kenzie from Gallows-hill, to order a body of 500 men to proceed immediately to the London district. I placed this corps under the command of the Honourable the speaker of the House of Assemly, Colonel Allan M'Nab, who with great promptitude marched with it to the point of its destination."
The accounts of the termination of this expedition are very unsatisfactory, and 'especially scanty. In the American papers there appeared several reports of skirmishes, but it does not appear that Duncombe ever found himself in a condition to attack M'Nab's well-armed force.
On the 15th of December, M'Nab addressed the following despatch to the governor. He was then at a place called Scotland, in the township of Oakland.
I have the honour to report that the rebels have dispersed in all parts of this district, and that I have taken every precaution to intercept them and cut off their retreat.
I have received several deputations from these misguided men, praying for leave to come in and surrender their arms, take the oath of allegiance if necessary, and join the troops under my command. I endeavoured to find out those of the leaders who may yet remain behind. So far I have refused their request, unless their leaders are delivered into my hands. On this subject I am to meet some deputations this day, and will forward a more explicit despatch of it this evening.
Intelligence having reached this place that a body of foreigners were threatening to cross the Niagara river, to join the rebels that may yet be found in the country, I have this moment been called upon by Colonel Rapeljis, Colonel Salmon, Colonel Aikin, Colonel M'Call, and the officers commanding the regiments of volunteer corps in this district, with a request that I will offer to your excellency their services, with 2000 or more of the gallant militia of the district, who will be ready, on the slightest notice, to march to the frontiers, should their country require their services; and I have no hesitation in stating, that, should any demonstration be made on that frontier, a sufficient force of cavalry and infantry can be poured into that quarter from the London and Gore districts, more than adequate to put it down.
I cannot describe in terms sufficiently strong, the enthusiasm and ardour with which the loyal inhabitants of this country are crowding to my aid.
Thus, we have nothing in the shape of detail, relative to the proceedings in the London district; all we have is the result, stated in the following paragraph from the governor's speech to the Assembly, on the 21st of December : —
In the London district, a similar proof of public opinion was practically evinced. To the militia, nobly commanded by Colonel M'Nab, speaker of the House of Assembly, upwards of 300 misguided men laid down their arms — craving pardon for their guilt — asking permission to assist the loyal militia in capturing the fugitive leaders, who they declared had not only deceived, but deserted them; and the affair being thus concluded, there remained not a rebel throughout the whole province in arms ! — indeed so complete was their defeat, that general orders were immediately issued by me, announcing that there was 'no further occasion for the resort of militia to Toronto'; and that the militia of the Bathurst, Johnstown, Ottawa, and Eastern districts, might march to Lower Canada, in aid of the Queen's forces.
Sir Francis Head, writing always for effect, occasionally makes contradictory statements, and falls into chronological blunders. The announcement that there was "no further occasion for the resort of the militia to Toronto," is stated above to have been made in consequence of the "complete defeat" of the insurgents in the London district. In the extract which we are about to quote, the announcement is said to have been made because "the numbers (of militia) which were advancing towards him were so great." Now both these reasons cannot be true, though both may be false. Let us look at dates. The notice was issued on the 8th of December. At that time, M'Nab was only on his march to the London district, and his report was not written till a week after. Thus then, the announcement could not have been made as stated in Sir Francis Head's speech to the Assembly, quoted above.
The other account, namely, that of the largeness of the numbers,144 involves no improbability — not even that of its being one of Sir Francis Head's stage tricks.
There is another slight inattention to chronological accuracy in the passage quoted at page 133. He there speaks of M'Kenzie, as having dared to offer his adherents 300 acres of land at the time the militia rushed towards Toronto ; whereas, M'Kenzie did not issue his proclamation to that effect until the 19th of December, or about a fortnight later. We allude to these trifles only for the purpose of enabling the reader to estimate the value of Sir Francis Head's testimony.
We now take up the despatch, so often quoted, where we left it.
On the day of Mr. M'Kenzie's defeat, (7th Dec.) as well as on the following morning, bands of militia-men from all directions poured in upon me in numbers, which honourably proved that I had not placed confidence in them in vain. From the Newcastle district alone 2,600 men, with nothing but the clothes in which they stood, marched in the depth of winter towards the capital, although nearly 100 miles from their homes.
From Gore, Niagara, Lake Simcoe, and from various other places, brave men, armed as well as unarmed, rushed forwads unsolicited, and, according to the best reports I could collect, from 10,000 to 12,000 men simultaneously marched towards the capital to support me in maintaining for the people of Upper Canada the British constitution.
The numbers which were advancing towards me were so great, that the day after Mr. M'Kenzie's defeat (8th Dec.) I found it absolutely necessary to print and circulate a public notice, announcing that there existed no further occasion for the resort of militia to Toronto; and the following day I was further enabled to issue a general order authorizing the whole of the militia of the Bathurst, Johnstone, Ottawa, and Eastern districts, to go and lend their assistance, to Lower Canada.
I have now completed a plain statement of the events which have occurred in this noble province during the last week, and have done so at some length, as the moral they offer is most important.145
It now only remains for me to inform your lordship that Mr. M'Kenzie, who has escaped, to Buffalo, in the United States, has, by falsehood and misrepresentations, almost succeeded in exciting a large body of labourers, out of work,146 to invade Upper Canada, for the purpose of plundering the banks and of gaining possession of the crown lands.
This is at this moment causing, throughout the province, considerable excitement, and I must say that, for the sake of humanity, I earnestly trust and hope the attempt will not be made.
I entertain the utmost reliance that the government of the United States will nobly prevent any such invasion. I am persuaded that all Americans of intelligence and property will feel that the character of their country requires them to discountenance a lawless and unprincipled aggression.
Should, however, any of the inhabitants of Buffalo or other frontier towns, regardless of these sentiments, for the sake of plunder, invade the free and independent people of Upper Canada, I feel confident that every man in the province, Indians and black population included, will assemble together in one band to exterminate the invaders, or to perish in the attempt.147
Between the 7th and the 16th of December, various proclamations were made, offering rewards for the several persons implicated, or supposed to be implicated, in the rising. The following is a list of the persons for whom these rewards were offered, with the sums set against their names : —
|W. L. M'Kenzie||£1000|
|Dr. John Rolph, M.P.P.||500|
|Dr. Chas. Duncombe, M.P.P.||500|
|Robt. Alway, M.P.P.||250|
On the 10th of December, the following general order was issued, seeming to imply that there had been something like a connivance with the insurgents on the part of some persons whom policy, for the time, had attached to the government side.
His excellency the Lieutenant-governor directs, that no officer, whatever may be his rank, or on whatever service he may be employed, shall take upon himself to release any prisoner taken in arms against the government, or any one apprehended on suspicion of treasonable practices ; but all such persons are to await the decision of the government, upon a careful investigation of the charges against them.
But on the 14th, another order was issued, very nearly approaching to a repeal of that of the 10th of December. It runs as follows :—
It is his excellency's the Lieutenant-governor's desire, that no further arrests shall be made by officers of the militia on duty, except in the case of notorious offenders.
The arms of the disaffected are, however, to be secured as heretofore, and all officers will continue to act under the direction of the civil magistrates for arresting and securing those for whom warrants shall be issued.
On the 11th of December the following notice was issued, announcing the organization of a special commission to examine persons accused of high treason, with a view, probably, of thinning the gaols of the "deluded" class as we have already seen was done in Lower Canada, by the commander of the forces : —
A special commission has been completed, appointing the Hon. Robert S. Jameson, vice-chancellor, and others, to examine all persons accused of high treason, &c., and all parties requiring or wishing to give information respecting prisoners are hereby directed to the vice-chancellor's for those purposes.
We have now carried our narrative to the dispersion of the insurgents in Yonge-street, and the close of Colonel M'Nab's expedition into the London district. In the next chapter, we shall detail the proceedings of M'Kenzre at Buffiilo, and the sympathy which was excited in the United States by the revolt in Upper Canada.
130. The city is in longitude 79° 20' west — latitude 43° 33' north.
131. The name of York was retained for the township because Toronto was already the name of a township west of York.
132. Bouchette, vol. i. p. 88.
132. Bouchette, vol. i. p. 88.
133. Par. paper, No. 99, p. 3.
135. Par. paper. No. 100, p. 13.
136. The whole of this despatch will be found in this and the following pages. The only liberties taken with it are to mark one or two passages in italics, and to cut it into portions suited to the course of our narrative.
137. This despatch is given at page 120.
138. Par. paper, No. 99, p. 5—6.
139. This description is truly melo-dramatic. The rebels are within an hour's march of Toronto — defenceless and unarmed. Sir Francis calls upon the militia for aid; 10,000 instantly obey the summons, march through the woods and save him, within the hour, of course, or it would have been too late.
140. This is not true; the offer of land was not made till the 19th, era fortnight after. Seep. 141.
141. This view is fully borne out by the statement of M'Kenzie at Buffalo . See Chap. ix. p. 152.
142. See also the note at p. 139.
143. See the observations on the use of these terms at page 137. The anti-popular party burned the house of Gibson, but this act is not called arson. Powell (see page 135) shot one of the rebels, but that was not murder. The outrages committed during a state of revolt are deeply to be deplored, but they are not properly named, when designated by the same terms as are applied to crimes properly so called.
144. See page 142.
145. A passage following this has already been made use of at page 32.
146. Who'ever before heard of "large bodies of labourers out of work" in the United States ?
147. See Par. paper, No. 99, p. 1.
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