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1837 and my connection with it

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The [[county of Two Mountains]], guided by [[Girouard]] and [[Scott]], the members, and [[Charter]], Priest of [[St. Benoit]], had been particularly active from the beginning, and now held a meeting which, after declaring that the country could have no confidence in any person holding a commission from the Executive, proposed that magistrates or pacificators should be elected, to whom all matters of civil contest should be referred for adjudication.
The [[wikipedia:Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Quebec|Canadian clergy]], with few exceptions, resolutely opposed all public agitation. Never was there such severance between the people and their pastors. Monseigneur [[wikipedia:Jean-Jacques Lartigue|Lartigue]], acting as bishop of the diocese of Montreal, issued a ''[[mandement]]'', or pastoral letter, denouncing positively all agitation and agitators. A few priests refused to read it to their parishioners, or did so with an apology. In some of the parishes the men left the church when the reading commenced.
The greatest and closing public meeting of the season, was that of the "Five Counties", held at St. Charles, on the 23rd day of October, which was attended by more men of superior position than any of the preceeding. The speakers were Papineau, [[wikipedia:Louis-Michel Viger|L. M. Viger]], [[wikipedia:Louis Lacoste|Louis Lacoste]], [[E. E. Rodier]], and Dr. Côté, all members of Parliament, and myself. The resolutions, moved and seconded by men of highest repute in the District insisted on the duty of the British authorities to amend our form of Government: stigmatized the dismissal of officials; declared that there could be no confidence in their successors, which made the election of "pacificators", as proposed in Tow Mountains, necessary; protested against the English Government for sending on troops for the destruction of our liberties; disapproved all recent appointments of Lord Gosford, as evidencing and continuing a system of fraud. The organization of the Sons of Liberty was approved, and hopes expressed that Providence, and the sympathies of our neighbors - Provincial and American - would bring round a favorable opportunity for our emancipation. An armed party fired salutes, and a plan for the [[Grand Meeting of the Confederation of the Six Counties in Saint-Charles|confederation of six counties]] was adopted.
There were no secrets nor conspiracies with the Papineau party, nor was anything committed till warrants were issued, to which the charge of high treason could attach. What was known to one was known to all, and to the world at large. There was no policy but what was expressed openly at public meetings; revolt was only the dream of a few over-excited men. There were no preparation, no purchase of arms or ammunition, nor even a proposition to provide for attack or defense. The province was agitated to the utmost, and public clamor was incessant, but all in words, condemning the British Government for neglect of promised reforms, and approving the House of Assembly for withholding a vote of supplies, till our representations were acted on, and our grievances were redressed. The leaders were a noble band. Any one of them might, on any day, had sold himself to Lord Gosford for a good cash price, and certainly of honorable consideration, with his previous opponents; but non even wavered.
So general was the idea abroad that were were organized and ripe for revolt, that [[wikipedia:William Lyon Mackenzie|Mackenzie]], who had planned a rising in rear of [[Toronto]], and an attack on the Capital, sent me an agent to communicate his designs, and learn ours. We had none, and not even a committee with whom the agent could consult. One of the few with whom he was able to communicate, much alarmed at this notice of Mackenzie's unexpected intentions, brought this agent to my room for consultation. My friend taking me aside, said: "You know we are doing nothing, and have no designs for the future; Mackenzie should be undeceived, and dissuaded from his intentions." I replied that Mackenzie knew his own business, and should be allowed to take his course, which, result as it might, could only help us. What opinions the agent got elsewhere I know not; but the mission proved non hinderance to the Toronto move.
There had been a few arrests for sedition in the summer, which ended too farcically to be repeated; and Attorney General [[Ogden]] was sent up to endeavor to get out warrants for [[wikipedia:High treason in the United Kingdom|high treason]]. Up to this time, there was no ground for such [[wikipedia:Writ|writs]], and the judges refused to grant them; but two excited magistrates were found willing to assume the responsibility. These two hot-headed men did what the judges, partisans though they might be, feared to do, by reason of its illegality. There was no high reason in 1837, except that caused by resistance to these illegal proceedings. Writs were issued on the 16th November, and subsequently, that filled our goal for the winter with prominent Canadian citizens, against whom there was, in reality, no charge. [[wikipedia:Martial law|Martial law]] was not declared till the 5th December.
On the after noon of the 16th November, I learned that a warrant for high treason was issued against me. Consulting non one, and knowing I could not leave the city, I passed down [[wikipedia:Saint Catherine Street|St. Catherine street]] to the horse ferry-boat, at the foot of the current, with no idea or intent to proceed direct to the States to recover my strength there, and communicate with my political friends, from whom I had been ten days separated, and who I presumed to be scattered in country parts.
Arriving at the Hochelaga horse-boat at five o'clock, the usual hour for crossing, I learned it would only go at seven, and then take over two companies of troops. Retreating hastily to a ferry-boat house, I tried to get over in a canoe. The ferryman would not attempt crossing. It was too stormy; and, to add to my perplexity, my carter declared his horse, having worked all day, could go no father. An ''habitant'' returning from the market, offered to take me to his home at [[wikipedia:Pointe-aux-Trembles|Pointe aux Trembles]]. I got first in the car with too short rifles: the ''habitant'', catching on the lock of one, as he got in, caused it to discharge, the ball whistling straight between our heads. A slight inclination of the barrel would have sent the ball through mine, and there would have been the "sensation" of a suicide, or a murder, as the reporter might think best paying. We faced a furious snow-storm from the north-east. The road then ran along the river. The ''habitant'' was very drunk, and fearing he would upset, I drove the horse. After ten days confinement and appliances to sooth my wounds, this exposure was terrible, and the nigh I passed at the ''habitant'''s house was one of excruciating agony.
In the morning I walked to the village of Pointe aux Trembles, where all was excitement; but no one, except myself, had arrived from Montreal two boys took me over to the opposite island, where in a small house I went to bed, and spent the day. Sending for Dr. [[Duchesnois]], I returned with him in a canoe to [[wikipedia:Varennes, Quebec|Varennes]], and took supper at his house, with two of my ''chefs de section'', Doctor [[Gauvin]] and [[Rudolphe Desrivières]], who brought news of the attack at Longueuil, by ''habitants'' under [[Bonaventure Viger]], on a party of eighteen [[Montreal Volunteer Cavalry]], which liberated Mr. [[Demaray]] and Doctor [[Davignon]], who were being brought in as prisoners from [[St. Johns]]. I remarked:
"Then the ball has commenced. We must all take our places in the dance".
We were also told that Mr. [[Drolet]], at [[St. Marc]], had fifty men with muskets guarding his house; but arrived there soon after daybreak, we found neither men nor muskets. A servant man, roused from his sleeping bench, opened the door. It was the large stone-house now occupied by the "Fraser." Mrs. Drolet, with her tow daughters and youngest son, joined us at breakfast. A gentleman from Quebec, we learned, had passed up the river, warning all prominent men, especially those noticeable at the meeting of the "five counties" or impending danger; and all were either secreted in the back concessions, or gone to the States for safety.
Crossing the Richelieu to St. Charles, we saw waiting for us on the bank two carts. In them were Mr. Papineau, Doctor Wolfred Nelson, Doctor [[wikipedia:Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan|O'Callaghan]], and another, on their way up the river. They did not forbid our project. The coincidence in the meeting with persons so prominent, at this exact time and place, was most singular (our four names were the first on the list for whom rewards were offered). Had I left Montreal with the intention of finding these gentlemen, I know not in what direction I should have gone, or when I should have attained my end. Nelson was making preparations for defence at St. Denis.
I went in a house, and lay down to rest. Gauvin, finding a sword, put himself at the head of suddenly-formed squad of seventeen men, armed with fowling-pieces, marched up to the manor-house of Mr. [[wikipedia:Pierre-Dominique Debartzch|Debartzh]], and took possession. Soon, a servant came with a line horse, new saddle and bridle, for the "General"; and I rode up to the manor-house, a large one story wooden place, now transformed into a camp, with sentries posted, and was addressed by all as ''the'' "General". The appointment was spontaneous, and I had no other. My command was of my own creation. At any other time this would have been rather grand; but, with aching bruises, a swollen head, one eye recently destroyed, and my jaws closing, to stop eating, it required resolution to maintain the position. This was Friday, the 17th of November.
On Sunday, there was no work done, for the Canadians on this point obey the commandment. On Monday we continued cutting down trees about the house, to form barricades to our camp, intending to cover them with earth; but this was so little advanced that our defence had only reached the consequence of a strong log-fence, with no military or engineering pretensions, when we were driven out. Two old rusty six-pounders, found in a barn, were mounted on sleigh-runners by the village blacksmith, and loaded, for want of other missiles, with scraps of iron. These were our only artillery. Our fame spread abroad. The country people, supposing the time for rising had arrived, flocked in, without waiting for special orders. Never could I forget the alacrity and devotion of these men, coming forward, even before the call, to maintain the country's rights. They were the right material. With arms and officers, we could have improvised an army, off hand; but we had neither. In an old settled country, from which game had disappeared, a singular collection of [[fusil]]s was in their hands, in all stages of dilapidation: some must have come down from before the conquest; and the whole would have been an interesting variety for a museum. There was, I think, but one musket; and I do not remember seeing a single [[bayonet]]. A few kegs of powder were collected, and cartridges made; but with such diversities of bore, I cannot say that every man got what he could use. There had been no general military organization or training since the conquest. Such had been the policy of the Government, and it now reaped the advantage.
Such was the camp at St. Charles. A few hundred men assembled, and thousands were ready to join; - a mere collection of individuals, without appliances, or instruction, or commanders, from corporals upwards, required for any action military. But such was not the newspaper report published abroad. There I lined a strong, well-armed, and disciplined force, in a well-fortified position, with two of "[[Bonaparte]]'s" generals under me, and a foundry for casting cannon!
Sir [[wikipedia:John Colborne, 1st Baron Seaton|John Colborne]], now commanding in Montreal, determined to attack this formidable army. Two expeditions were sent out. - one under Col. [[wikipedia:George Augustus Wetherall|Wetherall]], by the way of Chambly; the other under Col. [[Gore]], by the way of [[wikipedia:Sorel-Tracy, Quebec|Sorel]], - to secure the capture of leading men, by an attack on both sides.
One the afternoon of Wednesday, the 22nd November, Col. Gore left Montreal with two companies of the [[Twenty-fourth Regiment]], and one company of the [[Thirty-second]] ([[Markham]]'s), and a small party of volunteer cavalry, with one [[wikipedia:Howitzer|howitzer]] 12-pounder. Two companies of the [[Sixty-sixth]] joined them at Sorel. At ten o'clock at night, the march commenced for St. Denis, eighteen miles. It was raining heavily, and the road was knee deep almost in soft mud; towards morning it commenced freezing, and a snow-storm faced the troops. Cold and exhausted they struggled on, Markham's company leading, picking their way, as they best could, expecting to breakfast at St. Denis, without opposition. The first files had nearly entered the village, when fire opened upon them. The howitzer, unlimbered at 250 yards, opened fire in return; but the troops taking shelter round barns and houses, were too benumbed to handle their muskets. Markham, sheltered behind a long barn, twice reached out to lead an assault, and each time received a musket wound, the last one very serious. Firing continued for a few hours, chiefly from the howitzer, and then the troops retreated to Sorel, leading the gun behind as a trophy for the "patriots¨. Such was the relation made to me by some wounded men, who were left prisoners, and it corresponds with the official report. Had a dash been made in the morning, the troops would have easily carried it. Had the "patriots" followed the exhausted retreating troops, in the afternoon, possibly all would have been captured; but neither knew the weakness of the other.
The troops lost, - killed, 6 rank and file; wounded, 1 officer and 9 rank and file; missing 6 rank and file. The patriots had 10 or 12 killed.
Col. Wetherall was now halted at St. Hilaire, mine miles above St. Charles, wit a brigade, consisting of four companies of the [[1st Royals]], a detachment of he 66th Regiment (another company of the Royals followed from Chambly), with two six-pounders, and a detachment of Volunteer Cavalry. It was doubtful if he would come further after the retreat of Col. Gore; and indeed, from his report, his advance would appear another accident. Reports, coming from we know not where, informed us that the "Patriots" were armed in rear of Montreal, threatening the city, and that Chambly, St. John's, and all the country from thence to the lines, was in our hands. Disappointment soon followed. On Friday evening, an American arrived from [[wikipedia:St. Albans (town), Vermont|St. Albans]], to inform that Dr. Côté and the leaders of the county of Lacadie, with several of the prominent men from the Richelieu, from Montreal, and elsewhere, were there collecting munitions of war for invasion. Nelson and I thus found ourselves alone. Had our frontier friends staid at home, communication with the States would have been open for arms and munitions, which would assuredly have com in. The invasion from St. Albans was delayed too long. One day earlier it might have proved successful.
Friday, the 24th, was a beautiful day. A sharp frost made the road good. Having more men than I could lodge in the camp, I proceeded with one hundred, and billeted them in farm-houses up the river; the advanced posts being at a small stream two miles up, where I directed the bridge to be destroyed and the passage ?desputed?, and on a bank in rear, where I directed a barricade of fence rails to be erected. All were ordered to skirmish with any coming enemy by firing on the advance and falling back.
Still suffering from my old bruises, fitted for a hospital rather than for a camp, I had hardly got to sleep, about midnight, when I was awakened by a messenger from Desrivières at the barricade, to say he had made a good work and he wanted more men. I could hardly make a reply, when it appeared as if the whole picket was back in camp with a report that an enemy was upon us. It proved a false alarm, but only a portion returned to their posts. There was evidently a scare.
On the morning of Saturday, 25th, I inspected our forces; for, being collected from the neighboring parishes, their attendance was somewhat irregular. There turned out in camp precisely one hundred and nine fire-locks, or, I should say, flint-locks, for many of them refused to fire, when essayed a few hours later. Just at this time, a man riding up delivered a letter from [[St. Mathias]], opposite Chambly, informing me that Col. Wetherall had orders to fall back to Montreal, and was retreating. The after story was that Col. Wetherall did not retreat, because these people had stupidly stop the order from Sir John Colborne to that effect; and, moreover that I, who was eighteen miles distant, with Wetherall halfway between, was in command of them. Mot of all, the man who was said to borne the order, told me in Montreal, seven years afterwards, that he was ready to make oath that he was not detained by my orders. He did not see me, but knew my voice! Such are the materials of history! Had Wetherall retreated, our weakness would have been undiscovered, and we should have remained masters of the south side of the [[wikipedia:Saint Lawrence River|St. Lawrence]].
Anticipating no danger for the day, I set about improving our camp, and then rode down to the village, to make arrangements for grinding wheat. While consulting with Bunker, the hotel-keeper, at his door, a messenger rushed up to inform me that the troops were approaching; and, returning to the camp, I found that my pickets, already reduced to about twenty-five men, had all came back to bring the news. Putting myself at their head, I sent up about two miles to reconnoitre, and from a slight eminence, saw the whole brigade, in strength, beyond our means of opposition.
Repeating my order to fire from behind the wood-piles that flanked the road, to delay their march, I returned to camp. My horse, making a sudden turn and jump, threw me, as weak as I was, over his head a good distance, on the rough, frozen road. The horse caught, I mounted, and proceeded. At another time, I should have required a hurdle for my removal; but, when the mind's energies are strong; the body is at best a mere incumbrance. Its sufferings are unheeded.
In the camp, or might be best called our enclosed, there were about eighty men, who bravely took their places behind the defences. There were more, I knew, in the village, one-third of a mile distant. They must be hurried up. Without an "[[wikipedia:Aide-de-camp|aide]]", I must go myself, thinking the time abundant. The fields were covered with men, women, and children, flying before the troops, from their deserted houses, and the more terrified as smoke and flames shot up from barns set on fire.
The last many of my men had seen of me was hurrying from front to rear, as fast as my weak state would permit. Just as I was turning to get back to camp, a stout ''habitant'' breathless, in his shirt sleeves, came running from above, to tell me that he was sent by the English commander ("General Anglais") to say that if we were dispersed, nobody should be harmed (This afterwards was corroborated by sworn testimony; and Col. [[Gugy]], accompanying the troops, told me it was he who sent him). Supposing by this that Col. Wetherall was pressed by "Patriots" in the rear, and was hurrying to Sorel, I sought fit person to carry back answer that if the troops laid down their arms, they would be allowed to proceed unmolested. This cause a few minutes, delay; he had to run for a coat; and but for this incident that day would probably have been my last. I had reached the ravine, within one minute ride from the camp, when one round-shot after the other buzzed past me down the road. Musketry was heard, and men falling back showed me their broken and useless arms. All appeared to be coming. My whole duty now was to endeavor to keep them together, and make face on a new front. Finding this was impossible, - for many would break for their homes, and that I remained unsupported, - my "occupation" at St Charles "gone", towards dusk, I joined Doctor Nelson at St. Denis.
The published reports announced a long, hard fought battled: I had fifteen hundred men, but ran away before the action commenced; and three hundred were killed on our side. A subsequent "official" report reduced them to one hundred and twenty-five. The first exaggeration was about ten times, - the last four: and this, I presume, is a fair specimen of the truthfulness of what we read of "battles" elsewhere. I was told the day following by some people near St. Denis, who did not know me, that the "general" had sold himself to the English, and run away to the States, with all the Patriot money.
It may well be asked what we expected to effect with such wretched preparations at St. Charles? I can only answer for myself, that, seeing the determined animation of the people, I thought the leaders would remain with them, and the raising of the "Patriot" flag at St. Charles, would be the signal for a general rising; that men and arms would flow in from the States, as into [[wikipedia:Texas|Texas]]; and that Sir John Colborne would evacuate Montreal for Quebec, leaving us all the country outside. Had there been the militia laws and military knowledge of to-day, this was easy. Then I thought we would in the winter send Commissioners to England, in mercantile phrase, "to make a settlement". Ours was simply a provincial war of factions. The "Bureaucrats" vanquished us, and the province had to wait a few years for a government based upon "the well-understood wishes of the people." Had we vanquished them, there would have been only a delay of a few months, with an immense saving to the British Government.
On Monday, the 27th, alarmed with a report that Col Wetherall would attack St. Denis, the place was evacuated. Dr. Nelson, the present Sir [[wikipedia:George-Étienne Cartier|George E. Cartier]], myself, and few others, passed the day seated very stupidly in a swamp, a few miles back from Richelieu. In the evening we learned that Wetherall was on the march back to Montreal, and the next day we returned to St. Charles and St. Denis. I had considered Wetherall's success at St. Charles of little moment, - only a "[[Lexington]];" and, if favored by the usual bad weather of the season, his command would be made prisoners before they recrossed the St. Lawrence. On the contrary , his success proved decisive.
We continued at St. Denis with a small armed party till 2nd December, when, on the second approach of Col. Gore, there was a second evacuation. Dr. Nelson, myself, and four others, passed over to St. Césaire in the night to take the woods. At the end of three days we got separated. I escaped after various vicissitudes, through the States; my companions were captured. The five hundred pounds rewards offered for Nelson's apprehension was paid; the same sum offered for mine still remains in the treasury. Soon learning the determination of the American authorities, I took no part with the "sympathizers." Leaving for the South, in the autumn of 1838, I only heard of that year's attempt at invasion from the States, at [[wikipedia:Key West, Florida|Key West]], after my return from [[wikipedia:Cuba|Cuba]]. In [[wikipedia:Florida|Florida]] I remained till the spring 1844; when, hearing that a ''[[wikipedia:Nolle prosequi|nolle prosequi]]'' had, unasked, been entered in my case, for what reason I never knew, I came back to Montreal, landing alone on the wharf; and, passing through the street, shook hand cordially and indiscriminately with old acquaintances, friends or foes, as though I had merely returned from a long journey. Our angry passages of the past were all turned to jokes and good fellowship, and so they have continued. (*)
THOMAS STORROW BROWN.
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