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1837 and my connection with it

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Our Parliament assembled in the middle of August. Gosford had in a manner, during the past two years, promised many unaccomplished things. He had no answer for old complaints, and the Assembly, declaring that the redress of grievances must precede all legislative action, separated without waiting for the hasty prorogation intended by the Governor. Thus ended the last Parliament of Lower Canada.
Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm of the district of Montreal, of the intelligence with which the questions of the day were understood. The houses along the roads we took to public meetings were decorated. Crowns stood for hours listening to speeches and resolutions. In going to the [[wikipedia:Napierville, Quebec|Napierville]] meeting, the train of vehicles behind us must have been over two miles long. On one occasion, when Mr. Papineau came from [[wikipedia:Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec|St. Hyacinthe]] by the way of [[wikipedia:Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, Quebec|St. Charles]] to [[wikipedia:Verchères, Quebec|Verchères]], and up the river to Montréal, the people turned out ''en masse'', and conducted him from parish to parish.
Though so politically active, 1837 was commercially a hard year. Owing to a general failure of crops in 1836, wheat as imported from Europe to New York, to supply western want. Many cargoes from the continent were landed at Quebec, and some were purchased for Upper Canada. Nor was wheat the only article; even pork and butter were imported at a profit. All the American Banks suspended specie payment in May. Ours followed immediately, except the Bank of Upper Canada, which the Governor would not permit to do till some moths afterwards.
Many magistrates and militia officers, who had not been questioned by the Executive for their part in public agitation sent in their resignation accompanied by letters expressing very determined opinions, which were published at length, as more aliment for excitement. Not content with these voluntary demonstrations, the people in many parishes forced others to follow the same course. About the end of October, sixty-six voluntary or forced resignations were sent from the [[County of Lacadie]], with letters that, when published filled a page of our newspapers.
The [[county of Two Mountains]], guided by [[Girouard]] and [[Scott]], the members, and [[http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=37949 Charter]], Priest of [[wikipedia:Mirabel, Quebec|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]], [[http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=37761 E. E. Rodier]], and Dr. [http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=37463 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 Two 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.
[[Image:Assemblee-des-six-comtes.jpg|thumb|center|500px|"L'Assemblée des six comtés", oil on canvas painted by Charles Alexander Smith in 1890-1891]]
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 [[http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=38757 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 [[http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=39431 Bonaventure Viger]], on a party of eighteen [[wikipedia:The Royal Canadian Hussars (Montreal)|Montreal Volunteer Cavalry]], which liberated Mr. [[http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=38014 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".
"Why are the chiefs deserting"? said they. "We have guns and powder, and can defend them".
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 two 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 [[wikipedia:fusil|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 [[wikipedia:Bayonet|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.
By another of the coincidences of St. Charles, Mr. [[http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=39500 Blanchet]], the parish priest, was a "patriot" - almost the only one in the province - and favored us. Mr. Debartzh's premises, well supplied with cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, and breadstuffs, furnished our commissariat. The whole country about us was "patriot", with a small exception. [[Simon Lespérance]], a merchant of La Representation, and a few others, suspected of opposite tendencies, were brought in as prisoners by the neighbors.
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 "[[wikipedia:Napoleon I of France|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 [[wikipedia:Chambly, Quebec|Chambly]]; the other under Col. [[http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=38585 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 the 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.
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