Brock Centenary: Appendix 1
Highland Heroes In The War Of 1812–14*
By Dr. Alexander Fraser, Toronto
While with a fine sense of fitness the part taken by the men of Glengarry, Ontario, in the 1812–14 war is rarely referred to by the descendants of those who fought so well and fell for their country, it is but meet on a centennial occasion as is now being celebrated that the distinguished services of the clansmen should not be forgotten. Much, indeed, could be said of the Macdonells, Macdonalds, Macleans, MacMillans, Chisholms, Camerons and Grants, as well as of other kindred families, who displayed all the ardour of the Highland mountaineer in defence of home and country, and who occupied second place then nor subsequently when the war-note sounded. These brief lines, however, must deal only with Lieutenant-Colonel John Macdonell, who fell mortally wounded at Queenston Heights, and whose name cannot be disassociated in history from that of Brock, the chief hero of the war.
The many intermarriages in the course of generations between members of different houses of the Glengarry branch of Clan Donald have created genealogical intricacies not always threaded by the general reader. The identity of Colonel John Macdonell, the Queenston hero, however, need never have been in doubt. He was descended from Angus Macdonell of Greenfield, a grandson of Ranald, the ninth chief of Glengarry—in Gaelic, styled "Mac-ic-Alasdair." The Macdonells of Greenfield are nearer the main line of the Glengarry family than the cadet branches of Aberchalder, Cullachie and Leek—many of whom settled in Canada, who left the parent stock at an earlier period. They might reasonably be regarded as representative of all the Glengarry Macdonells of Canada.
Angus Macdonell of Greenfield had one son, Alexander, who came to Canada in 1792. He was married in Scotland to a daughter of Alexander Macdonell of Aberchalder (Captain 1st Battalion, King's Royal Regiment of New York), and among the issue of that marriage were Duncan, who succeeded his father, John, who fell with Brock, and Donald, who figured at Ogdensburg, 1813.
John Macdonell (Queenston) was born in 1785, in Scotland, and with his family came to Canada when seven years of age. In due course he became member of the Legislature for Glengarry and Attorney-General for Upper Canada. He was a Colonel of Militia, and on the outbreak of the war of 1812 acted as Military Secretary and Provincial A.D C. to General Sir Isaac Brock. His legal talents were regarded as of high order, and of his military abilities Brock entertained a very good opinion indeed. As President of the Council and Administrator of Upper Canada, General Brock occupied the highest civil position in the Province, and the chief military position as General of the forces under his command.
Lieutenant-Colonel John Macdonell, as Attorney-General, filled the next highest civil position to Brock in Upper Canada, and, as Military Secretary and P.A.D.C., was next highest in importance, if not in rank, to his chief in the field. Testimony was warmly borne by some of the most capable to judge, of his dominance in the military operations, and the subsequent negotiations, at Detroit, and the papers in connection therewith, which he is said to have drafted, bear the mark of his patriotic and generous mind. The Prince Regent, in expressing his regret at the loss which the country must experience by the death of the Attorney-General, declared that "his zealous co-operation with Sir Isaac Brock would reflect lasting honour on his memory." Like Brock, he died unmarried; like him, too, he was engaged to be married at the time of his death. His fiancee was Miss Powell, daughter of the Chief Justice.
The story is told that at the commencement of the war, before making his will, Colonel Macdonell told Miss Powell that, though he had only a little estate to dispose of, about £300 in money, his books, papers and personal effects, together with ten acres of land on Church Street, Toronto, he wished her to have first choice of either the money and effects, or the land, for herself; the other part to go to a relative. She chose the money and the personalty, and the ten acres of land on Church Street went to his relative and godson, James Macdonell, son of his host, the Hon. Alexander Macdonell, Toronto, in whose family the title still remains.
Colonel Macdonell's father, Colonel Alexander Macdonell, commanded the 2nd Battalion, Glengarry Militia, in the war, and two of his brothers also had commissions, Duncan Macdonell, as a Captain, commanding a company at Ogdensburg (under Colonel George Macdonell), and Donald Greenfield Macdonell, who also commanded a company at Ogdensburg. Duncan, the elder brother, succeeded his father as Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding the 2nd Battalion, Glengarry Militia, until 1857, when he received the thanks of the Governor-General "for his long and valuable services dating from the last war." His son, Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald J. Macdonell, was also commanding officer of his grandfather's and father's regiment from 1857 to 1864. He was a barrister, and a Bencher, and Recorder at Kingston, and for many years a partner with Sir John A. Macdonald, Prime Minister of Canada. His only son is the well-known Lieut.-Col. John A. Macdonell, Alexandria, Ontario, now the head of the Greenfield family, whose patriotic sentiments and antiquarian tastes have often found eloquent and useful expression. He is a grandnephew of Colonel Macdonell (Queenston) and fifth of Greenfield.
Donald Greenfield Macdonell, who commanded a company at Ogdensburg (brother of Colonel Macdonell, Queenston), became D.A.Q.M.G in the war, was a Colonel of Militia and Deputy Adjutant-General from 1846 to 1861. He had the honour of laying the corner-stone of the monument to Sir Isaac Brock at Queenston in 1853. Among his grandsons are Donald Greenfield Macdonell, barrister, Vancouver, heir male, after Lieut.-Col. John A. Macdonell, Alexandria, Ontario, and A. McLean Macdonell, K.C., the well-known barrister of Toronto.
The connection of Mr. A. McLean Macdonell, K.C., of Toronto, with the War of 1812 is perhaps unique. Not only had his paternal great-grandfather and three sons, the Macdonells of Greenfield, commissions in the War of 1812, as above stated, but his maternal great-grandfather and three sons also held commissions in that war, viz., the Honourable Neil McLean and his three sons: 1st, the Honourable Archibald McLean, afterwards Chief Justice of Upper Canada. It is said that when Colonel Macdonell fell, McLean was near him, and he called out to him: "Help me, Archie." 2nd, John McLean, afterwards Sheriff of Kingston; and 3rd, Colonel Alexander McLean, who shows an excellent military record, and whose daughter married John Macdonell of Greenfield, Mr. McLean Macdonell's father. Thus, Mr. McLean Macdonell had two great-grandfathers, two grandfathers, and four granduncles, all holding important commissions in the only war which has vitally threatened Canada.
The connection between A. Claude Macdonell, M.P., Toronto, and Lieutenant-Colonel John Macdonell (Queenston) is by intermarriage in the families of Aberchalder and Cullachie. The Aberchalders gave a father, Captain Alexander, and three sons, John, Hugh, and Chichester, to the American revolutionary war. John was a Captain in Butler's Rangers and was the first Speaker of the first House of Assembly of Upper Canada, in 1792. Hugh was an officer in the King's Royal Regiment and in the Royal Canadian Volunteer Regiment. He was one of the members for Glengarry in the first Legislature of Upper Canada. He afterwards served at Gibraltar, and as British Consul-General at Algiers. Chichester served in Butler's Rangers, and became a colonel in the British army, winning distinction at Corunna.
Allan Macdonell of Cullachie (closely related to Aberchalder) was a captain in the 84th Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, and his son, Alexander, an officer in Butler's Rangers, was prominent in the military-political life of Upper Canada, and at the time of the 1812 war was a colonel of Militia and Deputy Postmaster-General. His son, Angus Duncan Macdonell, who died in 1894, was the father of Mr. Angus Claude Macdonell, M.P. for South Toronto.
When Colonel Macdonell (Queenston) came to Toronto as a young man in connection with his profession, he resided with his relative, the Honourable Alexander Macdonell, Mr. Claude Macdonell's grandfather, and it was from his home he went to the front. Needless to say, Colonel Macdonell's memory is sacredly cherished among these and many others of his kith and kin in Canada, as it is indeed by all lovers of the heroic in Canadian history.
* Reprinted from the Toronto Globe and Mail and Empire of the 12th of October, 1912.