Early Settlement and History of Glengarry in Canada: Chapter 14
Outbreak of the War of 1812.—Expressions of the American Press and Public Men.—Situation of Affairs in-Upper Canada.—Colonel Denison's Account of General Brock's Difficulties.—Treason of Willcocks, Mallory, Marcle and other Renegades.—Extra Session of Parliament Summoned.—Martial Law Proclaimed.—Expulsion of Willcocks and Marcle.
It would be foreign to the purpose of a work such as this to enter at any length into the cause which led to the War of 1812. The people of Glengarry, indeed those of Canada, had nothing to do with that. This matter has been discussed at length by various writers on the subject, by James in "The Military Occurrences of the War," by Christie in his admirable "History of Lower Canada," by Auchinleck in the "History of the War of 1812–13–14," and later by Colonel Coffin in his "Chronicle Of the War Of 1812," published as late as 1864. My object is simply to show that the War having come upon us, owing to no act of ours, the Highlanders of Glengarry did their share of the work and merited the high encomium of Colonel Carmichael passed upon them in his letter to Sir James Macdonell in 1840, which I quoted on the title page.
Suffice it to say that they were fighting for their homes, for the possession of British North America was what the Americans aimed at. Not only, however, were they lustful of further territorial aggrandizement, but they recognized the fact that, as stated in the "Weekly Register":
"The conquest of Canada will be of the greatest importance to us in distressing our enemy; in cutting off his supplies of provisions and naval stores for his West India Colonies and home demand. There is no place from where she can supply the mighty void tha would be occasioned by the loss of this country, as well in her exports as imports. It would operate upon him with a double force , it would deprive him of a vast quantity of indispensable materials, as well as of food, and close an extensive market for his manufactures. Canada and Nova Scotia, if not fully conquered immediately, may be rendered useless to him in a few weeks. Without them, and particularly the latter, he cannot maintain these terrible fleets on our coast which we are threatened with, or bridge ours harbours with frigates, admitting he may have no use for them to defend his own shores , for he will not have a dockyard, filling the purposes of his navy, within three thousand miles of us."
Mr. Porter, then Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, said:—
"These Provinces were not only immensely valuable in themselves, but almost indispensable to the existence of Great Britain, cut off as she now is, in a great measure from the north of Europe. He had been credibly informed that the exports from Quebec alone amounted during the last year (1810) to near six millions of dollars, and most of these, too, in articles of the first necessity—in ship timber and in provisions for the support of her fleets and armies."
Britain's battle, therefore, became our night, and our defense not only an obligation to us but a duty she owed to herself and her supremacy on the sea. Canada was to be the battle-ground, and the success of the War must largely depend on the temper and loyalty of its people; and though there were traitors within the gates the great bulk of them proved equal to the emergency. Such of the veterans of the War of 1776–83 as were left had their experience to fall back upon and place at the service of the Crown, though their limbs had lost the elasticity of youth, and in most cases were crippled with age and the hardship incidental to their lot; while the children of those who had gone proved true to the loyalty of their forefathers and the obligations incumbent upon subjects of the British Crown.
"We will drive the British from our continent" was the text of their speeches and manifestoes. "The Falls of Niagara could be resisted with as much success as the American people when they should be called into action," cried an excited orator in Congress. "I am willing," was the magnanimous declaration of Mr. Grundy of Tennessee, "to receive the Canadians as adopted brethren. * * I feel anxious not only to add the Floridas to the south, but the Canadas to the north of this 'empire.'" The willingness, however, was not reciprocal, and we purposed to hold our own on what they were pleased to term "their" continent. The Canadian people, less inflated and less vulgar and verbose, gave them their answer on many a hard contested field during the next few years. Henry Clay said: " It is absurd to suppose we shall not succeed in our enterprise against the enemy's Provinces. We have the Canadas as much under our command as Great Britain has the ocean, and the way to conquer her on the ocean is to drive her from the land. I am not for stopping at Quebec or anywhere else, but I would take the whole continent from them and ask no favours. * * * We must take the continent from them—I wish never to see a peace till we do. God has given us the power and the means; we are to blame if we do not use them." It is a curious coincidence that this same Henry Clay signed the treaty of peace at the close of the War; and that it did not give the United States a single inch of Canadian territory.
Dr. Eustis, the Secretary at War of the United States, said: "We can take the Canadas without soldiers; we have only to send officers into the Provinces, and the people, disaffected toward their own government, will rally around our standard."
There can be no doubt but that they counted, and counted largely, on a portion, a large and influential one, of our population, being inimical to Great Britain, and that they had, unfortunately, some ground for this impression will shortly be shown.
My friend Colonel George Taylor Denison, of Toronto, who, like all the members of his distinguished family for several generations, has done so much by precept and example to keep alive the spirit of loyalty and patriotism among our people, in an admirable lecture on the opening of the War of 1812, recently delivered before the Sons of England in Toronto, has outlined far better than I could attempt to do, the situation of affairs at the time, the difficulties General Brock had to face, and the measures he took to meet them. He has most kindly placed it at my disposal, with permission to use it to the fullest extent—a courtesy of which I most gladly avail myself. He first refers to the fact that England was engaged in the mightiest effort she had ever made, carrying on, almost singlehanded, a war against the greatest soldier and conqueror of modern times, if not of all time. From 1793, with a slight intermission, she had been continually engaged in war. The British troops had been fighting in the Peninsula with varying success for four years. One army under Sir john Moore, had been obliged to retreat in 1809 to Corunna and embark for England; while Lord Wellington had been obliged to fall back to the shelter of the lines of Torres Vedas in 1810 and across the Portuguese frontier in 1811 and to retreat from Burgos in 1812. The national debt had increased from £240,000,000 to about £740,000,000 sterling during the preceding nineteen years, an increase of over £26,000,000, or $130,000,000 per annum. The total debt was fifteen times larger than the present debt of Canada, while the population of Great Britain and Ireland was not more than three and a half times our present population. Napoleon was at the zenith of his power. The whole of Europe, except Russia, was under his control. On the 12th June, 1812, he crossed the Niemen to invade Russia at the head of about half a million of the best troops of Europe. Alison says:
"The commands of Napoleon were as readily obeyed by the Italians, Germans or Prussians as by the Guards of the French Empire."
Napoleon left Paris for this campaign on the 9th May, 1812, and six weeks after, on the 18th June, the United States declared war against England. The population of Upper Canada was then estimated at about 70,000, of Lower Canada about 230,000, in all about 300,000. The population of the United States was over 8,000,000. The population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was slightly more than double that of the United States, but it was a population exhausted by nineteen years of war, burdened with a debt relatively four times as great as the present debt of Canada is to the Canadian people, and facing in mortal struggle nearly all Europe, lead by the greatest captain of the age.
England's difficulty was the Republic's opportunity. Madison and his government, believing that England was upon the verge of ruin, were determined to bring on war, and nothing but the public voice restrained them from sooner commencing hostilities. Sir George Prevost and General Brock knowing this, made it their constant study to guard against anything that would enable the War Party in the States to influence the minds of the people against England. This strong desire to conquer and acquire Canada was increased somewhat by the belief that England was in extremities, but principally from the belief that Canada, weak in numbers as she was, was still weaker in consequence of divided councils and internal disaffection. The confidence of the politicians at Washington in the certainty of the acquisition of Canada was absolute.
Now let us consider General Brock's position. For the defence of this Province he had to rely upon the regular troops and the quota of militia that 70,000 people could furnish. On the breaking out of hostilities the regular force in Upper Canada amounted to barely 1,500 men, composed of:—The Forty-First Regiment, 900; Tenth Veterans, 250; Newfoundland Regiment, 250; Royal Artillery, 50; Provincial Seamen, 50.
In Lower Canada Sir George Prevost had about 3,000 regular troops. The total number of men capable of bearing arms in Upper Canada was about 11,000. The proportion available for active service constantly was estimated at about 4,000. At the beginning of 1812, the United States had a regular army of 5,500 men. On the 11th January, 1812, five months before the Declaration of War, an Act of Congress was passed for raising 25,000 men for five years. In the next month an Act was passed to organize 50,000 volunteers, and in April 100,000 militia were called called into active service for the purpose of military drill. During the whole war the United States regular army amounted to about 30,000. The whole militia force raised during the war was 471,622, making a grand total of over half a million engaged in the effort to conquer Provinces containing a total population of 300,000. Another great difficulty was the lack of military stores and supplies. General Brock had no uniforms to clothe the militia, and therefore issued a recommendation to them that each man, as far as his circumstance and situation allowed, should provide himself with a short coat of some dark coloured cloth, made to button well around the body, and trousers suited to the season, with the addition of a round hat. It was also recommended to the officers on every occasion when in the field to dress in conformity with the men, in order to avoid the bad consequences of a conspicuous dress.
Flour was scarce, the price having risen before the War to $8.50 a barrel, and many of the militia were drilling in their naked feet, while Brock was without a military chest, without money enough to buy provisions, blankets or even shoes for the militia. He made his wants known to a number of gentlemen of credit, who formed themselves into what was called "the Niagara and Queenston Association," and several thousand pounds were issued in the shape of bank notes, which were currently received throughout the country. This enabled Brock to fit out his expedition to Detroit. The want of arms was also severely felt until the capture of Detroit placed at his disposal 2,500 muskets of General Hull's army, which were used to arm Canadian Militia. There also he captured a quantity of cannon that were of service in subsequent operations.
In addition to the enormous odds against him, the lack of supplies, arms, men and money, there was one difficulty worse than all others, namely, internal disaffection and treachery. The regular force under General Brock was apparently utterly inadequate to defend so long a frontier, even if assisted by the hearty support of the whole population of the Province. Here, however, came Brock's greatest danger, enough to appal the stoutest heart. Upper Canada had been settled by different classes of settlers. The first arrivals, in 1784, were the loyal fighting men of the Revolutionary War, men who had made enormous sacrifices and suffered untold hardships to maintain the unity of the Empire and their allegiance to their Sovereign. These men had settled along the Niagara frontier, on the Bay of Quinte and along the St. Lawrence.
When in 1792 Colonel Simcoe arrived as first Lieutenant-Governor of this Province, being anxious to secure additional population he established a most liberal system of granting the public lands to bona fide settlers. His principal efforts were directed to inducing emigration from the United States. He felt that, although the Revolutionary War had ceased nine years before, there was still in the United States a large number of people whose sympathies were with the Royal side, and who would feel more satisfied in Canada under the old allegiance, and would probably move here if inducements were held out by a liberal system of free grants. His policy had the result of adding largely to the population of the Colony. Many doubtless came who were loyal in their tendencies, but they were different from the men of extreme views, who fought throughout the War, and left the States at its close. The weak point in the policy, however, was that the liberal inducements as to land tempted a large number of Yankee settlers to emigrate to Canada simply from mercenary motives, bringing with them the Republican sentiments which were so obnoxious to the loyal element which had opened up the first settlements in the forest. This class of disloyal mercenary Yankee settlers was more numerous than is now generally known, and of all the difficulties General Brock had to face, the lukewarmness, disloyalty, and, in many cases, secret and in others open treason of these settlers was the most dangerous and disheartening.
One of this disloyal type named M. Smith, who was given a passport to leave the country shortly after the War broke out, has left a short history of the War, published in Baltimore in 1814. He admits that he came from Pennsylvania to Upper Canada in 1808, not because he preferred the Government of Great Britain to that of the United States, but in order to obtain land on easy terms. He says that a large proportion of the population of Upper Canada consisted of the same class and their children.
The United Empire Loyalists were, as has been mentioned, principally settled along the St. Lawrence, on the Bay of Quinte, on the Niagara frontier and some in Toronto and in its neighborhood. From Toronto westward to the Detroit River, all along the shores of Lake Erie and in the London district, the then settlers were principally of the mixed class, that is the later United Empire Loyalist settlers, and the Yankee settlers who came with them on the same pretexts, but really from mercenary motives.
For years the United States had been preparing for war, and Yankee emissaries had been insidiously encouraging disaffection, and spreading fear and doubt among the people. The continued Indian wars in the United States had diverted a portion of the stream of Yankee migration into Canada, and consequently the western district received a considerable number of Yankee farmers, who took up lands, and wherever they settled spread more or less the republican and revolutionary ideas in which they had been brought up. Of course many of these secondary emigrants were loyal and true to the Government of their adopted country, and fought for it, but the majority of this class were essentially disaffected and disloyal.
It was among these men that Yankee emissaries were sent to consult and advise, and the Yankee newspapers were filled with the reports of so-called travellers as to the disloyal state of public opinion in the Province. It was positively stated that our people would make no defence against invasion, and they would submit at once. General Hull's proclamation to the Canadians was evidently based on this belief, that he was bringing them the blessings of freedom for which they were longing. The first invasion was made into the western district at Detroit. This frontier was far removed from the enemy's base of supplies, and was the most remote and difficult line for them to operate upon; yet the movement on Canada was commenced there, evidently in the hope that in that section, where the disloyal faction were settled, they would meet with the least resistance and receive the greatest support from the inhabitants. The disaffection of these aliens was to a great extent instrumental in plunging the two countries into war. Had the people of the United States known that the Canadian people as a whole were thoroughly loyal, and would have fought as stubbornly as they did in defense of their King and Country, there would have been no war.
On the 2nd December, 1811, General Brock, says, in a letter to Sir George Prevost: "I cannot conceal from Your Excellency that unless a strong regular force be present to animate the loyal, and to content the disaffected nothing effectual can be expected." On the 4th February, 1812, Brock opened the session of the Legislature and urged upon the House: 1. A militia supplementary Act. 2. The suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. 3. An alien law. 4. The offer of a reward for the apprehension of deserters.
"The many doubtful characters in the militia," he says in one of his despatches, "made me anxious to introduce the oath of abjuration into the bill. It was lost by the casting vote of the chairman. The great influence which the numerous settlers from the United States possess over the decisions of the Lower House is truly alarming, and ought immediately by every practical means to be diminished." The bill for the suspension of the habeas corpus was also beaten by a very trifling majority. Willcocks, Mallory and Marcle were all members of this House and leading spirits of the Opposition.
When war was declared, Brock at once called out the flank companies of the militia. This produced a force on the Niagara frontier of eight hundred men, who turned out very cheerfully, and he calculated that all over the Province the number would amount to about four thousand men. In the districts originally settled by the United Empire Loyalists the flank companies were instantly completed with volunteers, an almost unanimous disposition to serve being manifested, and on these men General Brock seems to have depended to overawe the disaffected and to aid him in the field. In fact he said in reply to an address at Kingston that "it was the confidence inspired by the admirable conduct of the York and Lincoln Regiments of Militia which had induced him to undertake the expedition which terminated in the capture of Detroit." These men who were with him when he died at Queenston were the sons of the loyal veterans of the Revolution. All along the St. Lawrence the same spirit was manifested, the men of Glengarry in particular performing at Chateauguay and in other fights the most brilliant services for Canada.
On the 6th July General Brock issued a proclamation, ordering all persons suspected of traitorous intercourse with the enemy to be apprehended and treated according to law. His letters are filled with references to his anxiety as to the machination of the disloyal and disaffected.
On the 12th July General Hull invaded Canada at Sandwich, and the militia in that district behaved very ill. They seemed either to lose hope or to be disaffected. Five hundred of them, principally of these alien settlers, gave in their adhesion to the enemy, and a party of General Hull's cavalry, amounting to about 50 men, led by a traitor named Watson, a surveyor from Montreal, were able to penetrate eastward as far as Westminster, about 110 miles east of Sandwich, a conclusive proof of the apathy, to say the least, of the settlers in that district. The Yankee settlers in the Norfolk district also refused to turn out.
At this time General Brock called the Parliament together, and on the 27th July, 1812, opened an extra session. In his speech he says: "A few traitors have already joined the enemy; have been suffered to come into the country with impunity, and have been harboured and concealed in the interior. * * * To protect and defend the loyal inhabitants from their machinations is an object worthy of your most serious deliberation." His speech concluded with these well known and memorable words showing in the face of all his difficulties and dangers, and in the face of overwhelming odds, the true heroism and confidence of a gallant soldier:
"We are engaged in an awful and eventful contest. By unanimity and despatch in our councils and by vigor in our operations we may teach the enemy this lesson, that a Country defended by free men, enthusiastically devoted to the cause of their King and constitution, can never be conquered."
Two days later Brock appealed to the militia of York, the York flank companies, whether they would follow him anywhere in this Province or out of it, in defence of it. The whole force volunteered cheerfully, without a moment's hesitation. The House, however, refused to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, or to act as promptly as he desired. The disloyal section, led by Willcocks, assisted by Abraham Marcle, did everything they could to thwart and embarrass General Brock. The state of the country certainly required prompt and vigorous measures, but many of the House of Assembly were seized with apprehensions, and endeavoured to avoid incurring the indignation of the enemy. In consequence of these difficulties Brock, feeling that General Hull's emissaries throughout the country were numerous and active, called together the Executive Council on the 3rd August, and made the following representation to them:
"That the House of Assembly, instead of prompt exertions to strengthen his hands for the Government of the militia, providing for security from internal treason by the partial suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, authorizing a partial exercise of martial law concurrently with the ordinary course of justice, and placing at his disposal the funds not actually applied of the past appropriation, had consumed eight days in carrying a single measure of party, the repeal of the school bill, and passing an Act for the public disclosure of treasonable practices before the magistrates should have the power to commit without bail. That under these circumstances little could be expected from a prolonged session. The enemy had invaded and taken post in the western district; was multiplying daily his preparations to invade in others; that the militia in a perfect state of insubordination had withdrawn from the ranks in actual service; had refused to march when legally commanded to reinforce a detachment of regular forces for the relief of Amherstburg; had insulted their officers, and some, not immediately embodied, had manifested in many instances a treasonable spirit of mutiny and disaffection; that the Indians on Grand River, tampered with by disaffected whites, had withdrawn from their volunteer services, and declared for a neutrality which was equally inadmissible as with the King's other subjects. That in the western and London districts several persons had negociated with the enemy's commander, hailing his arrival and pledging their support. That the King's forces consisted of the 41st, nine hundred strong, part of the Royal Newfoundland two hundred, with a detachment of Royal Artillery and several vessels. That the ex tent of coast and distance of prominent parts would divide that orce to support and countenance the militia. That the conduct of the western militia had exposed the regulars at Amherstburg, and he had made a large detachment of the 41st with militia from the home and Niagara districts. That the commandant at St. Joseph had taken Mackinac and might descend to Amherstburg, and compel the invaders to retreat, with the aid of the detachment now on the march to Long Point; but that no good result could be expected unless he had power to restrain the militia and general population from treasonable adherence to the enemy or neutrality by summary procedure—asked whether it would be expedient to prorogue the House of Assembly and proclaim martial law."
The Council adjourned till the next day, the 4th of August, for deliberation, and then unanimously expressed the opinion that, under the circumstances of the Colony, it was expedient after the prorogation of the Assembly that the General should proclaim and exercise martial law under authority of his commission from the King. On the 5th Brock prorogued the House and proclaimed martial law. In all probability the action contemplated by General Brock became known on the 4th, for on the 5th, the day of prorogation, the loyal party carried in this same House a most spirited and patriotic address to the people of Upper Canada. In this it is stated that the population is determinedly hostile to the United States, and "the few that might be otherwise inclined will find it to their safety to be faithful," and calls upon the people to "deem no sacrifice too costly which secures the enjoyment of our happy Constitution."
The outlook must have been very disheartening to General Brock when he wrote this minute for the Council on the 3rd of August. With only a handful of troops and no money or supplies, with a House of Assembly weak and timorous, and containing a few infamous secret traitors, sufficiently influential to delay and embarrass every step for the defense of the country; with an invading army within our borders, and a portion of the militia in the invaded district mutinous and disloyal. The turning point was the proclaiming of martial law on the 5th of August. Then Brock was master of the situation, and the change in the prospects in a few days was almost miraculous. That very day the stirring address from the House went forth to the people. The next day Brock left for Amherstburg, arriving there on the 13th at midnight. On the 15th he was at Sandwich, with three hundred and thirty regulars, four hundred militia and six hundred Indians. On the morning of the 16th he crossed to the Michigan side of the river, with these thirteen hundred and thirty men, and captured Detroit, with the whole of Hull's army of two thousand five hundred men and their immense stores and supplies. Two or three days after he set out again for York, where he arrived on the 27th August.
The success at Detroit, so unexpected as it was, produced an electrical effect throughout Canada. It inspired the timid, fixed the wavering and awed the disloyal. After this event the disaffected saw that it was as much as their property and lives were worth to disobey orders, and what they were at first compelled to do, after a little while they did from choice. Aliens were required to take the oath of allegiance or leave the Province. Many were sent out of the country, large numbers left on their own account—passports being furnished those desiring to leave. Those who refused the oath of allegiance, or to take up arms to defend the country, and remained in the Province after the 1st of January, 1813, were to be considered enemies and spies and dealt with accordingly. When the militia of the London district were ordered out, Smith, the author already referred to, says:
"Many refused of their own accord and others were persuaded so to refuse by a Mr. Culver and a Mr. Beamer and one more, who rode among the people for six days telling them to stand back. However, they were apprehended and the most of the people became obedient. After this they had their choice to go or stay, and some went."
This power of compelling the traitorous to cease their treason soon bore fruit. Large numbers went to the States, among them three members of Parliament—Joseph Willcocks, the leader of the Opposition, Benjamin Mallory and Abraham Marcle. At the next session Willcocks and Marcle, who were still members, were expelled the House "for their disloyal and infamous conduct in having traitorously deserted to the enemy." Mallory had not been re-elected in 1812. Willcocks was killed at Fort Erie in 1814 in command of a regiment in the Yankee army—Mallory served during the War as major in the same regiment. Fifteen traitors were tried at Ancaster during the war and sentenced to death. Seven of them were hanged together at that place by order of General Drummond and eight were sent to Quebec for punishment. A large number of the disloyal must have been arrested and put in prison very early in the war, for on the day of the battle of Queenston Heights, October 13, 1812, the Jail and Court House at Niagara were filled with political prisoners, as well as the block house in Fort George, amounting altogether to over three hundred aliens and traitors in custody, with only a few raw militia to guard them. When Brock lost his life at Queenston he did not have many more than three hundred soldiers with him in action, as the main forces had not come up. After the commencement of the War the officers of the army, the Indians and the loyal militia all volunteered their services to force the few laggards into the ranks. They thought it hard and unreasonable that they should bear all the burden and dangers of the War, and a number of them were zealously engaged in bringing forward the disobedient. Some forty men of Colonel Grahame's regiment refused to turn out in the neighborhood of Whitchurch township and retired into the wilderness, and the whole regiment volunteered to go out and fetch them in, an offer Colonel Grahame did not accept, probably feeling that such men were better in the woods.
The result of the war was practically that the disloyal minority were driven out, and the apathetic, unable to avoid serving the country, soon became enthusiastic in the cause. Three years of war weeded out the bad elements and welded the Canadians into a loyal and patriotic people. It also stopped the Yankee emigration, and afterwards the country was filled up with loyal English, Irish and Scotch, who settled here that they might retain their allegiance and remain under their flag.
Canada can never again be called upon to face such dangers and difficulties. It seems impossible that the odds could ever again be anything like so great against us, and although unfortunately we might have a few traitors among us, yet there are too many sons of Canada born upon her soil and too many other men loyal to their Sovereign and to the land of their adoption for a small fraction of strangers to be able to seriously endanger the national life.
Colonel Denison very properly adds that:
The experience of 1812 teaches us that internal treachery and the intrigues of a faction in favour of annexation, although the faction may be small in numbers and weak in influence, may yet involve the two countries in war and bring untold misery and immense loss of life and property upon our country. The belief that the Canadians wanted annexation, a belief industriously fostered and encouraged by the United States Government, alone enabled them to prevail upon their people in 1812 to engage in an aggressive war, and to-day the right-thinking masses of the United States would forbid a war of aggression upon Canada, unless they believed we desired the change and would yield to it without bloodshed. The man who advocates annexation in Canada is therefore playing into the hands of our worst enemies in the States, and doing all he can to embroil us in war. Whenever we hear of men advocating annexation, and there are a few cranks who do, we should remember that they are the most dangerous type to the country.