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Canadian Military History & Genealogy

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French-Indian Wars 1754-1763
American Revolution 1777-1783
War of 1812
Rebellion of 1837
Fenian Raids 1857
Red River Rebellion 1870-1877
Nile Expedition 1884-1885
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Rebellion of 1837

Battle of Short Hills

Copyright 1998 By Lorine McGinnis Schulze

Late in 1837 the Rebellion appeared to be over and Navy Island had been evacuated by MacKenzie and his men in January of that year. Volunteers were called on to enlist in the Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada and the First Frontier Light Infantry (10 Companies) was stationed on the Niagara River under Lieut-Col. John Clark. Col. Hughes of the 24th Regiment was in charge until May of 1838 when Col. Townsend of the 32nd Regiment relieved him of command.

On April 14th, nine prisoners from Dr. Dunscombe's Rising near Brantford, Ontario, were sentenced to death. Three were reprieved and the six remaining were to be hung on 20 April 1838. Tensions ran high, and on the 13th of April the hanging of Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews in Toronto, added to the resentment of the local populace.

On 19th of April a group of local men met and decided to attack the gaol in Hamilton. They were led by Linus Wilson Miller and Dr. J. T. Wilson, but on arriving there they were met with a large body of militia and the news of a prisoner reprieve. On May 12th. Charles Durand was sentenced to be hung in Toronto and the rest of the political prisoners being held were ordered freed. Durand was reprieved but sentenced to be banished, whereupon he fled to join other refugees in Buffalo, New York.

Meantime the patriots as they were called, captured and burnt the steamboat Sir Robert Peel, near French Creek in the St. Lawrence River. This resulted in rewards being offered for William Johnson of French Creek, and Daniel McLeod, Samuel C. Frey and Robert Smith from Upper Canada.

In June of 1838, the 2nd Lincoln Regiment of Militia was inspected due to rumours of unrest, but the inspecting officer Col. James Kerby reported on 5 June from Drummondville that such rumours were false and that "the utmost good order prevailed upon my presence"

The refugees on the American side of the river however, were still active. On the 17th of June they assembled over 200 armed men, and marched through Lewiston NY on their way to Clark's Point, where they would make their way across the Niagara to attack Queenston. Here the only defense was a small company of the First Frontier Light Infantry under Captain Lewis Palmer. On the order to embark, only 23 men obeyed - but believing that an American troop was marching towards them, they all dispersed. Still they did not give up their plan to enter Upper Canada.

On June 10th they assembled at Schlosser and crossed to the Grand Island where they were supplied with weapons and ammunition. Twenty-six men, including Alexander McLeod and John James McNulty who had been active in the insurrection at Montgomery's Tavern in Toronto; Jacob Beemer, indicted for participation in Dunscombe's Rising; Samuel Chandler of Pelham and Benjamin Wait of Willoughby who had joined MacKenzie on Navy Island, landed near Chippawa in Willoughby Township. Under the leadership of Chandler, who had a list of over 500 sympathizers on the Canadian side, they divided into several smaller groups, and began their march to the Short Hills. Once there they gathered at the barn of Lewis Wilson, a refugee in Buffalo, but then moved on to the farm of Aaron Winchester, another sympathizer. They were now 7 miles from St. Catharines, and sent word to the newly appointed Commander In Chief of the Patriot Army, Daniel McLeod, that they stood ready and waiting orders.

McLeod decided their plan was premature and might jeopardize the success of the general insurrection, planned for July 4th. He dispatched Linus Wilson Miller to order the group to return to the United States. The men refused and continued to gather new recruits. When their numbers reached 49 men, they decided to attack the small group of Lancers just recently sent to Queenston to patrol the Niagara River. The Queen's Lancers was a small group of 13 men commanded by Sergeant Robert Bailey.

The patriots divided into three groups and set out. On their arrival at the house where the Lancers were lodged, they surrounded the home, and eventually obtained the surrender of the company by threatening to burn them out. Some among the patriots wanted to hang the captured men; others argued for their freedom on parole. The prisoners were formally paroled and released on their word to not bear arms again.

The following morning the regular troops set out to guard all roads leading to the frontier while the woods were searched for the patriot force. The patriots fled west towards Sloat's tavern near Hamilton, but Col. Allan McNab quickly ordered out four militia regiments from the Gore District - the 3rd Gore, the Beverley Regiment, the Queen's Own and the Queen's Rangers, to intercept the patriots. Thirty-one patriots, including two women, were arrested. Dr. J. T. Wislon escaped.

Morrow, Wait and Chandler were tried and sentenced to hang. Wait and Chandler were recommended for mercy by the jury but Morrow was executed on the 30 July 1837. Wait and Chandler were sentenced to banishment for life. Four men from the USA were tried and sentenced to hang, along with several men who were deemed British subjects by birth or naturalization. Petitions for clemency were signed by many from the communities and Sir George Arthur recommended that the worst offender of the British subjects be hung and the rest banished or jailed. Jacob Beemer was ordered executed, Samuel Chandler, Benjamin Wait and Alexander McLeod were ordered banished for life and others jailed.

MacKenzie had escaped to the U.S.A. where he rallied American sympathizers and continued his cross border raids on Upper Canada. In November 1838, more than 200 hundred Americans landed at Prescott on the St. Lawrence River. They took shelter in a stone windmill and several nearby houses. A British force was sent from Kingston, and the Glengarry, Dundas and Grenville Militia were also sent. After 45 of the enemy forces were killed or wounded, they surrendered. The British and Canadian losses were also high, with 20 dead and over 60 wounded.


"The Insurrection in the Short Hills in 1838" by E. Cruikshank, in Ontario Historical Society Papers & Records 1907

Dictionary of Canadian Military History by David J. Bercuson & J. L. Granatstein

We Stand On Guard: An Illustrated History of the Canadian Army by John Marteinson

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Back to the Index for The Rebellion of 1837
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