Patriot War

This article is about the rebellion in Upper Canada. For the rebellion in Lower Canada, see Patriots' War. For the Patriot War of East Florida, see Florida Seminole Wars.
Patriot War
Part of the Rebellions of 1837

Battle of the Windmill, Prescott
DateJanuary 1838 - 4 December 1838
LocationGreat Lakes Basin

Anglo-American victory


United Kingdom United Kingdom

United States United States
Republic of Canada
Hunters' Lodge
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Henry Dundas
United Kingdom Allan MacNab
United States Sheriff William Jarvis
United States Hugh Brady
Robert Nelson
Cyrille-Hector-Octave Côté
Charles Duncombe
William Lyon Mackenzie
Nils von Schoultz 
Donald McLeod
Casualties and losses
30 killed
86 wounded
Hunters' Lodge:
92 killed
81 wounded
222-243 captured
Republic of Canada:
Entire force captured

The Patriot movement was a secret association, the “Hunter’s Lodge”, formed in the United States in sympathy with the 1837 Rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada. The organization arose in Vermont among Lower Canadian refugees (the eastern division or Frères chasseurs) and spread westward under the influence of Dr Charles Duncombe and Donald McLeod, leaders of the short lived Canadian Refugee Relief Association, and Scotland native William Lyon Mackenzie, drawing in support from several different locations in North America and Europe. The Republic of Canada was also short-lived. After heavy bombardment by the British on Navy Island, where the republic had been established, Mackenzie and his force of Canadian militia retreated to Buffalo, New York, where they were captured by the U.S. army and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for violating neutrality between the United States and the British Empire, bringing to an end what the British viewed as an inconsequential and unsupported colonial rebellion. The organizations were made up of grass-roots armed militants whose goal was to overthrow British rule in Canada. Their dispersal involved the largest deployment of U.S. troops against their own citizens since the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.[1]

Mackenzie's 'Republic of Canada'

Main article: Republic of Canada

While the initial rebellion in Upper Canada ended quickly with the Battle of Montgomery's Tavern, many of the rebels (including rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie) fled to the United States. Mackenzie established a short-lived "Republic of Canada" on Navy Island in the Niagara River, but withdrew from armed conflict soon thereafter.

Even before the Battle of Montgomery's Tavern, a large meeting in Buffalo met on 5 December 1837 and appointed a committee of 13 to organize support for the rebels. On the 11 Dec., Mackenzie arrived in Buffalo, where he was met by Thomas Jefferson Sutherland, who was to become the major organizer of Patriot support for Mackenzie at Navy Island. Sutherland convinced Rensselaer van Rensselaer to become Commander in chief of the Patriot forces.[2] Van Rensselaer was a West Point graduate who had fought with Bolivar in South America.

On Dec. 13 they proceeded to Navy Island in the Niagara River, but initially found only 24 men to accompany them. Navy Island lay in Canadian waters and hence did not implicate the United States in the military actions. The encampment was to launch an attack in support of the Duncombe uprising in the London District. Here, Mackenzie declared the provisional government of the Republic of Canada. Three hundred acres of government land was offered to each volunteer. Over the month of December, large supportive meetings were held in towns along the border, including Burlington, Albany, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit and aid was promised. By the end of the month, up to 500 volunteers had joined Mackenzie on the island. However, with the failure of Duncombe's revolt, the main purpose of seizing Navy Island disappeared and it was evacuated on Jan. 14, ending the short lived republic.[3]

Caroline affair (December 29, 1837)

The Destruction of the Caroline by George Tattersall
Main article: Caroline affair

The steamship Caroline, captained by Gilman Appleby, carried supplies between Buffalo and Mackenzie's encampment on Navy Island. On December 29, Colonel Sir Allan MacNab and Captain Andrew Drew of the Royal Navy crossed the international boundary and seized the Caroline, chased off the crew, set her afire, and cast her adrift over Niagara Falls, after killing one black American named Amos Durfee. The incident sparked an international outcry. The case was finally disposed of by U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, in the course of their negotiations leading to the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842. This case is a basis for the principle of the preemptive strike.[4]

The Schooner Anne & Bois Blanc Island (January 8, 1838)

Thomas Jefferson Sutherland was sent by the rebellion leaders on Navy Island in the Niagara River to raise a force in Detroit in December 1837. Sutherland arrived to find that Henry S. Handy and Dr Edward A. Theller had already held public meetings and organized an invasion force. Handy was in Toronto in the fall of 1837 where he met Marshall Bidwell and learned of the rebellion from him. Handy and his brother-in-law Judge Orange Butler, then of the Michigan House of Representatives, joined G.M. Dufort of Montreal in travelling to Detroit where they formed a “war council” of influential citizens.[5] Men came to Detroit from as far away as Illinois and Kentucky to join the movement.[6] On January 5, 1838, the Detroit jail was raided and the Patriots seized the 450 muskets which had been stored there. The Patriots were reported to have stolen another 200 weapons from the unsecured office of the U.S. marshal in Detroit, perhaps with his help.[7] James M. Wilson was appointed major-general; Elijah Jackson Roberts as Brigadier-General of the first brigade; Dr Edward Alexander Theller as Brigadier-General of the first brigade of Irish and French troops to be raised. Sutherland and General E.J. Roberts disagreed over who would lead the invasion force on the Schooner Anne against Fort Malden, Amherstberg, Upper Canada. Handy appointed Theller was to command the schooner Anne, while Sutherland would carry lead a flotilla to Bois Blanc Island opposite Amherstberg on the understanding he was under Roberts' command. But for some reason Sutherland stopped in American territory on Sugar Island, a little further out, instead. The Anne attacked Fort Malden on the 9th, but was beached and Theller taken prisoner and ultimately jailed in the citadel in Quebec City. Further attempts to attack Fort Malden were stymied by American troops.[8]

Fighting Island (February 24, 1838) & Hickory Island (February 27, 1838)

Main article: Battle of Windsor

A series of simultaneous attacks set for Washington's birthday (22 February) were next planned. On 23 February the steamboat Erie headed for Fighting Island, seven miles south of Detroit, carrying more than 400 troops from Cleveland under General Donald McLeod. They were poorly equipped as their arms were captured by the American authorities. The British troops crossed the ice and dispersed the Patriots on 25 February.[9] The British military announced their intention to pursue the Patriots into the United States but U.S. troops put a line of red flags on the ice in the river marking the border and were under orders to shoot any British troops that crossed it. The British did not cross the line and the U.S. captured some Patriots but soon released them.

On the 27th of February, General van Rensselaer led 1,500 men from Watertown in Jefferson County, New York to seize Hickory Island a short distance from Kingston. However, rivalry between William Lyon Mackenzie and Van Rensselaer resulted in the troops disbanding.[10]

Battle of Pelee Island (March 3, 1838)

Most of the men from the earlier expeditions now collected at Sandusky Bay, Ohio, and under the leadership of Captain George van Rensselaer (a relative of the General) and General Thomas Jefferson Sutherland, took Pelee Island in Lake Erie. However, their expected arms were again captured by the US authorities, leaving them with only 200 guns for all the men. They were attacked by the British and Van Rensselaer, along with 10 of his troops, were killed, with numerous others captured; 5 British soldiers were killed. The retreating Patriots were forced to surrender their arms by the US authorities, and disbanded.

At the end of this period, William Lyon Mackenzie was at odds with other Patriot leaders and soon was arrested for breach of the American Neutrality Laws. Thomas Jefferson Sutherland was captured by the British near Detroit and taken to jail in Toronto, where he was witness to the hanging of Samuel Lount, an organizer of the attack on Toronto.[11]

Canadian Refugee Relief Association

In March 1838, a committee consisting of General Donald McLeod, William Lyon Mackenzie, Dr Charles Duncombe, Dr Alexander Mackenzie and a number of other Canadian refugees met at Lockport to form the "Canadian Refugee Relief Association." Dr A. Mackenzie became the president, and General Donald McLeod the general organizer. This organization was loosely connected with the attack on the steamer Sir Robert Peel and the Short Hill raid. McLeod went on, with Duncombe, to form the Hunters Lodges soon thereafter.[12]

The burning of Sir Robert Peel (May 29, 1838)

On May 29, 1838 a band of Patriots disguised as Indians attacked the steamer Sir Robert Peel at Well's Island and burned it. The expedition was under the command of General Donald McLeod and William Johnston.[12]

Short Hills Raid (June 21–23, 1838)

Main article: Short Hills Raid

Twenty four largely Canadian men under the leadership of Col. James Morreau assembled at Clark's Point near Lewiston, NY, on June 11, 1838 and crossed over the Niagara River. They hoped to provoke a general uprising of sympathizers in the Niagara area. They attacked troops stationed at a tavern in Short Hills on June 20. The Patriots were captured, including Morreau, Major Benjamin Wait, and Donald McLeod.[13]

Henry S. Handy's 'Secret Order of the Sons of Liberty'

Henry S. Handy (1804–1846) was a lawyer, newspaper editor and military engineer. He was appointed to oversee the construction of the Chicago Harbour in 1833 by the Army Corps of Engineers.[14] After the failure of earlier efforts, in which US authorities had intervened, he organized lodges of the "Secret Order of the Sons of Liberty" along both sides of the Michigan border with Upper Canada. Handy, as "Commander-in-chief of the Patriot Army of the Northwest" planned for a revolutionary army of 20,000 to capture Windsor on the 4th of July. The organization soon merged into the Hunters' Lodges.[15]

Formation of the Hunters' Lodge

The first Hunters' Lodge (Frères chasseurs) was formed in north Vermont by Dr. Robert Nelson early in the spring of 1838 and spread rapidly within Quebec. Early in the summer, Donald McLeod, a rebel Upper Canadian schoolmaster, and newspaper editor, was initiated in the “Brother Hunters” and informed them of the existence of Henry S. Handy’s “Secret Order of the Sons of Liberty”. They were distinct, yet again, from a third organization forming in Cleveland under Dr Charles Duncombe, who were planning an invasion of Upper Canada for the 4th of July. Under McLeod's influence, the Cleveland group adopted the form of the Hunters' Lodge. The Sons of Liberty disappeared after their failed raid on Windsor, and were absorbed into the Hunters' Lodge.[16]

Lodge organization

The Hunters Lodges were modelled on Masonic lodges, and adopted similar secret signs, hierarchical orders, and rituals. The Grand Lodge was at Cleveland, where Duncombe was a tireless promoter. The four degrees of the Lodge were: Snowshoe, Beaver, Grand Hunter and Patriot Hunter. Soldiers without rank were of the first degree, commissioned officers of the second, field officers of the third, and the highest ranking commissioned officers of the fourth degree.[17]

Convention & military organization

In September 1838, 160 delegates from the western Hunters' Lodges attended a secret, week-long “Patriot Congress” in Cleveland, Ohio. They appointed a provisional Canadian republican government that included:

  1. President A.D. Smith, “chief justice of the peace at Cleveland”
  2. Vice-President Colonel Nathan Williams, “a wholesale grocer” in Cleveland
  3. Secretary of the Treasury Judge John Grant Jr, Oswego
  4. Secretary of War Donald McLeod
  5. Commander-in-chief of the “Patriot Army of the West,” Lucius V. Bierce, “an attorney at Akron.”
  6. Commodore of the Patriot Navy on Lake Erie, Gilman Appleby, former Captain of the Caroline
  7. Commodore of the Patriot Navy on Lake Ontario, Bill Johnston[18]

Battle of the Windmill (November 13–18, 1838)

The Hunters Lodges in both the Eastern and Western Divisions agreed that they would launch a general invasion of the Canadas on 1 November. The Eastern division began their attack on Quebec on 3 November under the direction of Grand Lodges in Montreal and St. Albans, Vermont. The Western division, under the general command of the "vice-president of the provisional government" of the Republic of Canada, Col. Nathan Williams of Cleveland, planned an attack at Detroit.

However, "Major General" John Ward Birge convinced the eastern New York lodges to join him in an attack at Prescott, on the St Lawrence river instead. The leader of the attack was to be Nils Szoltevsky Von Schoultz, a Polish soldier who had been part of the Polish Rebellion. On 11 November, four hundred men boarded the steamboat United States at Sacket's Harbour, NY. Disagreements arose between Birge and Von Schoultz on the plan of attack, and Birge withdrew with 200 men to Ogdensburg for reinforcements that were never to appear. Von Schoultz and 150 men aboard the Charlotte of Toronto reached Windmill Point near Prescott on November 12 where they set up camp. All supplies to Windmill Point were cut off by British and American troops and the Canadian Hunters who had come in support were forced to withdraw.

The standoff that resulted ended November 16 when artillery pieces were brought from Kingston. 137 prisoners were taken, and 80 were killed. The Patriot prisoners were defended by John A. Macdonald, a lawyer in Kingston who was to become Canada's first Prime Minister.[19]

Battle of Windsor (December 4, 1838)

Main article: Battle of Windsor

The final planned Hunter attack was the western assault, organized out of Cleveland, on Windsor, which had as its intention U.S. invaders driving inland to London, Upper Canada. A diversionary attack from Port Huron on Sarnia was also planned but it was aborted when a large contingent of British troops was deployed on its attack route.

Five or six hundred men established a camp at Brest, 30 miles south of Detroit. Lucius V. Bierce, in command of the camp, however contended there were not enough men for a successful attack. E.J. Roberts, an early Detroit organizer with Handy, pushed for the attack anyway. On December 3, the militants seized the steamboat Champlain, and the 135 men aboard landed 3 miles north of Windsor. Three detachments sortied under Cornelius Cunningham, William Putnam, and S.S. Coffinbury:[20]

Moving toward the village of Windsor, the Hunters encountered resistance from a detachment of militia stationed in a civilian store used as a guardhouse. Deciding to set fire to it to flush the defenders out, they went to the nearby house of a black Canadian named Mills to get the embers from his hearth fire. The Americans invited Mills to join their cause and, when he not only refused but exclaimed "three cheers for the Queen", they killed him. The guardhouse was destroyed by flames and the occupants taken prisoner, and Putnam's men continued on to Windsor where they set fire to the steamer Thames in retaliation for the destruction of the Caroline. On their way they encountered Surgeon John Hume of the 32nd Foot, who, awakened by the alarm bells, was headed to Windsor to offer his services to the local militia. The Hunters killed Hume and mutilated his limbs with an axe before leaving the remains for the local hogs.

Bierce and Roberts escaped to Detroit, where they were joined by Dr. E. A. Theller, who had escaped imprisonment in Quebec. By the 4th of December the expected reinforcements arrived at Detroit, but the U.S. government prevented a second attack. At a large public meeting, the Patriot volunteers passed resolutions rebuking the US government for taking arms against its own people. The volunteer army dispersed, ending the Patriot War.[21]

Aftermath and impact

Transportation to Australia

1837 Dower Map of Van Dieman's Land or Tasmania - Geographicus - Tazmania-dower-1837

In total, 93 Americans and 58 Patriote prisoners from Lower Canada were transported to Australia after being convicted in Montreal in late 1838 or early 1839. Almost all were taken on HMS Buffalo, leaving Quebec in September 1839 and arriving off Hobart, Van Diemen's Land in February 1840. The Americans were disembarked at Hobart but the French-Canadians were taken to Sydney, New South Wales. They were interned near the present day suburb of Concord, giving rise to the names Canada Bay, French Bay and Exile Bay. The Lower Canadians were treated better than the Americans, liberated sooner and assisted in getting home. Of the 93 Americans, 14 died as a direct result of transportation and penal servitude. By the end of 1844, half of those in Van Diemen's Land had been granted pardons, nearly all were pardoned by 1848, but five remained in penal servitude until at least 1850. None of the convicts chose to stay in Van Diemen's Land after being pardoned.[22][23] Three former convicts, however, did eventually settle in Australia: Ira Polley (Polly), of Lyme, New York, left in 1844 and subsequently married and settled in the Illawarra region of New South Wales; Chauncey Bugby (now Buckby) married Elizabeth Hughes in 1846 and settled in Circular Head section of the northwest corner of Tasmania; and Hiram Sharp(e) of Salina in Onondaga County, New York, left in August 1846, married a Mary Black and settled in Kiama in New South Wales. [24]

From Upper Canada 150 were sent to the penal colony of Van Diemen's Land and Sydney, Australia.[25]

International relations

In geopolitical terms, the Rebellions and the Patriot War altered the landscape of relations between Britain and British colonial authorities, on one hand, and the American government on the other.[26] Both nations were dedicated to a peace policy due to a budding financial crisis and to a sense of perceived disadvantage which both felt equally. Both were legitimately concerned about the disruption in relations which radical ideas might foment through further rebellion and raids (this was a greater worry to the British than the Americans). An unprecedented level of cooperation occurred in diplomatic and military circles. In the United States, in addition to dialogue, the administration of Martin Van Buren used its military forces and local authorities in the enforcement of a new Neutrality Act, encouraged the prosecution of filibusters, and actively deterred American citizens from subversive activities abroad. Thus the Patriot War contributed to the construction of more recent Anglo-American and Canada-U.S. relations; it also led, more immediately, to a backlash among citizens regarding the seeming overreach of federal authority.[27]

The extended series of incidents comprising the Patriot War were finally settled by U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster and Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, in the course of their negotiations leading to the Webster–Ashburton Treaty of 1842. The U.S. Army constructed Fort Wayne in Detroit in 1842 after the conflict to counter the British presence at Fort Malden in Sandwich.[28]


  1. Bonthius, Andrew (2003). "The Patriot War of 1837–1838: Locofocoism With a Gun?". Labour/Le Travail. 52: 10–11. doi:10.2307/25149383.
  2. Tiffany, Orrin (1905). Relations of the United States to the Canadian Rebellion of 1837–1838. Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society. pp. 24–8.
  3. Kinchen, Oscar (1956). The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters. New York: Bookman Assoc. pp. 17–18, 23.
  4. Kenneth R. Stevens, Border diplomacy: the Caroline and McLeod affairs in Anglo-American-Canadian relations, 1837-1842 (University Alabama Press, 1989).
  5. Gates, Lillian (1988). After the Rebellion: The Later Years of William Lyon MacKenzie. Toronto: Dundurn Press. pp. 349 n. 23.
  6. "The Patriot War of 1837–1838: Locofocoism With a Gun?", Andrew Bonthius, Labour/Le Travail, No. 52, Fall 2003
  7. The Patriot War, Robert B. Ross, 1890, The Detroit Evening News and the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society
  8. Tiffany, Orrin E. (1905). The relation of the United States to the Canadian rebellion of 1837–1838. Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society. pp. 45–7.
  9. Tiffany, Orrin E. (1905). The relation of the United States to the Canadian rebellion of 1837–1838. Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society. p. 50.
  10. Tiffany, Orrin E. (1905). The relation of the United States to the Canadian rebellion of 1837–1838. Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society. p. 51.
  11. Tiffany, Orrin E. (1905). Relations of the United States to the Rebellion of 1837–1838. Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society. pp. 56–8.
  12. 1 2 Tiffany, Orrin E. (1905). Relations of the United States to the Rebellion of 1837–1838. Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society. pp. 54–5.
  13. Tiffany, Orrin E. (1905). Relations of the United States to the Rebellion of 1837–1838. Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society. pp. 55–6.
  14. Hoffman, Charles F. (1882). A Winter in the West: Letters Descriptive of Chicago and Vicinity in 1833-4. Chicago: Fergus Historical Series No. 20. p. 22.
  15. Tiffany, Orrin E. (1905). Relations of the United States to the Rebellion of 1837–1838. Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society. pp. 48–58.
  16. Kinchen, Oscar (1956). The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters. New York: Bookman Assoc. pp. 31–6.
  17. Kinchen, Oscar (1956). The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters. New York: Bookman Associates. pp. 55–58.
  18. Kinchen, Oscar (1956). The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters. New York: Bookman Assoc. pp. 38–9.
  19. Kinchen, Oscar (1956). The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters. New York: Bookman Associates. pp. 63–79.
  20. Graves, Donald (2001). Guns Across the River. Prescott: The Friends of Windmill Point. p. 171.
  21. Kinchen, Oscar (1956). The Rise and Fall of the Patriot Hunters. New York: Bookman Associates. pp. 78–85.
  22. A Guide to researching your convict ancestors
  23. Magazine article about monument to French prisoners, and their story
  24. Carter, John, Patriot Chronicles: Four Who Didn't Come Home. Thousand Island Life Magazine, June 12, 2010. Accessed March 8, 2015.
  25. Brown, Alan L. "Toronto's Historical Plaques".
  26. Kenneth R. Stevens, Border diplomacy: the Caroline and McLeod affairs in Anglo-American-Canadian relations, 1837-1842 (University Alabama Press, 1989).
  27. Patrick Lacroix, "Choosing Peace and Order: National Security and Sovereignty in a North American Borderland, 1837–42," International History Review (On-line, October 6, 2015), DOI 10.1080/07075332.2015.1070892.
  28. Howard Jones, To the Webster-Ashburton Treaty: A Study in Anglo-American Relations, 1783-1843 (U of North Carolina Press, 1977).

Further reading

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