The following was found in the Watertown Daily Times, a newspaper published in Watertown, Jefferson County, N. Y. The date of the article appeared was October 8, 1932.
NOTE - September, 2002: I was contacted by a descendant of Elizabeth Barnett. She contributed genealogy information and facts which will appear at the end of the Northman piece.
Reprinted with Permission|
Elizabeth Barnett, The
Heroine of Gananoque
How a Stone Mills Girl, Teacher in Gananoque Nearly 100
Years Ago, Brought the Warning Across the Ice That
Saved That Village From Capture by the Patriots.
By JOHN NORTHMAN
In the Canadian Magazine
One hundred and nineteen years ago a Canadian woman accomplished a perilous walk to warn and save a detachment of British-Canadian troops in the Niagara peninsula. Contemporaries recorded her exploint (sic), and she became famous. Ninety-four years ago another Canadian woman -- Canadian by choice and adoption, but not by birth -- performed in similar spirit an equal of not (sic) greater service to Canada. Contemporaries left no published record, and the world has never heard of her. Laura Secord lives immortal in Canadian hearts and minds. Out of the shadowland of the past comes now Elizabeth Barnett, a pioneer school mistress of Upper Canada, summoned by the call of History to take her place in the Vallhalla of Canadian heroines.
Clash of arms in a conflict between nations added a touch of grandeur to Laura Secord’s deed. This story of her sister in heroism is a story of 1838, a less dynamic but equally dramatic year in Canadian history -- a year, not of war but of rumors and threats of war. Canada then was in the throes of the struggle for responsible government. Her people were as a household divided; some stood for things as they were; others were arming, conspiring or agitating to effect a change. In the border states militant men were getting together, inspired by William Lyon Mackenzie to assist in the liberation of Canada from British rule. Out of this activity developed “Patriot Armies of Invasion,” and the Pirates of the Thousand Islands.
Towards the middle of January, that year, a band of these patriots, some six hundred strong -- first in the field and first to retire -- evacuated Navy Island in the Niagara River, and returned to Buffalo. A few nights later, at a council of war held in the Eagle tavern plans were discussed for a renewed attempt at invasion on a greater scale. Those present were Mackenzie, David Gibson, General Rensselaer Van Rensselaer, Bill Johnston the Pirate, two Americans moved by a common hatred of Britain, and some lesser lights. Mackenzie had learned there were traitors in the militia garrison of Fort Henry at Kingston who would spike the guns and open the gates in the moment a Patriot force appeared. Here, then, was a golden opportunity. If Fort Henry fell, Kingston would fall; if Kingston fell, the key to Upper Canada, would be in Patriot hands; if that transpired, thousands of Canadians would flock to the Patriot standard, and victory would be assured! Bill Johnston advised immediate action. “On to Kingston!” became the Patriot slogan.
Details of the campaign were left to Van Rensselaer, commander-in-chief and to Bill Johnston, his chief of staff. Mackenzie himself took no active part in operations; he was jealous of his generalissmo (sic). In his sober moments, which were few, Van Rensselaer evinced a degree of military ability. Johnston, a more temperate man, was the brains and the driving power of the undertaking. Recruiting commenced at once. Circulars were distributed throughout Jefferson county, calling on all friends of Canadian freedom for contributions to the cause. In response to that appeal, money, clothing and provisions were freely given; for the destruction of the Caroline had inflamed American sentiment against Great Britain; and despite the fact that the Patriot’s were defying the laws of the Republic, most of the officials and three-quarters of the population of New York state were in connivance with them. Within three weeks an “army” of two thousand volunteers stood pledged to muster and march at the word of command.
On the night of February Seventeenth, 1838, the State arsenal at Watertown was raided by ‘parties unknown’ and four hundred stand of arms and many boxes of ammunition were taken. In like manner several pieces of cannon were “borrowed” from artillery companies in various towns. Most of these were transferred to French Creek where Bill Johnston lived and Van Rensselaer had his headquarters. Men from Jefferson county came drifting into that village until by the evening of February Twenty-first, they totaled more than six hundred, a mere advance guard, their leaders said -- Patriots all, crusader for Democracy, ready to fight and die amid Canadian snows!
Excellent strategy had been formulated. Eight miles across the St. Lawrence from French Creek was the town of Gananogue (sic), a prosperous place, contailing (sic) stores of flour. Five miles from Gananoque on the Canadian side, was Hickory Island, an advantageous point for onset or retreat. From shore to shore the great river lay frozen to a depth which enabled passage of man, teams and sleighs upon it. The Patriots would assemble on Hickory Island. By a dash across the ice they would surprise and capture Gananoque. Then, with replenished commisariat (sic), on to Kingston, and up with a new flag above old Fort Henry! Success depended on secrecy. February Twenty-second -- Washington’s birthday -- was the date set for the Great Advance.
From a military standpoint it was a masterly scheme. It was largely Bill Johnston’s scheme, inspired by his hatred of all things British, and marked by his usual audacity. Had he been in supreme command -- and no one doubts his competence for such office -- results might have been greatly different. Historians smile at the episode now. American writters (sic) characterize it as a piece of folly from beginning to end. Canadian chronicles, with their usual distorted perspective, picture it as something greater than it was. Actually it was a serious threat against Canada -- probably the most serious since the War of 1812-14. Canadian authorities were caught napping. Incursions across the Niagara and Detroit Rivers were expected, and precautions had been taken. Along the southern frontier, the Niagara eastward, scarcely a musket had been primed or a gun mounted against such contingency.
One bold push by Van Rensselaer’s Patriots at the right time might have altered the course of Canadian history.
A woman foiled their plans.
Elizabeth Barnett was of American parentage. She was born at Stone Mills, N. Y., in 1815, and educated at Lafargeville, near French Creek. Her ambition was to be a school teacher. At the age of eighteen, she graduated with qualification in pedagogy. In 1836, on the suggestion of her brother Miles, who was then living in Gananoque, she removed to that town. She liked Canada and the Canadian people. Her brother returned to the United States; she remained, became a staunch Canadian citizen, and, early in 1837, was appointed to the staff of the old Gananoque school. During her term as teacher she boarded at the home of Dr. William Potter, a prominent physician, by whom she was considered almost a member of the family.
In February, 1838, she paid a brief visit to relatives in Lafargeville, and found herself in the midst of Patriot excitement. All around her, men and women were talking invasion and intervention in a manner and to a degree which boded ill for the peace and security of Canada. This was disquieting enough to a thoughtful young woman who had inbibed Canadian ideals; in common with most right thinking Americans, she held that Canadian affairs should be settled by the Canadian people; moreover, she had a woman’s passionate hatred of war, violence and treachery.
On February twentieth she by chance overheard a conversation from which she gathered a few particulars, including the date of the proposed decent on Gananoque.
That was Elizabeth Barnett’s moment for decision. Gananoque, she knew, was undefended and unprepared, little dreaming of this danger at its doors. Friends of hers, too, were in the army of attack. As a daughter of America, not long severed from her native soil, she might have been forgiven a feeling of sympathy for her compatriots, apart from their political projects. As a citizen of Canada, with only a meagre (sic) stake in that country, she might have been forgiven a tendency toward neutrality. But she was not one who dallied with duty, or temporized with principle. This crisis was a challenge to her loyalty. She met it promptly and decisively.
Like Laura Secord, she had unexpectedly learned a secret of military and national importance. Like Laura Secord she set forth to warn and save fellow Canadians.
A faint and dying legend insists that, to accomplish her purpose, she walked the frozen river. Canadians might well believe it true, even as they have believed that Laura Secord brought first warning to the British at De Cou’s. There are legends more percious (sic) to a people than the baren (sic) facts of their annals.
History concedes only that Elizabeth Barnett would have walked, or attempted to walk, had no means of crossing been available. Any such effort, however, would have defeated its own purpose; the time element was all-important; and even had the strength of one weak woman ben (sic) equal to the venture, detection and detention would have been inevitable. Wisely she chose a better way.
Cutting short her visit on pretext of illness, and keeping her own counsel, she, early next day, was driven in a one-horse cutter to French Creek. There she saw for herself something of the Patriot preparations. In the afternoon she continued in the same conveyance toward Gananoque -- a ten-mile journey across glare ice swept by the freezing winds of February. Few noticed her departure. None suspected her mission; otherwise she would have been held as a traitor.
Twilight had fallen when, chilled to the bone, she reached the Canadian shore. Snugly under snowy roofs and frosty skies reposed the little town which was her home, she told her tale to Dr. Potter. He carried the news to Postmaster John MacDonald. One name alone was sufficient incentive to action -- the name of Bill Johnston. Within an hour the community was in commotion.
Women and children ran from house to house, and fled to the country for safety. Men were called to arms. Couriers were despatched (sic) Kingston, Brockville and other centres; and the word they brought struck near-panic into the populace. Colonel Bonneycastle, commander at Kingston, called out the Leeds militia. Six companies of these, together with the Brockville Rifle company, a detachment of the First Frontenac Troop of Cavalry under Colonel McLean, a volunteer company with three field pieces, and some Indians from the Mohawk reserve, were rushed to the threatened town. A company of lumbermen tore apart a raft of timber, and built a solid breastwork six feet high along the waterfront at the foot of what is now Main street. Scouts were sent out to Grindstone Island, an American possession.
About noon on Thursday, February Twenty-second, one scout returned with the tidings that long trains of sleighs loaded with armed men, were passing between French Creek and Hickory Island. Another reported that he had seen a monstrous cannon, mounted on runners, and hauled by four horses, approaching the Island, and large bodies of men forming in lines of battle.
Black and menacing loomed the shadow of War near peaceful Gananoque.
On Hickory Island, strange unwonted scenes were being enacted. Van Rensselaer was there, resplendent in a uniform that would have graced Napoleon, and filled with the courage created by good French brandy. Company after company of warriors, each under command of a Captain or Lieutenant, came over from French Creek, and dressed their ranks around him. Bill Johnston himself, clad in gray homespun, led fifty picked men to the rendezvous. Teams and sleighs in endless procession crossed from the mainland, bringing volunteers and equipment; some discharged their loads and returned; others, more cautious, returned with their loads intact. Three Canadian spies were captured -- perhaps not altogether by accident; and the accounts they gave of Canadian preparedness lacked nothing in the way of embellishment.
But the tide of fortune had already turned. By noon that day the Patriots faced, not a defenseless town but two counties in arms. Gone was the advantage of surprise on which they had based their hopes. Rumors spread from the Island to the American shore, and one thousand men who were expected failed to appear. Those who had kept the faith lost heart; their courage sank like a barometer before a storm. Half frozen, they lingered, talked and tramped around a while. Then their forces began to disintegrate. Company after company retreated whence they came. Van Rensselaer departed, blaming every cause but the right one for his failure. Bill Johnston was the last to leave.
Back to French Creek went some five hundred men; and the terror they had brought to Canada pursued them home. French Creek feared Canadian retaliation. Night after night, for many nights, blue lights burned in numerous windows, indicating that the occupants of those houses were good Tories, deserving of mercy and consideration at the hands of Tory invaders.
Pinning his faith to a strong offensive, Colonel Bonneycastle, on the morning of February Twenty-third, marched out at the head of the Leeds militia to fight the enemy on their own ground. He found Hickory island deserted; only a few boxes of ammunition, and that monstrous cannon -- it was an oak tree bored full length to a diameter of five inches, and banded with iron -- a Bertha of the backwoods -- remained to evidence what might have been.
Gananoque was saved -- in all probability Fort Henry and the city of Kingston were saved -- the Patriot movement against Upper Canada was given a set-back from which it never recovered -- by Elizabeth Barnett.
NOTE BY TRANSCRIBER: As stated above, this transcriber was contacted by Sheila Rogstad, great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Barnet (Barnett). I present here the essence of her notes in the hope that someone may find the information useful for his/her research. (by Shirley)
NOTES ABOUT ELIZABETH BARNET & HER FAMILY
Sent to me by her great-great-granddaughter, Sheila Rogstad
Elizabeth Barnettis buried at Willowbank Cemetery.
Elizabeth married Warren Fairman, of Howe Is. and Pittsburgh, had 11 children and died in Gananoque in 1906. Their stone farm house, located on the highway just inside the Frontenac County line, is still lived in. Her brother, Miles, married Lydia Legg (e) in Gananoque and they moved back to NY. Elizabeth had 10 siblings.
Warren Fairman, besides being a farmer, ran a black smith shop at his farm. He built a house across the street for his daughter. It is still there with a wooden front porch/sun room addition. He also had several mills close to the mouth of the Gananoque River. His grandson, Frederick W. Fairman is at the Univ. in Kingston and can be found on Google by just writing in his name. One of Frederick’s children, Daniel, had Harriett Augusta Fairmanwho m. G. N. Asselstine, owner of a local jewelry store.
Willowbank Cem. is on the western edge of Gananoque on the highway between it and Kingston. About 1/4 mile further west is the Warren and Eliz. Barnett Fairman stone farm house.
In the Willowbank Cemetery are the Fairmans. In parentheses are birth dates if not on stone:
Frederick Fairman d. d March 21, 1826 age 58 yrs, 10 mos ( Warren's Father)
Warren Fairman d Aug 24, 1909 age 93 ( b. 1916, Wolfe Is. Pittsburgh, Frontenac.
Elizabeth Barnett Fairman d. Aug 28, 1906 age 91 ( b. 1815, Brownville, Jefferson Co., NY)
Stone Mills was from her granddaughter and Brownville was from a Barnett who did quite a bit of through research. I am now using Brownville.
Lucinda Fairman, Wife of Henry Jackson, d. Mar, 1885 age 78 ( probably a sister of Warren and Daniel).
Daniel Fairman d. May 3, 1844 (brother of Warren and father of Mrs. G. N. Asselstine (Harriett Augusta)
Harriet E. Fairman, wife of Charles Wesley Taylor 1855-1937. On the same stone are Charles, his first wife and 2 children by the 1st wife.
Mary Ann, 1st wife of Frederick K. Fairman d. June 8, 1866 age 23 yrs, 9 mos, 25 days. ( 2nd wife wasHarriett Jane Latham of Montreal.) They are both buried in Mt. Royal Cem., Montreal.
Forsey stone - Ernest S. Forsey d. Nov 27, 1907 age 28, 5 mos, 24 days
William G. Forsey d. May 31, 1874 age 2 yrs, 2 mos, 11 days. My father had a cousin, Mildred Forsey, who may have died in Walnut Creek, ( my town) about 1980. (She may have been the mother of Ernest.)
William M. Fairman b Jan 12, 1857 - d. May 19, 1943
Laura Melissa Fairman b Dec. 6, 1873 - d. July 23, 1943 (Possibly wife of William M.)
Wallace S. d. Sept. 24, 1847 age 6 mos, 22 days
Catherine Lucinda Fairman, d. Aug. 17, 1874, 2 yrs, 2 mos, 3 days ( must have shared a disease with above)
Elizabeth went to school in La Fargeville prior to 1838 when she was married in Gananoque. She was gone by the 1850 Census and she d. in Canada. She had gone up there to teach and it was on a visit to her parents that she overheard the talk of a raid and was able to warn the town of Gananoque.
I meant to add with the Willowbank info that the Jackson Family has about 10 markers. I have corresponded with the current Jackson, a retired minister living near Syracuse.
Mrs. Harriet Augusta Asselstine, widow of the late G. N. Asselstine, who was in the jewelry business in Gananoque for over 50 years and who died in 1921, passed away on Saturday evening, August 8th, at Mrs. Nelson's Private Hospital, Main Street. Since giving up her home on Princess Street, Mrs. Asselstine had lived for some time with her cousins, Mr. and Mrs. William Fairman, Pine Street and latterly she has been at Mallory's Elm Lodge on Arthur street. Even at her great age she had been able to be about until a week before her death, when she took a weak turn form which she failed to rally.
She was born in 1840, the daughter of Daniel Fairman, and she lived all her life in this district. She lived through sixty years of the reign of Queen Victoria, and was a girl in her 'teens at the time of the Crimean War, and in early womanhood during the American Civil War. As for local development, it would be difficult to enumerate the houses, factories, schools, churches and business blocks built during her lifetime.
Her only son, William, died in California some years ago, leaving a son and daughter, Hugh and Dorothy. Her only daughter, Mrs. Hubbell, also predeceased her by many years, leaving a son, William, who made his home from childhood with his grandmother and latterly in New York.
As her old home had been closed, the casket containing her remains was brought on Sunday morning to St. Andrew's manse, to the home where she had been a welcome visitor for fifty years or more. There the funeral service was held on Monday, August 10th, and thence to Willowbank Cemetery, where she was laid away beside her husband, and close to the grave where her father was buried in 1844, 92 years ago.
Mrs. Asselstine was one of the earliest members of the Women's Foreign Missionary Society of St. Andrew's Church, and the W. M. S attended the funeral service in body, taking part in the service in the singing of her favorite hymns, " The Lord is My Shepherd" and " The Sands of Time."
In his address, Rev. C. E. Kidd, who conducted the service, referred feelingly to the long and useful life of a loving friend and neighbor, and a consistent member of St. Andrew's Church, basing his remarks on Psalm IV, 8, 'In peace I will both lay me down and sleep for thou alone maketh me to dwell in safety.”
The bearers were J. D. Matthew, J. J. Courtnay, Robert Tulloch, George Hay, Wilber Clow and W. J. Wilson.
Among those from a distance attending the funeral were Mrs. Wesley Taylo and Miss Florence Taylor of Toronto, and William Hubbel of New Jersey.
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Miss Florence Taylor was the granddaughter of Warren Fairman and d. in Pasadena in the early 1950's.
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The following article was sent to me, found by a genealogist, Alan Lindsey of Brockville, in his mother's papers. He doesn't know why it would have been saved. Living in town, she may have known the Fairmans.
Whitney, Sir James Pilny, barrister, Primier of Ontario, 1905-14, b. Oct. 2, 1843, at Williamsburg, Upper Canada, d. in Toronto, Sept, 25, 1914. Son of Richard L. Whitney and Clarissa Jane Fairman. ( It goes on to tell of his business and political life.) Clarissa may have been a sister to Warren or a relative.
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Article from the Gananoque Reporter on the death of Warren Fairman.
RESIDENT OF THIS SECTION FOR NEARLY A CENTURY
Died at his residence, Church Street, last Tuesday evening, Mr. Warren Fairman, aged 93 yrs.
Mr. Fairman was the last of those who may be termed " first residents" of Gananoque, though he was born on Howe Island in the next county, Frontenac. But much of his youth and his later years were spent here. He was the last of those who had personal acquaintance with Col. Stone, the founder and first settler of this town. He was son of a farmer - but in early times every farmer was of necessity a lumberman, raftsman, mechanic, and general laborer - and always after he grew up he owned and worked a farm, till he became too old to manage it.
When he was still a boy he came to Gananoque and was apprenticed to Mr. Charles Hepp, a wagon maker and general carpenter. Mr. Hepp had at that time a shop and residence on the lot now occupied by D. Root's store, King Street, and it is the same house, through a brick front has been built to it. The blacksmith shop in which the iron work of wagons was done was just in the rear of the present Methodist Church. Both buildings stood in the woods, the ground being cleared for their erection. Mr. Hepp built the wooden Methodist church, in 1836 on the site of the present one; and Mr. Fairman did some of the work, particularly in building the pulpit, which was a paneled half round gallery standing on four posts against the rear wall of the building, and reached by stairs. Mr. Hepp in 1845 sold his property to
Mr. D. F. Britton, and moved to Wisconsin. Then Mr. Fairman, who had learned the trade, went back to his farm and built a wagon shop and blacksmith shop on opposite sides of the road, just west of the line between Leeds and Frontenac. There, for many years, he supplied most of the wagons and carriages used in this section. All the work, both in wood and iron, had to be done by hand. When the new country in north of Frontenac was opened up, went out and took up land for lumbering purposes. In 1808 he built a sawmill in Gananoque; it was burned and rebuilt operated till the scarcity of logs made it unprofitable when the lot and water power were sold to Mr. Gillies as the site of the present Gillies factory.
During the rebellion of 1837 ( MacKenzie), Mr. Fairman was enlisted in the Dragoons, a mounted force that did patrol service. He was intimate with Sir John McDonald, who successfully conducted several law-suits for him and his admiration for Sir John's legal talents probably established his politics, as he was firm in the opinion that “John A.” could do no wrong.
He was 2nd cousin to Sir James Whitney, who in his youth lived for a time with Mr. Fairman's family and attended the country school in Pittsburgh.
In 1838, Mr. Fairman married Miss Elizabeth Barnet. A school teacher here, but her home was near Depanville, NY ( Depauville). She died a few years ago. The family consisted of Frederick, who was a leading hardware merchant and manufacturer, Montreal, deceased; Daniel, a retired Post Office employee, who resides here; Warren, deceased; Wm. M., on the homestead farm; Alfred, now a farmer in Saskatchewan; Mrs. Forsey, California, Miss Allison, Gananoque, Mrs., E. H. Ellis, Winnipeg, Mrs. C. W. Taylor, Gananoque.
Mr. Fairman enjoyed good health all his life and was seldom incapacitated from attending to business. Even after he had passed 90 years of age he was noted on the streets here for his brisk springy walk and active movements. His illness commenced only eight days previous to his death. The funeral took place on Monday last.
* * * * *
He died Jan. 1909 and she Jan 1906.
From his granddaughter, Florence Taylor. ( written when 80-90 yrs. and not remembering exact details):
Grandma lived to be 92 and Grandpa to 94. They must have been married 70 years. Grandpa had his first tooth extracted at 92 ( very good for those days). The dentist was afraid to give gas and as he knew the extraction could be bad he wanted Grandpa to take brandy, but he refused. He told mother later the reason was that “when I was young, I used to like the stuff and I was afraid I would get the habit.” !!! At 92!!!
About the report of the raid: She (Elizabeth Barnet) was never thanked or rewarded. She died in 1906 at age 92 having had 11 children. The story was found years later in a diary kept by the Town Clerk's daughter.
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Sheila believed the reason Elizabeth was not recognized for reporting on the raid is because when she returned to Gananoque she reported to the Dr. with whom she was lodging and it was he who told the appropriate people in town.
This concludes the information sent to me by Sheila Rogstad. Sheila has given me permission to present these notes on my website as a link to the Northman article about her great-great-grandmother. (by Shirley Farone)Index of All Patriot War Articles