Life on the Border
Patriot War Casts
Deep Shadows Over
Writer Tells How Ill-Fated
Adventure Took Prominent
Cape Vincent People
Clarence E. King of Long Beach, California, has edited
for publication the journal of his great-uncle, John W. Bedford,
pioneer resident of the river area of Jefferson county. Mr. Bed-
ford was a well known resident of the town of Cape Vincent during
the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s. His journal, which The Time (sic) is
now presenting, is a warm and intimate picture of early life in this
county, its people and its activities. The Times sets forth the Bedford
journal by special permission of Mr. King.
By JOHN W. BEDFORD
(In His Journal as edited by his grandnephew Clarence E. King.)
Political excitement ran high in the presidential campaign of 1840. The candidates were Martin Van Buren, Democrat, for president and William Henry Harrison, Whig, for president with John Tyler for vice president. Jackson having been borne to the presidential chair with a war cry born of his military fame the Whigs pursued the same policy with their candidate. General Harrison had been a successful general in the war of 1812 against the British. In an action against them in the battle of Tippecanoe he won a decisive victory over General Proctor and a large body of hostile Indians led by their great chief Tecumseh who was then killed. The war cry in his campaign was “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” “Hurrah for old Tippecanoe.”
In the heat of the political battle the Democrats ridiculed Harrison by saying that he (sic) wants were few and that if he “could have a log cabin with plenty of coon meat, Johnny cake and hard cider he would be perfectly content with life.” His party took this remark as a text for future action. At their public political meetings they erected log cabins, baked great Johnny cakes, roasted whole oxen, rolled in barrels of hard cider and feasted the multitudes while a libery (sic) pole stood nearby, consisting of an ash tree, the lower limbs removed, with a raccoon in its branches.
Jackson Is Blamed
A great reaction had taken place in the feeling of the people for Jackson and his policy. The terrible financial distress and stagnation of business was attributed to his policy and that of his party and when Harrison and Tyler were elected by an overwhelming majority, the people rejoiced over the great victory. The rejoicing was of very brief duration.
The president was still in the arms of death in one short month and John Tyler simply continued the policy of Jackson and his followers, vetoing first one bill passed by congress for a new National Bank and then another. He also vetoed a bill for protective tariff and exerted his influence for African slavery, advocated the admission of Texas as a slave state which led to the war with Mexico and the admission of Texas and California into the United States.
In the year 1837 and ‘38 there was great excitement in all the country bordering on the Canada line caused by some ambitious Canadian politicians which culminated in what is known as the “Patriot’s Rebellion.”
William MacKenzie, a leading member of the assembly of the Upper Province and a Frenchman named Papineau in the assembly of the Lower Province of Canada advocated sentiments disloyal to the British government, declaring it a tyranny which should be overthrown and calling upon the people to separate from the home government. These men were expelled from the legislative bodies to which they belonged but were promptly re-elected to their former positions and again resumed their treasonable utterances. They were again expelled, again re-elected and became more emphatic than before in the advocacy of their policy. They were then expelled and arrested for treason. They managed to escape to the United States and established on Grand Island in Niagara, collected an armed force, called a meeting of friends and sympathizers and issued a proclamation -- a document copied largely from the Declaration of Independence of the United States -- declaring the Canadas a free and independent nation.
Case of the “Caroline”
Recruiting officers were sent into all the adjoining states -- New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Vermont, offering volunteers for military service $12 and $14 a month while in active service and a bounty of 300 acres each of good Canadian land after their independence had been achieved and acknowledged by the British government. They declared that a majority of the people of Canada were in favor of a separation and desired a government something like that of the United States. Secret meetings were held in all the surrounding towns and villages near the lines. Men were enlisted and money collected to carry on the enterprise. A small steamer, the “Caroline” was engaged in carrying recruits from the American shore to Grand Island where the first great meeting was held.
The “Caroline” was moored at a dock at Black Rock where she was boarded in the night, a man in charge was murdered, the vessel was set on fire and sent blazing down Niagara Falls. A man named McLeod from Canada claimed the honor of this deed. Happening to visit the United States shortly after, he was arrested and kept in jail at Albany for nearly a year. The British government issued a demand for his release, claiming that he had acted under orders from that body and he was set free.
When it was thought sufficient preparations were completed a small battle was fought at a place called Short Hills where the patriots were badly beaten. Several prisoners were taken tried for treason and hanged at Toronto. This caused a cessation of hostilities for a time but the excitement on the American side increased. Lecturers went through the country exciting sympathy for the poor, oppressed people of Canada and the tyranny practiced was pronounced unendurable by a long-suffering populace.
One Patriot At Least
The advent of spring found an army of several thousand men enlisted and ready for active service. They were led by Major General Van Rensselaer, Brigadier General Wm. Estis (sic) of Cape Vincent and Brigadier General Johnson of Clayton. These men were thought to have been actuated by the hope of financial gain. There was one real patriot who gave his services in the cause, a Polish General Van (sic) Shoultz, who had fought in the war of the Poles against Russia and had been exiled to America. He was a brave soldier and sympathized with what he considered the sufferings of a downtrodden people. The enlisted forces were assembled at Ogdensburg under the leaders, ready to cross the St. Lawrence river but the United States government not wishing to become involved with Great Britain sent a force of United States regular troops under General Scott to intercept the Patriots before they could cross the river and thus prevent the invasion of Canada.
Before this fleet reached Ogdensburg General Van Schoultz had crossed the St. Lawrence with about 400 men but the others were prevented from crossing the river. It was openly asserted that Gens. Van Rensselaer, Johson (sic) and Estis (sic) were much relieved by this opportunity to desert the cause but the handful that had passed over were between two fires, the U. S. forces on one side and the British on the other. They had landed on Windmill Point, a point of land where an old stone windmill was located and made this headquarters. Soon after their arrival there a cavalcade of militia dragoons advanced with great pomp and parade. Gen. Van Schoultz ordered his men to take shelter behind an old stone fence and reserve fire until he gave command.
The next day a regiment of regular soldiers were sent from Kingston to capture the invaders. They were unable to do so as the walls of the old mill were five or six feet thick at the base and the Patriots fired upon them from the windows and held the position. The next day two or three pieces of artillery were brought from Kingston and mounted near the mill and the cannonade was commenced on the top of the mill where the walls were not so thick. This soon sent the rocks hurling down on the heads of the imprisoned men and they were obliged to surrender unconditionally. They were marched to Kingston.
Pitiable indeed was the condition of these poor men. They had expected a warm reception from the Canadians whose cause they had espoused. Instead they were welcomed only to extreme punishment and dishonored graves. The prisoners were tried and condemned, several of them to death and nearly 400 more to the penal colony on Vandieman’s Land for life. This sentence was afterwards commuted to 15 years when the survivors returned to their old homes.
Poor General Van Schoultz, William Lawton, a shoemaker of Cape Vincent, the principal of the school of that town, Daniel George, Mr. Phelps, a tailor I had often employed, and three others were hanged from the same beam at one time. This was the end of the Patriot’s War but the most singular part of the whole affair was that the instigators, William MacKenzie and Papineau were pardoned and returned to their homes and in a short time were again seated in the Canadian Parliament while their poor duped followers suffered the extreme penalty of law.Index of All Patriot War Articles
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