This article was found pasted into a scrapbook entitled, “1838 Patriot War.” The scrapbook is located at the Flower Memorial Library Genealogy Department at Watertown, New York. This article, one of a series written by L. N. Fuller, was copyrighted in 1923 by the Brockway Company, Publishers of the Watertown Daily Times. The series appeared in the Watertown Daily Times in March, April, and May of 1923. John B. Johnson, Jr., Editor/Co-Publisher of the Watertown Daily Times has granted me permission to incorporate these pieces on my website. I feel very honored to have been given this permission. (Shirley Farone)
Start of the Expedition to
Carry War Into Canada
Patriots Assemble at Sackets Harbor and Cape Vincent to In-
vade Canada and Capture Prescott -- Much Excitement in
NORTHERN NEW YORK IN THE PATRIOT WAR
By L. N. FULLER
(Copyright, 1923, by the Brockway Company, Publishers of the Watertown Daily Times.)
The climax of the Patriot war as it related to Northern New York was reached in November, 1838, when the battle of the Windmill was fought at Prescott, Ont., directly opposite Ogdensburg. It was in this battle that a number of Northern New York men were killed, and many were captured, some to die on the gallows at Kingston, others to be transported to Van Dieman’s land and others to be pardoned and return to their homes. It was indeed a tragic event and many homes in this section were sorrowed. Husbands were torn from their wives and families and in some cases doomed to die on the gallows; sons were torn from their parents and sent to exile on the other side of the world. It was many years before time healed the deep wounds caused by this tragedy.
For several months plans had been maturing for a fresh invasion of Canada from the United States. It was discussed in the Hunter’s lodges at every meeting, and all along the border there was secret , though none the less pronounced activity. No one knew where the blow was to be struck. There were rumors that it might start from Cleveland, with Western Ontario as the objective. Others believed that Kingston was to be attacked and several other places were spoken of as possible points of contact. No doubt many of these rumors were set on foot by the Patriots themselves, with the idea of confusing the Canadian authorities and to distract attention from the real objective point.
At a meeting of the Patriot leaders held in Watertown it was proposed by General Estes, one of the prime movers, that the attack be made on Prescott. There was considerable difference of opinion over the plan, but the majority finally decided in favor of Prescott and that plan was adopted. It was said that 5,000 men, including 500 Poles from New York, were ready to flock under the double-starred banner of the Patriot cause and that thousands of Canadians stood ready to join them as soon as they set foot on Canadian soil.
During the first few days in November there was much activity along the Northern border. In each village where there was a Hunter’s lodge men left and assembled at convenient points along the lake and river. Unusual numbers of strangers were seen about Syracuse, Watertown, Oswego and Sackets Harbor and a large number of arms were assembled at these places, despite the vigilance of the state and the federal authorities.
About Nov. 10, the schooners Charlotte of Oswego and Charlotte of Toronto were loaded in Oswego harbor with cargoes that had arrived by canal from Syracuse. After being laden they left the harbor and took a northerly course. In the meantime the steamer United States had been in Oswego harbor undergoing repairs, and on Sunday morning, Nov. 11, she also left the harbor, heavily laden. She had on board about 150 men, none of whom had any heavy baggage. A nail keg was placed on board and rough handling disclosed the fact that it was full of bullets. There was also a large number of packages marked for Cape Vincent. The steamer arrived in Sackets Harbor that afternoon and there about 20 to 30 more men boarded her.
It had originally been intended that the men should assemble at Sackets Harbor on Nov. 5 and take passage on the United States, a regular packet boat running between Oswego and Ogdensburg under Captain Van Cleave. Between 500 and 600 men arrived at Sackets Harbor on the 5th, but as the plans went wrong at Oswego they returned home, and did not join the expedition.
Colonel Martin Woodruff was in command of the force on the United States. He was a deputy sheriff of Syracuse and was executed at Fort Henry, Kingston. Captain Daniel B. Heustis of Watertown commanded the little force at Sackets Harbor. He was much disappointed when told that of the 500 Poles who had promised to come, but six joined the expedition. Heustis expressed doubts of the success of the expedition, and Woodruff concurred in his judgment.
“But I can’t back out,” said Woodruff, “and neither can you. We must go and do our best. I had rather be shot than to back out now.” Despite the smallness of the numbers, they were not lacking in courage and all agreed to take the desperate chance that was before them rather than abandon the expedition, expecting that their numbers would be augmented by thousands of Canadians who would join them in the fight for liberty.
After a short delay at Sackets Harbor, the United States resumed her trip on the afternoon of the 11th. Many of the men were in the fire room while others were about the decks. There is a difference of opinion as to the number of men on board. Franklin B. Hough, in his history of St. Lawrence and Franklin counties places the number at not more than 200, while Heustis in his reminiscences says that there were 400 on board. The United States passed the steamer Telegraph, a craft chartered by the government to enforce the laws of neutrality and break up any such expeditions as this. No attempt was made to stop the United States and she went on to Cape Vincent where a few more men were taken on board.
At Millen’s Bay the two schooners which had left Oswego the day previous were overhauled. These schooners had on board a large supply of food and ammunition, as well a number of men. One of the passengers of the United States persuaded the captain to take them in tow, declaring that they were loaded with goods consigned to Ogdensburg and were unable to make the trip along on account of the unfavorable winds.
There is nothing to indicate that Captain Van Cleave, the master of the United States, had any idea of the nature of the expedition.
The next stop was French Creek (Clayton) and a few more men came on board. Then the real nature of the expedition became apparent. Swords and pistols were taken from the baggage and were worn openly. Boxes and cases on board the schooners were transferred to the United States and a large number of men who were on board clambered over the rails of the steamer.
The owners of the steamer and Hiram Denio, a bank commissioner, were on board and they and the captain held a consultation as to what was best to be done under the circumstances. They had no desire to be parties to a filibustering expedition or an invasion of a friendly country. It was decided to stop at Morristown, the next American port, and notify the authorities there of the nature of the passengers, and send this information to Ogdensburg where a United States marshal was stationed. It was planned to delay the steamer at Morristown until this information could be forwarded to the proper authorities.
Just before the steamer reached Morristown about 11 on the night of Sunday, the 11th, the schooners were unfastened and dropped astern. Nothing more was seen of them until the arrival in Ogdensburg the next morning. The warning had been sent from Morristown to Ogdensburg and to Brockville as well. After stopping about two hours and a half at Morristown the steamer continued on to Ogdensburg, reaching there about 3 on Monday morning, November 12. The fires were let down as usual and the customary watch was put on board.