The Watertown Herald
LOCAL ANNALS WITH ALL THE CHARM
OF FANCIFUL ROMANCE
The “Queen of the Thousand Islands” --
The Outlaws’ Retreat on the St. Lawrence --
Sir Allan McNab Flees to Watertown Disguised --
A Polish Hero -- Before the Battle of the Windmill
If William Johnston deserved his distinction as leader of the fearless band of Canadian patriots, certainly his daughter, Kate, was a worthy scion of such a father. What her aid was to him in the hopeless struggle can never be estimated. She was called the “Queen of the Thousand Islands.” It was in this time that Johnston published the following manifesto:
“I, William Johnston, a natural born citizen of Upper Canada, do hereby declare that I hold a commission in the Patriot service as commander in chief of the naval services and flotilla. I commanded the expedition that captured and destroyed the Sir Robert Peel. The exceptions were volunteers. My headquarters are on a island in the St. Lawrence without the line of the jurisdiction of the United States at a place named by me Fort Wallace. I am well acquainted with the boundary line and know which of the islands do, and which do not, belong to the United States. Before I located my headquarters, I referred to the decisions of the commissioners made at Utica, under the sixth article of the Treat of Ghent. I know the number of the island and know that by the division of the commissioners, it is British territory. I yet hold possession of the station and act under orders. The object of my movement is the independence of the Canadas. I am not at war with the commerce or property of the United States.”
SIGNED this 10th day of June in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight.” William Johnston.
The effect of this manifesto was electric and was distributed through all the provinces and also in all parts of the frontier states, “Bill” Johnston was the hero and centre of all patriotic movements. During the war of 1812 he robbed the dispatches from England to the authorities at Toronto. A heavy reward was offered by the governor-general of Canada for his head, but he defied the vigilance of the Canadian government to arrest him. The excitement along the frontiers was intense, Sir Allan McNab, the governor general, fearing the safety of his life, had resigned and on returning to Kingston passed through Watertown disguised as a laborer. But he was recognized by Bernard Bagley while sitting on a wheel barrow in front of Gilson’s tavern waiting for the stage from Rome. He was advised by some of the leading men that he need have no fears of danger while travelling through the States. He then changed his disguise and assumed his former dignity. Lord Dunham succeeded him as governor general. The secret lodges were now in full blast making large additional memberships. It had now become very evident that a stand was to be made some where for the independence of Canada. Colonel Worth had command of the United States troops to protect the frontiers. On the 20th of June he made an agreement with Colonel Dundas of the British army, commandant at Kingston for a joint action to be made on the 2nd of July, to arrest the outlaws. After a search of several days their retreat was discovered, but not a man could be found. “Bill” Johnston was captured November 17th, and conveyed to Auburn whence he made escape. He was recaptured by William Vaughn, and lodged in jail in Albany. He made his escape the second time and was kept and secreted for long time. After quiet had been restored, he returned to a peaceful life at Clayton. He was afterwards appointed keeper of Rock Island light that shines on the spot where the Peel was burned. His last days was quiet and he enjoyed a retired life for nearly thirty years.
On the 10th of November, two schooners, the Charlotte of Oswego and Isabelle of Toronto left Oswego with arms and ammunition, and about 300 men for some Canadian point on the St. Lawrence. The steamer, United States, left Oswego on the following morning for the same destination and touched at Sackets Harbor, taking on board about one hundred men besides arms and ammunition. These men were styled Hunters. The schooners had anchored off Millin’s Bay. The steamer, United States, coming up took them in tow, one on each side. There were now about 500 patriots on board the boat and all young men destined for some point known to but very few, if any, except the officers. But either from patriotic motives or otherwise they aimed to deliver Canada from the oppression of British misrule. They were fully officered and General J. Ward Birge held the appointment of commander and chief. He was a very sanguinine (sic) man and boasted of being able to lead his army through Canada like a portion of salts (sic) for subsequent acts proved him to be an infamous coward. These vessels being well supplied with cannons, guns, ammunition and provisions, started on the morning of the 17th of November down the river. When passing Alexandria Bay, Charles Crossman, then a young man of 20 years, full of patriotic impulses, wrote that one day at this point a beautiful tourist home should bear his name. They bore down the river until abreast of Prescott. The boats were detached and dropped down to Windmill point. In trying to land, the schooners ran aground, one near the point and the other farther down the river. About 250 men landed from the schooners and the greater part of the guns and ammunition, together with one twelve pounder cannon and two brass seven pounders. They then took possession of the Windmill, a circular stone building four stories high. This they held with three other stone buildings. The schooners, after getting afloat with the balance of the men and ammunition sailed for Ogdensburg. This looked rather discouraging to the boys in the Windmill to see these schooners leave them with many of their provision and ammunition. Colonel Worth and the United States Marshal, Garron, afterwards seized the vessels and all other cargoes. Prospects then darkened for the patriots at the Windmill. They were deserted by nearly all of their officers. The blatant coward, General Birge, wilted at the first chance of facing British bullets. It happened that among in (sic) the patriot band was a polish exile Niles Szoltercki Von Schoultz, who came from Salina. He was of noble birth, his father being an officer of high rank and he himself trained in the Polish service. He was active in his sympathy for his down trodden people, and after the dismemberment of Poland was obliged to flee to America. He was easily deluded into the prospects of freeing Canada from tyranny, and oppression. In the emergency he was now unanimously placed in command. He knew no fear, and no one could falter under the influence of his noble bearing for cool sub self reliance. It was understood by misrepresentation that as soon as a stand was made by any patriot force the Canadians would flock to their standard. In this they now found themselves grossly deceived. For not a single man came to his relief. They were looked up as brigands and usurpers. On the morning of the 18th, three Canadian steam-boats, the Coburg, the Experiment, and the Traveler, with about 400 regular troops from Kingston were seen coming down the river. They landed at Prescott. It is now evident that some hard fighting was to be done. The patriot band could now see that someone had blundered, and “theirs was now to do or die.” Nothing daunted, they saw that they must prepare to meet the British soldiers. The noble commander, VonSchoultz, gave great encouragement to his men and advised them to brave the British bullets, and to stand by each other to the last man. They agreed to follow wherever he should lead.
TO BE CONTINUED
This article was transcribed and posted by sitehost on July 30, 2006. There are several more articles from the Watertown Herald which will soon be posted here.
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