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)

The Hunter’s Lodges In
Northern New York Towns


Secret Order Whose Aim Was to Free Canada -- All Classes of
Society Represented -- The Oath Taken By a “Hunter” ---
Finally Dissolved By Order of President Tyler




(Copyright, 1923, by the Brockway Company, Publishers of the Watertown Daily Times.)



One of the most interesting features of the Patriot War in its relations to Northern New York was the formation of what was known as Hunter’s Lodges. Practically every village in this section had its lodge, composed of those who were in sympathy with the struggles that the Canadians were making for their liberty.

The first record of any association of this kind in the United States was in March, 1838, when a meeting was held in Lockport, N. Y. A committee, of which William Lyon Mackenziewas a member, was named to secure information relative to the Canadian refugees in the United States. The name given to this association was the Canadian Refugee Relief Association. Headquarters were at Lockport and agents were sent to all parts of the United States, especially along the northern border.

The forming of this association was followed by the burning of the steamer Sir Robert Peel, treated more in detail in this series, and two attempts at invasion of Canada from the Niagara region. It appears that Mackenzie, though named a member of the executive committee of the association, was not present at the meeting and had no sympathy with his aims. When he learned that a military expedition was on foot he urged those responsible to abandon their efforts.

In March, 1839, he issued a call for a meeting to be held in Rochester to be made up of Canadians or persons connected with Canada, to be known as the Canadian Association, the object of which was the measure of greater political power for Canada. Many Canadians had moved to this side of the border and during the summer of 1838 a secret organization was formed, composed of these refugees. The headquarters were in Michigan and Henry S. Handy was appointed commander-in-chief. The members took an oath to bear allegiance to the cause of Canadian independence, and to keep their membership in the order a secret. Agents were stationed in various parts of the country. This movement was confined almost entirely to Michigan and it was planned to make an attack on Windsor, opposite Detroit, on July 4. General Brady, commanding the American forces at Detroit, got wind of the plan, and dispatched a force which seized the arms of the would-be invaders. The whole plan collapsed for want of arms.

The real Hunter’s Lodges, however, had their inception in the east, and the first one, of which there is record, was formed in Vermont in 1838. The various Patriot organizations merged themselves into this one. After the failure of the plans for invasion in the west, those in the east believed that the greatest aid could be given by operating against Lower Canada.

The society seems to have taken its name from a man named Hunter, who was active in the rebellion in Toronto, and escaped into the United States at the risk of his life. After he reached this side he began the organization of the society that was to bear his name. The movement spread rapidly, and within a few months, lodges were established in all the chief centers from Maine to Wisconsin and as far south as Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The oath taken by one who joined these lodges follows:

“I swear to do my utmost to promote republican institutions and ideals throughout the world -- to cherish them, to defend them, and especially to devote myself to the propagation, protection, and defense of these institutions in North America. I pledge my life, my property, and my sacred honor to the association; I bind myself to its interests, and I promise, until death, that I will attack, combat, and help to destroy, by all means that my superior may think proper, every power, authority, or royal origin, upon this continent; and especially never to rest until all tyrants of Britain cease to have any dominion or footing whatever in North America. I further solemnly swear to obey the orders delivered to me by my superior, and never to disclose any such order, or orders, except to a brother “Hunter” of the same degree. So help me God.”

There were different degrees of initiation, and a complete system of secret signs, badges, pass-words, cipher of secret alphabets for correspondence, peculiar raps for obtaining admittance at the door, all of which were used as a means of communication with each other and for determining the degree and rank of the various lodges. As if to make more certain the secrecy of their intentions, and to escape the vigilance of the government paid spies, the leaders belonged to two or more patriot societies, thereby possessing a larger number and a variety of secret means of identification and communication. The emblem of the order was the snowshoe.

The most important lodges were located at Rochester, Buffalo, Lockport, and Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit and Port Huron. The headquarters of the west were at Cleveland and those of the east at Rochester. The membership of these Hunter lodges has been variously estimated from 15,000 to 200,000, but during the years when the lodges were the most active the membership was between 25,000 and 40,000. Owing to the secrecy imposed on the members an accurate estimate of the membership is impossible. All classes were attracted to the lodges. Many were sincere in their desire to free Canada, others were attracted by the secrecy and mysticism which enveloped it, much in the same manner that some adventurous spirits are attracted to the Ku Klux Klan of today. “Laborers left their employ,” says the report of the select committee of Upper Canada, “apprentices their masters; mechanics abandoned their shops, merchants their counters; husbands, their families; children, their parents; Christians, their churches; ministers of the gospel their charge, to attend these meetings.” Judges, legislators, governors, army officers, and even the vice president of the United States were claimed as members.

On Sept. 16-22, 1838, a meeting of the grand lodge was held at Cleveland at which representatives were present from the various subordinate lodges. At that time the republican government for Upper Canada was constituted. “Bill” Johnson, the St. Lawrence river pirate who burned the steamer Sir Robert Peel, was appointed “admiral” of the Patriot navy in eastern waters. It was estimated that there were nine steamboats and 25,000 Patriots ready to bear arms for the Patriot cause.

The Republican Bank of Canada was to be established, with a capital stock of seven and a half million dollars. The stock was to be secured by the confiscation of Canadian property, and although the members pledged themselves to raise $10,000 in two weeks, it appears that while they were willing to die for the Patriot cause they did not care to invest their money in it, as only $300 was subscribed.

During the fall of 1838 the Hunters south, north and east of Oswego began to move. Hunters from Oswego, Salina, Liverpool, Syracuse, Auburn, Great Bend, Pamelia, Dexter, Evans Mills, Watertown, Brownville, Leraysville, Sackets Harbor, Cape Vincent, Chaumont, Williams Bay, Alexandria, Orleans, Flat Rock, Ogdensburg, Rosiere and other points began concentrating along the St. Lawrence in considerable numbers. That was the beginning of the invasion-of-Canada which was to culminate in the tragic Battle of Windmill in which so many Jefferson county men lost their lives. That event is described elsewhere in this series.

The first Hunter’s lodge was formed in Watertown in May, 1838, according to Daniel D. Heustis, one of the survivors of the Battle of the Windmill; Mr. Heustis was the author of a book telling of the Battle of the Windmill and his subsequent imprisonment and banishment to Van Dieman’s Land.

“Some time in the month of May,” wrote Mr. Heustis, “a Mr. Estabrooke of Cleveland, Ohio, came to Watertown, and instituted a secret society or lodge on the same plan as those previously established at Cleveland and other places. I was admitted as a member the first night. Very soon our lodge numbered nineteen hundred members. Some of our members went into neighboring towns and organized other lodges, and in a short time they were formed in nearly every town in the region.” Those lodges had as officers, Doremus Abbey, Daniel George and Russell Phelps, all Jefferson county men who were subsequently hanged at Fort Henry. These meetings were held at the old Mansion house which stood where the Iron block in Public Square, now occupied by the Conde store, stands (sic).

One was organized in Ogdensburg on Feb. 12, 1838, which was attended by Mackenzie. The following morning a cannon was fired several times to honor Mackenzie, but it only caused much excitement. That evening, attracted by the firing, some Prescott people crossed the river out of curiosity and they were detained all night by the Patriots. That served to increase the ill feeling between the two countries.

Even after the rebellion was completely put down the Hunter’s Lodges continued their existence on this side of the border until Sept. 15, 1841. President Tyler issued a proclamation calling upon all good citizens to sever their connection with them. The need for their existence was over, and they soon went out of existence, leaving nothing but memories.