If there is a singular organisation that is synonymous with the Patriot Wars and the Upper Canada Rebellion as a whole that group is the Hunter’s Lodge. The group grew out of the Frise Chassure, a group founded by the Lower Canada Patriotes under Joseph-Louis Papineau. Papineau had been waging his rebellion against Lower Canada out of Vermont. And while Papineau saw no better success than those in the west, the use of a central group and the model of a secret society had kept the group much better aligned with the goals of their rebellion. It also attracted the attention of Charles Duncombe who was no stranger to the idea of a secret society. With the help of Duncombe, the Hunter’s Lodge spread west from Vermont. And soon many small and medium-sized settlements along the border boasted a Lodge. And many saw the membership in the lodge as a point of personal pride. But for Duncombe, he quickly set out using the Lodge to organise better the efforts to establish a republican government in the Canadas, and for that, he needed to absorb groups like the Canadian Refugee Relief Organisation and the Secret Order of the Sons of Liberty under the banner.
Duncombe would reboot the entire rebel movement in September 1838; invitations were extended to seventy critical members of the rebel movement to personally attend a grand convention of the Hunter’s Lodge in Cleveland. While on the surface the event gathered the more public elements of the Hunter’s Lodge, the meetings in secret were the main focus. Duncombe planned to create a new shadow government for the Republic of Canada. The dream of the nation he had kept alive was no more than a fantasy. The goal of the convention was to reestablish a provisional government for the Republic. Many of the same names were forwarded, and many Americans saw election. Notably, the elected President, Abram D. Smith, a supporter of the Equal Rights Party, the 19th Century equivalent to the modern Tea Party, the Vice-President was also an American, Colonel Nathan B. Williams. The Commodores for the Republican Navy were both Ex-Canadians, Bill Johnston for Lake Ontario and Gilman Appleby for Lake Erie. General Donald McLeod took on the role of Secretary of War. An Akron, Ohio lawyer, General Lucius Bierce took the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Republican Army. The rebellion’s original leaders, William Lyon MacKenzie, John Rolph, and Charles Duncombe were absent from the ballot, Rolph and MacKenzie had both separated themselves from the movement and Duncombe had another role. Duncombe had spent much of his time learning of the idea of Free Banking, a belief held up by the Equal Rights Party, and using it as a framework, Duncombe created the Republican Bank of Canada to help fund the continued rebellion. Free Banking gave individuals the capacity to found banks, free from any government regulation that could print bills and their value based on market forces. The whole idea of Free Banking is complicated, but if you want to learn more, you can pick up Free Banking: Theory, History, and a Laissez-Faire Model by Larry J. Sechrest. Because of a large number of Equal Right Party supporters in the Lodge, the Republican Bank attracted a lot of support both inside and outside the Lodge, and bills were printed featuring the likeness of Peter Matthews, Samuel Lout and James Morreau. To ensure the individual lodges stayed in the loop a newspaper, the Buffalonian, would be published. On the surface, the newspaper would be the typical far from a Rebellion aligned paper, but it contained coded messages.
Eager to restart the war, Bill Johnston, Donald McLeod and John Birge drew up a plan to launch an attack to capture Prescott. If they could hold Prescott, they could control the St. Lawerence River thanks to a large Hunters’ Lodge in Ogdensburg, New York and use it as a jumping off point to take control of the Rideau Canal and even challenge the British Garrison at Kingston. The strange part about the whole plan would be John Birge’s command, as the Commander-In-Chief had no foreknowledge of the plan. Birge travelled far and wide, waving his sword and playing the drums at rallies to gather support for the liberation of Canada. The tactic worked, Birge, four-hundred hunters along with arms and ammunition departed from Sackett’s Harbor on the 11th of November 1838. They sailed along the American side of the lake; more hunters joined their army at Cape Vincent, French Creek, and Millan’s Bay. Two schooners joined and were lashed to the United States, the Charlotte (of Toronto) and the Charlotte (of Oswego). As the officers began to formulate their plan, a Polish exile, Colonel Nils Von Schultz spoke up. Von Schultz had practical military experience and recommended a direct three-pronged assault against Prescott. The main force would land at the town ferry docks, while a second group would attack from the west and take the garrison at Fort Wellington (still under re-construction at the time), and the third group sweep in from the east from preventing reinforcements from Kingston. It became clear that the other officers, especially Birge had no desire to listen to the Polish Colonel. Birge wanted to land first at Ogdensburg, collect more troops and then attack. Von Schultz feared any further landings outside of Canada would see a reduction of men, not an increase. Birge, wanting to be rid of the colonel offered him command of the Charlotte (of Toronto) and 170 men to establish a beachhead in Prescott. As the three ships approached the town, the tow cables were cut freeing the two schooners. While the United States headed for Ogdensburg with Johnston aboard the Charlotte (of Oswego) close behind. This move turned everything against the rebels. Birge would, for some unknown reason lose his nerve and barricaded himself in his cabin and Johnston would lose control of his schooner and end up grounding it in the delta of the Oswegatchie River. But for Von Schultz the matter would be far worse, none of the Hunters realised that they had several spies in their lodges and the militia at Prescott learned of their planned invasion. As the rebel schooner closed on the town’s ferry dock and made to tie up the militia opened fire, the rebels never made it off the pier and were forced further down river. They drifted for another three miles before the current forced them to land on the Canadian side of the river. Unwilling and unknowing that the rest of the rebel forces were not going to arrive en masse, Von Schultz decided to establish his beachhead west of the town taking over a farm complex. The stone fence and buildings offered a strong defensive point, and the windmill present gave them both a watchtower and sharpshooter platform.
Having landed at Ogdensburg, John Birge took ill and holed himself up in the town’s Lodge. Meanwhile the United States and a second steamer under Hunter control, the Paul Pry answered the distress call from Johnston aboard the Charlotte (of Oswego) and moved to assist in freeing the trapped schooner. The timely arrival by the HMS Experiment a Royal Navy Gunship on loan to the Provincial Marine out of Kingston turned the rescue into an artillery duel. It became clear they could not effect a rescue of the Charlotte (of Oswego) and both the Paul Pry and the United States engaged the Experiment. The crew of the British gunboat fired with accuracy, putting a shot through the wheelhouse of the United States forcing both ships back to Ogdensburg and out of action. Von Schultz knew he was going to have to hold with a limited number of men and dug in, removing the guns from the Charlotte (of Toronto) and burning the schooner. And while a few more rebels managed to sneak across the river, the arrival of US Navy and Provincial Marine gunships established a blockade on both sides of the river, and militia units rushed towards Prescott while regular troops prepared to march from Kingston. The militia at Prescott, however, desired action and several officers decided that the small rebel force would be an easy target for their much larger force. On the night of the 13th, some four-hundred militia troops marched on the farm complex, the rebel pickets melting back. But the small arms fire from the militia were no match for stone buildings not to mention the sharpshooters up in the windmill. And while the militia fell back to Prescott, the rebels could not breathe any easier. Von Schultz realised he fought with a fixed number and any attempts to organise a withdrawal would have no hope. Birge could not send reinforcements, and the blockades even prevented rescue craft. The only hope the stranded rebels were to swim the river or use a small boat and hope to slip through the twin blockades. But they were dangerously short of ammunition, food, and water. They could only watch as more Provincial Marine ships deposited regular troops and heavy siege artillery at Prescott. Colonel Dundas would march his brigade to the farm on the 16th with four companies of the 83rd (County of Dublin), two eighteen pound field guns a howitzer and the entire militia force. The artillery could fire on the farm outside the range of the sharpshooters, the stone buildings had no hope of standing up to the heavy siege artillery, and the rebels faced heavy casualties as their defences were pounded to dust. Those who chose to run were picked up by the infantry, even Von Schultz ran down to the river, grabbed a waiting boat and tried to escape, only to be picked up by the Provincial Marine and returned to Prescott. Knowing they had no hope for fighting, the rebels sent out a man under a flag of truce; the British shot him. As the dust cleared the infantry readied to march in and mop up the rebels, charging in, they expected the rebels to fight to the last man. Instead, the rebels threw down their arms and surrendered. The army proudly paraded the arrested rebels through the streets of Prescott. The surviving officers argued for better treatment as prisoners of war. But for the British authorities, no war existed the rebels were just that rebels or foreign agitators.
Despite the cost and failure of the Prescott invasion General Lucidious Bierce took command of the western rebels and planned to launch an invasion of Upper Canada from Detroit. Much to the annoyance of the population of the city of Detroit, General Bierce returned to the activity of parading the rebel army through the streets, speaking loudly and publically to stoke the fires of liberation. And while Bierce talked big, when the time came actually to invade he faltered. The delay gave the younger officers a chance to start spreading rumours of Bierce’s cowardice. The rumours only made Bierce make bigger and bolder claims. But his lack of action saw many rebels leave, and the Americans were more than happy to let their British counterparts know of the rebel plans. It wouldn’t be until the 3rd of December that Bierce’s courage returned and he ordered a small force to capture a steamship, the Champlain. The crew were rushed ashore and paid to stay quiet. But he only had half his number, yet that did not stop him as he planned to recruit more on the Canadian side of the river. Landing three miles above the town of Windsor, the rebels set their ship ablaze and pushed it out into the river. The sleeping town had a militia garrison of some thirty men, the rebels while having one-hundred men were poorly armed according to one account. The guard raised the alarm and started to fire on the rebels. The firefight was short and sharp and with the militia facing their deaths, many chose to ran while the remaining militia covered the retreat, many surrendering the rebels. Bierce ordered some prisoners gathered into the town barracks and the building burned. With the town under his control, Bierce called out to any who would hear and gave the usual speech. He called to any loyal Canadian to join in the liberation from the tyranny of the British Crown and avenge the deaths of Matthews, Lount, and Morreau. Despite his claims that they were not pirates several rebels decided to burn the steamship Thames and a pair of houses in the town. Bierce then sent a group of rebels to establish a picket line at the Baby House, while another group started to push forward towards Sandwich.
The few men who escaped Windsor sounded the alarm in Sandwich and the local militia commander; Colonel John Prince began to gather the town’s militia to march to Windsor while another runner carried to word to Fort Malden at Amherstburg. But the militia was not the only group to answer the alarm. Doctor James Hume had awoken with the alarm and being a retired British Army surgeon strapped on his sword and rode towards Windsor. On the road, he ran into a group of rebels, and when they challenged his presence and demanded his surrender, he asked for their authority. His surprise turned to anger when they again demanded his surrender in the name of the Republic of Canada. When the doctor tried to ride off, the rebels fired on the doctor killing him. The rebels returned to Windsor, presenting Hume’s sword to General Bierce, believing they had killed a high-ranking officer. The burning buildings in Windsor and gunfire had attracted the attention of the Americans across the river who had taken to watching the action. But the militia had marched on the town and engaged the rebels in the orchards around the Baby House. Neither could secure an upper hand and taken some rebels prisoner; Colonel Prince ordered a retreat having suffered four casualties. He returned to Sandwich to wait for the regulars to arrive from Amherstburg. Having learned of the rebel actions against the Windsor militia and the destruction of property and the death and implied mutilation of Doctor James Hume, he ordered four prisoners brought forward. Prince then without trial or jury ordered the execution of the four prisoners. By the time Captain Broderick arrived with a company of men from the 34th (Cumberland) Regiment and returned to Windsor the rebels had fled back to the United States, only a few more were hiding and arrested in quick order. The war, such as it was, was now over.
The Battle of Windsor marked the final engagement in the Patriot War and the Upper Canada Rebellion as a whole. Colonel Nils Von Schultz stood trial in Kingston. Having pled guilty he did not have a lawyer present but he was advised by a recently called to the bar Kingston Lawyer, John Alexander MacDonald. Von Schultz argued he had been brought into the Patriot War on the assumption that Canadians were ready to throw off the British Government. The jury would hear nothing of it and Von Schultz would be hanged at Kingston Penitentiary. Despite the loss, John A. MacDonald would become a well-respected lawyer and be elected to the Legislative Assembly of the United Province in 1841, and go on to become Canada’s first Prime Minister. The Windmill was the only building that remained standing outside of Prescott and in 1872 was turned into a lighthouse by the Canadian Government and served in that role until the late 1970s. John Prince’s actions with the rebel prisoners earned him a great deal of ire he would even be challenged to a duel, which he would survive. Despite the black mark he continued to be elected to the Legislative Assembly both in the final session for Upper Canada and in the United Provinces in 1841 and be appointed to the Legislative Council in 1857. He went on to use his role to promote the expansion of mines and railroad into the western edge of Canada West. With an appointment to the office of Judge, the first for the Algoma district, he resigned from the Legislative Council and lived out his days in Sault Ste Marie, dying in 1870. General Lucidious Bierce avoided arrest and returned to Akron, Ohio, swearing off the Hunters’ Lodge. He did serve in the American Civil War, wearing Doctor Hume’s sword during his time as a major and Adjutant General of the Ohio Volunteers. Bierce would die in 1876. The Hunters’ Lodge would dissolve and be forgotten, those who once held their membership as a point of pride made to distance themselves from the organisation, and the last lodge closed in 1842. Charles Duncombe would never return to Canada despite being pardoned by the government in 1849; he would move to California, become an American Citizen and served in the State Legislature until his death in 1867.
Today these two battles are probably the best memorialised of the entire Patriot War. The Battle of the Windmill site is a national historic site and has a series of historical and interpretive plaques; the former windmill can be climbed and offers a beautiful panoramic view of the St. Lawerence River. There are also several plaques about the battle across the river in Ogdensburg, New York. Fort Wellington still stands today in Prescott, Ontario and can be visited as a living history museum, with the earthworks and blockhouse being original to 1839. In Windsor much of the downtown has covered over the locations of the battle, the Baby House still stands although hidden, was restored by the Hiram Walker and Son Distillery in 1958 and serves as a local history museum, a plaque to the battle stands outside the house. A historical plaque also stands in Civic Square to marking the location of the Windsor Blockhouse, but I never noticed it while I was there. In Sandwich, a mural depicts the execution of the rebels, and the remains of Doctor Hume are still resting in the graveyard of St. John Anglican Church although I was unable to locate the marker. The rebellion had ended, the leaders dead, imprisoned, or in exile, but Canada the revolution was about to get started.