There was much more to the Upper Canada Rebellion than just the armed engagements that I discussed in the past three entries. Underlying the entire year of 1838 the government continued to operate and the biggest issue facing them would be prosecuting the rebels and their American allies after their capture. The whole matter would have been a lot cleaner if an actual war was declared. The treatment of Prisoners of War was an internationally understood law, but to the British, there was no war, they were dealing with a rebellion. And in the case of the Upper Canada Rebellion, the Provincial Government and the Family Compact desired to exact some form of revenge against the prisoners. The biggest problem facing the government and the courts would be the lack of laws to prosecute both the British subjects but also the foreign agitators who had taken up arms against the government on behalf of and with the rebels. The only law on the provincial books was the 1804 Alien Sedition Act which, as the name implies could only be used against non-British citizens. The government scrambled to create two laws to work through the backlog of prisoners awaiting trial from the 1837 uprisings alone, and on the 12th of January 1838 passed them both. An Act to Provide for the more Effectual and Impartial Trial of Persons Charged with Treason and Treasonable Practices in this Province for British Subjects charged with High Treason. An Act to Protect the Inhabitants of this Province Against Lawless Aggressions from Subjects of a Foreign Power at Peace with Her Majesty to take care of the Americans and any other non-British citizen allied with the Rebel cause. Both bills granted any judge or jury several sentences for those charged under the acts, exile to the United States, life imprisonment either in the Kingston Penitentiary, or on Van Dieman’s Land, today Tasmania, and at the maximum, death by hanging. Bond-Head would not have a chance to sign the bills into law, and both laws generated a great deal of debate at the Colonial Office, but ultimately the new Governor, Sir George Arthur, granted both bills Royal Assent in March 1838. As the former governor Van Dieman’s Land, Arthur earned a fearsome reputation for his liberal use of the gallows to enforce the laws of the penal colony. And while the Colonial Office warned against the same level of hangings in Upper Canada to prevent the creation of martyrs, but Arthur would take his direction from the Provincial Government, specifically the Family Compact.
But for those languishing in prison awaiting trial, the laws would come too late. Most of the rebel leaders were out of reach in the United States, but the Provincial government did have three rebel leaders in custody and wanted to make an example out of them. One, Anthony Van Egmond had slipped out of their reach when he passed away due to age combined with injury and illness. And despite the pleas of his family to move to better conditions the government refused. The ironic thing is that if Van Egmond had gone to trial, it is likely he would have hanged as a traitor. The courts turned their attention to the other two leaders they had in custody, Peter Matthews and Samuel Lount. The families of both men were waging a battle to have the men freed and cleared of all charges, both Peter and Samuel even had submitted pleas for mercy to Sir George Arthur, which included them admitting their guilt. Both men knew that if the governor ignored their pleas they would stand trial as having pleaded guilty they would not have a lawyer present in the courtroom, they would face Chief Justice John Beverly Robinson alone. But Arthur had already spoken to Robinson about the situation ignored their pleas. I wouldn’t imagine that the Chief Justice took pleasure in handing down the death sentence on both men, but he took the opportunity to lecture both men on the error of their ways. He explained that they had rebelled out of jealousy, not oppression and they were derelict in their duty to God and the Crown. Even with their death assured many signed a petition asking for mercy to be had and life imprisonment or even exile. When asked to build the gallows, the foreman of the Toronto Gaol refused to put a hand to it, stating they (Peter and Samuel) had done nothing he would have done. The gallows were built without his help and on the 12th of April 1838 the men hanged. Lount’s final words were Be of good courage boys. I am not ashamed of anything I’ve done, I trust in God, and I’m going to die like a man. They would be the first to die from the rebellion, and even the Americans had reason to fear the gallows, as President Martin Van Buren stated that the American government would not interfere or assist any Americans captured while participating in the rebellion.
The fact came into clear focus after the Short Hills Raids. The American leader of the raiders, James Morreau, stood trial at the end of July 1838 in Niagara. Under the law, Morreau faced a felony charge rather than high treason because of his citizenship. The Crown had the evidence to convict beyond a shadow of a doubt, and Morreau had nothing to defend himself or prove his innocence. It took the jury only a few minutes to return a guilty verdict, and the judge handed down a death sentence. Morreau made no complaint or plea for mercy his only request being that he spend his final days with a fellow prisoner and American Linus Miller. The two men would spend the days deep in discussion of their actions, the trials, reading scripture or in prayer. On the day of his execution, Morreau felt ready to die, assured in the righteousness of his action he would refuse his last words. The rebels did lay out plans to rescue both Morreau and Miller but did not have the manpower to execute the plan. But the simple threat of rescue would be enough to keep the locals from volunteering to do the deed when the usual hangman fell ill the grim task falling to the sheriff on the 30th of July. Samuel Chandler and Benjamin Wait stood before the court on the single charge of high-treason, a charge that could send both men to the same gallows that Morreau hanged from. Both men presented a strong defence, Chandler’s being that he tried to stop the violent attack on the Lancers in June and made attempts to release the captured men. It took far longer for the jury to find both men guilty, but they also included a request for mercy. The judge had no plans to show mercy as he stated that leaders of a rebellion deserved no mercy and issued a death sentence. Sarah Chander, Samuel’s daughter and Maria Wait, Benjamin’s wife took up the cause of the men. They prevailed themselves on any who would listen from George Arthur to Governor-General John Lambton. Lambton being far more liberal and merciful listened to the two women and overruled the death sentence, and ordered the men imprisoned on Van Diemen’s Land. From Niagra, they were moved to Kingston and then transferred to a prison hulk at Portsmouth in England. It would not be until the 18th of July 1839 that Benjamin and Samuel arrived in Hobart. Linus Miller would also come on the 12th of January 1840. Life on the prison island was backbreaking, labour was hard and discipline swift and brutal. And while Miller proved a problematic prisoner and tried to escape, as punishment Miller saw a transfer to the maximum security prison at Port Arthur. Wait and Chandler however proved model prisoners and as a result, earned a great deal of freedom, and used that freedom to formulate their escape. Unknown to them, Maria and Sarah still worked tirelessly to gain the men a proper pardon and release, they would prevail upon Marshall Spring Bidwell, William Lyon MacKenzie, John Lambton, even Queen Victoria. Ultimately the Queen lay the matter of a pardon at the feet of Sir Charles Poulett Thompson, Lord Sydenham the Governor-General of the Province of Canada, and the women managed to secure a petition signed by Sir Allan Napier MacNab and Colonel John Prince, and in 1841, Sydenham would agree to the pardon. But for Benjamin and Samuel, they had already arranged for their escape with the aid of some American whalers, and arrive in New York City in July 1842.
And while even the rebellion had ended, not all wanted the violent revolution to end. And some decided the best way to let the British Authorities they were still around decided to destroy Brock’s Monument on Queenston Heights. The monument, erected in 1824 memorialised General Sir Isaac Brock as the Saviour of Upper Canada, due more to his action at Detroit rather than his death at Queenston Heights. The monument to the rebels showed the might of the British Empire and Authority over Canada. On the 17th of April 1840, an explosive charge did considerable damage to the monument but failed to bring it down. Blame initially landed on Benjamin Lett, a known rebel sympathiser but never actually joined the rebel cause, but had a connection to the murder of a militia officer and kidnapping of a second both officers had been part of the Caroline Affair. But the court could not prove Lett’s direct involvement with the destruction of the monument, and he was released. He continued to conduct acts of terror, blowing up Lock 37 of the Welland Canal and the attempted destruction of the SS Great Britan. Both Samuel and Benjamin’s families would join them in the United States in 1843. Linus Miller also saw pardon and returned to the United States writing a book on his adventures. Samuel would move from New York to Grand Rapids Michigan, living as a farmer and miller. Benjamin would capitalise on his experiences and put everything into a book; however, Maria would die in childbirth in 1843, Benjamin remarrying in 1845 and moving to Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Chandlers moved to Iowa where Samual was instrumental in setting up several Freemason Lodges. Lett’s luck would run out, and he was arrested in the early 1850s and would die under suspicious circumstances in 1858. Construction of a grander monument to General Sir Issac Brock saw completion in 1859 and dedicated a year later by Prince Edward, Prince of Wales and the future King Edward VII. The Linus, Samuel and Benjamin would die in 1860, 1866, and 1895 respectively.
In 1957 the demolition of the last section of the King Street Gaol took place, today the only reminder of the prison is courthouse park and a small plaque on the building located at the intersection of Toronto and Court Street dedicated to Peter Matthews and Samuel Lount. While their bodies were buried without ceremony, the Rebellion Memorial in the Toronto Necropolis acts as a grave marker to the men. A memorial to the Short Hill raids and the rebellion, in general, stood in Niagara Falls near the Honeymoon Bridge from 1938 to 1964 and would be moved to Toronto and installed at the MacKenzie House Museum in the early 1970s, you can view two of the panels there today. Brock’s Monument stands as a centre point to Queenston Heights and is visible to all who drive along the Niagara Parkway or those making the crossing at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, during the spring and summer you can climb the monument. Van Dieman’s Land ceased to be a prison colony in 1853 taking on the current name of Tasmania three years later and today is a province of Australia. Hobart remains the provincial capital, and a monument to the Canadian political prisoners stands in Prince’s Park today. The prison at Port Arthur stands as a ruin and is a historical site and museum. In Canada, the Kingston Penitentiary closed in September of 2013 and is available for public tours; the death sentence laws saw repeal in both Canada and Great Britain in the middle of the 20th Century.