When the United States of America declared war on the British Empire they knew they could not go toe to toe with the might of the British Navy. Instead they invaded the closest British held territory, Upper and Lower Canada. Not all the citizens in British controlled territory were on the side of the Empire, many in fact supported the American invasion and wanted to see the British influences in North America removed. Some left Upper Canada for the USA, and some others chose to support the Americans on the Canadian side of the border. Most citizens of Upper Canada supported the British Forces, many fought to defend Upper Canada, joining the Incorporated Canadian Militia, but in November and December of 1813 a few raids by British Regulars and Militia discovered a group of raiders that had been preying on Upper Canada in Chatham, Ontario. Many were American citizens sent to cause havoc in British held territory but there were several British Citizens among those captured.
These men were arrested and charged with treason, fifteen in all, they were joined by four more men in York (Modern Day Toronto), then the capital of Upper Canada to await trial. Chief Justice William Scott and Judges William Dummer Powell and William Campbell were tasks with setting up the trails and presiding over them. The court opened on May 23rd, 1814, with charges read against the nineteen captured men and fifty more still at large.
It was decided that the trails would be setup in Ancaster, Ontario. The small town was the only one with a building large enough to hold the crowds that the trials would ultimately attract. The building chosen was the Old Stone Hotel, during the trials it was known as the Rousseau Hotel. The trials lasted from June 7th to the 21st, 1814, and saw fourteen of the nineteen captured found guilty either through their own admittance or through evidence presented to the court. Sentencing of the men found guilty was delayed until July 20th to allow them, if they wished to seek Royal Mercy.
For the fourteen found guilty seven were sentenced to death and were sent to The Heights and were hanged. The remaining seven were sent to prison and began the long journey to Kingston. They attempted escape the night of July 31st, 1814 but were quickly recaptured. Three died of typhoid in 1815 the remaining four were given pardons on the condition of exile.
The building at 425 Wilson St, in Ancaster, ON is known locally as the 1812 Barracks, and is thought to have housed soldiers during the war and trails. Although the structure seems far too modern to have been around during the trails there’s evidence that it was built on or around an older structure.
Written with files from:
Guidebook to the Historic Sites of the War of 1812 Second Edition by Gilbert Collins – 2006 The Dundurn Group Publishers
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