The War of 1812: Loyalty and Treason - Page Banner

Table of Contents


Letter Wartime in Upper Canada, which had a mixed population of loyalists and more recent American immigrants, posed problems for individuals and the government. General Brock began the war pessimistic about the loyalty of a significant part of the population and doubts remained about the reliability of the newcomers throughout the war. The level of political disaffection or pro-American sentiment in the province is difficult to measure. The refusal of the Legislative Assembly to suspend Habeas Corpus early in the war has been interpreted as disloyal or a principled stand against arbitrary government, depending on the view of the writer.

There is no doubt that some residents actively helped American forces when parts of Upper Canada were under military occupation. Joseph Wilcocks and his Canadian Volunteers fought on the American side at Fort Erie (Wilcocks was killed during the attack on the siege works in September). Others left the province during the war for the United States, possibly out of loyalty to that country, possibly to avoid militia service or possibly to avoid the destruction visited by both sides along the border areas.

Loyalty to the British connection and support for the military effort was also part of the wartime reality. The role of the militia in the defence of Upper Canada has been the subject of debate for decades. However, many served and a number were killed or disabled and provisions were made for widows and orphans pensions through public and private sources.

 

[Return to top of page]


Loyal & Patriotic Society
Letter The Loyal and Patriotic Society was established to raise and distribute money on behalf of militiamen and their families who faced hardship arising from the war. The Society heard submissions from militiamen and their dependants and issued sums based on the level of hardship.
Broadsheet announcing the resolutions of the inaugural meeting of the Loyal and Patriotic Society, 1812


On March 19th, 1814 a committee consisting of Duncan Cameron, William Allen, Quetton St. George, Thomas Ridout and Alexander Wood heard an application from John White, a carpenter from Quebec who had served as a volunteer on the Detroit frontier.

“He was charged with Boats of stores by Gen’s Proctor on the retreat from Amherstburg up the River Thames …he proceeded on his route to Burlington but was overtaken by the Enemy at the Battle of Moravian Town, plundered of all his money..wounded and left for dead”

The Board awarded him one hundred dollars in compensation.


Click here to see a larger image (332K)
Broadsheet announcing the resolutions of the inaugural meeting of the Loyal and Patriotic Society, 1812
Miscellaneous collection
Broadsheet
Reference Code: F 775, box MU 2102
Archives of Ontario




John Strachan was the first Anglican Bishop of Toronto, and a leading supporter of the British connection in the province during and after the War of 1812. He was instrumental in organizing the Loyal and Patriotic Society.

“I am sorry indeed for the calamities in Upper Canada, & especially at York; but I have not heard any particulars of our disasters there except from the American newspapers, & verbal accounts from Montreal. … In my sermon on the [Fast] day of May 28th I recommended subscribing to the Patriotic Society of Upper Canada. We are going to collect [here], & I shall send subscription papers to the other places where they propose contributing.”

Extract from an original Letter from C. Stewart Strachan to his brother John Strachan (York)
June 7, 1813
John Strachan fonds
Reference Code: F 983, box MU 2893
Archives of Ontario

Lithograph: Right Rev. John Strachan, D.D., [ca. 1865]

Click here to see a larger image (212K)
Right Rev. John Strachan, D.D., [ca. 1865]
Artist unknown
Lithograph
Reference Code: S 2148
Archives of Ontario




The Final Report of the Loyal and Patriotic Society

Final Report of the Loyal and Patriotic Society, 1817

Click here to see a larger image (177K)
Final Report of the Loyal and Patriotic Society, 1817
Loyal and Patriotic Society
Book
Reference Code: 971 .034, pages 246 and 247
Archives of Ontario Library

The report provides an entry for each payment made from the funds administered by the Society between 1813 and 1817. The entry for Daniel Springer of the London District reads in part:

“Captain Springer exerted himself in defending the province, by actively performing his duty on all occasions; he as usual therefore became obnoxious to the enemy and the disaffected, a party of whom seized him on the 1st February, 1814; and after binding him, took his own horses and sleigh, and placing him in it carried him to Kentucky…”



In recognition the society awarded Springer and his family £50.

One of the contributors to the fund was Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe, £25, the wife of the first Lt. Governor of Upper Canada and the artist responsible for some of the illustrations in this display.

[Return to top of page]


Land Grants

Letter Those who came through the war able-bodied were eligible for land grants, in part obtained through the seizure of lands of those found to have been disloyal. Loyal service was also marked through personal advancement, as the subsequent careers of John Beverley Robinson, John Strachan, William Hamilton Merritt, the Ridouts and the Nelles' attest to, at least in part.

 

 

 

[Portrait of William Hamilton Merritt], 1860
William Notman
Black and white negative
Reference Code: S 657
Archives of Ontario

Photo: [Portrait of William Hamilton Merritt], 1860



Zorra Township patent plan (detail)

In the lower left corner on this plan we can see which parts of land were granted to William Hamilton Merritt for his service as captain of a company in the Troops of Provincial Light Dragoons. He received a total of 800 acres (concession 2, lots 4, 7 & 8; and concession 4, lot 8).

Click here to see a larger image (454K)
Zorra township patent plan (detail), [n.d.]
A plan
Reference Code: RG 1-100, C-71, Map A.14, (AO 5973)
Archives of Ontario




The acreage allotted varied with the rank occupied by an individual during the conflict. John Kennedy from Scarborough would receive 100 acres for his service as private in Captain Cameron's flank company and Joel Judd, a sergeant in the Incorporated Militia, was granted 200 acres.

Click to see a larger image (631K)
Register of militia grant, 1820-1850
Textual record
Reference Code: RG 1-152-0-1
Archives of Ontario

Register of militia grant, 1820-1850

[Return to top of page]


Treason

Legislation

Letter On March 14, 1814, the Legislature of Upper Canada passed three acts as emergency measures. The first limited the right to habeas corpus applications for those accused of treason; the second provided for trials for treason and related charges in districts outside the area where the alleged offences occurred; the third act, and the one that had the greatest impact, was the Alien Act which made it an offence for anyone to have left the province after July 1812 for the United States.

Upper Canada Statutes, Cap VI

Click to see a larger image (484K)
An Act to empower his Majesty, for a limited period,
to secure and detain such persons as his Majesty shall
suspect of a Treasonable adherence to the enemy.
Statutes of Upper Canada
54 George III
Cap. VI, 1814
Textual record
Archives of Ontario

Upper Canada Statutes, Cap. IX

Click to see a larger image (467K)
An Act to declare certain Persons, therein described,
Aliens, and to vest their Estates in His Majesty.
Statutes of Upper Canada
54 George III
Cap IX, 1814
Textual record
Archives of Ontario

Special Commissioners were appointed under the Act to investigate individuals accused under its terms. The Commissions had the authority to declare the individual an alien and thus ineligible to hold land in Upper Canada.

The passage of these acts and the subsequent "Bloody Assize" at Ancaster was the direct result of the reverses suffered by the British in the Niagara and Western Districts during 1813.

Upper Canada Statues


Those inclined to support the invaders were in a position to do so, and many personal scores were settled through the destruction of property of those who were loyal or by the kidnapping of active militia officers.

Many of the prisoners tried at Ancaster had been captured in a raid by militia under the command of Colonel Bostwick on a party of U.S. troops and Canadian irregulars near London.

Click to see a larger image (510K)
An Act for the more impartial and effectual trial and
punishment of High Treason, and Misprision of High
Treason, and Treasonable practices in this province.
Statutes of Upper Canada
54 George III
Cap. XI, 1814
Textual record
Archives of Ontario

 

The near anarchy in the region west of the Grand River after Proctor's defeat at Moraviantown made it impossible to hold the trials in that area as would be the normal procedure. It was also feared that Justices of the Peace friendly or sympathetic to the accused would grant bail, allowing them to slip over the border or behind enemy lines.

“To the Sheriff of the said district [Johnstown District], his deputy or either of them. Greeting. Whereas information on the Oath of good and lawful persons residing within this province is made to me as a commissioner that Ebenezer Sandrus, late of [Yonge], has been guilty or has given great leans [suspicion] of his being guilty of treasonable practices.You are therefore commended (in the King's Majesty's name) to apprehend the body of him, the said Ebenezer Sandrus, now residing at Gananoqua [sic] in said district and bring him before His Majesty's commissioners appointed and authorized by virtue of the said act to here and determin (sic) such cases and will sit at the court house in Brockville on Tuesday 16th August 1814.”

Extract from an original warrant
for treasonable practice, August 14, 1814
Joel Stone family fonds
Reference Code: F 536, box MU 2892
Archives of Ontario



[Return to top of page]


Trials

Letter John Beverley Robinson served as the Acting Attorney General through most of the War of 1812. He took the lead in prosecuting those accused of High Treason at Ancaster in the Spring of 1814 and secured the conviction of 15 men. All were sentenced to hang, but 7 were eventually commuted to deportation. The remaining 8 were sentenced to be executed by hanging at Ancaster in July.



Sir John Beverly Robinson, Chief Justice,
Upper Canada, [ca. 1840]
Archives of Ontario documentary art collection
Hoppner Meyer
Print
Reference Code: C 281-0-0-0-143
Archives of Ontario, I0003072

Print: Sir John Beverly Robinson, Chief Justice, Upper Canada, [ca. 1840]

“It is wished, and very wisely, to overawe the spirit of disaffection in the Province by examples of condign punishment by the laws of the land. Execution of traitors by military power would have comparatively little influence, the people would consider them as arbitrary acts of punishment but would not acknowledge them as the natural effects of justice.”

Copy of a letter from J. B. Robinson to Sir Gordon Drummond, March 25, 1814
Pre-Confederation Correspondence of the Attorney General
Reference Code: RG 4-1, box 22
Archives of Ontario



To listen to an excerpt from this letter in wav format (683K), click here.To listen to an excerpt from this letter in "wav" format (683k) click here. It is also available in "aif" format (683k).





“Allow me in a few words to report for his Honors information by his order contained in your letter in that about 70 person stand indicted for high treason, of these about 50 have left the Country and of course will be pursued by the ordinary course of outlawry….[goes on to describe the acts which led to the guilty verdicts]…John Dunham…was one of the ringleaders of the rebels in the London District, who carried several militia officers, and inhabitants, prisoners to Buffalo - his house was their headquarters…Dalton Lindsay, George Peacock, Benjamin Simmonds - three of the rebels in the service of the enemy in the District of London in Nov. last, making prisoners of our militia officers…and advancing to destroy Dover and take the public Stores there, were taken in open rebellion by Col. Bostwick's party of volunteer militia….Aaron Stevens -- A man formerly in the confidence of the government, of respectable family and property, convicted of having acted as a spy for the enemy - going for that purpose to Burlington, when General Vincent commanded there, surveying the works and garrison and conveying the intelligence to Gen'l Boyd for a large pecuniary reward. He was, besides, constantly with the enemy when they possessed Fort George, and often seen with them in arms.”

Extract from a copy of a letter from J. B. Robinson to Captain Loring
Secretary to Gordon Drummond, June 19, 1814
John Beverley Robinson family fonds
Reference Code: F 44, box MU 5911
Archives of Ontario



To listen to an excerpt from this letter in wav format (612K), click here.To listen to an excerpt from this letter in "wav" format (612k) click here. It is also available in "aif" format (612k).


Extract from a copy of a letter from J. B. Robinson to Captain Loring, Secretary to Gordon Drummond, June 19, 1814

Click to see a larger image (427K)
Extract from a copy of a letter from J. B. Robinson
to Captain Loring, Secretary to Gordon Drummond,
June 19, 1814
John Beverley Robinson family fonds
Reference Code: F 44, box MU 5911
Archives of Ontario

“[the prisoners shall be] hanged by the neck, but not until they be dead, to be cut down alive, and their entrails to be taken out and burnt before their faces, and their heads cut off and their bodies divided into four quarters and their heads and quarters disposed of at the King's pleasure…”

Extract from a copy of the order reciting the
sentence under the Treason Act, 1814
Pre-Confederation Correspondence of the Attorney General
Reference Code: RG 4-1, box 2
Archives of Ontario



It is unclear whether the full rigour of the sentence against the eight condemned men was carried out. Of the seven whose death sentences were reprieved, one escaped and two died in custody before they could be deported from Upper Canada.

[Return to top of page]


Aftermath

Letter The poster to the right lists all those convicted at Ancaster of High Treason, those outlawed but not captured for trial for serving with American forces and all those who's property was forfeited through the proceedings of the Special Commissions under the Alien Act.

The broadsheet would have been distributed to judicial and local officials, so far as is known this copy sent to the Clerk of the Peace for the Newcastle District is the only one to survive.

Click here to see a larger image (229K)
Treason Poster, 1821
Newcastle District Clerk of the Peace
high treason in War of 1812 poster
Broadsheet
Reference Code: RG 22-3782
Archives of Ontario

 

Treason Poster, 1821

This item comes from General Gordon Drummond’s Letterbook, which contains copies of his outgoing correspondence.

Letter from Edward McMahon to Thomas Merritt Sheriff of the Niagara District , September 20, 1814

Click to see a larger image (383K)
Letter from Edward McMahon to Thomas Merritt Sheriff of
the Niagara District , September 20, 1814
Sir Gordon Drummond fonds
Reference Code: F 955
Archives of Ontario

Thomas McMachon served as his secretary in the fall of 1814. The authorities reacted to invasion and treason by contemplating punishment of the families of those executed or declared outlaw, though there is no documentary proof that the order was carried out. The severity of an order like this shows the depths of feeling in the province after two years of war and the kind of extraordinary measures the authorities were willing to take in the interests of security.

The War of 1812 seems like a small matter to later generations but it affected the whole population of Upper Canada in a profound way.

 

Sir,

Having reason to apprehend that the Wives and families remaining behind of those persons who have fled from the Niagara District and joined the enemy, and of those also who have been executed for Treason, or sent out of the Province, afford Information to the Enemy prejudicial to the Public Service; and as the Property of such persons by law reverts to the Crown in consequence of their Treason, their families therefore can never hope to enjoy it and can have no other object by remaining in the Country than for the purpose of affording such Information. His Honor the President has therefore commanded me to desire that you will forthwith notify those females etc. under mentioned that they are to assemble at Chippawa on the 12th of the next month (and any others of their description who may be within your knowledge) in order to their being sent across from thence to the American…”

Extract from a copy of a letter from Edward McMahon to Thomas Merritt Sheriff of the Niagara District , September 20, 1814
Sir Gordon Drummond fonds
Reference Code: F 955
Archives of Ontario

[Return to top of page]