The beaver & the Fenian
by Joe Palmer
[ opinion - august 08 ]
Canada is the only country founded on the pitiless pursuit, capture, and killing of the semi-aquatic relatives of squirrels, on the relentless, persistent chase of rodents. Beavers are big water rats, the females larger than the males, weighing up to 50 or 60 lbs. Canada was developed on dead beavers, Castor Canadensis.
For 300 years, everybody who was anybody in Europe wanted to wear a felt hat, and the best were made from beaver fur. How many beavers does it take to make a hat? One fat beaver. The Russians were running out of their sort of beaver, Castor fiber, so the French imported beaver pelts from North America, processed the fur, and then sold the felted material to hat makers. Wool was pulled from the skins, and then carrotted, incidentally turned orange with nitrate of Mercury, so that the wool could be carded easily, in the process poisoning the hatters, making them go mad. [Fur felt is hair that makes a mat of woollen material when it is thoroughly squashed together] Then they weighed, matted, bowed, shaped, basined, planked, plated, stretched, blocked, pressed, steamed, flamed, jigged, greased, pounced, sanded, powdered, rubbed, dry ragged, cut, flanged, heated, cooled, blocked, steamed, dyed, stiffened, waterproofed, ironed, brushed, and finished the hat with satin or taffeta lining and ringed it with a leather band, most usually sheepskin that was soft and absorbent.
The buyers preferred old skins previously worn by the trappers, because the guard hairs were already worn off so they did not have to remove them by hand. It was the duvet, the soft wool, they wanted. During the 1600s, an average of only 15,000 beaver pelts were imported into France annually. Obviously, not everyone could have a beaver hat.
Beavers do not like to be around people. Fly-fishing with my wife on the Trout River in Vermont one day, I heard a big splash. Thinking she had fallen in the water, I ran to help her. She was laughing at the surprise she had when a beaver slapped the water with its tail, warning the others to beware.
In 1631 a beaver pelt could be had from a trapper for the equivalent in trade goods of one livre (pound) and ten sols (sous), a pound and a half, the equivalent of 30 cents in gold, whatever that was. Champlain's salary that year was £1,200, or 800 beavers a year, and the venture company, made up of merchants of the cities of Ca"n, Rouen, and St-Malo, who paid him his salary and the expenses of the transport, factory, and residences, still made a profit of around £100,000, so the markup on beaver pelts of 10 to 20 times the basic price of a pound and a half, after expenses, was considerable.
[A]fter five Days Journey, we came to Tagarondies, a great Village of the Iroquois Tsonnontouans [Seneca], and were immediately carried to the Cabin of their Principal Chief, where Women and Children flocked to see us, our Men being very well dressed and armed. An old Man, having according to Custom made public Cries to give Notice of our arrival to their Village; the younger Savages washed our Feet, which afterwards they rubbed over with the Grease of Deers, wild Goats, and other Beasts, and the Oil of Bears.
They obtained their slaves and beaver pelts from lands in the West.
Guests and prisoners did not get the same welcome.
They use commonly that Inhumanity towards all the Prisoners they take in their Warlike Expeditions; but the worst of it is that their Torments last sometimes a Month. When they have brought them into their Canton, they lay them upon some pieces of Wood, made like a St Andrew's Cross, to which they tie the Legs and Arms of those miserable Wretches and expose them to Gnats and Flies, and string them to death. The Children of those barbarous Parents cut pieces of Flesh out of their Flanks, Thighs, or some other part of their Bodies; and when they have boiled it, force those poor Wretches to eat thereof. The Iroquois eat some pieces of it themselves, as well as their Children; and the better to inspire those little Cannibals with Hatred for their Enemies and the desire to extirpate them, they give them their Blood to drink in some little Porrengers made of Barks of Trees. Thus do these poor Creatures end their Life after a long and unspeakable Torment.
Some of my best friends are beavers. They live nearby in their condominium lodges, which they must renovate every spring after the snow melt floods on the streams that feed the Missisquoi River. The beaver is a small hippopotamus. The hippo is my totem because I killed one once, in Somalia, in revenge, and in a sense of civic duty, like George Orwell shooting an elephant, and because it was fun. Hippos kill more people every year than any other wild animals except humans. Beavers kill only trees. They eat the tender plants that contain aspirin, and so their scent glands contain oil of aspirin, good for many things that ail people, and good for baiting traps to catch other beavers.
[Neander 97/Historical Trivia]: The beaver exhibits a deceptively unimpressive demeanor. However seldom has a single creature played such a profound role in influencing the history of a continent and its peoples. Men conquered vast oceans, wove their way across trackless wildernesses, waged wars, and debauched entire cultures, all in pursuit of the beaver. Just as a desire for gold and silver drove the Spaniards to explore and exploit Mexico and Central and South America, a burning lust for beaver furs drove British, French, and American entrepreneurs across the length and breadth of what is now the United States and Canada.
The beaver was the North American equivalent of the Incan silver mines, indeed, for nearly two centuries beaver fur was as good as gold. One biologist of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute estimates that in 1870 there were at least 10 million beaver within the boundaries of present day Canada. In 1854, nearly twenty years after the bottom fell out of the beaver market, over 500,000 North American beaver pelts were auctioned off in London. Records show that from 1853 to 1877, again long after the demand for beaver fur had dramatically declined, the company sold some three million beaver pelts.
The towering top hat of the gentleman, the man of substance and influence, reigned supreme throughout the 1800s. The man who wore a topper could afford to keep servants, who brushed and buffed the beaver fur, or its imitation, the silk plush, of their master's hat.
[From: The Honorable Company, A History of the Hudson's Bay Company, by Douglas Mackay, Bobbs-Merrill Co, NY, 1936]
"In Montreal full-blooded... men found outlet in the Beaver Club where hospitality was famous. The club was founded in 1785 with nineteen members who qualified by having wintered in the northwest, 'the pays d'en Haut.' Later the membership numbered fifty-five men."
After hours of dining and drinking, the climax of the evening was 'The Grand Voyage.' Members and guests sat on the floor in a row as if in a great canoe. With fire tongs, swords of soldier guests, or walking sticks, for paddles, they dipped and swung to the rhythm of voyageur songs. It was all very brilliant, expensive, and probably extremely noisy.
One September night in 1808, thirty-one members and guests sat down to dine. The bill has survived :
32 dinners £12
29 bottles of Madeira at 6/
19 bottles of Port at 5/
14 bottles of Porter at 2/6
12 quarts ale 8/
7 suppers 8/9
Brandy and gin 2/6
Cigars, pipes, tobacco 5/
Three wine glasses broken 3/9
One of the objects of the club was: "To bring together, at stated periods during the winter season, a set of men highly respectable in society, who had passed their best days in a savage country, and had encountered the difficulties and dangers incident to a pursuit of the fur trade in Canada." Another object was to afford a means of introduction into society to such traders as might from time to time, after a long absence, retire from the Indian Country. It was indeed a great honor to be a member of the Club or to be invited as a guest to one of their dinners.
At the time of the British Conquest, Montreal in 1763 was a tiny city. Even forty years later, by 1800, its population was only some 8,000. Yet through the industry and vision of these first Scots the city soon became a business center out of all proportion to its population and the most important fur trading spot in the world. The story of these Scottish fur traders is most romantic; one could wish that even today more emphasis might be given in our schools to its part in Canadian history.
It was the early Scots at Montreal who in 1766 reopened the trade with the North West. The first who decided to penetrate west from Montreal, to the furthest limits of the French discoveries, was Thomas Curry, a Scot who set off with guides in four canoes as far as the Saskatchewan River, returning the next spring with his canoes filled with fine furs. James Finlay, another Scot, followed Curry as far as the last French settlement on the Saskatchewan. From there the Scottish fur traders of Montreal spread out over a vast and unknown territory in the North West. Their success led the Hudson's Bay Company (incidentally, most of its servants in the territory to the north were also Scots) to push down and west from the Bay. Soon at Montreal there were several vigorous firms of these Scottish traders - Gregory & Co.; Todd & McGill; McTavish & Co.; and others. By 1780 ninety to a hundred of their canoes annually left Montreal, laden with goods to trade for furs with the Indians and the white trappers of the North West, each canoe-load worth £660 at Michillimackinac at the head of the Great Lakes.
The civil uniform, for official occasions, including gold-embroidered coat, was codified in Queen Victoria's time. Headwear (First Class) had to consist of: "Black Beaver Cocked Hat, Black Silk Cockade, White Ostrich Border Feather, Treble Gold Bullion Loop, with Tassel and Hangers." Since the Second World War, less formal attire has been required.
Sir John Alexander Macdonald (1815-1891) wore a beaver hat. He was the first Prime Minister of Canada, the Confederator, the only man to win six majority governments, who helped create a sprawling country with two contrasting European colonial origins and a grab bag of cultural backgrounds and political views. He extended the railroad all the way across the country. His private secretary Joseph Pope said that if he had attended university, he might have embarked on a literary career. However, Pope did not add that the creation of a great dominion, the successful government of millions of people, and the strengthening of an empire call for the exercise of rarer qualities than are necessary to the achievement of literary fame. Probably. Maybe. The great man theory of history is as true as we see it to be true and as false as everything else we observe.
The election in March 1891 was a call to show one's colors, to pick sides in the battle for Canada. J Murray Beck says that "there can be no doubt [that] Macdonald sincerely believed that Canada's very existence as an independent nation was at stake," and that Macdonald "was not too squeamish about the tactics he used." Those tactics included an all out attack on the Liberals under Wilfrid Laurier, criticizing and insulting not only their policies, but also their character. This was done under an overarching theme of anti-Americanism. Macdonald's Conservatives depicted their opponents as in league with annexationist Americans, set in the context of a construction of the United States as a landscape of imperialism, greed, violence, dishonesty and mob rule. In a common political move, the Tories sought sole ownership of the power to define "Canadian," and paradoxically externalized their Canadian opponents by presenting them as a foreign enemy. The choice put before the voters was not merely between two parties, but between two visions, two destinies: either remain nestled in the Union Jack behind the British lion, or sell your birthright and your soul to Washington, soon to be the capital of North America. The Tory strategy was successful and won the party another term in the House of Commons.
Canada remains the skinniest country on earth, 30 million people with a population density of three people per sq km, just about that of Iceland or Russia, living within a few kilometers of the American border that is nine thousand kilometers [9,000] long. Canada crowds the US Border (like Egypt hugging the Nile with  people per sq km shoulder to shoulder along 1600 kms of river). If all Canadians, including First Nations, held hands and formed a line, it would stretch from Newfoundland to British Columbia.
Daniel Boone ate bison for breakfast in Kentucky, for the buffalo range stretched from the Appalachians to the Rockies. In the 19th century hides and leather brought a good price. Britain imported more than a half million bison hides annually in the 1870s until there were no more bison left, their bodies left to rot in the grass on the prairie. The Anglo-American Cattle Company, the Colorado Mortgage and Investment Company of London, and the Scottish American Investment Company grabbed Western American land by means of stockmen's associations, hired cowboys from Mexico and Manhattan, helped build railroads where the buffalo used to roam, and put beef cattle on the great buffalo plains, making sure beef eaters and bankers would remain well fed and shod.
British North America, not yet Canada, depended on the St Lawrence and the Lakes for transport. By 1800 the region north of Lakes Erie and Ontario, then called Upper Canada, and now called Ontario, was more populous than the American territory immediately across the Lakes. The population was composed of people who had fled the United States during the war for independence, along with emigrants from Great Britain, especially from Scotland, and those involved in the Indian trade, and a residue of Frenchmen from before 1763. These elements were not yet welded into a Canadian nationality, something that was largely accomplished by the War of 1812. The total population of British North America was, however, no more than a twelfth of the population of the United States, which was growing at an astonishing rate. The St Lawrence route was the only practicable export route for the Northwest, other than New Orleans, and it was frozen up for a portion of the year, together with the Lakes.
By 1806 the United States was becoming increasingly hostile to the British, and relations between the two nations continued to deteriorate until war finally broke out in 1812. This hostility came from three sources: grievances at British violations of American sovereignty, restriction of American trade by Britain, and an American desire to gain territory by invading and annexing the poorly-defended British North American colonies. American grievances included the impressment of American sailors, the blockage of French ports preventing trade, and a belief that the British were inciting Indians to attack US settlements on the western frontier. "War Hawks" in the US called for an invasion of Canada to punish the British Empire and to lessen the threat to American interests represented by the Native Americans. At the same time, the American states were becoming crowded, and there was a growing attitude that the United States was destined to control all of the North American continent. American hawks assumed that Canadian colonists would rise up and support the invading US armies as liberators, and that, as Jefferson famously assured the American public, conquering Canada would be "a mere matter of marching."
In response to this emerging threat, the defense of Upper Canada [Ontario] had been entrusted to the very capable Major General Isaac Brock. He immediately drove General Hull, the American, back into Fort Detroit and cut him off from support. Hull drank and chewed and gave bad orders until his officers conspired to try and have him replaced. On 16 August 1812, the utterly incompetent General Hull surrendered Detroit to General Brock without a struggle, together with all his supplies and artillery (29 pieces, including 9 iron 24-pounders, with lots of ammunition). Most of the settled part of Michigan was then occupied by the British.
Fort Michilimackinac [Mackinaw] had already capitulated to a small British force and their Indian allies without a fight, giving them a much-needed supply of powder. Fort Dearborn at Chicago had fallen on the 15th after a siege, having run out of food. Captain William Wells, commandant of Fort Wayne [Indiana], had gone to relieve Fort Dearborn [Chicago], but was killed there in the massacre that followed. Captain Rhea who replaced him at Fort Wayne was soon besieged by the local Indians, and took to drink. It was a rather complete disaster for the Americans, having lost Detroit, Chicago and Mackinaw all at once. General Brock departed for Niagara to take charge there, leaving Colonel Proctor in command at Fort Malden, built by the British on the eastern bank of the Detroit River to defend the Canadian border from American attack.
Before the War Between the States in America (1861-65), no one ever intentionally set out to create the United Provinces of Canada. No one ever said "Hey, let's us all get together and form a country," like Mickey Rooney putting on a show. The simple truth is that the Quebeckers were horrified at the thought of political alliance with the atheistic thieves that were the American Revolutionaries, and furthermore the Upper Canadians in what is now Ontario saw that their bread was buttered on the side of King and Church. There were no huddled masses longing to be free in Canada. The excess population of Northwestern Europe, the unemployed workers, servants, and slaves had not been sent to Canada but to the American colonies.
While considerable amounts of money were behind the colonies in Virginia and New Netherland, almost nobody in France "cared a tinker's dam" about making poor Canada anything but a string of summertime trading posts. English colonial efforts in the 17C were a national preoccupation, but Canada remained peripheral and remote to France. French writings of the period contain very few references to Canada, and those are mostly ironical. Champlain wrote about Canada and what was needed, but well-educated Parisians did not read what he wrote. For the average literate Parisian in 1620, Canada "meant about as much as the Caroline Islands to a New Yorker in 1970." [Morison] The Caroline Islands form a large archipelago of widely scattered islands in the western Pacific, northeast of New Guinea, formerly trust territories of the US, eventually gaining independence (1986 / 1994).
Eastern Canada was ceded to England in 1763 after the Seven Years' War. Quebec got a British overseer, Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester, who had persuaded the British government to pass the Quebec Act in 1774. With it, the British attempted to strengthen their position in Canada by accommodating the seigneurs (landlords) and clergy, who they believed to be the natural leaders of the canadiens (French-Canadians). The act guaranteed tolerance for Canadian Roman Catholics, permitting them to hold government offices and sit on the legislative council. It also compelled canadiens to pay church tithes and recognized the French language and civil law and seigneurial tenure. Canada's boundaries then extended westward to include the Great Lakes region and the "Indian Territory" between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
The French in Quebec approved of this act, while the English in Quebec were opposed. The Continental Congress, in what was to become the United States, sent letters to Montreal denouncing the act for being undemocratic and for making Catholicism legal. When John Brown, an agent for the Boston Committee of Correspondence, arrived in Montreal to persuade the inhabitants to revolt, he came up against precedents of James Murray preserved in the Quebec Act. Murray had served under General Wolfe at the Plains of Abraham in 1759. He was the military commander of Quebec City after it fell to the British. He had successfully argued for the Act to continue slavery in Quebec as it had existed under the French (an advertisement appeared in the Quebec Gazette in 1769 for a "negro woman, aged 25 years, with a mulatto male child... formerly the property of General Murray"). The difference between an indentured servant and a slave is that slaves are better treated by their masters, for they are long-term investments, and their children are the enslaved property of their owners. The owner went ahead and worked their contract slaves, the indentured servants, to death on occasion. Not so their perpetual slaves. It was the wild Irish children and London gutter-snipes, the contracted servants, that that perished from hard labor and neglect.
Popular with Canada's French-speaking elite, the Quebec Act ignored tenant farmers' needs and did little for the British merchants who resented the lack of an elected assembly and the recognition of French civil law. Americans, upset by the toleration of Catholicism and the expansion of Canada into land they had hoped to take for themselves, considered the Quebec Act to be one of the "Intolerable Acts," yet another example of unbearable British tyranny. With the help and conniving of Scots merchants in Montreal the Americans invaded Quebec during the American Revolution, and failed, with the result that Canada remained British.
While George Washington sent Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery to invade Canada, hoping to distract the British and raise the people against the Crown, many other Americans were simply not sympathetic to the Revolution. Loyalists suffering insult, violence, and arrest at the hands of the rebels fled for the safety of the British lines where many joined local groups like Butler's Rangers and the King's Royal Regiment of New York. Other Loyalists were Six Nations Iroquois, the same Seneca that washed the feet of the adventurers, who hoped that fighting for the British would protect their lands against the Americans.
Neither British nor Iroquois Loyalists had a place in the new United States after the second Treaty of Paris ended the revolutionary war in 1783. The Iroquois (Mohawks) settled near the Grand River, in what is now Southern Ontario, and at Deseronto (Belleville), on Lake Ontario. More than 40,000 British Loyalists joined them in exile, making their way to Quebec and to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Many Loyalists went to New Brunswick (Braunschweig) a sparsely settled part of mainland Nova Scotia created as a province as 1784. George III, the mad king, was a German from Braunschweig, and many of the displaced "mercenary" soldiers the Crown had hired to fight the Americans were "Hessians" from German conscript armies of various German principalities, paid merely a pittance while their princes and officers profited. New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual, English and French, province. Acadians from New France had settled there, and later American English Loyalists, Africans, Irish, Scots, Germans, and Dutch populated the mainland area that became the new province, New Brunswick.
The Loyalists made Canada what it is today. In 1784, the British government split off the area of New Brunswick from Nova Scotia to provide a home for many Loyalists. Their presence in Canada added a significant English-speaking element to the population of Quebec [Canada] and brought about the passage of the Constitutional Act in 1791. This act divided Quebec into two new provinces, Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec), each with an elected assembly and appointed Legislative Council. The American Revolution, by causing the Loyalist influx into Canada, fundamentally influenced Canada's people, its provinces, and its institutions, and helped to create today's Canada
Through a matriarchal hierarchy and a men's council, the Six Nations of Native Americans, the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Tuscarora, and Mohawk (and the Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, and others) employed great executive ability in governing themselves and other "Indian" nations. Some of the United States founding fathers later noted how much their wartime government and new constitution were influenced by the Constitution of the Six Nations Confederacy. Situated upon the headwaters of the Ohio, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna, Chenango, Mohawk, and St Lawrence Rivers, the Six Nations held within their jurisdiction the passageway to the interior of the continent and could easily travel in any direction. Simply put, the Americans lied to them and took their land.
By the 19th century Britain wanted to stop spending money on the administration of Canada, which was not showing much of a profit like other colonies, Jamaica and Barbados, for example. The money went south to the United States for good reason. Canada was what was left over from the expansion and development of the United States, which was still going on in spite of every effort the British were making to impede American political progress and consolidation. The Crown did not lose the Revolutionary War; it gave up wasting money and came to several commercial accommodations with businessmen. Wily businessmen in Britain and France had not gone to Canada, but to where money was to be newly made in the States, and surplus people working their ways westward followed.
Madison's War in 1812-14 showed how testy the Crown could be about trade relations and the right of carriage on the Great Lakes and the Ocean. The impressment of seamen, the aid to intractible native people, and the support of privateers (another name for pirates) were all features of the Napoleonic wars. To make matters worse, busnessmen in New England paid little attention to trade restrictions and went about their business with Canada and Britain as if there were no federal government in Foggy Bottom, as the Columbia District is jocularly called after an industrial area of the city also called Funkstown, DC.
People think The 1812 Overture celebrates an American victory, but there is no reason to play, perform, and sing the 1812 Overture as part of a patriotic celebration in the United States, except that it is noisy, loud, and smoky, everything a battle should be. It has no historical relevance to American independence from Britain. It is "about" the Russian defeat of the French under Napoleon. Napoleon was on the American side in so far as the French supported the American Revolution and the new republic as part of the Enlightenment, which was mostly a French invention stemming from the Encyclopédie (1751-72) written by the Frenchmen Didérot, Rousseau, Voltaire and others. Surely their defeat by the Russians in 1812 should not be a reason for Americans to celebrate now, even ritually.
After the defeat of Napoleon, the British turned to problems stemming from the American Revolution. Firing on American merchant ships trading with French allies, and impressing their sailors into the British Navy, kidnapping them, as it were, the British had blockaded France in 1806.
Because President Jefferson was about to buy Louisiana, which included the entire western Mississippi and Missouri River watersheds, from France, he cast a fatwa against trade with Britain, and before long the War of 1812 was on.
Known as Madison's War, after James Madison, the fourth president of the United States (1809-17), as a continuation of the American Revolution it defined Upper Canada, north of the Great Lakes. The British had promised Upper Canada, "Ontario," to American Indians in return for their support. The Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his twin brother, Tenskwatawa, a highly respected wizard known as 'The Prophet', wanted to live free in the old way. The Prophet was a shaman, a half-blind seer who told his people that their dependence on guns, iron cookware, glass beads, and alcohol was the worst possible sin. In 1811 William Henry Harrison, Governor of the Indiana Territory, defeated the Shawnee at Tippecanoe (Indiana), killing The Prophet. After failed attempts to invade Canada, and battles with a massacre near Detroit, the Americans burned Toronto (York), Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames (Moraviantown), and Captain Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie. Having lost face, the banished Tecumseh took his family to Kansas, where he died.
Harrison became President of the United States in 1840 by virtue of his fame as a warrior, with the very first electioneering campaign for the Presidency, and the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too!" Tyler, a Virginia senator, lent some gravity to the ticket. Harrison was thought to be a rustic sort, and Democrats laughed at Harrison for being too old for the presidency and so referred to him as "Granny," hinting that he was senile. Said one Democratic newspaper: "Give him a barrel of hard cider, and ... a pension of two thousand [dollars] a year ... and ... he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin."
In his log cabin in Vincennes, while he was Governor, an Indian tried to kill him by shooting at him through a window while he was pacing and comforting a crying baby.
Harrison caught a cold during his long outdoor Presidential inaugural speech in a snowstorm in 1840. The shortest-serving President, he died of pneumonia a month later.
In August 1814 the British seized the port of Baltimore near Washington DC. They marched on Washington, finding little resistance at Bladensburg, Maryland, now an urban jungle, where a battle was supposed to happen, but didn't, the Americans running away in confusion.
The president's wife, Dolley Madison, had a grand celebratory dinner prepared for her husband James and the others on their return from Bladensburg, but she was advised in time to take the state papers and run with them to safety. When British General Ross entered the town under a flag of truce, someone firing from a house killed his horse. Angered at this breach of civility, he ordered the public buildings and the Navy Yard burned, as the Americans had burned Toronto.
On entering the White House, they found the table set for 40, and a sumptuous banquet waiting in the kitchen, which they enjoyed. Then they set fire to the White House. Ross was soon killed in the Battle of Fort McHenry at Baltimore, where Francis Scott Key saw the bombs bursting in air, giving proof to the night that the flag was still there.
So, except for the bells, cannon, smoke, its profound reverence toward the Russian Orthodox Church and its disdain for the French, without whom there would be no United States of America in its present republican form, the 1812 Overture has nothing to recommend it.
A revolting year was 1838. James Stephens and others in Dublin, and John O'Mahony in the States, started the Fenian Brotherhood, named after the ancient and mythical army of Irish warriors, Fianna, founded by Finn MacCool long ago among the mists of time. O'Mahony and a bunch o' the boys went as far as they could go in Maine to the mouth of Passamaquoddy Bay to seize Campo Bello, the island there, now surely part of New Brunswick and later to become the site of FDR's summer home. O'Mahony thought he would embarrass both the Crown and the Americans, but no one seemed to care. Two gunboats, one British and one American, stood by and did nothing. The Fenians soon had no money left, so they had to hitch-hike back to Boston. This abortive action became known as 'The Campo Bello Fizzle'.
Following the military defeat of the Patriotes, Lower Canada was merged with Upper Canada under the Union Act and the Canadiens became a minority in the new political entity. Eight years after the Union, a responsible government was set up in the united Province of Canada. The Lower Canada Rebellion is the name given to the armed conflict between the rebels of Quebec and theBritish colonial power of that province. Together with the simultaneous Upper Canada Rebellion in the neighbouring colony of Ontario, it formed the Rebellions of 1837.
The Lower-Canada Patriote rebellion probably inspired the much shorter rebellion in Upper Canada led by William Lyon Mackenzie in December, 1837, but there were other grievances in Upper Canada, particularly the gifts of land and official status to the Church of England to the exclusion of Roman Catholics, Methodists, and other religions, and tensions caused by mass immigration from the United States, particularly in the western areas. While the initial rebellion in Upper Canada in 1837 ended quickly at the Battle of Montgomery's Tavern in Toronto, many of the rebels (including William Lyon Mackenzie) fled to the United States, using it as a base for launching further raids into Canada in cooperation with American Hunter Lodges. The raids did not end until the rebels and Hunters were defeated at the decisiveBattle of the Windmill, in Prescott, now Ontario, near Ogdenburg in New York, nearly a year after the first defeat near Montgomery's Tavern. The rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada in 1837 and 1838 remain controversial to this day. After 1791 and the Constitutional Act, both Upper and Lower Canada had legislatures with two houses controlled by the good people with money, as always. Revolutionaries are simply hungry adventurers. Look at Che Guevara and Aaron Burr; some rob you with a pistol, others with a fountain pen. WL Mackenzie's life and times tell a story of honesty and confusion between the various ideas of Canada and the United States. The upshot was that Upper Canada did not become an extension of the United States. Mackenzie was as daring as Andrew Jackson, and just as able to hide his mistakes. Time wounds all heels, they say.
The fr&EGRAVE;res chasseurs (French for 'Hunter Brothers', though they were also refered to as the Hunter Patriots and Hunters' Lodges) were a paramilitary organization that fought in the Patriote Rebellion, seeking to make Lower Canada, now Québec, an independent and democratic republic. They appear to have somewhat resembled Freemasons structurally and were dedicated to the eviction of the British Empire from North America and the "liberation" of Canada. Liberation is like jumping out of an airplane with no parachute. First they attacked Windsor, Ontario, across the river from Detroit, and then the village of Prescott on the St. Lawrence. In the aftermath of the battle at Prescott, almost all of the Hunters were captured and were transported to Kingston for trial. Eleven people, including the Hunter leader the Swede Nils von Schoultz were hanged; another 60 were sentenced to be exiled in, that is, "transported" to Tasmania. Forty were acquitted, and another 86 were later pardoned and released. Von Schoultz enjoyed the legal counsel of John A Macdonald, then a prominent young Kingston lawyer who would later become the architect of Canada's Confederation in 1867, and the nation's first Prime Minister.
Thomas D'Arcy McGee was a gifted speaker and strong supporter of Confederation. His views regarding Irish republicanism may well have resulted in his assassination in 1868. As far as I can tell he was regarded as a traitor by the partisans of the Fenian Cause. As he grew older, McGee became vehemently opposed to Irish Republicanism. His outspoken criticism of the Irish independence movement and the Fenians alienated large sections of the Irish community in Canada and elsewhere. McGee also had a complex relationship with the Catholic Church. Anti-clerical in his youth, he became passionately devout in his later years. Like most hotheads he cooled down with age. On April 7, 1868, McGee attended a late-night session in the House of Commons, where he gave a passionate speech in favor of Canadian national unity. Returning home, he was shot and killed by a Fenian partisan, one Patrick Whelan, who was hanged.
The Fenians had a long history of their abuse as the ethnic Irish to look back on. The Norman-English had taken whatever parts of the island Erie they saw fit to take, and the later Puritan Revolution left little room for Catholics. Macaulay' History explains:
"Everything yielded to the vigor and ability of Cromwell (1599-1658). In a few months he subjugated Ireland, as Ireland had never before been subjugated during the five centuries of slaughter which had elapsed since the landing of the first Norman settlers. (He) waged war... so that great cities were left without inhabitants, drove many thousands to the Continent, shipped off many thousands to the West Indies, and supplied the void thus made by pouring in numerous colonists, of Saxon blood, and of Calvinistic faith."
In 1816 the first major failure of the potato crop had occurred. In 1817 the situation deteriorated into a near-famine which was accompanied by an outbreak of typhus. Between 1822 and 1826 there were further food shortages in Ireland. When the 'blight' - which already was affecting large parts of Europe - appeared in Britain in 1846, Ireland was more likely to suffer than the rest of the country. The Irish population had exploded in the first half of the 19th century, reaching about 8.5 million by 1845 without any accompanying economic improvement. Furthermore, the fungus that caused blight was unknown to the scientists of the day so no remedy was possible.
Starvation, banishment and transportation marked the obliteration of the Catholic people of Ireland. In the 1650s Ireland had become a desolate place, depopulated by war, famine, and disease which finished the work of the sword. The fields lay uncultivated, and the miserable remnants of the fleeing population were driven to live on carrion and human corpses. The wolves so increased in numbers, even round the city of Dublin itself, that the counties were taxed for their extermination, and rewards of £5 were paid for the head of a full grown wolf and £2 for a cub.
New York Evening Post, Wm B Bryant & Co
March 31, 1847
The following is an extract from a letter of Elihu Barrit. This gentleman had passed a week in Ireland. [The blight destroyed the potato crop of 1845 and by the early autumn of that year it was clear that famine was imminent in Ireland: one of the places worst hit was Skibbereen in Co. Cork.]:
SKIBBEREEN (Feb 20) - Rev. Mr. Fitzpatrick called, with several gentlemen of the town, and in their company, I took my first walk through the potter's field of destitution and death.
Leaving this battlefield of life, I accompanied Mr Fitzpatrick, the Catholic minister, into one of the hovelilanes of the town.
As they stood upon the wet ground, we could almost see it smoke beneath their bare feet, burning with the fever. We entered the graveyard, in the midst of which was a small watch house. This miserable shed had served as a grave where the dying could bury themselves. It was seven feet lang and six in breadth. It was already walled around on the outside with an embankment of graves half way to the eaves. The aperture of this horrible den of death would scarcely admit the entrance of a common sized person. And into this noisome sepulchure diving men, women and children, went down to die; to pillow upon the rotten straw, the grave clothes vacated by preceding victims, and festering with their fever. Here they lay as closely to each other as if crowded side by side on the bottom of one grave. Six persons had been found in this fetid sepulchure at one time, and with one only able to crawl to the door and to ask for water. Removing a board from the entrance of this black hole of pestilence, we found it crammed with wan victims of famine, ready and willing to perish. A quiet, listless despair broods over the population, and cradles men for the grave.
The Irish workers were paid at the end of the week and often men had died of starvation before their wages arrived. Even worse, many of the schemes to employ the Irish were of little use: men filled in valleys and flattened hills just so the government could justify the cash payments. The Irish crisis was an excuse used by Robert "Orange" Peel, the Prime Minister, in order for him to the repeal the Corn Laws in 1846, but their removal brought Ireland little benefit. The Anti Corn Law League were pressing their case - abolition of the Corn Laws meant cheap bread, cheap bread meant a contented people and in some ways suppressed the need for wage demands. The major problem was not that there was no food in Ireland - there was plenty of wheat, meat and dairy produce, much of which was being exported to England - but that the Irish peasants had no money with which to buy the food.
Britain had had a costly war going on with the French under the Napoleons, so as a practical matter they kidnapped seamen to work on their ships that were blockading American ports, hindering American trade with France. By means of the War of 1812 Britain kept control of the Great Lakes, following the principle that wars are fought to increase the domestic power of those who wage them. Thus commerce with the US Midwest and control of the frontier remained mostly in British hands. Then in 1825, with New York money, Irish and German laborers dug the Erie Canal, connecting Lake Erie and the Hudson River in New York, avoiding Canada, Niagara, and the overland routes, which reduced the cost of shipping by a factor of 10. That is 1,000%! Compare the cost of manufacturing in China today to the cost of manufacturing in Toronto. It was never easy to make a living for long.
The new American Manifest Destiny intimidated anyone who confronted the US government. It was believed in the US that "so far as regards the entire development of the natural rights of man, in moral, political, and national life, we may confidently assume that our country is destined to be the great nation of futurity" (John L O'Sullivan, publisher and Jacksonian Democrat, on Manifest Destiny, 1839). So there is a sort of schizophrenia, a split personality, attributed to the Americans, the users of a coin that celebrates Freedom of Thought in the form of Lady Liberty on one side and the absolute power of the state on the other. Such is the Mercury dime, the US coin minted from 1916-45 in the quantity of 2.7 billion. On one side is the figure of Lady Liberty, mistakenly called "Mercury," with the winged Phrygian cap of the Romans' freed slaves. The reverse depicts the Roman fasces, a bundle of rods, the center rod being an ax. As a symbol of state authority, the fasces offers a choice: "by the rod or by the ax." The condemned was either beaten to death with the rods or else allowed the mercy of the ax. In the US they still use the ax. They kill people there on purpose.
In a panic, feeling like Jonah must have felt just before the whale swallowed him, The federal Dominion of Canada was created in 1867 from the provinces, territories, and colonies of British North America, following meetings in Quebec City, Prince Edward Island, and London, its name deriving from Psalm 72:8 - He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.
Very good reasons for confederation, for "provinces in confederation," not "a confederation," may be recalled from the documents considered in the meetings, in particular one crucial document, a bill to annex territory to the United States. Without the bill, the British North America Act, July 1, 1867, might have been delayed. On July 2, 1866, in order to curry favor with the Fenians, the Irish Nationalists, Nathniel P Banks, a congressman from Massachetts, with its huge influx of Irish immigrants, introduced a Bill for the Admission of [Canada] to the US. It died in committee, of course, but the Civil War and the Fenians hurried Canadian Confederation along swiftly.
Spurious documents, like lists of whores' customers, and like the Bill to Annex Canada have a secret life in that they are hidden like pornography and read with guilty pleasure because they serve a personal, dishonorable purpose, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
"The only statement I care to make about the Protocols is that they fit in with what is going on. They are sixteen years old, and they have fitted the world situation up to this time. They fit it now." - Henry Ford, 2-17-1921, whose newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, cited the Protocols as evidence of an alleged Jewish threat until at least 1927.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a forgery made in Russia for the Okhrana (secret police), which blames the Jews for the country's ills. It was first privately printed in 1897 and was made public in 1905. It is copied from a 19th century novel by Hermann Goedsche (Biarritz, 1868) and claims that a secret Jewish cabal is plotting to take over the world.
Apparently the Bill to Annex Canada was supposed to frighten the Crown into posting troops to North America to counter a spurious threat from the United States, in order to embarrass the Crown and to waste money. It succeeded. In 1855, Canada passed a Militia Act creating cavalry, infantry, and artillery units, made up of volunteer, part-time soldiers. Strained Anglo-American relations during the American Civil War (1861-65) had led Britain to send 11,000 troops to protect its North American colonies. A large militia of 18,000 men was raised in Ontario to protect against the Fenians. During the Civil War, in 1861 the mail ship Trent, bound from Havana with Confederate diplomats aboard, was seized and taken to Boston. Similarly in December 1863, a group of Rebels seized the USS Chesapeake on its way to Portland, hoping to sell its cargo in Nova Scotia so they could become pirates. That was embarrassing to the USA, and scary to Canadians.
Before the French and Indian Wars, Canada had been claimed by France, from Québec to Louisiana and the West. Today what's left of France in North America is only a black-fly breeding station and a Spanish sailors' hospital on the islands of St-Pierre and Miquelon, near Newfoundland. The French presence there gives the French the legal right to fish on the Grand Banks. However, some say that Québec is more French than France. Now, I know Québec, but I don't know France, so I can't say. But I have been to France and to St-Pierre, and I would say that the French are just as eager to take your money as Québeckers. Which is to say that among French speakers you will remain a foreigner longer than you will among other strangers. Paranoia is built into the personality of French speakers. Their inability in anyone's ears to master the alleged proprieties of their own native tongue in both its spoken and written forms makes them defensive and self conscious about everything. They are so afraid they are wrong that they pretend always to be right. The French have always lost the battle but never the war. With their insolent, unfounded airs of superiority, they are irreproachable and lovable. Correctness is their strength and their weakness.
England and France had been playing economic games for the American prize for centuries, and Canada was a collection of scraps left over from the contest. It is hard to think of a more disparate collection of geographical and political pieces, from Prince Edward Island to the Yukon: the Maritimes, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Québec, Ontario, Lower Canada, Upper Canada, Canada East, Canada West, Prince Rupert's Land of the Hudson's Bay company, chartered 2 May 1670, the oldest incorporated joint-stock merchandising company in the English-speaking world, Labrador, Northwest Territories, Keewatin, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Nunavut, Newfoundland... But, e pluribus unum, out of many comes one that is not the United States of America, Unamerica.
Canada is definitely not the opera, but it is the opera too. It is definitely not the United States, but its shadow. Canada has the water, the electric power, and the Tar Sands. Let the Americans keep their poor and their criminals in a house divided against itself. We have the Queen and the French language.
A part of Canada we do not often think about lies downriver from the northern Adirondack Mountains in New York state, where the rivers run north, and north of the border between the United States and the St Lawrence River, north of Vermont and New Hampshire. The land near the great river being more accessible and easier to farm than the hilly woods of the Eastern Townships at the edge of the Appalachians, it was largely unoccupied even by French colonials when it was part of New France. It had remained a place to avoid or traverse until the Crown wanted land to give to its Loyalists, those of its subjects who had forfeited property in the American Revolution, for example, Captain Henry Ruiter, who had owned land along the Hudson River in New York, and who had refused to relinquish his property to the revolutionary government, or to join the rebels.
Under the terms of the Constitutional Act of 1791, the Eastern Townships were open to settlement and a land rush followed. Most of the 3,000 or so settlers came from the United States. A few were Loyalist in spirit, but most simply wanted land, and had no strong feeling about nationality. To most ordinary folks nationality was an excuse for theft in the form of getting something for very little in return, or nothing, as it is today, even in Canada, what with Quebec nationalists forcing businesses to sell out and leave the province, or making individuals give up their livlihoods because they do not "qualify" linguistically for licenses to work, that is, they do not work in French, so they do not work.
Henry Ruiter and his brother John had stayed loyal to the British side at the start of the American Revolution, as did many Dutch and German families in the Albany, New York, area and in the area of Vermont just to the east. He came from a German family, his grandparents born in Prussia. They came to America in 1710 with about 3000 other Palatinate settlers. In 1777 he was forced to hide in the woods outside his home in Pitts Town for three months while revolutionists tried to capture him for his political beliefs. While they tormented his wife and their children, he managed to join Burgoyne's British soldiers. He probably fought in the battles of Bennington and Saratoga. He escaped to Canada after Benedict Arnold's defeat of Burgoyne at Saratoga. He later returned to the Albany area to recruit other Loyalists. He got them to join Major James Roger's Corps of Rangers, the British militia group. They fought with the British regular army and were headquartered in St John's (St-Jean), Quebec, on the Richelieu River, which flows north out of Lake Champlain.
By 1780, Henry Ruiter was leading his own Company of militia. They fought in battles at Fort Anne, NY and Fort George (Lake George, NY). Captain Ruiter's Company, one of three Roger's Rangers companies, helped the army by spying on the rebels. They captured local rebel leaders, guarded prisoners of war, scouted, and delivered messages. They helped build defenses and forts. They saved loyalist families by helping them escape to Canada. His second wife, Rebecca, and 6 of their 9 children were one of those families arriving in St-Jean after being moved by the Army. The family was near to starving. Rebecca had been threatened at gunpoint if she would not tell the Americans where her husband was hiding. Several other women, wives and sisters of the Loyalist fighters, accompanied Rebecca at that time. In September, 1780, forced to depart within twenty days, providing the necessary supplies for the trip themselves, she left with five other women, thirty-one children, and only one pair of shoes in all. Rebecca Ruiter died in Chambly, Québec in 1781, probably as a result of the terrible conditions under which she had been living for several years.
Do you know that the old town-records in Massachusetts show few men without two and as many as five wives? Not at all uncommon to have had five. How? The first ones died shooting children against the wilderness like cannon balls... And we talk about the wilderness with affection. We are blind asses, with our whole history unread before us and helpless if we read it.
Apart from Loyalists prominent in politics, others lived throughout the province as artisans, domestic servants, merchants and professionals. At least some Loyalists (or their direct descendants) intermarried with French Canadians, proved by the fact that both former Quebec Premier René Lévesque and former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau had Loyalist ancestors. Loyalists appear in many family trees of both English-speaking and French-speaking Quebecers, and thanks to intermarriage, Loyalist descendants can be found today among newer Canadians as well, in Quebec as elsewhere in the country.
So here I sit, near the Ruiter Brook, which like the Tyler Branch and the Sutton River feed the Missisquoi on its way from Jay Peak down to Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River. I sit in the Loyalist Pine Cottage in Abercorn, Québec, writing in thrilling nostalgia about events of hundreds of years ago, about which we know only the shadows. Myself, I am only a Hillbilly from southern Indiana, a Redneck descendant of Scots-Irish white trash, come to Canada to die. Grandpa's great-uncle died from a minié-ball in the hip at Missionary Ridge. That's one way.
My grandfather told me that two of his great-uncles perished in the War Between the States. He did not call it the Civil War. He was from Georgia, so I have a claim on memories of the war. However, my claim is no stronger or weaker than that of the Sons of the Confederacy because nobody's skin extends any farther than their blood.
As an outsider, I look on the locals here in the Townships and find names that remain from the old, old days of the first European settlement, people who have no idea of what their forebears went through living in this hard, cold land, whose memories extend only to their grandparents and their grandchildren. We are all cousins, however, and so I have a claim to interest in those who went before.
The war that goes on forever among free people is the war that the Cavaliers and Roundheads were fighting during the English Revolution, the war between free, proud, and wealthy men and humble, modest, and poor men, which carried over into the settlement of North America and the American Revolution, Madison's War , and the War Between the States, Reconstruction, the Civil Right Movement, and the Second Gilded Age of taking from the poor to burnish coats of arms of the rich. Aristocrats always tell peasants what to do, else they would not know what to do.
Here in Canada, nothing seems further from general interest than the American Civil War (1861-65), but from where I sit I can almost see the site of a raid that surprised and enraged Yankees, and almost caused another war with Britain, since Canada was then a province of Great Britain. In 1864 a group of young Confederate southern soldiers quietly made their way individually and in pairs, so as not to attract attention, from Montreal to St. Albans, Vermont, a market town and county seat near Lake Champlain, just south of the Canadian border, which was an arbitrary line hardly recognized by the local people who lived with free trade and movement, ignoring nationality for the most part. The men had had proper Confederate uniforms made up in the shops of Montreal, in order not to be shot as spies if they were to be captured in the States. When the company of 21 raiders was assembled in St Albans, they donned their Rebel uniforms and robbed the town's three banks at three o'clock in the afternoon, on October 19, 1864, holding townspeople prisoners at gunpoint on the lovely town greensward surrounded by churches and shops. As a diversion they threw bottles of Greek fire, a sort of Molotov cocktail, to set the shops on Main Street afire. They failed to burn, except for one that destroyed a shed. One unfortunate man, a bricklayer, was hit by a stray bullet and killed. The raiders spread out on (stolen) horseback and fled with the money northeast into Canada nearby, where authorities arrested thirteen of them at Pigeon Hill and Freligsburg, Quebec, for crimes the news of which reached Canada at the same moment as the perpetrators. The raiders must have known they had to surrender, because the Royal militia had been alerted, and soon called out would have run them to ground on their way to Montreal.
A Canadian judge decided that the soldiers were under military orders and that the officially neutral Canada could not extradite them back to the US, to the immediately adjacent state of Vermont. The Canadian court's ruling that the soldiers were legitimate military belligerents, and not criminals as argued by American authorities, was interpreted as a tacit British recognition of the CSA, the Confederate States of America. The raiders were freed, but some $88,000 the raiders had on their persons was returned to Vermont, no doubt because it belonged to the local traders and farmers on both sides of the border. The banks were in St Albans, Vermont; many of the depositors were Canadians. The rest of the money made its way to Bermuda where it was donated to the Southern Cause, presumably minus expenses. Later the US government reimbursed the banks in St Albans some $50,000 in gold.
It must have been fun, that St Albans raid, planned and carried out by Bennett H (Henderson) Young, who had recently accompanied John Hunt Morgan and his raiders on a wild rampage through Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Contrary to explicit orders in July, 1863, perhaps to divert Union attention from General Braxton Bragg and his forces at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Morgan led an army of some 2400 men with artillery through Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio, destroying railroads and bridges, living off the land, and generally raising hell. They stole and used all the good horses along their way, leaving behind their worn out steeds for their pursuers to find, thus one good result of Morgan's Raid was to improve the bloodstock of the horses in Indiana and Ohio with excellent Kentucky horses. Some Northern newspapers derisively labeled Morgan's expedition as The Calico Raid, in deference to the raiders' propensity for procuring personal goods from local stores and houses. Bennnett H Young, a Kentuckian, had enlisted as a private in the Confederate Eighth Cavalry, Morgan's Raiders, and had been held a prisoner of war in Chicago after the Raiders' capture at Salinesville, Ohio. He escaped to Canada, with a scheme to show the Yankees a thing or two. He organized a return by sea of escaped prisoners to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he was promoted to lieutenant. Then he was involved in failed plots to liberate federal prisons holding Rebels in Chicago and Columbus, Ohio.
The success of Morgan's raids in diverting Federal troops from major battles in the South was apparent to all. Where else could it be done? It must have been obvious to Bennett H Young that the North was vulnerable, not at Chicago, Detroit, or Buffalo, all well fortified and secure ports, but at the obscure, little town of St Albans in Vermont on the rural eastern shore of Lake Champlain. So a bunch of the boys went to Montreal as tourists and businessmen, and fitted up their kits for an adventure. They moseyed on down across the border, such as it was, unguarded and fictitious, to St.Albans town so as not to attract attention, took rooms at the local taverns, and met each other on the street with complicitous smiles.
The plan was to get money to a bank in Bermuda where it could be safely transferred to Jefferson Davis in Richmond, which it was.
After the war was over, Young was barred from entering the United States until 1868. The general amnesty President Johnson decreed did not include several notorious figures like him or Jefferson Davis, so Young went to Britain and studied law at the University of Edinburgh and in Ireland, later becoming a wealthy railroad entrepreneur and honored lawyer in Louisville, Kentucky, known as the "Southern Cavalier of Jessamine County." A popular public speaker, Young was feted at a reunion held at the Ritz-Carleton Hotel in Montreal in 1911.
Then there were the Fenians. Thousands of homeless emigrant Irishmen had to come away from the old sod to find a life in North America in the Century of the Potato Famine by working on the railway and living with their exclusion as Roman Catholics in a Puritan and Anglo-Catholic part of the New World where 'No Irish Need Apply'. They were the first Roman Catholics, except for the French, to come to Canada. Untouchable, outcast in the United States, they soon outnumbered the Puritans of Boston, providing a solid and tractable underclass for them to exploit. Many thousand found employment in the US Army during the War Between the States, and so officered, uniformed, armed, and formed into their own Fenian military groups while serving in the US Army, they were ready to embarrass the British Empire by attacking and investing Toronto and Montreal.
A Fenian invasion of Canada was not a funny idea in 1866. There were large numbers of unemployed ex-soldiers available for Fenian recruitment. Toleration of Fenian activities during the Civil War when the Brotherhood had been permitted to construct its own military framework within that of the US, their purchase of war surplus arms (by the pound, not by the piece), and the federal government's silence toward their plans were all interpreted as governmental approval. The Fenians also took comfort in America's case of Anglophobia, generated by Britain's recognition of the Confederacy's belligerent rights during the Rebellion. Even under stable political conditions, this widespread negativity toward England and the weight of Irish ballots would have encouraged Congress and the Executive to handle Fenians with care, but with these two branches of government at loggerheads over Reconstruction, the political importance of the Irish vote was greatly exaggerated. Finally, a majority of Americans were then "continentalists" who anticipated Canada's future annexation.
The Fenians, however, showed a remarkable lack of leadership and good sense, going about their business of rebellion like children. Organized for the purpose of winning Ireland's independence by physical force, the Fenians revealed Irish-American nationalism in its finest flowering and full ambiguity. Rooted more in the hard life of the immigrant than in his Irish origin or his religion, the Fenian Brotherhood created its own sustaining myths and founded its own government within the United States. A member of Commons rightly called the Brotherhood, "a new Irish nation on the other side of the Atlantic, recast in the mould of Democracy, watching for an opportunity to strike a blow at the heart of the British Empire." It is the only organization in US history which armed and drilled publicly, and invaded Canada for the purpose of using seized land as a stepping-stone for the invasion and liberation of Ireland.
Here is portion of a letter from one Fenian leader to another after the debacle of Ridgeway, June 1866, near Port Hope, Ontario, across the end of Lake Erie from Buffalo, New York: "Our career, in a military sense, has been nothing but a series of blunders since I left New York. Our Colonel had orders to leave on the 25th. I sent a man to Cincinnati to see about transportation, when he was told by Mr Fitzgerald that we should be in Cleveland on the night of the 28th after dark. I went to Indianapolis and made arrangements accordingly. Once got to Cleveland on Monday night, the 28th, no arrangements there to go further. By then I had spent 20 hours with 300 men. Got orders from headquarters to go to Buffalo. Got there Wednesday evening. Got orders there from Hynes to cross the river on Thursday night, which we did, and, as the sequel shows, made a beautiful fight of it. Our men were made into a forlorn hope - some in prison, some in strange locales wounded, and some killed. The balance got home again. We have no plan nor programme to follow. Done as best we could, thought we were doing right but probably done all wrong, for all we know."
General O'Neill's Address to His Army
[Source: Canadian Border Songs of the Fenian Invasion, 1870.]
Previous to their advance upon Canada, May 25, 1870.
Ye Fenian Braves, I proudly hail,
Who come to fight with brave O'Nale,
Whose mighty arm shall never fail,
Nor fall ingloriously.
The vile Kanucks, those savage hordes,
Shall fall beneath our Irish swords,
That soon shall cut the British cords
Which bind our liberty.
A thousand years our nation's braves
In chains hav crawl'd like Egypt's slaves,
But Pharaoh's hosts to Red Sea graves
Shall sink ingloriously.
Our swords shall suck the bloody veins
Of British Power that proudly reigns,
And break Oppression's tyrant-chains,
Which bind our liberty.
Our nation's flags are now unfurl'd,
Our thunder-bolts shall soon be hurl'd,
Their mighty power shall shake the world,
And strike victoriously;
Our glorious isle shall soon be free,
When tyrant foes are forced to flee,
And Britain's Queen on bended knee
Will beg her liberty.
Now Ireland's heart with vigor swells,
Her sons enchain'd in British hells,
Shall burst exulting from their cells,
To glorious liberty.
Advance upon the cowardly foe,
A thousand slay at every blow,
And let the whelps of England know,
Our valiant chivalry.
But lo, the sneaking foe appears,
Then draw your swords, your guns and spears,
Our deeds shall live eternal years,
With Ireland's liberty.
Then fight like men, my heroes brave,
Your verdant banners soon shall wave
O'er many a cowardly tyrant's grave,
In glorious liberty.
Poughkeepsie, May 25 - A U.S. battery, headed for Ogdensburg, New York,passed here to-night. The Fenian Generals Gleason and Davis have also gone north.
New York, May 25 - The Canadian news created a great sensation. Eight thousand men are represented to have left here, and as many more have enlisted since. Rumor says Fitzhugh Lee is in command; also, that 700 US troops have left for the border. Telegrams from St Albans, Vermont, state that the Fenians entered Canada from Franklin, Vermont, and attacked Freligsburg (Québec), defeating the Canadian military in a skirmish with a loss of several killed and wounded.
Boston, May 25 - Reports at headquarters state that the advanced guard occupied Pigeon Hill, Québec, the Sixth Rifles falling back with out firing a shot. The Grand Trunk Railroad is torn up for quite a distance to capture a cattle train.
Ogdensburg, May 25 - Five hundred Fenians and a hundred wagons of ammunition passed through Massena last night. Four hundred more are at St Albans.
Col Moseby, Confederate guerrilla, is here raising cavalry forces.
St Albans, May 25 - The Fenians crossed the border to-day under command of General O'Neil and were soon after surprised by a volley from a force of Canadians concealed beside the road. The fire was returned and sharp discharges were kept up for some time. One Fenian was killed and one wounded. US Marshal Foster and his deputy witnessed the skirmish, and shortly afterwards, when O'Neil had gone to the right of his command, arrested him, notwithstanding his refusal to surrender, and brought him in a carriage to this place.
He was taken before the US commissioner for violation of the neutrality laws, and badly demoralized. The Fenians fought well, but evidently were not reinforced as expected. There are not over 500 men on the scene of the skirmish, where ammunition for fully four times that number had been provided. It is reported that many Fenians are returning to St. Albans. About one hundred and twenty arrived from the south last night. Unless the Fenians are heavily reinforced the movement will be a failure. Later intelligence says two Fenians were killed and wounded. One of the killed was Lieut. Murray, of a Boston company.
Some US artillery have arrived here from Plattsburg, and more are expected to-morrow. It is rumored that Gen. Meade will soon be here. The streets are lively to-night. Several companies of British regulars are on the way to the front. Great excitement prevails all along the border.
Montréal, May 25 - The Fenians are at Trout river, Huntington county, and intend to cross. Six hundred volunteers have left for the frontier, and the 69th Regiment is expected from Quebec. The Fenians at Pigeon Hill, numbering 3000, are throwing up entrenchment's. The Prince Consort's Own Rifles have gone to the front, with the Montréal Volunteers, to attack them.
Prince Arthur goes in Col Russell's staff. A battery of artillery has gone to the front. All the troops in the city are ready to move. It is thought the military authorities will not attempt to check the invaders near the border but allows them to come some distance into the country so as to get a good chance at them.
Toronto, May 25 - The news is received that O'Neil was arrested by the US authorities and is now imprisoned in St Alban's jail. The Fenians attacked the Home Guards at Cook's Corners, but they were repulsed with several killed and wounded. No lives lost on the Canadian side.
Another Achievement by the Liberators of Ireland. They Fight: and Live to Fight Another Day. The Canadian Frontier Again Crossed and Recrossed. A Fierce Encounter, in which One Fenian is Wounded. General Prevalence of the Desire to Go Home. A Canadian Raid into Vermont After a Fenian Cannon. The Fight in Huntington County, Canada - Divided Councils in the Fenian Camp - The Ammunition Unavailable - An Advance and a Retreat - Pleasant Prospect for a Brisk Fight Spoiled The British Force Engaged. Gen. Gleason Assumes Command - A Lodgment Said to Have Been Made at Richards' Farm - Threats to Recapture Stores Seized by the United States Offices - Demoralization Setting in Rapidly. Another Account of the Trout River Affair - The Fenians Flanked on Both Sides - The Movement of 1870 a Failure. Fenians Still Going to the Sent of Hostilities - Impudent Frauds Practiced by the Leaders. The Situation in Vermont - An Order to go into Camp-transportation Home Not Supplied by the Government - A Canadian Raid into Vermont.
I have just come from the Trout River, having witnessed an engagement on the other side of the line between about affair lasted just thirty minutes, and the Fenians retreated to this side of the line, leaving one man wounded and another taken prisoner. Canadians sustained no loss whatever, and are in high glee over the result.
To be continued...