Researching our Island history keeps many of us occupied throughout the winter. This year we will meet several to whom we owe our gratitude, for they continue to discover history of our Island waterway and they share their information. Our first historian is Dr. John Carter.
Tasmania seems like a distant land but for John Carter, Canadian historian and recently a Visiting Fellow at the University of Tasmania, Tasmania is a treasure trunk waiting to be opened. TI Life met John last September, when he sent a simple inquiry? Could we provide more information about a reference Paul Malo wrote in an early issue? (see Reference here)
Several emails later… we began to learn more about the subject that fascinates John. He calls it Uncertain Future in an Unknown Place, North American Political Prisoners in Van Diemen’s Land.
John is well prepared to become an authority on the subject. He received a B.A. in History and MA in Native Studies from the University of Waterloo. He then received a Bachelor of Education in Library and History at University of Western Ontario and completed his Doctorate in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, in England. Today John is an advisor to the Ontario Ministry of Culture and lives in Toronto. In October he was the guest editor of “Ontario History”, the Journal of the Ontario Historical Society.1
John‘s interest in the Patriots began forty years ago when he served as curator of the John R. Park Homestead Museum in Essex County Ontario. He says, “I was interested in the series of incursions in the Western District from Michigan and Ohio in 1839. Research lead to writing a series of articles in the Windsor Star and then finally beginning trips to Australia for additional information.”
John’s subject is often referred to as the Patriot War or the Rebellion of 1837-38, and this era has been much publicized and glamorized over the years. Today’s tour boat commentators in the Thousand Islands always include stories about the infamous pirate William (Bill) Johnston and his attack on the steamship Sir Robert Peel. The captains proudly point to the land marks that are associated with Johnston’s escapades.
However, there are other stories that are equally interesting. Those taking part in the uprisings of 1837 and 1838 were, for the most part, ordinary citizens, but there were others, particularly many Americans, who had a strong belief that Canada should be like the United States and have a Republican government. Unfortunately for them, not many Canadians agreed. The revolution failed.
The final action took place in 1838 when the group known as the Hunter’s Lodges, a strong and active group, gathered to start an offensive on Canada. The Battle of the Windmill took place in mid November 1838. Their leaders told them that the Canadians across the river were waiting for the opportunity to join in the fight for independence from Britain.
The eventual battle at Windmill Point, below Prescott, saw the defeat of the invaders. Both sides fought long and hard and the four-day battle was described as the bloodiest fighting of the rebellion. When it was over, 13 British and Canadian troops were dead and some 30 were wounded. Twenty invaders were killed, almost as many severely wounded, and about 140 taken prisoner. The leader of the group Nils Szoltereky VonSchoultz, and nine others were executed by hanging at Fort Henry in Kingston.
Of the 60 men sent to Van Diemen’s Land (Now known as Tasmania) we know that 32 returned to North America, six died in passage, four remained in their new country and settled and 18 are listed as “fate unknown”. It was the quest to discover as much about these prisoners – those sent to Tasmania that has driven John Carter and his research.
John Carter’s first visit to Tasmania was in 1995 and he has returned seven times. He was a Visiting Fellow twice at the Australian National University in Canberra and the University of Tasmania in Hobart. This past winter he had the opportunity to visit probation stations in Tasmania with Hobart historian and archaeologist John Thompson.
What did you do in Tasmania? TI Life asked. John replied, “Visiting and recording probation stations that the North American political prisoners were held at and doing the same at estates in the midlands of Tasmania where these men worked during their tickets of leave and pardons, prior to their return to Canada and or the USA.” John also helped to mount an exhibit at the Swansea Heritage Centre (Tasmania) about "patriots" who ended up working on the east coast of Van Diemen's Land.
His last visit was last February. He presented six talks in six cities. He also completed three radio interviews with Australian Broadcasting Corporation. [Click here to hear their podcast]
John’s scholarly research is part of the “Rebellion Theme” issue of Ontario History, the journal of the Ontario Historical Society. It was published in October . (Available by contacting…) Another article was recently featured in the 2009, York Pioneer, the journal of the York Historical Association.
We asked John what is still missing? He quickly replied, “More information about American James M. Aitchison. He was born in Scotland and was 28 when he was captured and sent to Van Diemen’s Land.” John is always looking for substantive information on many of the English speaking "patriots," most of whom returned to Upper Canada or the USA. He would like to produce a documentary film thus raising awareness in Canada/UK/USA/Australia about this part of our collective heritage.
And thanks to John we in the Thousand Islands are learning more about those who fought on our shores and paid the consequences. Over the winter we will add several stories about these Patriots to our History Page – please check back often.
References for the Patriot’s War
“Events in the Western District, 1838: The Other Rebellion,” in 1837 Rebellion Remembered (Willowdale, Ontario. Ontario Historical Society, 1988).
“Introduction – Aftermath of Rebellion: Patriot Stories in Other Lands,” Australasian Canada Studies, 2, 2 (2007).
“Patriot Wars: Blazing Saga of Discontent: Windsor Start (23 January 1988).
“Patriot Wars: Rout at Fighting Island,: Windsor Star (19 April 1988).
“The Battle of Pelee Island: Third Patriot Attempt at Bloody Confrontation,” Windsor Star (30 April 1988)
“The Battle of Windsor: Last Chapter in the Patriot Wars,” Windsor Star (9 July 1988).
John Carter and Chris Raible, “Remembrances of the 1837 Rebellion: An Inventory of Known Prisoners’ Boxes,” York Pioneer, 101, (2006).
Dr. John Carter was the guest editor of “Ontario History” the Journal of the Ontario Historical Society. The Society was founded in 1888. Today they are known as an “educational organization dedicated to increasing an appreciation of Ontario's history and preserving its heritage for people of all ages and cultural backgrounds”. The Society now publishes "Ontario History" twice a year.
The Autumn Issue (Vol CI No.2), published in October, is dedicated to the history of the 1837-1838 Rebellions (also known as Patriot War). Copies are available by contacting the Ontario Historical Society: www.ontariohistoricalsociety.ca c/o. Andrea Izzo, OHS Bulletin Editor. (Annual subscription rates (in Cdn funds): O.H.S. members, $21 (incl. GST); non-member individuals, $31.50 (incl. GST).
Research presented by Paul Malo
Reference Material from the Patriot War 1837-38
In February 2008 Paul Malo presented several articles in Thousand Islands Life on the Patriot War (1837-1838). These are transcribed into our History section, under the tag line “THE PLACE”
Pages within this series:
NNY Genealogy – Stories in Stone: Patriot War 1937. One of the most important and helpful references on the Patriot War. This collection contains information on 232 participants from the North Country who participated in the Patriot War . An search option on the material will allows readers to view specific details on each individual. The site explains that “The amount of detail is being expanded as the original prison records are transcribed.” Also, readers are encouraged to use the Information Request page to obtain additional information.
Introduction & Index for Patriot War Articles. On-going research found on Shirley Farone's Website RootsWeb Ancestry.com) Ms. Farone provides articles written in the Watertown Daily Times published in 1923.
There are six articles about the Rebellion of 1837-38 in the Autumn issue of Ontario History.
Detailed from the comprehensive bibliography featured in, “Bibliography of Published Woks Relating to the Upper Canada Rebellion, 1837-1838” by Chris Raible. “Ontario History” Vol CI, No 2 Autumn 2009.