Utilisateur:Mathieugp/Brouillons/Ma relation avec les événements de 1837
Ma part dans les événements de 1837.
Né à St-Andrews, dans la province du Nouveau-Brunswick, je suis un bon tory, et non pas d'un lignée révolutionnaire. Le père de mon père, un commerçant de Boston, sacrifia tout pour la cause royaliste, et quitta à destination de Halifax avec le général Gage, lorsque Boston fût évacuée en 1776. La mère de ma mère émigra de Postmouth au Nouveau-Brunswick, avec une fille mariée au capitaine Storrow, de l'armée britannique, de qui me vient mon nom. Elle était une « Wentworth », cousine de John Wentworth (par la suite Sir John, gouverneur de la Nouvelle-Écosse), le dernier gouverneur royal du Nouveau-Hampshire; nièce de Sir Berning, son prédécesseur; et petite-fille de John Wentworth, qui le précéda. Ces trois « Wentworth » - père, fils et petit-fils - ayant gouverné le Nouveau-Hampshire durant plus de quarante ans.
Lorsque je suis arrivé à Montréal à l'âge de quinze ans en 1818, j'étais déjà un politicien par mes nombreuses lectures de journaux; mais je formais mes idées de ce qu'il y avait de bon chez les hommes et dans les choses principalement d'après les leçons contenues dans les Vies parallèles des hommes illustres de Plutarque. Cette année-là, le Parlement du Bas-Canada était appelé à légiférer sur la « liste civile » qui comprenait le paiement de tous les salaires provinciaux, d'après une offre effectuée en 1810.
À cette époque, il n'y avait pas de « gouvernement responsable » dans les colonies et aucun ministère colonial. Chaque colonie avait une Chambre d'assemblée élue par le peuple, un Conseil législatif nommé à vie par la couronne et un gouverneur, qui n'était qu'un vieil officier militaire quelconque resté entre les mains du ministère de l'intérieur après la paix de 1815, et qui ne connaissait rien à la gouverne sauf donner des ordres (beyond the word of command). Le Conseil exécutif, responsable nulle part, ni à personne, n'était qu'un simple conseil émettant des opinions et qui au Bas-Canada devint une puissance contrôlante. Les représentants du peuple pouvaient discuter et voter, mais il n'y avait aucun moyen de donner suite à leurs décisions.
Notre Parlement existait à cette époque depuis presque trente ans, et jouissait nominalement de tous les pouvoirs de la Chambre des communes britannique; mais durant la longue période au cours de laquelle l'insuffisance de notre revenu exigeait qu'une grande partie de la « liste civile », ou des dépenses de la province, soit couvert par le trésor militaire - c.-à-d., le trésor britannique, via le Commissariat - l'Assemblée ne pouvait à peine remettre en cause les dépenses, ou les particularités de sa distribution.
Dans cet article je ferai usage des mots « Canadien », et « Anglais », tel que les francophones les employaient et en accord avec notre acception commune ici, - le premier signifiant tous les Canadiens français, et le deuxième, tous ceux qui ne sont pas Canadiens français. De l'appel fait à l'Assemblée de pourvoir à la liste civile, est venue la protestation qui a abouti à 1837. L'Assemblée était canadienne, et agissant suivant son droit positif, exigeait que tout le revenu de la province, soit mis à sa disposition. Le corps officiel, incluant les sinécuristes et les pluralistes, étant la plupart du temps des Anglais, et plus encore sur la liste de paye, pressentie instinctivement la réduction de leur ordre. Le Conseil législatif, qui n'était pas un simple appendice obéissant comme le sont les Conseils législatifs d'aujourd'hui, ou le « Sénat », était un corps anglais vigoureux; et, prenant parti avec les fonctionnaires, se mis en opposition directe face à l'Assemblée. Une grande partie de la législation demandée par le peuple à travers l'Assemblée était rejetée par le Conseil, jusqu'à ce qu'enfin il y ait une accumulation de plus de trois projets de loi, adoptés par la Chambre basse, et rejeté par la Chambre haute; et diverses irrégularités gouvernementales ont été commises, contre des remontrances réitérées.
La demande réitérée de l'Assemblée de contrôler tout le revenu n'amenait d'année en année que de maigres et tardives concessions de la part du gouvernement britannique, ce qui ne faisait qu'accroître l'irritation; jusqu'au jour où la demande a finalement été concédée en entier, comme elle aurait du l'être dès le départ. Ensuite est venu le vote des subsides. L'Assemblée, qui n'avait aucun autre contrôle sur le gouvernement, sur les détenteurs de places, insistait pour voter les salaires annuellement et séparément pour chaque service ou individu. Le gouverneur, appuyé par le Conseil, insistait pour les faire voter en bloc pour plusieurs années, à la discrétion de l'Exécutif; et la conduite des affaires publiques est ainsi devenue si insupportable qu'en 1828, une députation de Canadiens alla porter en Angleterre une pétition signée par 87 000 personnes, qui fut présenté à un comité de la Chambre des Communes. Le comité étudia la question en profondeur, accorda une audience aux délégués, et dans un rapport reconnu le bien fondé des allégations et des plaintes de la Chambre d'assemblée, mais laissa au gouvernement le soin d'appliquer un remède.
On prodigua des promesses à profusion, mais dans la multiplicité des réformes nécessaires à cette époque du gouvernement britannique, les nôtres furent ignorées jusqu'en 1835, lorsque lord Gosford, un gentilhomme irlandais débonnaire, sans capacité ni connaissance politique, nous fut envoyé comme gouverneur, accompagné par un ex-capitaine des ingénieurs et un excentrique juge indien agissant à titre de « commissaires » pour enquêter sur notre doléances. L'insulte de nommer une commission pour faire enquête sur des faits réitérés depuis quinze ans, alors que seul le parlement de la province était apte à faire enquête n'a eut d'égal que l'imbécilité de nommer trois hommes tout à fait incompétents à la tâche. La commission ne fut jamais reconnu par notre Parlement, non pas que le ministère britannique supposait qu'elle le serait d'ailleurs. Elle fut envoyé de façon improvisée; et ses rapports, dans lesquels chaque commissaire différait de ses collègues, n'eurent aucune suite à leur impression.
Lord Gosford, cependant, fit quelque chose. Il donna un bal de la Ste-Catherine à Québec et pour dégoûter tous les loyaux britanniques, il donna la place d'honneur à une dame canadienne; lequel dégoût fut augmenté par la concessions de nombreuses choses, jusque là refusées, et une distribution judicieuse de postes à certains politiciens canadiens. En retour, une partie de l'aile québécoise de ce qu'on appelait alors le Parti de Papineau se détacha et demanda la réconciliation. Satisfait de ce qu'ils avaient obtenus et des promesses des choses à venir, ils déclarèrent que le cri de la réforme voulait dire la révolution.
À aucun parti issue d'une colonie la nation britannique, chez elle où à l'étranger, ne doit autant qu'au Parti de Papineau, auquel j'ai eu l'honneur d'être associé. À aucun homme né dans une colonie la nation britannique, chez elle ou à l'étranger, ne doit autant qu'à Louis-Joseph Papineau, by that spirit that in heroic times falls upon choosen men, dominait tel un colosse parmi ses compères. Bien qu'ici la lutte se présenta comme un conflit entre Français et Anglais, dans les autres colonies elle était distinctement entre le peuple et l'oligarchie coloniale.
En 1837, il y avait un mécontentement chronique dans toutes les colonies britanniques, et chacune d'entre elles inondait le Bureau colonial de demandes en redressement de griefs, dont la source commune se situait dans le conflit entre les peuples, parlant à travers leurs Chambres d'assemblées et les fonctionnaires du Bureau colonial soutenus par des gouverneurs imbéciles, au moyen d'un Conseil législatif irresponsable. La volonté inébranlable du Parti de Papineau força le règlement ultime de ces questions: et le gouvernement britannique, lorsqu'il en eu compris la nécessité, et avec une magnanimité rarement observé dans l'histoire, reconnu les erreurs du passé et informa toutes les colonies que dorénavant leur gouvernement serait entre leurs mains et que son autorité ne serait jamais plus invoqué contre leurs droits. Depuis cet époque jusqu'à aujourd'hui, il n'y a eu ni déloyauté, ni mécontentement, ni plainte de leur part. La question que se posait l'Angleterre à l'époque était : « Comment conserver les colonies? » La question du jour est : « Comment pouvons-nous nous en débarrasser? »
La session du Parlement de 1836 était, comme toutes les précédentes, le théâtre de la lutte entre la chambre basse et la chambre haute, et se termina sans vote sur les subsides. Nous n'avions aucune dette publique à l'époque; il n'y avait pas de créanciers publics mis à part les fonctionnaires provinciaux. Le coffre de la province contenait cent quarante mille livres pour le paiement de leurs salaires, mais sans le vote pas un seul shilling ne pouvait être verser; et, des juges jusqu'aux plus petits fonctionnaires, tous souffraient de non-paiement de leurs « arrérages ».
Les choses traînèrent ainsi jusqu'au 7 mars 1837, quand le grand homme d'État lord John Russell, dans l'esprit du plus authentique despote, présenta à la Chambre des Communes une série de résolutions autorisant le gouverneur du Bas-Canada à retirer cent quarante mille livres du coffre de la province pour éponger tous les arrérages de salaire, sans attendre le vote de la Chambre d'assemblée, qui, relativement à la province, jouissait des mêmes pouvoirs et privilèges que la Chambre des Communes, et en avait seule le droit. De nombreux députés, par qui s'exprimait véritablement l'âme britannique, protestèrent contre des résolutions si injustifiées et si anti-britanniques, et affirmèrent que nous serions un déshonneur au nom britannique et à l'humanité si nous ne résistions pas aux résolutions jusqu'à la dernière extrémité; mais elle furent tout de même adoptées par une grande majorité de la Chambre des Communes; et dans la Chambre des Lords, lord Brougham fut le seul dissident.
Lord John, cependant, eut peur de son propre succès. Il dit, en réponse à des questions, qu'il n'agirait pas sur la base des résolutions, mais présenterait un projet de loi. Bien que chapeauté par lord Stanley - aujourd'hui comte de Derby - le projet de loi ne paru jamais; et en juin, après l'accession de notre reine bienaimée, il déclara que ne désirant pas faire commencer le nouveau règne par une mesure si « sévère », il allait drop the resolutions, and add one hundred and forty thousand pounds to the army estimates, to enable the Governor to pay off the arrears from the military chest et attendre the return from the province to a convenient season. Et ainsi fut-il fait. Le commissariat obtint l'argent au moyen de bons vendus à New York, et commença à payer les salaires de 12 octobre.
Mais le mal était fait. La nouvelle de l'adoption des résolutions enflamma le pays en avril, et la nouvelle de cette misérable conclusion nous parvint seulement au mois d'août, quand le feu était trop répandu pour être étouffé. Si en mars lord John Russell avait proposé d'emprunter la somme au coffre militaire, au lieu de pillé le nôtre, il n'y aurait pas eux de « troubles de 1837 ». Quelque grave que furent les offenses cette année-là, la sienne fut la plus grande et lui le plus grand offenseur.
Le 14 avril, le Vindicator et la Minerve, les organes de notre parti, suivirent les conseils des démocrates philosophiques de la Chambre des Communes et faisant sonner l'alarme - Agitate, agitate - et on y répondit rapidement de toute part. D'un côté il y avait tous les Canadiens, à l'exception d'un petit groupe de Québec et de quelques marginaux, les Irlandais catholiques, et quelques Anglais éparpillés. De l'autre côté il y avait tous les Anglais, sauf les exceptions mentionnées et quelques autres dans les townships qui ne manifestèrent vraiment que dans le comté de Missisquoi.
Vu que le Parlement n'était pas en session et peu susceptible d'être convoqué, le peuple ne pouvait parler que dans des assemblées publiques, que l'on décida de tenir par comté. Le comté de Richelieu débuta le bal le 7 mai, sous la présidence de l'impétueux Wolfred Nelson. Vient ensuite Montréal le 15 mai, à St-Laurent, où l'on discuta de la nécessité de protéger les droits et libertés du peuple et où M. Papineau parla pendant des heures. Dans aucune de ces assemblées, ni aucune des autres tenues comté par comté de mai à août, y eut-il adoption de propositions révolutionnaires, le sujet des adresses et des résolutions étant une réitération de nos plaintes concernant l'administration du gouvernement et le mépris de nos pétitions, une déclaration d'approbation de la Chambre d'assemblée et du Parti de Papineau et des demandes en redressement de nos griefs. Tout ce qui allait au delà de ces choses consistait en un refus de consommer des produits de manufacture anglaise, et l'encouragement les manufactures domestiques; et en ce qui concernait les autres marchandises, éviter de payer des taxes en encourageant la contrebande avec les États-Unis, suivant le principe que le paiement des impôts au gouvernement et la dépense légale des recettes par celui-ci sont des obligations réciproques et que si la loi a été violée, cette obligation est par conséquent dissoute.
J'adhérais depuis des années au Parti de Papineau, un coût d'un sacrifice pécuniaire et social, inévitable à celui qui est séparé de ceux qui peuvent être considérés les siens, et je me trouvai au temps d'orageuse engagé au sein d'un parti d'opposition, qui m'était étranger par le sang et la langue. La réponse à l'article de la capitulation de 1759 qui demandait la sauvegarde pour les Canadiens disait « Ils sont des sujets du roi». En 1791, un Parlement libre leur était accordé, et il me semblait que la magnanimité du peuple anglais lui interdisait refuser des droits à une poignée de descendants des Français, que les hasards de la guerre avaient laissés en territoire britannique. Je voyais aussi, dans leurs revendications, le même principe qui avait été consacré par les triomphes des Communes britanniques dans leurs victoires contres les « prérogatives » à une époque antérieure; et je sentais que seule une crainte instinctive d'une suprématie française, que je ne pouvais partager, empêchait tout le peuple de faire la cause commune contre un gouvernement et un bureau colonial comme ceux que nous avions. Il y avait quelque chose de très excitant et chevaleresque dans le fait de se dévouer à une cause où l'on avait tout à perdre et rien à gagner.
En arrivant en ville le matin du 20 juin, je croisais James Duncan Gibb, aujourd'hui décédé, qui m'informa que Lord Gosford avait émit une proclamation interdisant la tenue d'assemblées publiques - ou « assemblées anti-coercitives » comme nous les appelions. « Ça », répondis-je, « dépasse ce que tout sujet britannique peut accepter. Non seulement les assemblées de comté déjà convoquées seront-elles tenues, mais nous en tiendrons une à Montréal »; et je le répétai la même chose aux membres de son parti, avant d'aller rejoindre le mien.
La tenue d'une assemblée anti-coercitive à Montréal impliquait de considérer sérieusement un possibilité d'émeute et d'effusion de sang, choses auxquelles la ville était habituée dans l'âcre tumulte des dix dernières années. Je fis valoir avec véhémence la nécessité de défier la proclamation dans la ville de Montréal, comme un encouragement au pays, qui aurait pu nous juger bien vantard si nous n'avions osé nous montrer que là où il n'y avait aucune opposition. Les conseils timides semblaient sur le point de l'emporter lorsque dans une de nos discussion, un homme assis dans le coin, qui n'avait jamais parlé en public avant ni même après, se prononça si violemment en faveur de l'assemblée qu'aucune des personnes présentes n'osèrent voter « non ». L'assemblée fut tenue au Marché St-Laurent le 29 juin et tout se déroula tranquillement. Les Anglais tinrent une contre-assemblée à peu près au même moment, mais il n'y eut aucune collision. Ils tinrent plusieurs autres assemblées en ville au cours de l'été et quelques autres plus petites à la campagne pour dénoncer les procédés des Canadiens.
L'assemblée de Montréal, tel qu'anticipé, donna une nouvelle vigueur aux assemblées tenues à la campagne. Des juges de paix et des officiers de milice, en tant qu'hommes remarquables, se trouvaient souvent parmi les proposeurs et les appuyeurs des résolutions. Le gouverneur, par la voix de son secrétaire, M. Walcott, adressa des lettres à ces personnes et, recevant de vigoureuses réponses de leur part , ils furent péremptoirement démis de leurs fonctions. L'Exécutif n'aurait jamais du s'en prendre à ces démonstrations. Une opposition imbécile n'a fait que leur donner une plus grande importance. La proclamation fut traitée avec beaucoup de mépris.
Une des plus actifs moteurs d'action de notre machine d'agitation était le « Comité central et permanent », qui tenait ses séances publiques à l'hôtel Nelson, à Montréal, où se réunissaient les plus ardents Canadiens des villes et de la campagne. C'est là qu'on faisait écho et qu'on applaudissait tous les mouvements qui animaient les différentes parties de la province, et que les nouvelles idées été mis de l'avant pour l'action qui se faisait ailleurs. C'est là aussi que l'on glorifiait les officiers de milice et les magistrats qui avaient encouru le mécontentement de l'Exécutif; les notables de la campagne étaient souvent faits président d'assemblée et rentraient à la maison exalté par cet honneur, particulièrement lorsqu'on le rapportait dans les journaux.
Bien que les Gosfordiens étaient forts à Québec, Papineau était plus fort dans les comtés avoisinants et une des plus grandes assemblées fut celle tenue à St-Thomas. Le docteur Taché - après coup premier ministre et sir Étienne - fut accusé d'avoir assaillit un homme qui lors de cette assemblée s'était exclamé « Hourra pour le Roi des Anglais! ».
Notre Parlement se réunit au milieu du mois d'août. Gosford avait en quelque sorte, promis beaucoup de choses inaccomplies, au cours des deux dernières années. Il n'avait pas donner de réponse aux anciennes plaintes, et l'Assemblée, déclarant que le redressement des griefs devait précéder toute action législative, fut dissoute sans même attendre la prorogation précipitée prévue par le gouverneur. Et ainsi se termina le dernier Parlement du Bas-Canada.
Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm of the district of Montreal, of the intelligence with which the questions of the day were understood. The houses along the roads we took to public meetings were decorated. Crowns stood for hours listening to speeches and resolutions. In going to the Napierville meeting, the train of vehicles behind us must have been over two miles long. On one occasion, when Mr. Papineau came from St. Hyacinthe by the way of St. Charles to Verchères, and up the river to Montréal, the people turned out en masse, and conducted him from parish to parish.
Though so politically active, 1837 was commercially a hard year. Owing to a general failure of crops in 1836, wheat as imported from Europe to New York, to supply western want. Many cargoes from the continent were landed at Quebec, and some were purchased for Upper Canada. Nor was wheat the only article; even pork and butter were imported at a profit. All the American Banks suspended specie payment in May. Ours followed immediately, except the Bank of Upper Canada, which the Governor would not permit to do till some moths afterwards.
Matters were not gloomy with leading politicians, who paused and hesitated; but the masses in their movement, headed by men newly warmed to public action, saw no barriers. Annoyed at the timid counsels that nearly stopped our Montreal meeting in June, I had projected a "Young Men's Party"; but met with no encouragement till the end of August, when I found that a member of Young Canadians had formed an association, called the "Sons of Liberty," to which I at once attached myself. It was in two divisions; the one civil, of which Mr. Ouimet, a young lawyer, was President, and our late mayor, Mr. Beaudry, Vice-President; the other military. The city was divided into "sections", the young men of each, being under a chief, Chef de Section. I was choosen general; and we speedily became the most offending of the offenders, holding frequent meetings, and marching in strong numbers.
I had, in 1836, commenced a series of letters published in the New York Express, over the signature of "L. M. N.", which, at first, presumed to proceed from high authority, were every where republished, and commented on like manifestoes of a party. They had reached the twelfth number, threatening armed resistance, and were now known by our party to be solely published by me on my sole responsibility. I was a constant writer for the Vindicator, and author of many "imprudent" articles. I had, perhaps, attended and spoke at more public meetings than any other man, and none had more to do with their organization. I was everywhere, day and night; one of the youngest of the actors, everywhere active, everywhere enthusiastic, everywhere confident. May hand was on the plough, and I looked not back. The Government of the country was at a dead lock. I saw no remedy but to push on the movement we were engaged in to its ultimate results, let that be what it might.
Ardent, devoted, disinterested, and fearless of consequences, with no enmity against any one, and no self-object in view, I felt impelled by a necessity that can alone be understood or apprehended by those who, in times of peril, find themselves forced into prominence. The course taken by our party was the true one. Thirty years reflections confirms the opinion that we pursued a right course, and the only one open. We could not silently submit to Russell's resolutions. We could only protest by public demonstrations. They were legal, and we were, as British subjects, right in resisting their oppression; and when, in the end, illegal warrants for high treason were issued, we were justified in attempting self defense.
Many magistrates and militia officers, who had not been questioned by the Executive for their part in public agitation sent in their resignation accompanied by letters expressing very determined opinions, which were published at length, as more aliment for excitement. Not content with these voluntary demonstrations, the people in many parishes forced others to follow the same course. About the end of October, sixty-six voluntary or forced resignations were sent from the County of Lacadie, with letters that, when published filled a page of our newspapers.
The county of Two Mountains, guided by Girouard and Scott, the members, and Charter, Priest of St. Benoit, had been particularly active from the beginning, and now held a meeting which, after declaring that the country could have no confidence in any person holding a commission from the Executive, proposed that magistrates or pacificators should be elected, to whom all matters of civil contest should be referred for adjudication.
The Canadian clergy, with few exceptions, resolutely opposed all public agitation. Never was there such severance between the people and their pastors. Monseigneur Lartigue, acting as bishop of the diocese of Montreal, issued a mandement, or pastoral letter, denouncing positively all agitation and agitators. A few priests refused to read it to their parishioners, or did so with an apology. In some of the parishes the men left the church when the reading commenced.
The greatest and closing public meeting of the season, was that of the "Five Counties", held at St. Charles, on the 23rd day of October, which was attended by more men of superior position than any of the preceeding. The speakers were Papineau, L. M. Viger, Louis Lacoste, E. E. Rodier, and Dr. Côté, all members of Parliament, and myself. The resolutions, moved and seconded by men of highest repute in the District insisted on the duty of the British authorities to amend our form of Government: stigmatized the dismissal of officials; declared that there could be no confidence in their successors, which made the election of "pacificators", as proposed in Tow Mountains, necessary; protested against the English Government for sending on troops for the destruction of our liberties; disapproved all recent appointments of Lord Gosford, as evidencing and continuing a system of fraud. The organization of the Sons of Liberty was approved, and hopes expressed that Providence, and the sympathies of our neighbors - Provincial and American - would bring round a favorable opportunity for our emancipation. An armed party fired salutes, and a plan for the confederation of six counties was adopted.
There were no secrets nor conspiracies with the Papineau party, nor was anything committed till warrants were issued, to which the charge of high treason could attach. What was known to one was known to all, and to the world at large. There was no policy but what was expressed openly at public meetings; revolt was only the dream of a few over-excited men. There were no preparation, no purchase of arms or ammunition, nor even a proposition to provide for attack or defense. The province was agitated to the utmost, and public clamor was incessant, but all in words, condemning the British Government for neglect of promised reforms, and approving the House of Assembly for withholding a vote of supplies, till our representations were acted on, and our grievances were redressed. The leaders were a noble band. Any one of them might, on any day, had sold himself to Lord Gosford for a good cash price, and certainly of honorable consideration, with his previous opponents; but non even wavered.
In truth the "troubles" of Lower Canada were nothing but a contest between two provincial parties, in which the Governor, representing the British authority, and the military men under him, took the wrong side; and the subsequent establishment of a form of government in accordance wit the "well understood wishes of the people", that we since enjoyed, was an acknowledgment of error, and an honorable apology, though the merits of those who sacrificed most in devotion to the right cause have never been recognized.
I have said that one division of the Sons of Liberty was "military". We called out members for parade, but there was no division into companies, or appointment of sub-officers, or arms, or "drill." In our public address we only called the young men of the Provinces to know their strength by organizing, and being prepared to assist for independence at some future day. In short we were only asking what the British and Dominion Governments are now asking by the militia laws. Our offence was in thinking too soon.
Our last public meeting was announced for the 6th of November, when we intended to adjourn till May. Our opponents were the "Doric Club", composed of a certain number of stout young "English", and all the other "English", who chose to turn out on days of tumult, with clubs in their hands. The Dorics posted placards calling on the loyal to "nip treason in the bud", by stopping this meeting. We had no mayor or city government then; the "magistrates" feared a deadly tumult. On their assembling I waited on some of them to say our meeting must be held; it was our right, and we would not back down under threats; that if collision came, it would be their fault; they must control their people, and I would control ours; they should not come with music, nor in bands, but singly as citizens, and so separate, if unmolested.
We met in a large yard, west of the present Ottawa Hotel. Our resolutions were mild enough; but before we got through, a crown gathered outside St. James street gate, and some stones were thrown over. A good portion of our men passed on quietly into Notre Dame street. The remainder, under two hundred, I formed into companies, two deep, armed with stout sticks, which both parties then kept in readiness at their respective rendezvous. My orders were that they should cut their way through the crowd, and then scatter for their homes, for the troops and the big guns would be soon out. Opening the gates, they sallied in four columns, and rapidly reached the Place d'Armes; for this sudden onslaught cleared the street. Seeing all safe, I turned back alone. It might be called fool-hardy; but I was personally on the best of terms with everybody, and when one has been for months in danger, he never thinks of it. At the corner of St. François Xavier street, a crown was collecting with whom I exchanged a few words; and, on turning down the street, I was felled by a blow from a bludgeon behind, which was followed by others, with the cry, "Brown! kill him! kill him!" leaving me senseless in my blood. In addition to cuts and bruises, the optic nerve of my right eye was shattered, and I have never seen with it since.
I was dragged into a neighboring house where a little attention, and the sewing or plastering of cuts soon enabled me to get home, and I remained confined there till the 16th. The English having destroyed the Vindicator printing office, were now in quiet possession of the city. The Canadians were snug in their houses, or at their various employments. Those noisy demonstrations that had continued night and day, ceased suddenly. Leading men were keeping out of the way. The first stage of agitation came to a sudden end, and all awaited the next development.
So general was the idea abroad that were were organized and ripe for revolt, that Mackenzie, who had planned a rising in rear of Toronto, and an attack on the Capital, sent me an agent to communicate his designs, and learn ours. We had none, and not even a committee with whom the agent could consult. One of the few with whom he was able to communicate, much alarmed at this notice of Mackenzie's unexpected intentions, brought this agent to my room for consultation. My friend taking me aside, said: "You know we are doing nothing, and have no designs for the future; Mackenzie should be undeceived, and dissuaded from his intentions." I replied that Mackenzie knew his own business, and should be allowed to take his course, which, result as it might, could only help us. What opinions the agent got elsewhere I know not; but the mission proved non hinderance to the Toronto move.
There had been a few arrests for sedition in the summer, which ended too farcically to be repeated; and Attorney General Ogden was sent up to endeavor to get out warrants for high treason. Up to this time, there was no ground for such writs, and the judges refused to grant them; but two excited magistrates were found willing to assume the responsibility. These two hot-headed men did what the judges, partisans though they might be, feared to do, by reason of its illegality. There was no high reason in 1837, except that caused by resistance to these illegal proceedings. Writs were issued on the 16th November, and subsequently, that filled our goal for the winter with prominent Canadian citizens, against whom there was, in reality, no charge. Martial law was not declared till the 5th December.
On the after noon of the 16th November, I learned that a warrant for high treason was issued against me. Consulting non one, and knowing I could not leave the city, I passed down St. Catherine street to the horse ferry-boat, at the foot of the current, with no idea or intent to proceed direct to the States to recover my strength there, and communicate with my political friends, from whom I had been ten days separated, and who I presumed to be scattered in country parts.
Arriving at the Hochelaga horse-boat at five o'clock, the usual hour for crossing, I learned it would only go at seven, and then take over two companies of troops. Retreating hastily to a ferry-boat house, I tried to get over in a canoe. The ferryman would not attempt crossing. It was too stormy; and, to add to my perplexity, my carter declared his horse, having worked all day, could go no father. An habitant returning from the market, offered to take me to his home at Pointe aux Trembles. I got first in the car with too short rifles: the habitant, catching on the lock of one, as he got in, caused it to discharge, the ball whistling straight between our heads. A slight inclination of the barrel would have sent the ball through mine, and there would have been the "sensation" of a suicide, or a murder, as the reporter might think best paying. We faced a furious snow-storm from the north-east. The road then ran along the river. The habitant was very drunk, and fearing he would upset, I drove the horse. After ten days confinement and appliances to sooth my wounds, this exposure was terrible, and the nigh I passed at the habitant's house was one of excruciating agony.
In the morning I walked to the village of Pointe aux Trembles, where all was excitement; but no one, except myself, had arrived from Montreal two boys took me over to the opposite island, where in a small house I went to bed, and spent the day. Sending for Dr. Duchesnois, I returned with him in a canoe to Varennes, and took supper at his house, with two of my chefs de section, Doctor Gauvin and Rudolphe Desrivières, who brought news of the attack at Longueuil, by habitants under Bonaventure Viger, on a party of eighteen Montreal Volunteer Cavalry, which liberated Mr. Demaray and Doctor Davignon, who were being brought in as prisoners from St. Johns. I remarked:
"Then the ball has commenced. We must all take our places in the dance".
"Yes; we will be chased no longer. Let us go to St. Charles, established a camp, and be soldiers."
Revived by the day's rest and supper, I assented. Gauvin, Desrivières, a brother of Desrivières that I had never seen before, and myself, set out upon our expedition. I gave one of my rifles to Desrivières. Gauvin, I think, had a pistol; and thus armed and equipped, we declared for war, and established the first "Patriot" camp in Canada.
Those who have heard of the "Canadian Rebellion", or read the long debates of the period, or of fifteen thousand troops sent out to suppress that rebellion, at a cost of more than three millions sterling, may presume it commence with preparation and combination; but the beginning was precisely what I here relate, and no more. Leaving Montreal alone, with no intent but to take the shortest road to the States, stopped by a tired-horse and an over-cautious ferryman, accident took me to Varennes, where accident brought two of my city associates, and where one of them, without premiditation, suggested going to St. Charles. I had been there once, and knew but one resident; my companions were strangers. What could be more Quixotic than our design? Whatever might have been the offence, or responsibility of armed resistance, of failure or of success, it rests in no way on the people generally, whether leaders or led; but solely on the few who were actually engaged, acting upon their own individual impulses.
On the road, at a collection of houses and two taverns, we found a crown of excited people.
"Why are the chiefs deserting"? said they. "We have guns and powder, and can defend them".
We were also told that Mr. Drolet, at St. Marc, had fifty men with muskets guarding his house; but arrived there soon after daybreak, we found neither men nor muskets. A servant man, roused from his sleeping bench, opened the door. It was the large stone-house now occupied by the "Fraser." Mrs. Drolet, with her tow daughters and youngest son, joined us at breakfast. A gentleman from Quebec, we learned, had passed up the river, warning all prominent men, especially those noticeable at the meeting of the "five counties" or impending danger; and all were either secreted in the back concessions, or gone to the States for safety.
Crossing the Richelieu to St. Charles, we saw waiting for us on the bank two carts. In them were Mr. Papineau, Doctor Wolfred Nelson, Doctor O'Callaghan, and another, on their way up the river. They did not forbid our project. The coincidence in the meeting with persons so prominent, at this exact time and place, was most singular (our four names were the first on the list for whom rewards were offered). Had I left Montreal with the intention of finding these gentlemen, I know not in what direction I should have gone, or when I should have attained my end. Nelson was making preparations for defence at St. Denis.
I went in a house, and lay down to rest. Gauvin, finding a sword, put himself at the head of suddenly-formed squad of seventeen men, armed with fowling-pieces, marched up to the manor-house of Mr. Debartzh, and took possession. Soon, a servant came with a line horse, new saddle and bridle, for the "General"; and I rode up to the manor-house, a large one story wooden place, now transformed into a camp, with sentries posted, and was addressed by all as the "General". The appointment was spontaneous, and I had no other. My command was of my own creation. At any other time this would have been rather grand; but, with aching bruises, a swollen head, one eye recently destroyed, and my jaws closing, to stop eating, it required resolution to maintain the position. This was Friday, the 17th of November.
On Sunday, there was no work done, for the Canadians on this point obey the commandment. On Monday we continued cutting down trees about the house, to form barricades to our camp, intending to cover them with earth; but this was so little advanced that our defence had only reached the consequence of a strong log-fence, with no military or engineering pretensions, when we were driven out. Two old rusty six-pounders, found in a barn, were mounted on sleigh-runners by the village blacksmith, and loaded, for want of other missiles, with scraps of iron. These were our only artillery. Our fame spread abroad. The country people, supposing the time for rising had arrived, flocked in, without waiting for special orders. Never could I forget the alacrity and devotion of these men, coming forward, even before the call, to maintain the country's rights. They were the right material. With arms and officers, we could have improvised an army, off hand; but we had neither. In an old settled country, from which game had disappeared, a singular collection of fusils was in their hands, in all stages of dilapidation: some must have come down from before the conquest; and the whole would have been an interesting variety for a museum. There was, I think, but one musket; and I do not remember seeing a single bayonet. A few kegs of powder were collected, and cartridges made; but with such diversities of bore, I cannot say that every man got what he could use. There had been no general military organization or training since the conquest. Such had been the policy of the Government, and it now reaped the advantage.
By another of the coincidences of St. Charles, Mr. Blanchet, the parish priest, was a "patriot" - almost the only one in the province - and favored us. Mr. Debartzh's premises, well supplied with cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, and breadstuffs, furnished our commissariat. The whole country about us was "patriot", with a small exception. Simon Lespérance, a merchant of La Representation, and a few others, suspected of opposite tendencies, were brought in as prisoners by the neighbors.
Such was the camp at St. Charles. A few hundred men assembled, and thousands were ready to join; - a mere collection of individuals, without appliances, or instruction, or commanders, from corporals upwards, required for any action military. But such was not the newspaper report published abroad. There I lined a strong, well-armed, and disciplined force, in a well-fortified position, with two of "Bonaparte's" generals under me, and a foundry for casting cannon!
Sir John Colborne, now commanding in Montreal, determined to attack this formidable army. Two expeditions were sent out. - one under Col. Wetherall, by the way of Chambly; the other under Col. Gore, by the way of Sorel, - to secure the capture of leading men, by an attack on both sides.
One the afternoon of Wednesday, the 22nd November, Col. Gore left Montreal with two companies of the Twenty-fourth Regiment, and one company of the Thirty-second (Markham's), and a small party of volunteer cavalry, with one howitzer 12-pounder. Two companies of the Sixty-sixth joined them at Sorel. At ten o'clock at night, the march commenced for St. Denis, eighteen miles. It was raining heavily, and the road was knee deep almost in soft mud; towards morning it commenced freezing, and a snow-storm faced the troops. Cold and exhausted they struggled on, Markham's company leading, picking their way, as they best could, expecting to breakfast at St. Denis, without opposition. The first files had nearly entered the village, when fire opened upon them. The howitzer, unlimbered at 250 yards, opened fire in return; but the troops taking shelter round barns and houses, were too benumbed to handle their muskets. Markham, sheltered behind a long barn, twice reached out to lead an assault, and each time received a musket wound, the last one very serious. Firing continued for a few hours, chiefly from the howitzer, and then the troops retreated to Sorel, leading the gun behind as a trophy for the "patriots¨. Such was the relation made to me by some wounded men, who were left prisoners, and it corresponds with the official report. Had a dash been made in the morning, the troops would have easily carried it. Had the "patriots" followed the exhausted retreating troops, in the afternoon, possibly all would have been captured; but neither knew the weakness of the other.
Wolfred Nelson, one of the bravest of the braves, commanded at St. Denis. He had not raised the standard of revolt, but only defended himself against an illegal warrant. In war he would have been a great General; but perhaps a Murat, greater in action than in council. He had for defence only about fifty fowling pieces of any use; a small embankment across the road was a protection to sharpshooters; and the stronghold was a stout stone house, at the lower end of the village. Round-shot knocked in the upper gable, - there were three killed in the garret; below the rafters, the walls were too solid for injury. My most intimate friend, Charles Ovide Perrault, who had been one of the most active agents of agitation, and the greatest young man I ever met, was mortally wounded, while crossing the street, by an accidental parting shot.
One painful event marked the day. Lieut. Weir, of the 32nd Regiment, left Sorel to overtake Col. Gore's command. Accidentally getting upon a wrong road, he drove past, and on to St. Denis, where he was made a prisoner, as I was early informed by a letter from Nelson, who said he would be treated with every consideration. When the troops approached in the morning, he was placed in a waggon to be sent to me, at St. Charles (nine miles), in charge of two old, respectable men. At a short distance, he jumped out to escape; and, in the scuttle to secure him, was killed. No man lamented the sad event more than Nelson.
The troops lost, - killed, 6 rank and file; wounded, 1 officer and 9 rank and file; missing 6 rank and file. The patriots had 10 or 12 killed.
Col. Wetherall was now halted at St. Hilaire, mine miles above St. Charles, wit a brigade, consisting of four companies of the 1st Royals, a detachment of he 66th Regiment (another company of the Royals followed from Chambly), with two six-pounders, and a detachment of Volunteer Cavalry. It was doubtful if he would come further after the retreat of Col. Gore; and indeed, from his report, his advance would appear another accident. Reports, coming from we know not where, informed us that the "Patriots" were armed in rear of Montreal, threatening the city, and that Chambly, St. John's, and all the country from thence to the lines, was in our hands. Disappointment soon followed. On Friday evening, an American arrived from St. Albans, to inform that Dr. Côté and the leaders of the county of Lacadie, with several of the prominent men from the Richelieu, from Montreal, and elsewhere, were there collecting munitions of war for invasion. Nelson and I thus found ourselves alone. Had our frontier friends staid at home, communication with the States would have been open for arms and munitions, which would assuredly have com in. The invasion from St. Albans was delayed too long. One day earlier it might have proved successful.
Friday, the 24th, was a beautiful day. A sharp frost made the road good. Having more men than I could lodge in the camp, I proceeded with one hundred, and billeted them in farm-houses up the river; the advanced posts being at a small stream two miles up, where I directed the bridge to be destroyed and the passage ?desputed?, and on a bank in rear, where I directed a barricade of fence rails to be erected. All were ordered to skirmish with any coming enemy by firing on the advance and falling back.
Still suffering from my old bruises, fitted for a hospital rather than for a camp, I had hardly got to sleep, about midnight, when I was awakened by a messenger from Desrivières at the barricade, to say he had made a good work and he wanted more men. I could hardly make a reply, when it appeared as if the whole picket was back in camp with a report that an enemy was upon us. It proved a false alarm, but only a portion returned to their posts. There was evidently a scare.
On the morning of Saturday, 25th, I inspected our forces; for, being collected from the neighboring parishes, their attendance was somewhat irregular. There turned out in camp precisely one hundred and nine fire-locks, or, I should say, flint-locks, for many of them refused to fire, when essayed a few hours later. Just at this time, a man riding up delivered a letter from St. Mathias, opposite Chambly, informing me that Col. Wetherall had orders to fall back to Montreal, and was retreating. The after story was that Col. Wetherall did not retreat, because these people had stupidly stop the order from Sir John Colborne to that effect; and, moreover that I, who was eighteen miles distant, with Wetherall halfway between, was in command of them. Mot of all, the man who was said to borne the order, told me in Montreal, seven years afterwards, that he was ready to make oath that he was not detained by my orders. He did not see me, but knew my voice! Such are the materials of history! Had Wetherall retreated, our weakness would have been undiscovered, and we should have remained masters of the south side of the St. Lawrence.
Anticipating no danger for the day, I set about improving our camp, and then rode down to the village, to make arrangements for grinding wheat. While consulting with Bunker, the hotel-keeper, at his door, a messenger rushed up to inform me that the troops were approaching; and, returning to the camp, I found that my pickets, already reduced to about twenty-five men, had all came back to bring the news. Putting myself at their head, I sent up about two miles to reconnoitre, and from a slight eminence, saw the whole brigade, in strength, beyond our means of opposition.
Repeating my order to fire from behind the wood-piles that flanked the road, to delay their march, I returned to camp. My horse, making a sudden turn and jump, threw me, as weak as I was, over his head a good distance, on the rough, frozen road. The horse caught, I mounted, and proceeded. At another time, I should have required a hurdle for my removal; but, when the mind's energies are strong; the body is at best a mere incumbrance. Its sufferings are unheeded.
In the camp, or might be best called our enclosed, there were about eighty men, who bravely took their places behind the defences. There were more, I knew, in the village, one-third of a mile distant. They must be hurried up. Without an "aide", I must go myself, thinking the time abundant. The fields were covered with men, women, and children, flying before the troops, from their deserted houses, and the more terrified as smoke and flames shot up from barns set on fire.
The last many of my men had seen of me was hurrying from front to rear, as fast as my weak state would permit. Just as I was turning to get back to camp, a stout habitant breathless, in his shirt sleeves, came running from above, to tell me that he was sent by the English commander ("General Anglais") to say that if we were dispersed, nobody should be harmed (This afterwards was corroborated by sworn testimony; and Col. Gugy, accompanying the troops, told me it was he who sent him). Supposing by this that Col. Wetherall was pressed by "Patriots" in the rear, and was hurrying to Sorel, I sought fit person to carry back answer that if the troops laid down their arms, they would be allowed to proceed unmolested. This cause a few minutes, delay; he had to run for a coat; and but for this incident that day would probably have been my last. I had reached the ravine, within one minute ride from the camp, when one round-shot after the other buzzed past me down the road. Musketry was heard, and men falling back showed me their broken and useless arms. All appeared to be coming. My whole duty now was to endeavor to keep them together, and make face on a new front. Finding this was impossible, - for many would break for their homes, and that I remained unsupported, - my "occupation" at St Charles "gone", towards dusk, I joined Doctor Nelson at St. Denis.
With such disparity of forces, the affair was soon over. Two six-pounder guns firing short and grape, and near four hundred muskets, made short work with the handful in our camp; but the manly courage of these Canadians was of the highest order, when they opened fire and stood their ground till thirty three were left dead: - none wounded escaped. The names of all killed, which I have taken from the parish registers, do not quiet equal this number.
The troops lost, by the return made, 1 sergeant and 2 rank and file killed; 15 rank and file wounded. The Colonel's horse was shot dead. The horses of Major Ward and Captain David (cavalry) severely wounded. They did not advance below the camp till the next day, when they came into the village, and picked up a few villagers to be conducted to Montreal as prisoners.
The published reports announced a long, hard fought battled: I had fifteen hundred men, but ran away before the action commenced; and three hundred were killed on our side. A subsequent "official" report reduced them to one hundred and twenty-five. The first exaggeration was about ten times, - the last four: and this, I presume, is a fair specimen of the truthfulness of what we read of "battles" elsewhere. I was told the day following by some people near St. Denis, who did not know me, that the "general" had sold himself to the English, and run away to the States, with all the Patriot money.
It may well be asked what we expected to effect with such wretched preparations at St. Charles? I can only answer for myself, that, seeing the determined animation of the people, I thought the leaders would remain with them, and the raising of the "Patriot" flag at St. Charles, would be the signal for a general rising; that men and arms would flow in from the States, as into Texas; and that Sir John Colborne would evacuate Montreal for Quebec, leaving us all the country outside. Had there been the militia laws and military knowledge of to-day, this was easy. Then I thought we would in the winter send Commissioners to England, in mercantile phrase, "to make a settlement". Ours was simply a provincial war of factions. The "Bureaucrats" vanquished us, and the province had to wait a few years for a government based upon "the well-understood wishes of the people." Had we vanquished them, there would have been only a delay of a few months, with an immense saving to the British Government.
On Monday, the 27th, alarmed with a report that Col Wetherall would attack St. Denis, the place was evacuated. Dr. Nelson, the present Sir George E. Cartier, myself, and few others, passed the day seated very stupidly in a swamp, a few miles back from Richelieu. In the evening we learned that Wetherall was on the march back to Montreal, and the next day we returned to St. Charles and St. Denis. I had considered Wetherall's success at St. Charles of little moment, - only a "Lexington;" and, if favored by the usual bad weather of the season, his command would be made prisoners before they recrossed the St. Lawrence. On the contrary , his success proved decisive.
We continued at St. Denis with a small armed party till 2nd December, when, on the second approach of Col. Gore, there was a second evacuation. Dr. Nelson, myself, and four others, passed over to St. Césaire in the night to take the woods. At the end of three days we got separated. I escaped after various vicissitudes, through the States; my companions were captured. The five hundred pounds rewards offered for Nelson's apprehension was paid; the same sum offered for mine still remains in the treasury. Soon learning the determination of the American authorities, I took no part with the "sympathizers." Leaving for the South, in the autumn of 1838, I only heard of that year's attempt at invasion from the States, at Key West, after my return from Cuba. In Florida I remained till the spring 1844; when, hearing that a nolle prosequi had, unasked, been entered in my case, for what reason I never knew, I came back to Montreal, landing alone on the wharf; and, passing through the street, shook hand cordially and indiscriminately with old acquaintances, friends or foes, as though I had merely returned from a long journey. Our angry passages of the past were all turned to jokes and good fellowship, and so they have continued. (*)
THOMAS STORROW BROWN.
(1) This article was originally published in the New Dominion Monthly, vol. IV, number one, April, 1869. It is now entirely out of the reach of nearly all of our readers. We thought it proper to reprint it, as it contains some interesting particulars in relation with the Rebellion of 1837.
The New Dominion Monthly has been founded in 1868, and has subsisted, I think, until 1873. It contains several important historical papers by Bourinot, LeMoine, Rev. Rand, and others. The complete fyle is scarce and worth to be kept in record. R. R.
* I have the materials for a history of 1837, that, with the documents, would fill two volumes, which I may never have time to prepare for publication. That a record of many things, now in the lapse of time only known to myself, may be preserved, I have sent this article to the Dominion Monthly. It has been written off rapidly - the work of evenings and early mornings - in one week. - T.S.B.