Esquesing Township resident John Stewart Jr.’s involvement in the 1837 Upper Canadian Rebellion has been written about previously (see bibliography and suggested readings for relevant material). His connection with and support of William Lyon Mackenzie, began as early as 1834. His supreme dedication to that cause was demonstrated on December 7, 1837, when Stewart and a number of other rebels from Esquesing marched towards Toronto to assist Mackenzie in an armed uprising. Stewart was captured near Richmond Hill, incarcerated in the Toronto gaol, and then sent to Fort Henry in Kingston. There on July 29, 1838, Stewart and eleven other comrades successfully escaped. They found freedom by crossing the St. Lawrence River and settling as exiles in New York State.* Barely a month and a half after this escape, William Lyon Mackenzie wrote the following letter** to his old friend and supporter. This somewhat rambling discourse, spelled out a variety of Mackenzie’s personal thoughts not only about the 1838 Upper Canadian Rebellion, but also about political and domestic matters unfolding in United States at this time.***
“A Letter to John Stewart Jun.
NEW YORK, August 13th. 1838.
My dear Stewart:
I am grieved to learn, by letter from Mr. Napoleon Johnston, the agent of this Journal [Mackenzie’s Gazette] at Watertown [New York], dated the 8th inst., that at the time when the whole community were rejoicing at the good fortune of the Patriots who had escaped from Kingston and come over to Jefferson County [New York] for protection, and when my [Mackenzie’s]Gazette was anxiously expected, its arrival should have cast a gloom over the public mind because I had stated with candor that I had faith and confidence in the measures of the government of the people’s choice, in this great nation, and was unwilling that my Journal should be longer used by the whigs and federalists for electioneering purposes, to the injury of that government along the whole line of frontier where it is extensively circulated.
You with whom I have been intimately acquainted for many years; you who know at what sacrifices of means & risk of life & limb I have contended and struggled in Canada, for the attainment of moral reform, and the practical instruction of the people in the great principles of civil and religious right, laid down by Sydney, Locke, Jackson, Jefferson, Hume, Mackintosh, and other distinguished Statesmen of England and America, and powerfully embodied and set forth in the Declaration of Independence; you at least will learn without surprise, that adverse fortune has left me unchanged in the opinion I have so often expressed in Canada, that the achievement of Independence for our country in the true sense of the term is intimately connected with the success of those great measures which Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren have struggled long and powerfully to carry into effect throughout this republic. Our destiny, beyond the great lakes is, and will be ultimately, the same as that of our brethren speaking the same language, owning a common European origin, and having the like pursuits, customs and manners with ourselves, who reside east of the St. Lawrence. If, then, we believe that self-government is a reality, and that man is capable of preserving and enjoying its unspeakable blessings, we ought to feel that the struggle now going on in this republic between the sons of commerce, organized monopoly and foreign aristocracy on the one hand, and the American government and the plain and honest farmers whose voice it speaks, and whose prosperity it seeks to cherish, on the other, is the battle of freedom for the American Continent, as much for Canada as for the 26 states, and perhaps more.
I have weighed as well as I was able the situation of our friends in dungeons and in the bonds of death; the risk they run has often been mine. It is so even now here. I have tried to be neutral on American financial questions and matters of high party feeling, but find it impossible. There is no defending Canadian interests by a middle, half way course; I have, therefore, taken the one most congenial to my feelings, and begun here as I left off at Toronto.
Of course I have been reminded that many of our most influential supporters are American whigs; that a majority of the presses who have expressed sympathy for Canada oppose [American President] Mr. [Martin] Van Buren; that the Canadians have been most cruelly treated by the authorities at Washington and their dependants on the frontier; that for me to express an opinion on leading questions or public men would be to mix the Canada war with the party politics of the day; that the least appearance of partisanship on my part, would add powerfully to my enemies and gain for me few friends; that the circulation of my journal would be diminished; that the governing party at Albany are as corrupt as their opponents, and that judging of my motives by their own, they will distrust my integrity of purpose; that the public voice is fearfully against my democratic notions of banks and currency; that monopoly has become so deeply rooted in the hearts of the people, and entwined round the business and customs of the country, that as the many cannot trace effects to their causes and are unable to comprehend the fearful injury they receive from that species of injustice, he who opposes experience to deep rooted prejudice raises a whirlwind in which he may be destroyed. It has also been urged, that by the expression of my long cherished opinions against monied monopoly and the concentration of unconstitutional power in the hands of a capitalist interest, I may induce the opposition to believe that you Canadians are mostly of my opinion, and hence induce the federal whig leaders to hate and distrust them. I wish they were. Such a people would form a glorious addition to the enlightened and disinterested advocates of the do as you would be done by principle in the State. But judging from the past, my dear friend, I fear it will be found that the opposition of many among our professing reformers to colonial rule, arose chiefly out of the obstacles it interposed to their desires for engrafting upon the virgin soil of Canada their own unjust system instead of those wholesale foreign frauds with which English whiggery has afflicted our prostrate country.
To all objections to the course I have pursued, my answer has been, ‘The [Van Buren] administration at Washington is struggling to free Americans from the payment of tribute to Europe, and to prevent the rich from plundering the poor here. It wishes to leave religion a free question between man and his Maker, and to dissolve that union of Bank and State which, if long continued, would leave the bulk of the nation in poverty. – Such a course is what we of Canada want, and whether-in prosperity or adversity, I rejoice to live under such a government.’
No doubt you are ready to ask me, How do these States pay tribute to England? I will tell you.
First. By a circular of the Banking House Barings of last year, it was stated on their excellent authority that about NINETY MILLIONS of dollars are due to the Lords, Ladies, Dukes, Marquises, Barons, Brokers, Baronets, and Bankers of England, from the United States and other Bank Stock, State credits, public works, land companies, trading companies and chartered monopolies of various kinds. In this way about six millions of hard silver dollars are every year drawn from the hard working people of this free nation to uphold its bitterest enemies, every one of whom almost would rejoice if it could be sunk in the sea or utterly annihilated. And not only do they draw these six millions of tribute from America, but the holding such stocks, shares, and so forth, enables them to have a great control over labor. They can choose Federal agents – traitors to liberty – these agents can discount to whom they please, aid or injure whom they please, influence the employment of the refusal of employment to vast numbers of persons – uphold editors of talent, poor devils willing to be sold, with many lawyers ready to be hired, ready to sell their tongues to defend truth or falsehood, according as plaintiff or defendant is most able or willing to pay a high fee, and thus it is that by the power of intellect unswayed by moral principle, the energies and powers of the republic are sought to be falsely directed by these foreign agents of wicked men and women, and the dearth of money and the scarcity of labor which they can cause when an honest government on this side of the sea proposes a divorce of bank and state or an independent treasury bill, is truly astonishing. The people feel the scarcity, and although the government is doing all it can to lessen their difficulties, the whig and federal presses, and they are ten to one in this fine state and city for the dishonest cause, cry aloud – ‘See, see, you have a Democratic government, and it is squandering your money, taxing you, destroying trade, and ruining the banks! Down with it! Freeman to the polls. Peruse Mr. Bond’s speech and put down the deceivers! If the Londoners, who talk about the ballot being a protection to the people under a monarchy, had seen the citizens of this little world running to the polls last spring to ballot once more into the Mayoralty of New York a whig lottery office keeper, stock jobber, and shaver of bank notes, for the purpose of thwarting the noble purposes of an administration chosen by the freeholders of this great nation, for the general good, they would believe me that when the common people are beset with monopolies, food costly, bad pay, insolvent banks shaving their own notes, weekly, daily and twice a day, editors who have been made to swallow the consistency of years of useful labor by the potent application of bank bribery, and greedy landlords ready to grasp at the last dollar the tenant has in the world – if the Londoners saw all this as I have seen it, they would say that it was no wonder such a people were puzzled how best to use their ballots more especially when I tell you that many leading men among the democratic and equal rights party, stand deservedly low in public esteem, because their professions and practice are as different as light is from darkness.
An ably conducted paper in this city, in the interest of the dishonest, banking, funding, chartered bank, British borrowing, slavish or colonial system, mentions in a late article…that the old united States Bank was nearly all owned in London, consequently its board of Directors were the mere nominees of London Lords and Ladies, and yet this bank was made the Treasury of this nation by men who pretended to serve American interests… No wonder that Louisiana went for the whigs the other day, and that there was not one liberal editor to advocate honest old fashioned democracy. – Messrs. Brooks and Townsend tell us that nearly all their bank capital is borrowed from London. The borrower is servant to the lender all the world over. Hence the British Colony of Louisiana, obedient to its owners send a whig representation to Congress and to their State legislature, and elect a whig governor! Will Mr. Noah, again, this fall be able to turn round with a sneer to the democracy of New York, and tell them as he did the last election. – ‘You free? No! Ninety-seven chartered banks combined last fall and bought your sweet voices for a legislature of their selection, ballot boxes and all!!’ The American Government owed a national debt because it had been at war with England for its independence in 1812, 13, 14. The Express very frankly admits that after the peace the Congress had to tax the American people to raise many millions yearly to pay to our English masters – they had brought up all the war claims – they were the national creditors. Really, I do not wonder that this government are unwilling hastily to involve the American farmer in another contest, likely to end by leaving the new world tributary to the old, whether in victory or defeat. The Express tells us that the Londoners exact double interest from us in America, although it owns that we pay them very regularly.
At a meeting held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, Westminster [London, England], the celebrated John Wilkes in delivering an after dinner speech stated as a fact a falsehood so palpable that every one who heard him knew that the truth was precisely the reverse. ‘How could you do it?’ whispered John Horne Tooke who sat next to him. ‘Every one of us can attest the contrary.’ ‘I know that,’ replies Wilkes, ‘but it has not been contradicted, every one of the reporters present have taken it down, and before 58 hours a million of persons will read it in the newspapers, and what is more, they will believe it, as it is important to us they should. Wealth and the daily press in the hands of a band of greedy gain loving merchants, will do much to counteract the efforts of an honest government even with the ballot as it rear guard’.
Second. – The Unites States pay tribute to England’s money jobbers and aristocrats, through the management of Jay, Hamilton, and the federal leaders of 1783, who had no other motive for joining the revolution of’76 but because they wished to remove the fountain of state corruption in America from the palace in Westminster to the White House in Washington, and felt their pride hurt at seeing the Sir Francis Heads and Sir George Arthurs [Lieutenant-Governors of Upper Canada] of Europe installed as the chief plunderers while their dear selves and connexions were thrown aside. You will be astonished when I tell you that if we in Canada have our Canada Company with such bloodsuckers as Ellice the uncle of Lord Durham and McGillvray the Editor of the Morning Chronicle at the head of it, free America has yet even worse monopolies for the advantage of her bitterest enemies in Europe, the dividing and harassing of her population, and the waging of whig war by fraud upon the government, by all the means in the power of the bank of England, and of all the capitalists who uphold whig power, whenever it offers, as I said before an honest measure to the consideration of Congress, such as dissolving partnership with the monopoly banks or setting up an independent treasury. Depend on it my dear Stewart, that you and your brother farmers in Canada will never see its freedom achieved by the land speculators, loanjobbers, stockbrokers, fundholders and noteshavers, who lead the Whigs of these stated. They are a broken reed, never lean upon them.
By the old practice of a king or queen making presents to courtiers, parasites, governors, lords’ younger children, kept mistresses, butlers, valets, the scum and offscourings of European society, of the lands made valuable by the people here, their industry, just as our highland neighbours of the Scotch block in Esquesing make tracts of land valuable for priests and absentees Consul Buchanan here, and such like characters and their offspring even to their third generation; by a practice like that in the old colonies many millions of acres, the most valuable in America, were granted by royal tyrants to America’s worst enemies, pimps and spies like those we have to uphold in Canada – Characters like that [Judge] Jonas Jones, of the Yankee tory stock of ’76 lord of the [steamer] Sir Rob’t **** who is now employed in sight of American ground, in 1838, sending American Citizens to the halter, while that poor perish creature Sheriff Hamilton, Postmaster of Queenston and son to old Hamilton of Queenston who used to act as a spy to the Little York Government, as I ascertained in London, 1833, has to perform the duties of hangman to Durham and Arthur, an office so vile that not the veriest wretch in human form who crawls on Canadian ground, be he white or be he black, would stoop to accept, although 1000 dollars would have been his recompense. The lands I am going to tell you about were also given to such sordid greedy characters as [Upper Canada’s] Chief Justice [John Beverly] Robinson, whose ancestors comforted the traitor Arnold in his escape from West Point, and Robinson after being bred at Cornwall by Strachan in charity, now vents his vengeance on American Citizens, by hanging a Pennsylvanian with whom his brother has been the representative of Simcoe, and denouncing the people when 35,000 of them prayed that one of the noblest, boldest, most upright Americans who was ever entrapped into Canada might not be rewarded for his love of liberty by dying the death of a disobedient hound, with Jarvis the spawn of another Yankee traitor as Sheriff and hangman to gloat over the humiliation of the free Pennsylvanian whose blood his fiddling servile sire, Serjeant Jarvis, had often engaged to spill, ere he had to clear out from New Jersey with Burwell & the other traitors to the liberties of the human race. Ah, Stewart, Stewart! We must not deceive others, nor be deceived, the federal whigs may subscribe for this Gazette [Mackenzie’s newspaper], electioneer with it against the Jackson government, and tell us they are with us, but their leaders never will, never can give liberty to Canada!
Well, as I was stating, many millions of the most beautiful lands in America had got into the hands of Companies of Tory adventurers in Europe like the Canada Company, or into the hands of the Arnolds, the Ryersons, the Jarvises, Robinsons, or the like of them, and they, whether in Europe or America, were amongst the most cruel enemies of the American people during their struggle , and at the bottom of most of the murders and sackings and burning which laid waste fertile plains and destroyed thriving villages just as the shopkeeper craft, and dandies and official pimps of Montreal, were the most vindictive in roasting, burning, and utterly destroying the villages of Canada last winter and the people in them.
Well, it so happened when the whigs of England could not conquer the brave Americans by force, that Lawyer Jay, a hot federal, church and state union Episcopalian gentleman, was sent to make a commercial treaty with the cunning diplomatists of England, and what did he do, think ye? Why he agreed that the enemies of the republic, subjects of Great Britain, should continue to hold, occupy, lease, sell, or enjoy landed estate to the amount of many millions of dollars, which they had justly forfeited by fighting against American liberty, and by this ruinous bargain enabled the bitter enemies of democracy to derive in all time coming a revenue, which their federal-whig agents collect yearly and remit to Europe, one year with another to the amount of perhaps ten millions of dollars, or the value of all the cotton crop of the country. Mr. Jay did more than this, he agreed that the Nova Scotia Whigs might return, and that many a bitter tory within the country should have his lands, and thus gave wealth and power to the very men whose pride and avarice brought about the revolt of ’76 as it did with us the revolt of ’38. It is a fact, too, that many of the British agents of the foreign landowners grant leases of ground in such a way as always to secure Spanish dollars of a certain weight and fineness for their British owners, while many of the farmers and mechanics are driven by this foreign plundering of the gold and silver, to the receiving of shin plasters, red dog money, wild cat notes, Canada paper, Eastern paper, any thing as a medium of exchange, although by the mere alteration of one sentence in the U.S. constitution every state of this union might issue bills of credit, build canals, railroads, turnpikes and bridges therewith, and have the profit reserved to the people which is now given to secret, soulless monopolies of their enemies.
We learn in that excellent work ‘the Manual of American Principles,’ that many millions a year of the money produced by the labor of American men and women in Maryland and Pennsylvania, are sent off to the heirs of the Lords Baltimore and Wm. Penn in the form of eternal ground rents; that the Attornies of the Binghams, Camacs, Norrises, Walns, masters, and other colossal European monopolists of Pennsylvania, extract silver dollars for ground rent from the settlers wherever there is a scarcity of dollars; and that during the last war millions upon millions of the wealth of the country were squeezed out of the ground rent proprietors by the federal tories, to be sent to Europe to enable England to hold out a little longer in her oppression of a people who hold out the hand of fellowship to you and me and to the oppressed of all nations. The old heartless rascal Ellice, the son of a Schenectady merchant, a tory of the first water, boasted while voting away the remnants of liberty in Canada the other day, that during the last war no one had offered to confiscate his valuable estate in New York, but it had been handed back to him ready for sale, enhanced in value, while had had been doing his best, with his brother General Ellice, to injure and ruin the Union, and has since been in this way furnished with the means to do so again. You and me have our land confiscated by an expost facto law passed in a colony of Upper Canada, because we tried to preserve at least a vestige of civil liberty. While this Ellice’s Attornies are screwing the last dollar out of the Canadians for their feudal lord, and draining the dollars from these States to be employed to coerce them on the ocean if his nephew Durham can so unite the discords of Canada as to the report favorably of a struggle with this Union! Depend upon it, my dear Stewart, there is not one man belonging to these foreign British estates, either as agent or principal, but would pay his quota to circulate Bond’s speech or any thing else by which he might hope to ruin in the people’s estimation the honest, clearheaded truly American government, their wisdom and sound judgement has placed at the helm of affairs in Washington. The Orangemen here, too, hate democracy; they make less noise than with us, but are whigs to a man. They make no mistake – ever the enemies of human freedom they cling to the party which, whatever may be its professicus, is in reality the counterpart of the French Doctrinaires or English Whigs, and struggling hard to bring America within the pale of courtly creeds, money lords, and established churches backed by national debts and hireling bayonets.
Go to the west and enquire into the effects of encouraging Pulteney Estates, Holland Land Companies, and a thousand other schemes to drain the country of its means, and force its people to depend on insolvent monopolies. Go to the west [of United States] John Stewart, and you will see further evidence of the good sense of America’s president, in that he is averse to precipitate a war between monarchical England and the Democracy of these States, if upon honourable terms it can be avoided. Ask who own the finest lands on the Mississippi? Inform yourself of the vast amount of mortgages on real estate, stocks, houses, churches, ships, every kind of property yielding high revenues are owned in Britain, and pay her agents annual tribute, and no longer wonder that her statesmen see in war no certain evidence of a Canadian conquest which would alike secure the whole nation and the provinces against the effects of whig tactics in after years.
Thirdly. – If I were to stop now to show you what a vast share of the American trade is monopolized by foreign lords and gentlemen, agents and so forth, under the American flag, and its evil effects upon the country, you would soon acknowledge with me that there are other ways besides fighting to reduce a government under foreign sway. The whig leaders know that, too, as I will show you in a future letter, and go on in the meantime to another mode by which monopoly has drained America of the fruits of her labour.
Fourthly. – When the country had what is called a National Bank (it should have been termed a National scourge), that bank could regulate the issues of notes of the other banks, because it was the public treasurer, and when their notes were paid at its counter for duties, it might send and ask specie for every one of them, and thus prevent any bank from over issuing. But although it could thus cash any one of the small fry, its little rivals, in case of an attempt to issue more paper than the little bank had the means to pay, the nation was entirely at the mercy of this national bank, for as it was impowered by law to pay out its own notes in all payments to be made by the government, over and above the notes it threw into circulation, by itself and its branches in the way of discounts, &c. &c., and had also the real or nominal capital of its stockholders, the deposites of companies and individuals desirous to stand well with the great monied power of America, and the whole national revenue paid into its coffers in gold and silver, or their equivalent, it was enabled to uphold and give consistency to corruption by bribing the press, by discounting largely to members of Congress, by giving enormous law fees to influential legal statesmen, by establishing trade, setting up merchants, men of straw, with its loans; – extending its discounts perhaps to 80 millions one month, and reducing them to 20 or 40 soon after. – Tempting the little banks to trade and speculate on their trust funds in one season, coming down upon them for the last dollar in another. In short, it exercised the power of doubling the importations from England at will, and regulated the exchanges, sent out the hard cash to its masters the Baring’s [bank] in Europe, speculated upon the produce of the taxes entrusted to its safe keeping, and created artificial poverty in 1819 and artificial plenty in 1830. The men who wielded this power were federalists, national enemies, if I may so call them, of the people and their democratic ways, and the country had no direct nor indirect check upon their proceedings. A few stockholders in Europe and America elected the lords of this money principally, and ‘their high mightiness’ declared war on the excellent man[American president] Andrew Jackson, he stood his ground, America backed him with her millions, again the monster entered the ring, again the old hero floored it, and again did this noble people back their glorious champion. His successor is treading in his honoured steps, and I hope that although the fight has been renewed with redoubled fury, Mr. [Martin]Van Buren’s honest and enlightened recommendations for a separation of the financial affairs of the government from the trading and juggling of the insolvent banks with the public money, set at nought by a federal-conservative-whig majority in the House of Representatives, that the sound part of the community will prevail, and this great nation take one other forward step in the grand career of human freedom….
I dare not write home now, but by stealth, else I should have communicated with our kind comrades of Esquesing, I think the day is not far off in which the persecuted reformers of Upper Canada will be as severely tried by prosperity, as some of the most faithful of them now are by a sternly adverse lot. And if such should be the case, I trust it will be found that no selfish or ambitious motive has guided their recent conduct. At the hospitable mansion of your pious and excellent parents I have met with a highland welcome before now, and I reckon as among the ‘pleasures of hope’ the happy period when we shall once more listen to the words of eternal truth from your patriotic pastor, who, to the honor of the gospel be preached and the land of Wallace nobly spurned the livery of Canada’s oppressors, the times when our friends of the Scotch Block shall no more clank in sorrow, the chain of the despot, but have the wide Atlantic sea for a barrier to the yoke of the Durhams, and Arthurs, and Colbornes for ever.
W.L. MACKENZIE ”
Mackenzie’s departure from neutrality in American politics, as illustrated in this letter, cost him dearly. By the end of September, 1838, the cancellations of subscriptions to Mackenzie’s Gazette in the New York counties of Jefferson, Monroe, Fuller and St. Lawrence, numbered two hundred. In the 1838 New York State elections, Mackenzie supported incumbent governor William Learned Marcy, whom he believed was the best candidate to strengthen Van Buren’s chances of winning a second term. Marcy lost to William Seward.
This would not be the last blow to Mackenzie. He was arrested and tried in Canandaigua, New York by American authorities for breaching the United States Neutrality Act. Mackenzie was convicted on May 30, 1839, fined $10, and sentenced to 18 months incarceration. At his request, he was imprisoned in the Rochester Jail on June 21, 1839. This would enable him to continue to publish the Gazette while behind bars. Mackenzie spent 11 months in jail before being pardoned by American President Van Buren on May 2, 1840. It was believed that his loyalty to Van Buren had helped to facilitate his early release, and he was set free on May 10, 1840.
In the 1840 presidential election, Van Buren was defeated by the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison. Mackenzie had again bet on the wrong horse! This miscalculation resulted in further personal challenges. Subscriptions to the Gazette continued to plummet, as did Americans’ interest in the whole Canadian cause. When the last issue was published on December 23, 1840, the paper was closed down and its remaining assets sold.
John Stewart Jr. was pardoned in May of 1843. He and his family returned to Canada, and once more lived and farmed in Esquesing Township. He eventually sold this property for $20,000, and in 1875 he purchased the Paisley Agricultural Works from James Laidlaw. The Stewart clan then moved from Halton County to Bruce County in May of that year. It is not known whether Mackenzie’s 1838 letter to Stewart had any impact on him. It is certainly not mentioned in Stewart’s memoirs. Further, neither his daughter Jean (Jeannie) Mackenzie Stewart (see MacKay, Daughter), nor his granddaughter May Boyle (see Pennington, Rebel), make any reference to or comment about the letter sent by the rebel leader to their relative. John Stewart Jr. died on July 23, 1893, and was buried in the Paisley Cemetery.
William Lyon Mackenzie was pardoned twice. As noted above, his first pardon was granted on May 2, 1840 by U.S. President Martin Van Buren. He had been imprisoned for breaking the American Neutrality Act. Then again he was pardoned in February of 1849 by the Canadian government, for his participation in the rebellions of 1837 and 1838. Mackenzie moved back to Toronto, was elected and sat as a member of the legislature from 1851 to 1858. He died on August 28, 1861 and is buried in Toronto.
*For more details about this escape, see John C. Carter, “Patriot Chronicles: The Mass Escape From Fort Henry, Some Personal Reflections,” Thousand Islands Life Magazine (July, 2013), v. 8, # 7, and John C. Carter, “Some Period Reflections Regarding the Mass Escape From Fort Henry on July 29, 1838,” Historic Kingston (2015). For excerpts from an August 13, 1838 letter sent from Watertown, New York, by John Stewart and other escapees to William Lyon Mackenzie, see Mackenzie’s Gazette (January 25, 1840). It said in part, “You can hardly imagine our feelings of joy at being released from bondage, and at our good fortune in arriving safe among the most kind hearted people on earth. On the part of the inhabitants of this place [Watertown] nothing has been lacking for our comfort and safety; every mark of kindness has been bestowed on us.” By the end of August, 1838, it was reported that John Stewart along with fellow escapees John Anderson, and Michael and Thomas Sheppard had arrived in Detroit, Michigan aboard the steamboat Buffalo. John Stewart would eventually move back to New York State. During this period of his exile and at various times, he resided in Covington, Peoria and Rochester with his wife Mary (nee Scott) and their three children.
**The original letter has been edited and abridged by the author. See Mackenzie’s Gazette (August 18, 1838) for the complete text. For a period subscriber’s reaction to this letter, see “Domestic Correspondence of Mackenzie’s Gazette,” Mackenzie’s Gazette (September 1, 1838). For two other similar letters that Mackenzie wrote and published during this period, see Mackenzie’s Gazette, July 21, and August 25, 1838. Mackenzie’s support of positions taken by American President Martin Van Buren was noted in an excerpt from an article in the New York Gazette, which was re-printed in the November 19, 1838 edition of the Quebec Gazette. It said in part that Mackenzie was seen “…as an advocate of Van Burenism in this city [New York].” Mackenzie reiterated some of his previous arguments in an October 12, 1839 letter from Rochester to his old reformer friend, Brockville resident Andrew Norton Buell. He reflected; “It is very fortunate that we rebels of Toronto failed. It has given some of the constitution makers, that we would have been, a taste of working of the free institutions, so called, where they are in practice – and has convinced me that the weak part of the American constitution lies here. The Fathers of this republic [United States] are famous for having established constitutions nearly on this plan by Paine – they provided against a nobility – a state church – primogeniture and half blood laws – monarchy and so on, but corporations, monopolies, banks, of issue, they either left untouched, or, if they did not, the judges have so expanded their acts. And this inlet to Knavery is unsettling everything and giving a mercenary character to a people formed to be an example to the world.”
*** Why did Mackenzie write and then publish this tense and sometimes disjointed letter? He agreed with American President Martin Van Buren’s desire to establish an independent treasury instead of a national bank, that the British had formed, and which benefitted (he believed) the rich and harmed the common man. Mackenzie decided that Van Buren was striving to carry out the principles of Jacksonian democracy, and defending labourers and farmers against the threat of monopolies. Mackenzie was also a supporter of the radical Jacksonian Loco-Focos (originally the Equal Rights Party), who were anti-monopoly, anti-bank, and hard currency men who also backed Van Buren’s treasury idea. Mackenzie railed against the dangers of a moneyed aristocracy taking over power in the United States, and like Van Buren, he advocated an independent U.S. Treasury and restrictions on the use of paper money. He shared these ideas with John Stewart Jr., a supporter that he obviously felt highly of. For a good synopsis of these complex arguments and their possible impact on Upper Canada, see Gates, After, pp. 35-46.
**** For more information about the steamer Sir Robert Peel, see John C. Carter, “The Destruction of the Sir Robert Peel and Its Aftermath,” Thousand Islands Life Magazine (April, 2013), v. 8, # 4.
The author would like to thank Bob Garcia, Susan Hughes, Adrian King, Dr. John Omohundro, Chris Raible, Mark Rowe, Susan Smith and Bill Stewart for their assistance and advice in writing this article. Dr. John C. Carter is currently a Research Associate, History & Classics Programme, School of Humanities, the University of Tasmania. He is also a life member of the Bruce County Historical Society, chair of the South Bruce Peninsula Municipal Heritage Committee, and Vice-chair of the East York Foundation. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bibliography and Suggested Reading:
Andrew Bonthius, “The Patriot War of 1837-1838: Locofocoism With a Gun?,” Labour/LeTravail (Fall, 2003), v. 52.
Robert Burnett (ed.). “John Stewart Jr.; The Adventures of an Esquesing Rebel in 1837-38,” Georgetown Independent (December 14, 1983, January 4, 1984, & February 1, 1984).
John C. Carter, “John Stewart’s Rebellion Experiences,” Bruce County Historical Society Historical Notes Yearbook Edition (2013).
John C. Carter, “Mackenzie’s Letter to the People of St. Lawrence County,” The St. Lawrence County Historical Association Quarterly (2016), v. 61, # 1.
John C. Carter, “Patriot Chronicles: Mackenzie’s Letter to Bill Johnston,” Thousand Islands Life Magazine (July, 2015), v. 10, #7.
Robert W. Garcia, “The Period of Desperate Enterprise; British efforts to secure Kingston from rebellion in the winter of 1837-1838,” Ontario History (Autumn, 2009), v. CI, # 2.
Lillian F. Gates. After the Rebellion (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1988).
Lillian F. Gates, “The Decided Policy of William Lyon Mackenzie,” Canadian Historical Review (1959), v. 40, # 3.
Edwin C. Guillet. The Lives and Times of the Patriots (Toronto: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1938).
Charles Lindsey. The Life and Times of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie (Toronto: P.R. Randall, 1862).
Mary I. MacKay. The Experiences of John Stewart the Rebel (Southampton: Bruce County Historical Society, 2009).
Mary I. MacKay. The Rebel’s Daughter (Southampton: Bruce County Historical Society, 2010).
William Lyon Mackenzie, “A Letter to John Stewart Jun.,” Mackenzie’s Gazette (August 18, 1838).
William Lyon Mackenzie, “A Letter to the People of St. Lawrence County, N.Y.,” Mackenzie’s Gazette (August 25, 1838).
William Lyon Mackenzie. Life and Times of Martin Van Buren (Boston: Cooke & Co., 1846).
William Lyon Mackenzie. Mackenzie’s Own Narrative of the Late Rebellion with Illustrations and Notes, Critical and Explanatory: Exhibiting the Only True Account of What Took Place at the Memorable Siege of Toronto (Toronto: Palladium Office, 1838).
William Lyon Mackenzie, “To William Johnson, Now Encamped in Upper Canada on the Islands in the River St. Lawrence, Contending for the Liberty of His Native Country,” Mackenzie’s Gazette (July 21, 1838).
James Maxwell, “Three Loco Foco Projects,” Mackenzie’s Gazette (September 8, 1838).
A.B. McCallum, “Contest for Responsible Government in Provinces: Talk With a Mackenzie Rebel,” [Toronto] Globe (May 17, 1890).
A.B. McCallum, “John Stewart’s Eulogy,” Bruce County Historical Society Notes (August, 2009), v. 51, # 2.
n.a. “Extract of a letter addressed by the Prisoners who escaped from Fort Henry, U.C.,” Mackenzie’s Gazette (January 25, 1840).
n.a. “Our Advice to Every Sincere Friend of Canada on the Frontier,” Mackenzie’s Gazette (October 27, 1838).
n.a. “Story of the Rebellion of 1837: Thrilling Experiences of the Late John Stewart of Paisley, a Mackenzie Rebel,” Paisley Advocate (May 14, 1924).
n.a. “The Firebrand Knife and Bludgeon For Van Buren,” Mackenzie’s Gazette (September 15, 1838).
n.a. “To the People of Upper Canada,” Mackenzie’s Gazette (January 11, 1840).
Mabel G. Olney, “William Lyon Mackenzie: Rochester Newspaper Man,” University of Rochester Library Bulletin (Winter, 1964), v. XVII, # 2.
Doris Tucker Pennington, “Rebel With A Cause: John Stewart: 1808 – 1893,” Bruce County Historical Society Year Book (1978).
Chris Raible, “James Mackenzie, Advocate for Canadian Freedom,” Australasian Canadian Studies (2007), v. 25, # 2.
Chris Raible, with John C. Carter and Darryl Withrow. From Hands Now Striving to Be Free (Toronto: York Pioneer & Historical Society, 2009).
J. Mark Rowe et al (eds.), “John Stewart Jr.; The Adventures of an Esquesing Rebel in 1837-38,” Esquesing Historical Society Collections 3 (Georgetown: Esquesing Historical Society & Halton Hills Public Libraries, 1995).
John Stewart Fonds, Bruce County Archives, Southampton, Ontario.