Angus MacDonnell, Part 2

A Man of many interests

Following Angus MacDonnell’s election to the Assembly at York, the following notice appeared in the York Gazette on July 4, 1801:

“Last Friday at the final close of the Poll for a Member to represent the county of Durham, East Riding of the County of York and the County of Simcoe, in the present parliament of this Province, Angus M’Donell, Esq., was declared duly elected, there appearing for him 112 unquestionable votes, and for J. Small, Esq., 32 votes –Majority 80 votes.”

During his brief years in the Assembly, MacDonnell was among the most energetic, productive, able and independent members. He initiated legislation, not always successful, to encourage the cultivation and export of hemp, to better secure land title, to establish a Court of Chancery and to reform the fee schedules of attorneys.

In 1804, MacDonnell was one of the members who objected to Lieutenant Governor Simcoe’s choice of the name of York. In the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada for the year 1804, it is recorded that …”the member for York requested leave to bring before the House of Assembly, a bill to restore the name Toronto because it was more familiar and agreeable to the inhabitants.”

Of all MacDonnell’s many careers, one of the most important, his legal practice, is virtually undocumented. A prominent York lawyer, he was admitted as an attorney on 7 July 1794 and became a barrister in 1797. He was a founding member of the Law Society of Upper Canada and acted as Treasurer from 1801 to 1804. In October 1804, on his way to defend a First Nations man charged with murder, MacDonnell was drowned when the schooner ’Speedy’ sank in a gale off Brighton. All who were aboard perished, including Robert Isaac de Gray, lawyer, Lieut. Jacob Herkimer, a fur trader and merchant in York, James Ruggles, a Yonge Street shopkeeper, Thomas Cochrane, Judge of the King’s Bench and Thomas Paxton, Captain of the ‘Speedy’.

According to a biographical note published in the York Gazette on 4 July 1807, Angus MacDonnell was… an easy-going, pleasant companion, interested in chemical experimentation and the writing of bad poetry.”

In many ways, he was typical of the early absentee landowners in isolated townships such as East and West Flamborough who obtained Crown Patents for large parcels of land, but who were far more interested in government positions and power than in the ownership of property.

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 25 October 2012.


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