Major incidents in history are often felt in the smallest of communities, as shown by this Heritage Paper.
Throughout the year 1837, there were many rumours and much discontent in Upper Canada about the Clergy Reserves, about absentee property owners who did not pay taxes nor cut a road in front of their properties, thus isolating the settlers who had cut a road, and by a depression, with poor crops, low prices, bankruptcies and unemployment. All these woes provided fertile ground for the seeds of political revolt that the reformers, William Lyon Mackenzie and Louis-Joseph Papineau had been sowing.
Nevertheless, it was still a great shock to villagers in this area when news of the Mackenzie and Papineau Rebellion reached them.
The Rev. John Miller of Ancaster wrote in his diary on December 10, 1837…
Today, and during the last week, alarms of rebellion have been circulated. Many hundreds of men have been called to Toronto by the government. Mackenzie and his followers are in open rebellion. Many in Toronto and Hamilton have been arrested.1
One incident that occurred in Waterdown during the early days of the Rebellion period of 1837-38 was recorded by Mr. George D. Griffin, the second son of Ebenezer Griffin of Waterdown, who was thirteen years of age in 1837. George Griffin stated that his father was friendly with William Lyon Mackenzie while he confined himself to constitutional methods, but broke with him sometime prior to the Rebellion, and was bitterly attacked in the editorial columns of Mackenzie’s paper, the Colonial Advocate.
The militia, composed of local men, gathered at E.C. Griffin’s home in Waterdown at the time of the Gallows Hill affair, prior to their departure for Toronto. Mr. Griffin recollected…
that cold frosty morning in 1837, when the militia of Flamboro’ East, as are company, gathered in Waterdown in the street just in front of his father’s dwelling, to form up, for marching to Toronto. While the soldiers were gathering, one of Mackenzie’s loyal followers or patriots from nearby Nelson was strolling about, with the rein of his horse’s bridle on his arm, spying out all who mustered. No doubt he knew every soul of them, as did the writer, and counted up how many farms Mackenzie would confiscate to pay his patriots with. The writer has no doubt that in this ‘patriot’s’ heart, the property of the writer’s father — his fair fields, and his flouring mill, woollen factory and saw mill, and his barns and dwelling — were counted as part of the property to be confiscated when success crowned their rebellious efforts.2
During the spring of 1838, fighting continued, but it consisted of spasmodic shooting at the rebels holding out on Navy Island. On February 6, 1838, victory over the rebels was proclaimed, but throughout 1838 there was a patriotic response to the alarm created by the Mackenzie Rebellion, and local militias were strengthened.
Listed below are the twelve regiments that composed the District of Gore Militia, and the territorial limits of each regiment. Officers, with dates of commissions for the 7th Gore Regiment (Township of Flamboro, East and West) are listed following.
Colonel: J. Chisholm — commissioned April 23, 1838Lt. Col: Alex. Brown — all other officers commissioned May 15, 1838
Major: And. Stevens
Adjutant: Joseph Davis
Quarter-Master: R.M. Wheeler
Also: Some Historical and Biographical Notes on the Militia within the limits now constituting the County of Wentworth in the years 1804, 1821, 1824, 1830, 1838 and 1839, with the Lists of Officers. H.H. Robertson“Journal and Transactions of the Wentworth Historical Society” 1905.
Originally published in Heritage Happenings, June 1983.
© The Waterdown-East Flamborough Heritage Society 1983, 2020