The Short Hills Raid of 1838
Many of you will know about the Rebellions of 1837, which culminated in William Lyon’s Mackenzie’s occupation of Navy Island in the Niagara River. The anti-colonial spirit carried on, however, in the form of the Hunters Lodge, a secret organization of Canadians and Americans who worked towards the common goal of creating a republican government in Canada.
In response to this threat, the British colonial government stationed regiments of soldiers- both commissioned ‘regulars’ and volunteer militiamen- along the Niagara Frontier in the spring of 1838. Some of those militia members, stationed at Drummondville, visited the museum on June 14, 1838. These were Henry Jones Ruttan, C.S. Feuleson (Finlaison?), Henry Brent, William H. Kingsmile, Samuel S. Carver, and M.H. Kelly of the ‘Queen's Own’ Regiment; as well as Lieut. W. James Magrath of the ‘Queen’s Lancers’. How could they have expected that just one week later, they would be dealing with violent revolutionaries?
The fear of a rebel incursion into Niagara proved not to be unfounded. On June 10, 1838, a small group of rebels led by James Morreau crossed the Niagara River at Grand Island. They made their way to Short Hills, near present day Fonthill. They hid out in the woods and in the homes of sympathetic farmers waiting for orders from the leadership of the Hunter’s Lodge and attempting to drum up local support for their movement.
The first chink in their plan began to form as they weren’t able to recruit nearly as many men as they had hoped- a dozen, perhaps, rather than hundreds. Then when they received their orders, carried to them by Linus Miller, they were instructed to retreat back to the United States at once. The rebel leadership had planned a large scale attack to take place symbolically on July 4th, and did not want this renegade raid to attract government attention to their cause.
The rebels, however, did not want to leave without seeing action. On the evening of June 21st, they attacked Osterhaut’s Tavern in St. John’s Village, where a small detachment of the Queen’s Lancers were boarded for the evening. A sentry warned the militiamen of the imminent attack and they barricaded themselves on the second floor of the building. A firefight between the two sides ensued, injuring one Lancer and two rebels.
After an hour, the rebels began piling straw against the sides of the building and threatened to burn the tavern down if the Lancers did not surrender. The militiamen gave themselves up and were dragged into the nearby forest where the rebels planned to hang seven of them as an example. Luckily, Linus Miller stepped in and pulled rank, convincing the mob to parole the Lancers- release them if they swore to leave the service and not harm rebel soldiers. This they did and were immediately released, hastily making their way back to St. John’s.
Immediately, troops were called up to try and round up the rebels before they were able to retreat back over the border. The Queen’s Own, including those soldiers that signed the guestbook, were one of four militia regiments sent to intercept any rebels who were retreating west. Lieutenant James Magrath, our lone Lancer signatory, was sent to St. Johns with the rest of the regiment to evaluate the situation and made the report below. Some of the preliminary information he reports, such as the number of rebels, is incorrect and based on the impressions of the shaken-up militiamen.
Among the 38 raiders captured, 19 were released, four were jailed, 15 were transported to the Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) penal colony and one, James Morreau, was hanged in Niagara-on-the-Lake on July 30, 1838.