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The Rebellions Part 2: Hunters' Lodges and the "Loyal" Reaction

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rebellions.3.jpg(**Continued from The Rebellions Part 1: The Political Context)

After the first outbreak of the Rebellions, many of the Patriote leaders were either arrested or, like Papineau, they fled to the United States. The new Governor Lord Durham issued an amnesty, but this did not defuse the situation; nor did Durham receive the support of the British government.

With so many Patriotes congregating south of the border, tensions understandably began to rise in the townships closest to the United States. It was common knowledge that the more determined insurgents were desperately trying to drum up American support in Vermont. Others, it was said, were amassing guns for an eventual invasion of Lower Canada. And all the while, H. F. Blanchard, the editor of The Canadian Patriot, kept printing inflammatory rhetoric. "Discard everything which advocates for aristocracy," he said, "and beware the British yoke and galling chain."(1) Blanchard's newspaper was distributed clandestinely in the border townships.

By early 1838, rumours were everywhere that an invasion from south of the border was imminent. Militia companies were mobilized to counter the threat. On the evening of February 26, about 100 insurgents, mostly from the townships of Barnston and Stanstead led by the publisher of The Canadian Patriot, gathered near the border, with the aim of burning the village of Stanstead Plain and disarming the militia stationed there. However, because some members of the group were opposed to burning the village, and others feared arrest, eventually the men disbanded without accomplishing anything. The following night, a raid was made on Potton from across the border at North Troy, Vermont. Some 30 or 40 men entered Potton. They confiscated only one musket, however, and when their leader was shot in a skirmish, the group disbanded. B. F. Hubbard wrote that it was a "tragical event [which] seemed to take the courage out of the whole party."(2)

Following these events and the growing unease among authorities in the Townships, some 400 to 500 militia volunteers were called to Potton from Sutton, Brome, Stanstead, and Sherbrooke to prevent any further incursions. Not surprisingly, in the face of such overwhelming numbers, no such attempts were made.

That is to say, no further overt rebellious acts were attempted. What actually occurred was that the insurgents went quietly underground. Activity now took the form of mysterious secret societies known as Hunters' Lodges. Modeled on the Frères Chasseurs of French Canada, Hunters' Lodges were created in Potton, Bolton, Shefford, and Sutton. Their purpose was to "supply shock troops within the province in combination with an invading force from the United States to overthrow British power.(3) Dr. Amos Lay, a leader of one local Lodge, lived next to the strategic Bolton Pass. His home is pictured to the left of the road in the Bartlett print pictured here.(4)

Hunters' Lodges were active in the Townships in the months leading up to the second round of Rebellions in November 1838. Members communicated by secret signs and passwords. They swore oaths to assist their fellow members in times of need, even to the point of seeing their "property destroyed" and their "throat cut to the bone."(5)

medium_rebellions.5.jpgLike lodges elsewhere in the province, those in the Townships began preparing for a general uprising and invasion that would take place in November 1838. However, after a few minor incidents and a failed attempt by the Patriotes to acquire guns, the uprising was once again quelled. Lodges in the Townships were apparently active in trying to raise weapons, but these efforts fell apart when news arrived of failures elsewhere in the province. Only one other minor skirmish was reported in the Townships, this time in Barnston, when the militia commander Captain Kilborn was severely wounded by rebel gunfire.

Following the second round of Rebellions, secret oaths and membership in the Hunters' Lodges were declared unlawful and treasonous. Governor Lord Durham, seen by the British as too liberal, was replaced by Sir John Colborne. Colborne would act swiftly and severely to crush the uprising. Hundreds of Patriotes were arrested in different parts of the province, and hundreds more went into exile. Some of those tried were executed. Habeas Corpus was suspended, martial law was in effect, and the province was placed under the rule not of an elected legislature but an appointed Special Council.

The conservative or "loyal" reaction in the Eastern Townships was equally severe. Whereas during the uprisings the previous winter, militia units had been mobilized, office-holders of questionable loyalty relieved of their posts, and people asked to swear oaths of allegiance, following the November 1838 uprisings, suspected Patriote sympathizers, including Hunters' Lodge members, were actually arrested, charged with sedition, and jailed without trial (some for as long as five months). One of the more high-profile arrests in the Townships was that of Hatley militia Captain Taylor Wadleigh who was jailed for his political views. Wadleigh was later released after pleading that despite his politics, he was still "a friend to the British Government" under which he lived "from choice and nothing would give him greater satisfaction than the total failure of the Rebels in this Province."(6) Others, however, like Marcus Child, Stanstead Member of the Assembly, chose to leave the country.

Aside from a few isolated acts of violence, there were no further serious episodes along the border. In time, life would return to normal, militia units were disbanded, and Patriote exiles were eventually allowed to return home. In 1841, in an ironic turn of events that did not please the local conservative faction, Marcus Child, back from his exile in the U.S., was re-elected to a restored Legislative Assembly. Such was the depth of sympathy in the region for the Patriote cause.

1) The Canadian Patriot, February 16, 1838.
2) Both episodes are described in B. F. Hubbard, Forests and Clearings, 1874, 13-14.
3) Elinor Senior, Redcoats and Patriots, 1985, 155.
4) Harry B. Shufelt, Nicholas Austin the Quaker and the Township of Bolton, 1971, 134.
5) Senior, ibid.
6) Matthew Farfan, Hunters Lodges in Potton and Bolton, Yesterdays of Brome County, Brome County Historical Society, Vol. 8, 1991, 40-43.