Ohio History Journal

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OF 1837-1838


Professor of History and Dean of the Graduate School,

Western Reserve University

The Canadian Rebellion of 1837, an abortive, misguided up-

rising confined to small areas around Montreal and Toronto, and

limited to a small minority of the population, was neither a revolt

against Her Majesty, the young Queen Victoria, nor against Her

Majesty's Government in London, but rather an armed protest

against the abuses of colonial administration in Quebec and

Toronto. In spite of its opera bouffe character, the rebellion had

tremendous importance for the future of Canada and the empire,

for among other things, it led to Lord Durham's famous "Report

on the Affairs of British North America," a document which proved

decisive in the evolution of modern British colonial policy.1

With the failure of armed rebellion in Canada, a number of

the leaders of the uprising fled across the border into the United

States, and in the lake ports and border towns of the American

republic, these refugees found sympathetic supporters who fur-

nished them food and military supplies for a continuance of their

struggle for liberty. The Detroit Morning Post editorially summa-

rized the point of view of many Americans when it commented,

shortly after the disturbances began in Canada:

Although as a nation we would not be justified in being otherwise than

neutral, yet as freeborn Americans-as lovers of liberty-as believers in the

doctrine of equal rights-we cannot but feel the warm gushings of sympathy

for those who are, like our forefathers, oppressed, and who, like them a hand-

ful, are determined to meet the innumerable horde of foreign mercenary

soldiers, and to obtain, in the struggle, Victory or Death.2

The Canadian rebels who occupied Navy Island on the Niagara

frontier late in 1837, received reinforcements from the United

States, and this in turn led to such border brawls as the capture

1 For details, see W. S. Wallace, The Family Compact (Toronto, 1915); A. D.

DeCelles, The 'Patriotes' of '37 (Toronto, 1921); D. B. Read, The Canadian Rebellion

of 1837 (Toronto, 1896); Duncan McArthur, "The Canadian Rebellion of 1837," in

Adam Shortt, ed., Canada and Its Provinces (22 vols., Toronto, 1914), III, 361-383;

and Carl Wittke, A History of Canada (3d ed., New York, 1941), chaps. ix-xi.

2 Quoted in Cleveland Daily Advertiser, December 1, 1837.