Friday, 19 November 2010

Vermont and the rebellions

Vermont is a small state in the north-east of the United States, less than a hundred kilometres from Montreal and which played a significant strategic role during the rebellions of 1837-1838. Vermonters were intensively involved during the period of the rebellions in part out of sympathy for the Patriote cause but also because it was on their territory that many Patriotes sought refuge. Many were committed to the Patriotes as partisans of freedom but also because individuals such as Brown, Nelson and O’Callaghan spoke their language. Several were involved in the crusade in favour of democracy in Canada. [1] Despite this, the mass of the population in Vermont did not want to precipitate serious conflict with a nation as powerful as Great Britain.[2]

Originally peopled by Amerindians (Algonquins, Abénakis, Iroquois), the territory of Vermont was originally explored in 1609 by Samuel de Champlain who named the area ‘Les Verts Monts’ and later villages were established to the west of the Green Mountains. In 1763, the area was ceded to Britain in the Treaty of Paris. In 1775, Ethan Allen and the ‘Green Mountain Boys’ hoped to conquer part of Canada and proclaim their autonomy from New Hampshire and the state of New York. Finally, Vermont was an independent republic from 1777 until 1791 when it became the fourteenth state of the new American Republic. During the War of 1812, soldiers from Vermont were involved in the campaigns in the autumns of 1812 and 1813 and in the summer of 1814. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, largely because of depression in agriculture, French Canadians began to move in increasing numbers into Vermont and other American states. Parallel to this, loyalist Americans who were committed to the British crown were settling in the Cantons de l’Est.[3]

In 1837, the governor of Vermont was Sir Silas H. Jennison, a Whig who had held the office since 1825. The United States President was Andrew Jackson who had held the post since 1829 and was now at the end of his second term. A lawyer, Jackson was the national hero of the War of 1812 as the victor of the Battle of St Orleans, was in favour of slavery and was vehemently against patronage. The National Republicans or Whigs opposed him. Jackson’s expected heir and closest adviser was Martin Van Buren, a lawyer from New York and vice-president since 1832. He became president in his turn in 1837, a post he held until 1841. The panic of 1837 resulted in hundreds of banks, companies and farmers going bankrupt and it took five years for the American economy to recover. [4]

It was in this context that many people in Vermont, already characterised by a particularly independent spirit, decided to support and help the French Canadian Patriotes.[5] From 1834, more and more Americans from Vermont took part in the Patriote assemblies at Stanbridge, Potton and Montreal. Some, such as Cyrus Myrick, enlisted in the Patriote units stationed on the border. Others offered their services to help the Patriotes in their fight for democracy. [6] This was the case with Alonzo Jackman who visited Lower Canada in the summer of 1838 to assess British readiness for defence. This kind of initiative was hardly encouraged by the American army spread out thinly along the northern border. [7]

At the beginning of 1838, the Patriote refugees in Vermont were ready for further action following the initial failure of rebellion in late 1837. On 28 February, Robert Nelson proclaimed the Republic of Lower Canada and shortly after the Frères Chasseurs, a secret organisation, was developed. [8] In Vermont, the independence movement was supported by Protestant millenarians and evangelists. Some Americans joined the Frères Chasseurs and published advertisements in newspapers inviting all of goodwill to join the ‘Great Wolf Hunt’ planned for the end of 1838. Gatherings in support of the Patriotes were held across Vermont: at Westford, Barre, Swanton, Burlington, Ludlow, Northfield, Royalton, Danville, Middlebury and especially Saint-Albans, the headquarters of the movement. [9] At Derby, the Patriotes established their newspaper, the Canadian Patriot. On the border, the situation proved difficult for the United States government that took measures to maintain its neutrality by increasing its military presence.[10]

The political tensions of the 1830s, the economic and religious crises of this decade and the independent attitudes of many Vermonters explain why the Patriotes received support there. Several Patriotes, such as Cyrille-Hector Octave Côté and Julius Gagnon, remained as refugees in the United States until their deaths.[11]


[1] Oury, Guy-Marie, Le Vermont au fil de l’histoire, (Abbaye Saint-Pierre de Solmes, Westfield, Vermont), 1993, p. 39.

[2] Saint-Pierre, T., The Americans and Canada 1837-38, Authentic documents compiled by T. Saint-Pierre, (A.P. Pigeon), 1897, p. 3; Duffy, John J, & Muller, H, Nicholas III, An Anxious Democracy, Aspects of the 1830s, (Greenwood Press), 1982, p. 60.

[3] Fortin, Réal, Les Patriotes du Haut-Richelieu et la bataille d’Odelltown, (SNQ), 1987, p. 27.

[4] Duffy, John and Muller, H, Nicholas, ‘The Great Wolf Hunt: The Popular Response in Vermont to the Patriote Uprising of 1837’, Journal of American Studies, Vol. 8, (1974), pp. 153-169

[5] Ibid, Duffy, John J, & Muller, H, Nicholas III, An Anxious Democracy, Aspects of the 1830s, p. 6.

[6] Ibid, Duffy, John J, & Muller, H, Nicholas III, An Anxious Democracy, Aspects of the 1830s, p. 10.

[7] Ibid, Oury, Guy-Marie, Le Vermont au fil de l’histoire, pp. 36-38.

[8] Ibid, Duffy, John J, & Muller, H, Nicholas III, An Anxious Democracy, Aspects of the 1830s, p. 50.

[9] Ibid, Duffy, John J, & Muller, H, Nicholas III, An Anxious Democracy, Aspects of the 1830s, p. 23.

[10] Oury, Guy-Marie, Le Vermont au fil de l’histoire, pp. 39-40, 63.

[11] Ibid, Fortin, Réal, Les Patriotes du Haut-Richelieu et la bataille d’Odelltown, p. 13.

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