Saturday, 19 March 2011

Clash at Longueuil 17 November 1837

At dawn on 17th November 1837, constable Mâlo and a detachment of 18 volunteers of the Royal Montreal Cavalry arrived at the village of Saint-Jean.[1] Their orders were to arrest the notary Pierre Paul Demaray and doctor Joseph Davignon, both accused of having taken part several weeks earlier in the assembly at Saint-Charles. Caught in bed, the two men were bound hand and foot and carried on the floor of a wagon escorted by the cavalry along the road to Chambly en-route for Montreal. This was not the quickest route to Montreal and lengthened the journey by about fifteen miles.[2] Amédée Papineau commented that

Au lieu de se rendre tranquillement à Montréal par la route directe du chemin à lisse, afin de semer la terreur dans la campagne, ils résolurent de les conduire par Chambly & Longueuil, distance de 36 milles.[3]

Filteau supported this view suggesting that there was a clear intention ‘to sow terror’ by a military deployment in an area that was already disturbed. [4] This interpretation seems reasonable since on 7 November, shortly after the riots in Montreal and ten days before the arrests on 17 November, Colborne had written to Governor Gosford that he should send troops south of Montreal ‘to reassure the loyal subjects of this region and to dissuade the factions from taking part in new acts of violence.’[5] It appears that the detour by the cavalry was part of the strategy Colborne has planned ten days earlier and that the decision to make the arrests may have been a deliberately provocative act.

Despite the hour, the arrests did not pass unnoticed. As soon as Patriotes heard the news, they rushed to Verchères where Papineau was staying. Papineau told them to: ‘fire upon anyone found in the act of forcibly carrying off any of the radical party’, and they lost no time in following his advice. [6] The news spread through the areas close to the village and by around 6 am there were already about twenty men barring the road near Chambly.[7] However, when faced by the superior force of cavalry the men dispersed but had already sent a messenger to the Patriotes in Longueuil on the route of the convoy. A little later militia captain Joseph Vincent de Longueuil also learned of the arrests and decided to alert Bonaventure Viger de Boucherville[8], an influential militia captain who gathered together a force of 40 according to Filteau or 150 according to Greer to intercept the cavalry. [9] The armed Patriotes were not far from Longueuil on the Chambly road. Chambly itself had been reinforced by a detachment of the 32nd Regiment sent by Colborne and the Attorney-General Richard Ogden who were conscious of the dangers facing the convoy in the Richelieu valley. [10]

Around 9 am, the cavalry was about two miles from Longueuil when it was ambushed by Viger and his men.[11] There is some disagreement about who fired first: Filteau said it was the cavalry while Greer said it was the Patriotes.[12] During the ambush, Viger was wounded in the shoulder and hand.[13] Among the loyalists, Ermatinger was hit by buckshot in his cheek and shoulder and two soldiers, Joshua Woodhouse and John P. Ashton were seriously wounded by shot.[14] John Molson narrowly avoided death when a ball passed close to his head and took off his cap. The cavalry was routed and dispersed across the fields. Viger and his men were then able to free the two prisoners. Mâlo hid in a local farm until he was able to make his escape but Ermatinger quickly returned to Montreal to submit his report of the incident.[15]

The following day, Colborne ordered lieutenant-colonel George Wetherall, accompanied by four companies of the 1st Royal Scots and a troop of the Royal Montreal Cavalry to find and arrest the Patriotes involved in the action.[16] The Montreal Courier made the Loyalist position very clear: ‘Blood has been shed at last by rebels who now stand unmasked and fairly subject to the worst penalties of the laws they have insulted’. [17] The ambush at Longueuil marked the opening action in the armed confrontation between the Patriotes and the forces of the Crown in the autumn of 1837.


[1] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 84.

[2] Ibid, Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, p. 313.

[3] Ibid, Fortin, Réal, La guerre de Patriotes: Le Long du Richelieu, p. 30.

[4] Ibid, Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, p. 313.

[5] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 78.

[6] Cit, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. p. 54.

[7] Ibid, Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, p. 313.

[8] ‘Bonaventure Viger’, DCB, Vol. 10, p. 694.

[9] Ibid, Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, p. 314; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 269.

[10] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 73.

[11] Ibid, Fauteux, Aegidius, Les patriotes de 1837-1838, p. 38.

[12] Ibid, Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, p. 314; ibid, Greer, Allan, The patriots and the people, p. 269.

[13] Ibid, Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, p. 314.

[14] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 84.

[15] Ibid, Filteau, Gérard, Histoire des Patriotes, p. 315.

[16] Ibid, Senior, Elinor Kyte, Les habits rouges et les Patriotes, p. 93.

[17] The Courier, 18 November 1837.

1 comment:

Judy said...

Thank you for making all these fascinating posts. I very much appreciate your efforts.