Battle of the Windmill
- The "Battle of the Windmill" is also a fictional battle in the book Animal FarmAnimal FarmAnimal Farm is an allegorical novella by George Orwell published in England on 17 August 1945. According to Orwell, the book reflects events leading up to and during the Stalin era before World War II...
The Battle of the Windmill was a battle fought in November 1838 in the aftermath of the Upper Canada Rebellion
Upper Canada Rebellion
The Upper Canada Rebellion was, along with the Lower Canada Rebellion in Lower Canada, a rebellion against the British colonial government in 1837 and 1838. Collectively they are also known as the Rebellions of 1837.-Issues:...
. Loyalist forces of the Upper Canadian government defeated an invasion attempt by Hunter Patriot insurgents based in the United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
BackgroundAfter the first rebellion by disaffected Upper Canadians was suppressed in 1837, the majority of the rebel leaders fled to the United States. Popular sentiment in the States believed that the Canadians were eager to overthrow British rule and form a republic
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. In modern times, a common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of...
patterned after the American model, and an organization known as the Hunter Patriots was formed to assist the rebellion. Organized in neo-Masonic secret lodges, and with widespread support in the northern border states from Vermont to Wisconsin, the Patriot Hunters aimed to invade Canada and lead an army of insurgent Canadians against the British colonial government. In reality, much of the Canadian population was loyal to existing British institutions and decidedly against the prospects of revolution or invasion.
In November 1838, a group of Hunter Patriots decided that it was time to invade Canada and restart the rebellion. They chose as their target the town of Prescott
Prescott is a town of approximately 4,180 people on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River in Leeds and Grenville United Counties, Ontario, Canada. The Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, 5 km east of Prescott in Johnstown, connects it with Ogdensburg, New York...
, on the north bank of the St. Lawrence River downriver from Kingston. Prescott is the site of Fort Wellington
Fort Wellington National Historic Site is a historic military fortification located on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River at Prescott, Ontario...
, a British military fortification which commanded the St. Lawrence River and which was serving as a fortified depot for the Upper Canadian militia. To initiate the strike, a large group of Hunters assembled in Sackets Harbor, New York
Sackets Harbor, New York
Sackets Harbor is a village in Jefferson County, New York, United States. The population was 1,386 at the 2000 census. The village was named after land developer and owner Augustus Sackett, who founded it in the early 19th century.The Village of Sackets Harbor is within the western part of the...
and descended the River to Ogdensburg
Ogdensburg is the name of several places in the United States of America:* Ogdensburg, New Jersey* Ogdensburg, New York* Ogdensburg, WisconsinOther uses:*Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge connects Ogdensburg, New York to Prescott in Canada...
in civilian vessels. Overall military command of the insurgent forces was held by John Birge, a senior member of the Hunter organization in New York state.
Attempted seizure of PrescottEarly in the morning of November 12, a force of about 250 men attempted to land in Prescott. However, the British had infiltrated the Hunter organization, and had advance warning of the attack. With the element of surprise gone, and with the town militia ready to repel a landing, the Hunter forces were forced to abandon the landing. Both vessels ran aground on a mud flat where the Oswegatchie River flows into the St. Lawrence off Ogdensburg.
Later in the morning, Bill Johnston, Admiral of the Hunter navy, arrived and succeeded in freeing the stranded vessels, which ran downriver to Windmill Point, a promontory located approximately two miles east of Prescott. Here, most of the Hunter forces landed to occupy the hamlet of Newport and its most prominent feature, a large, stone windmill building which enjoyed a panoramic view of the St. Lawrence River as far west as Brockville and eastwards over the Gallop Rapids. The commanders of the Hunters appointed a Swedish immigrant with some military experience, Nils von Schoultz, to command the Hunter forces while the Hunter leadership withdrew to Ogdensburg to collect reinforcements and supplies.
First assaultThe windmill was built of thick stone and stood 60 feet (18.3 m) high on top of a 30 feet (9.1 m) bluff. Although the structure had not been intended to play a role in the invasion, it was an ideal field fortification. Its height would prevent the British forces from approaching unobserved, and its thick stone walls were impervious to small arms and to small field and naval artillery. Early on the morning of 13 November, a force under the command of the militia officers Colonel Plomer Young, Colonel Richard Fraser, and Colonel Ogle Gowan and comprising a handful of British infantry from the 83rd Regiment
83rd Regiment of Foot
The 83rd Regiment of Foot was a British infantry regiment that served in the American Revolutionary War...
and approximately 600 Canadian militiamen invested the Hunter position around Newport. Their attack failed, leaving 13 regulars and militiamen killed along with 70 wounded. Approximately 18 Hunters were also killed along with an unknown number of wounded.
The next several days were a standoff. As time passed, von Schoultz's position had become desperate. Promised reinforcements and supplies never arrived as the United States Navy aided the Royal Navy in blocking egress from Ogdensburg. Law enforcement and military officials in Ogdensburg secured all of the available vessels, and most of the prominent Hunter leaders fled from town to avoid arrest.
Second assaultWith the arrival of heavy artillery from Kingston as well as sizeable detachments of British regulars and Canadian militia, the final attack began with an artillery bombardment of the windmill on November 16. With Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...
gunboats and steamers blocking the Hunters from escaping and casualties mounting, von Schoultz decided to unconditionally surrender.
AftermathIn the aftermath of the battle, almost all of the Hunters were captured and were transported to Kingston
Kingston, Ontario is a Canadian city located in Eastern Ontario where the St. Lawrence River flows out of Lake Ontario. Originally a First Nations settlement called "Katarowki," , growing European exploration in the 17th Century made it an important trading post...
for trial. Eleven people, including the Hunter leader Nils von Schoultz
Nils von Schoultz
Nils von Schoultz was a Finnish-born Swedish national who helped lead the Battle of the Windmill during the Upper Canada Rebellion in 1838....
, were executed; another 60 were sentenced to transportation
Transportation or penal transportation is the deporting of convicted criminals to a penal colony. Examples include transportation by France to Devil's Island and by the UK to its colonies in the Americas, from the 1610s through the American Revolution in the 1770s, and then to Australia between...
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...
. 40 were acquitted, and another 86 were later pardoned and released. Von Schoultz enjoyed the legal counsel of John A. Macdonald
John A. Macdonald
Sir John Alexander Macdonald, GCB, KCMG, PC, PC , QC was the first Prime Minister of Canada. The dominant figure of Canadian Confederation, his political career spanned almost half a century...
, a prominent young Kingston lawyer who would later become the architect of Canada's Confederation
A confederation in modern political terms is a permanent union of political units for common action in relation to other units. Usually created by treaty but often later adopting a common constitution, confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues such as defense, foreign...
in 1867 and the nation's first Prime Minister.
The site of the battle was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1920.
- Graves, Donald E. (2001). Guns Across the River: The Battle of the Windmill, 1838. Friends of Windmill Point. ISBN 1-896941-21-4