Along the St. Lawrence River, just east of the town of Prescott, is a stone lighthouse. It marks the site of the Battle of the Windmill, which took place in November of 1838. I had to think about this. Eighteen-thirty eight? Most of the historic sites around this part of the world relate to the War of 1812. Then it came floating back to me from history classes many years ago. The Upper Canada Rebellion! William Lyon Mackenzie, 1837 and all that. But I was still confused because I thought that the events associated with the short-lived rebellion took place in Toronto. However, there is more to the story. In 1838, a group of rebels, the Patriot Hunters, with popular support in the northern states, planned to invade Canada and liberate Canadians from their British colonial masters. Unfortunately, much of the Canadian population was sympathetic to British rule.
On November 12, 1838, a force of about 250 Hunters occupied the hamlet of Newport and its windmill, a strong stone structure. British militia and a force of about 600 Canadians arrived and a standoff ensued. When no support arrived from America, and after a final assault on November 16th, the Hunters were forced to surrender. Eleven men were subsequently executed and another 60 were transported to Australia. That’s the condensed version. You can find more detailed information here.
The windmill is open daily over the summer months. When I visited, I met the two guides, the very knowledgeable and well-informed Nick, left, and the very enthusiastic Mick. Mick escorted me up the windmill to its upper level and provided some details of its history, while Nick provided additional information about the history of the Rebellion. The structure was converted from a mill to a lighthouse in 1874. A series of stairs provides access to the upper level, where you can enjoy an excellent view of the St. Lawrence river.
There are assorted historic markers in and around the lighthouse, but with the help of Nick and Mick, I didn’t feel I needed to read them all. However, this plaque, currently placed halfway up the stairs inside the windmill, caught my eye.
History, like youth, is wasted on the young. It takes a certain amount of world experience and a broader perspective than most 12 year olds have attained to really appreciate events of the past and their impact on the world we inhabit now. Change did come to Upper Canada. In 1848, the Province of Canada received responsible government. In the long run, the reformers won. Amnesty was granted to William Lyon Mackenzie and the rebels in February of 1849. Memory of the events at the Windmill faded away and the battle became a footnote in history books, the Windmill a tourist stop. However, the reality of those 4 days in 1838, and how they effected the lives of people living here then, was brought back to me when I came across the gravestone of Captain George Drummond, commemorated on the plaque above, in the Spencerville Cemetery. The motif at the top of his stone shows his rifle laying beneath a willow tree. His epitaph reads:
Death thou hast conquered me
And by thy dart I am slain
But Christ shall conquer thee
And I shall rise again.