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SEYMOUR AN UNWILLING PARTICIPANT?

By Bob Kostoff

History does not relate whether Canadian Edward Seymour was an unwilling participant in the Patriots' War of rebellion to free Canada from Britain or a cowardly liar intent on saving his own skin.

After the initial instigator, William Lyon Mackenzie, left the movement in this area, others continued the battle to free Canada. And Seymour became a key player.

At later trials, he told the court that he left Canada about May 1, 1838, to visit an uncle in Palmyra. On his way back to Canada, he stopped in Manchester (now Niagara Falls) and was accosted on the road by four men with pistols and swords, about June 18.

Earlier, on June 7, Morreau, who listed himself as commander in chief, had issued a proclamation saying, "Canadians, we have at last been successful in planting the standards of liberty in one part of our oppressed country. Fort George and Fort Missisauga are now in our possession." This was a complete fabrication.

Seymour, continuing with his tale, said these men, members of the Patriot army, "arrested" him and took him to a house at the mouth of Cayuga Creek, a rallying point for the Patriots army to take boats to Navy Island and Canada. They said if he did not take an oath to the cause, he would be put to death.

Of course, he joined the Patriot band.

Then, he said, two guards rowed him to Buckhorn Island off Grand Island and ordered him to gather up arms and ammunition cached there, load it in a boat and take it to Navy Island. The next night, the munitions, along with an invasion force, crossed the river to an area near Chippewa.

They then moved inland a short ways, Seymour said, and met a Patriot commander, "who was a stout man, rather tall with dark curly hair and dark complexioned by name of Morreau."

Seymour said he was ordered to take up a musket and join the Patriot army in night combat attack.

Morreau had been promised 300 reinforcements by General McLeod on Navy Island, but, at the moment, Morreau had only 40 men. Meanwhile, Canadian troops, ever vigilant since the rebellion began, moved up troops to the Niagara Frontier.

The Patriot troops, edgy of hiding within Canada, were spoiling for an attack against the village of St. Johns in the Short Hills area, but Morreau was wary. He and Samuel Chandler, disappointed because no reinforcements appeared, wanted to move back to the American side.

But a majority of the troops did not want to leave Canada without making a strike. Morreau stepped down as commander but agreed to go along as a private, as did Chandler. Jacob Beamer assumed command and an attack commenced on the evening of June 20.

On the way, they plundered the homes of Abraham Overholt and his son Martin. They arrived at St. Johns in the early morning hours of Friday, June 21, and attacked Osterhout's Tavern, which served as an outpost for 10 Canadian dragoons.

Maj. Benjamin Wait was among the first attackers who smashed down the door. Musket balls smashed into the building. Some fired up from the first floor to the Canadian troops billeted on the second floor.

About 3 a.m., Sgt. Bailey of the Canadian dragoons realized they were short on powder and ball and, hearing the Patriots threaten to torch the building, decided to surrender. The raiders, after savoring their victory, decided it would be best to make it make to the American shore.

More than 50 rounds were fired into the tavern. Three dragoons were wounded and one killed. Two Patriots were also wounded.

Word of the attack had reached St. Catharines and the Lincoln Cavalry was sent out, followed by infantry units. They hunted down the rebels for three days before capturing the insurgents.

Then followed the interesting trials on charges of treason for the Canadians and waging an illegal war for the Americans in the Patriot army. The trials were held in the courthouse at Niagara (now Niagara-on-the-Lake).

Next: the trial of American James Morreau in Canada.


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Bob Kostoff has been reporting on the Niagara Frontier for four decades. He is a recognized authority on local history and is the author of several books. E-mail him at RKost1@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com July 8 2003