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By Bob Kostoff

The trial of American James Morreau for illegally invading Canada with the Patriots army began on Saturday, July 21, 1838, in the courthouse at Niagara (now Niagara-on-the-Lake), just across the river from Youngstown.

The Solicitor General, William Henry Draper, prosecuted the cases. Morreau was provided a defense counsel, James Boulton, and the judge was Justice Jonas Jones. The courtroom was packed as the witnesses began taking the stand.

The indictment charged Morreau with violating the recently passed law entitled an "Act to protect the inhabitants of this Province against lawless aggressions from subjects of foreign countries at peace with Her Majesty."

James Edy, the soldier who captured Morreau on June 26 at an inn near the Grand River, said Morreau at first gave his name as Morrison and said he was traveling from Queenston to Chatham. Edy, being suspicious, arrested him and took him to Col. Townshend. According to official notes of the judge, Morreau was recognized on the way, then gave his true name to the colonel and said he was a native of Pennsylvania.

The next witness, Edward Seymour, then told his tale of being abducted in Manchester (now Niagara Falls) and taken to Morreau at a house at the mouth of Cayuga Creek. He identified Morreau as well as other participants in the raid at St. Johns.

Seymour may have turned state's evidence to protect himself but, under cross-examination, insisted he acted through compulsion. According to the judge's notes of Seymour's testimony, "He was always watched. He would have made his escape if he could. Orders were given that if anyone attempted to escape, he was to be shot."

But when Seymour was first apprehended after the raid, "he gave a false account of himself," as Seymour later explained, "to avoid trouble."

Robert Bailey, a sergeant in the Queen's Lancers who commanded the small detachment at St. Johns, testified he saw Morreau in the street after the detachment surrendered. He testified Morreau "seemed to have command of the party and was called Colonel. He was armed with a belt having a brace of pistols and a rifle with a white ribbon in his hat and an eagle."

After 14 witnesses testified, the jury retired, but returned in about two minutes with a guilty verdict. Justice Jonas Jones sentenced Morreau to be hanged on Monday, July 30, outside the courthouse, which also served as the jail. Newspaper accounts noted, "Morreau displayed much firmness, only slightly agitated when he received his sentence."

Justice Jones later wrote, "The evidence upon which he was convicted was most clear and satisfactory -- so much so that his Counsel gave up the defense upon the facts admitting that the jury could do no otherwise than convict."

Linus Miller, a compatriot who shared the cell with Morreau, said the condemned man's last words were, "I die a martyr to a righteous cause and I die happy. Death has no sting, for I shall soon wear a crown of glory."

The Niagara Chronicle, a Canadian paper, in writing about the hanging, said Morreau moved his lips in silent prayer as the trap was sprung and he "paid his debt to nature and mankind without a struggle."

The newspaper was stingingly critical of a Lewiston newspaper for instigating Morreau to join the rebellion. The Chronicle reporter wrote, "Where shall we find terms indignant enough to express our feelings toward the Lewiston Telegraph, the malignant, hell-born lines of that paper having contributed to induce Morreau to unite himself with the cause."

Another Canadian paper, the Niagara Reporter, said, "The guilt of Morreau's death is most emphatically on the head of the conductor of the Lewiston Telegraph because by the unparalleled mendacity of that print he was seduced into crime."

The Chronicle also wrote about the large crowd that witnessed the hanging and commented on the many women there. "We allude to the number of respectably dressed females who seemed collected there for the purpose of beholding some pleasurable sight." The paper noted, "In the Old Country no females attend such spectacles except those of totally depraved and wanton habits."


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 15 2003