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rebellion of 1837

1837 - 1838



1830 period drawing title






The rebellions of 1837 and 1838 are two armed uprisings taking place in the British colonies of Lower Canada and Upper Canada in 1837 and 1838. These uprisings, which take place in the midst of economic and agricultural crises, are caused by the refusal, on the part of the British colonial authorities, to grant the political reforms demanded by the Legislative Assemblies, including the establishment of responsible government. In Lower Canada, this conflict is coupled with a desire to emancipate the French-speaking majority from the political and economic domination of the British minority. 
The rebellions took place in the colonies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, that is to say, in the southern part of the present Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The rebellion in Lower Canada began first in November 1837 and was led by Wolfred, Robert Nelson and Louis-Joseph Papineau. This rebellion would have inspired the much shorter rebellion in Upper Canada led by William Lyon Mackenzie in December.

In both cases, the number of insurgents was much smaller than that of British troops and militia loyal to the regime, their very limited weaponry, and very little knowledge of military tactics. The few battles were therefore rather one-sided. The rebels were usually surrounded quickly and had to surrender after a few hours.



The two uprisings had to be coordinated, but in fact the uprising in Upper Canada was short. The patriots were short of arms in relation to the number of men they had, the first act of rebellion occurred on November 4, 1837 when a troop of seventy-five of them, under the command of Joseph-Narcisse Cardinal , had a misfortune trying to win against loyal people of Kahnawake. In his Rebellion: The Rising of French Canada 1837 , Joseph Schull recounts the events: An Indian woman, who was searching for a lost cow, saw the approaching group and ran to warn its leader. She found him at Mass and the church was quickly emptied. When the patriots entered the path leading to the village, the surrounding woods swarmed with Indians. The chief advanced alone, and gravely inquired as to the object of this visit. Cardinal informed him, just as gravely, that the patriots were in great need of arms. And in the name of what authority, asked the chief, is such a request made? "In the name of this," replied Cardinal, taking a pistol out of his pocket and pointing it at the chief's head.

This was his last warlike gesture. With a quick gesture, the leader spread the weapon. A fearful war cry broke the Sunday calm, and the patriots found themselves surrounded by a hundred armed warriors. Of the seventy-five they were, only eleven managed to escape. In the middle of the morning, the Caughnawaga warriors had crossed to Lachine to deliver the sixty-four rebels to the Lachine Volunteer Cavalry.


The rebellion of 1837-1838 in Lower Canada was much more violent than that in Upper Canada. In the spring and summer of 1837, reformist leaders, chiefly Louis-Joseph Papineau, leader of the Patriot Party, took advantage of long-standing political tensions to form a large rebel force. The situation was so tense that in October 1837 all regular British troops were withdrawn from Upper Canada and transferred to Lower Canada. The rebel troops were not strong enough in the face of the large colonial military force under General John Colborne, supplemented by a large number of loyal Orangemen from Upper Canada. The rebel Patriots faced Loyalist troops and militia on three occasions: Saint-Denis, Saint-Charles and Saint-Eustache. Martial law was declared and many rebels, including Louis-Joseph Papineau, had to flee to the United States. Hundreds were arrested, several were deported to Australia, others were hanged in Pied-du-Courant prison in Montreal.

To bring this insurrection together, contingents of Indian warriors from Kahnawake (Caughnawaga), Akwesasne (St. Regis) and Kanasatake (Oka) had been assembled. In early November 1837, a troop of fifty Mohawks (Mohawks) from Akwesasne served alongside white militiamen dispatched from Cornwall (Upper Canada) and volunteers from the town of Huntingdon during counter-insurgency operations along the way. from the Châteauguay River. A few days before the battle of St. Eustache, where the authorities expected a hard commitment, some two hundred warriors from Kahnawake joined forces loyalists in the vicinity of Montreal and Lachine.

Grand River Iroquois, led by Métis William Johnson Kerr, and Tyndinaga (Deseronto) Mohawks, led by John Culbertson, helped repel both the rebels from within and the US-based "Patriots". Tyendinaga had enough men to form a rifle company, but it is unclear whether such a company was born.

Bands of Sauteux from the Lake Huron and Simcoe area under the leadership of Musquakie, also known as William Yellowhead, set up camp at Holland Landing to oversee York's Yonge Street military corridor. at Lake Simcoe. At the Narrows (now Orillia, Ontario), other groups mobilized under their leader John Aisance and stood ready to carry, if necessary, assistance to the Crown.