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History of the York Rangers
Chapter II


The Raising of the Yorks

THE modern County of York does not by any means comprise the territory which in 1812 and for many years later was designated “York.” Stretching westward from the eastern boundaries of what is now Ontario County as far as the Reserve on the Grand River was a thinly settled district, bearing the name of York, and since divided into a number of prosperous counties any one of which has now far more of population than the York of 1812.

Dealing alone with the modern county limits, its population comprised such a variety of diverse settlements that it would have been a wise prophet who could have foretold what action would be theirs in the event of a war with the United States. The village of York1 (formerly and later again Toronto) with its few hundred inhabitants was of course staunch for the Empire.

And there was a good sprinkling throughout the settled parts of the County of the descendants of those United Empire Loyalists, who had received grants of lands in Upper Canada as a recompense for their sacrifices in the war of the American Revolution. Of what these would do on a call to arms there could be no doubt.

But there were other settlers whose interest in maintaining the British Empire was not quite so obvious. The Oak Ridges had been settled by French Emigres —-nobles, “whose roots were in France,”—and who like the famous Count de Puisaye preferred to hover over the wars of the French Revolution like stormy petrels rather than plow their future as plain colonists in York County.

The neighbourhood of Markham, formerly known, as the “German Mills,” was settled by matter-of-fact Germans, whose local ion there was a feat of pure business reason and not a matter of sentiment. There were Quakers too, of undoubted loyalty, but for conscience sake averse to taking up the sword.

Moreover, there were a considerable number of Americans who had been allured to this region by the fertile beauty of its rich rolling lands. These and their descendants and sundry others, who imbibed from them republican sentiments, were a source of anxiety and in some instances of danger to the defenders of Canada. The most notable instance of this was Ex-sheriff Joseph Willcocks, who having-lost his shrievalty on political grounds, started a newspaper in 1807; was elected,


Major A. G. NICOL Capt. F. H, DUNHAM. Adjutant, Major A. CURRAN

expelled and re-elected as a member of Parliament with advanced republican views; and led His Majesty’s more or less loyal opposition to the then powers-that-be. On the outbreak of the war, he at first loyally bore arms on the Canadian side. But later he deserted with some few other militia ‘whom he could influence and became a terror to the harassed farmers of the Niagara- District until his fitful light was extinguished in honourable battle at the leaguer of Fort Erie.

Notwithstanding the difficulties that must be supposed to have attended the raising of active militia in this vicinity or perhaps on account of those difficulties no sooner was the call made than the flank companies were ready to take the field.

There were, in 1812 there regiments of York Militia,5 of which the Second regiment was recruited in the vicinity of Burlington. So that when we read of the achievements of Capt. Chisholm’s or Capl. Applegarth’s flank company at Queenston or Lundy’s Lane, we know we are reading that which might and should be a source of pride to the citizens of Hamilton City or "Wentworth County.

The Third Regiment was recruited in 11m vicinity of York and its flank companies are known to history as Cameron and Howard’s Companies. The First Regiment was recruited from further up the county and was composed of North and South Divisions.6 More interesting to the historian is that it included a rifle company under (’apt. Peter Robinson, a troop of cavalry under Capt. John Button, and a flank company under Capt. Thomas Selby. It is more particularly this regiment which included Selby’s and Robinson’s Companies that in the opinion of that most painstaking and accurate of Canadian historians. Col. Cruikshank, is now represented by the present 12th Regiment of York Rangers.

It may not be amiss to say a few words anent the personality of 1 hose officers of these two regiments, the 1st and 3rd Yorks, whom the war brought out from the ordinary dull unthanked routine of militia work into the danger zone of active service. We find that the regiments were apt to interchange officers and were as closely connected as the different battalions of one regiment.

William Graham, Commandant of the First Regiment, had been a captain in the Duke of Cumberland's Provincial Regiment and a captain of York Militia as far back as 1798.

William Chewitt, lieutenant-colonei of the 3rd, had served in the British Militia during the siege of Quebec in 177n-7(i. He was fated in 1813 through no fault of his own to put his signature to a document evidencing a less successful defence of York. He was afterwards colonel of the 1st York, resigning in 1818. In his civil capacity he was Deputy Surveyor General and prominent in all social and charitable movements in Toronto.

William Allan, whose descendant, Senator Allan, has presented to Toronto the beautiful horticultural park that bears his name, was a military enthusiast; Lieutenant in the Militia regiment that was started in York in 1798, he joined the 3rd York Regiment on its organization and started a Hank company in the village. At the date when Brock called the flank companies to service he was major and appears to have had the duty of collecting the Yorks at the Head of the Lake. After the battle of Queens ton Heights he had the responsible duty of commanding the escort to the prisoners on their way to Quebec. In April, 1813, he shared with Col. Chewitt, the unpleasant task of arranging terms for the surrender of York.

The Fighting Judges

Historians of the War of 1812 have said that, practically the whole male population of the province was drawn into the vortex of the War. This is true of the lawyers of that day, who showed themselves as able to make bold charges in the field as ever they were reputed to do in their offices. So that in the post boll uni days there sat seven war judges on the bench of Upper Canada and of these seven, two had been officers in the Yorks.

Archibald McLean, afterwards Chief Justice, fought with the Yorks at Detroit and Queenston, and with the Incorporated Militia at Lundy’s Lane. Being wounded at Queenston and taken prisoner at Lundy’s Lane he had more war experience to cogitate than usually falls to the lot of a chief justice.

John Beverley Robinson, afterwards Chief Justice of Upper Canada, served with distinction at Detroit, left Toronto a law student to take part at Queenston and returned to find himself acting Attorney General. lie left his impress on the public life and laws of this province. Among his sons, John Beverley was Lieutenant Governor, Christopher was a lawyer of international celebrity and Major-General C. V . Robinson is a soldier and an historian, who if he has succeeded in making his readers understand the value of the command of Lake Ontario will have surpassed in service to this country his distinguished father.


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