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
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
William Allan, whose descendant, Senator Allan, has presented to Toronto
the beautiful horticultural park that bears his name, was a military
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
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
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.