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John Graves Simcoe
Chapter X - A Silvan Court


WHEN the Triton sailed away from Weymouth in the autumn of 1791, she bore with her the beginnings of the viceregal court for Upper Canada. The British government had been generous in its provision for officers of the new province. The first estimate for the civil list was as follows:—

Lieutenant-governor, £2,000; chief-justice, £1,000; attorney-general, £300; solicitor-general, £100; two judges of the common pleas, each £500 = £1,000; clerk of the Crown and pleas, £100 ; two sheriffs, each £100 = £200; secretary of the province and registrar, £300; clerk of the council, £] 00; surveyor of lands (fees); receiver-general, £200; five executive councillors, £500; naval officer, £100. Total: £5,000.

The governor's aides-de-camp were Major Little-hales and Lieutenant Talbot, who drew their pay as officers of the regular army. Captain Stevenson had accompanied the party as a personal friend of the governor to supervise the household during his absence. Major Littlehales was a most popular secretary; he conducted the whole of the governor's official correspondence with great ability. De la Rochefoucauld speaks of his politeness, prudence, and judgment, and states that he enjoyed universal confidence and respect, He remained with the governor during the whole term of his residence in Canada. Lieutenant Talbot, a more vivid and interesting figure to Canadians, left to rejoin his regiment in Ireland on June 21st, 1794, on account of his promotion. But some years later he was to return to Canada to found a permanent settlement, give his name to a locality, and fill the province with traditions.

William Osgoode was the first chief-justice ; he served until the summer of 1794, when he was appointed chief-justice of Lower Canada. The important position remained vacant until John Elmsley was appointed on January 1st, 1796. The attorney-general was John White. The clerk of the council was John Small. The clerk of the Crown and pleas was Edward Burns. Che first surveyor was Holland. Russell was receiver-general ; he also acted as puisne judge while the office of chief-justice was vacant. William Jarvis was the secretary of the province; he belonged to a Loyalist family of Connecticut, and was born at Stamford in 1756 ; he "was for twenty-five years connected with I "pper Canadian affairs, and died at York in 1817. The naval officer was Francis Costa. Charles Goddard was agent for the government. William Dummer Powell was judge of the common pleas.

Gradually upon the arrival of these officers at Niagara a genial society grew up, of which the governor's wife was the centre. She was gentle, amiable, and attractive. To her pencil and brush we owe the many sketches that show us landscapes, now familiar under a changed condition and aspect, as they were before civilization had transformed them. When Simcoe arrived the family consisted of one son, Frank, but a daughter was born during their sojourn in the country. Frank was the pet of the settlement. He was named by the Indians "Tioga"—the swift—and the governor dressed him in deerskin on state occasions to please the savage allies. He grew up and adopted his father's profession. It led him to the Peninsular War, and to the town of Badajoz. On the night of April 6th he was engaged with the force that stormed the defences, and in the morning his dead body lay under a heap of the slain in one of the dreadful breaches of the wall.

The social opportunities of the new seat of government were not extensive. The number of private houses in which entertainment could be offered was small. The governor's residence, that of Colonel Smith of the 5th Regiment, and Mr. Hamilton's house at Queenston were the largest in or near Niagara. De la Rochefoucauld thus describes Colonel Smith's residence: " It consists of joiner's work, but is constructed, embellished, and painted in the best style; the yard, garden and court are surrounded with railings, made and painted as clegantly as they could he in England. His large garden has the appearance of a French kitchen-garden, kept in good order."

But the dependence upon a small circle for the pleasures of society made the assemblies more intimate ; they were the reunions of a large and interdependent family rather than formal gatherings. The wife of any true Loyalist might find her place at the governor s entertainments with a warm welcome, and feel at home with the governor's wife. Simcoe did not depend upon his salary of two thousand pounds to maintain fittingly the dignity of his position. He drew largely upon his private fortune to keep the style and manner of his menage to the standard of viceroyalty. The cost of living was excessive, and all the officials of that day complained that they could not live decently upon the salaries paid them by government, which ranged from the £1,000 of the chief-justice to the £100 of the solicitor-general.

Simcoe considered it one part of his duty to do all that lay in his power to render as light as possible all the disabilities and hardships that lift in the new country presented. This condescension on the part of the governor was met by graceful acknowledgments on the part of the people. Presents of game, furs, and fruits, and occasionally gifts of greater importance, flowed into Navy Hall. At a time when horses were the richest possession in Upper Canada. Richard Duncan, lieutenant of the county of Dundas, presented Mrs. Simcoe with a horse called "Jack," that bore her to and fro over the roads and bridle-paths of the peninsula.

The very contrasts ever present in the population of early Niagara gave an interest to life that went far to compensate for the slowness of its movement. It was, in effect at least, a slave-holding community and a garrison town; its little street and square were trod by wild Indians, negroes, British officers, half-breeds, voyageurs, adventurers, spies, and grandes dames. Society was democratic, and in the midst of it was the great aristocrat, Simcoe, endeavouring to run this fluid society into a mould of his own fashioning. The manners and customs of the English were those of their own country and time transplanted to new ground. Perhaps with the feelings of comradeship and altruism intensified came also a deepening of those other feelings of envy, jealousy, and hatred upon which tragedies are founded. In small communities where the official and military class predominates, these passions are of quick growth and flourish luxuriantly. Duels were not uncommon. It was only a few years after Simcoe's departure that two of his civil officers met on the field at York. John Small, the clerk of the council, challenged the attorney-general, John White, to clear his wife's character. They met on January 2nd, 1800, and White was carried off the field dangerously wounded. Two days after he died.

The scarcity of servants must have made housekeeping a difficult task. De la Rochefoucauld states: "they, who are brought hither from England, either demand lands or emigrate into the United States. All persons belonging to the army employ soldiers in their stead. By the English regulations every officer is allowed one soldier, to whom he pays one shilling a week; and this privilege extended in proportion as the officers have need of a greater number of people. The governor, who is also colonel of a regiment of Queen's Rangers stationed in the province, is attended in his house and and at dinner merely by privates of this regiment, who also take care of his horses. He has not been able to keep one of the men servants he brought with him from England."

Restricted as was this life, it yet had its excitements, its interests, and its diversions; the novelty of the situation enhanced the smallest occurrences. The little court was the heart of the country, and through it flowed all the life of the people with its hopes, fears, successes, and failures. Navy Hall, the Canvas House at York, or the quarters at Kingston were more in the life of the province than Government House can ever be again. Not only was the residence of the governor the social centre of the country, it was the seat of power, favour, and honour, and at the same time a home where a welcome existed for any loyal settler who might stray thither from the confines of the province.

Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria, was Governor Simcoe's first and most distinguished guest at Navy Hall. He was stationed at Quebec with his regiment, the 7th Fusiliers. He desired to visit Niagara Falls, and it is probable that during Simcoe's lengthy stay at Quebec the journey was arranged. The repairs to Navy Hall could hardly have been completed when the prince arrived. He left Quebec on Saturday, August 12th, 1792. Sir Alured Clarke wrote to Simcoe on the seventh of that month that the prince would be accompanied by "a larger suite than I wish attended him from an apprehension that it must occasion some embarrassment." Simcoe began early in August to arrange a fitting reception for his royal visitor. A barge was prepared at Kingston, decorated with flags-, newly painted, and covered with an awning. Mr. Peter Clark was detailed to command the craft and meet the prince at Oswegatchie, as far below Kingston as the rapids would permit. From this point he was rowed to Kingston, where he embarked on the armed schooner Onondaga and sailed for Niagara. Here he arrived on August 21st, welcomed by a royal salute from the guns of Fort Niagara. On the twenty-third, at half-past six in the morning, he reviewed the 5th Regiment. He was evidently pleased with the corps, for he expressed the desire to have some of the men drafted into his own regiment, the 7th Fusiliers. A parade of all the men above five feet nine inches was ordered, they were cautioned to be "perfectly clean," and were informed that "no one was expected to join but by his own choice and acquiescence." On the same day the prince proceeded on his way to the falls. At that time there was no settlement at the cataract; the shores were lined with unbroken forest. On the Upper Canada side there was one mean inn, and the paths and descents to the points from which the falls could be seen were so infrequently used as to be dangerous. But the loneliness added to the grandeur, and the difficulties to be overcome gave a tang of adventure to the visit. Upon his return the prince dined at Mr. Hamilton's at Queenston. During his short stay the resources of the province were taxed to provide entertainment. The Mohawks, in paint and feathers, gave their national war-dance. The prince was presented with wampum and created a chief above all other chiefs. Upon August 20th he sailed again for Kingston on the Onondaga, while the regiments stood at arms and the guns fired the salute.

The next guests of importance entertained by the governor were the American commissioners to the Indians. Beverley Randolph and Timothy Pickering arrived on May 17th, 1793, General Lincoln on the twenty-eighth of the same month, and they remained until early in July. General Lincoln during his sojourn kept a diary which gives an intimate account of the visit. It enables us to understand the straits to which the menage must have been put to entertain three such distinguished visitors.

May 25th.—"Immediately on my arrival at Niagara Governor Simcoe sent for me. The other commissioners were with him; he showed me my room. We remained with him a number of days, but knowing that we occupied a large proportion of his house, and that Mrs. Simcoe was absent and so probably on our account, we contemplated a removal and of encamping at the landing, six miles from this place. But when the governor was informed of our intention he barred a removal. His politeness and hospitality, of which he has a large share, prevented our executing the designs we had formed."

June 24th.—"The king's birthday. At eleven o'clock the governor had a levee at his house, at which the officers of government, the members of the legislature, the officers of the army, and a number of strangers attended. After some time the governor came in, preceded by two of his family. He walked up to the head of the hall and began a conversation with those standing in that part of the hall, and went around to the whole, and I believe spoke with every person present. This was soon over, and we all retired. At one o'clock there was firing from the troops, the battery, and from the ship in the harbour. In the evening there was quite a splendid ball, about twenty well-dressed handsome ladies and about three times that number of gentlemen present. They danced from seven o'clock until eleven. Supper was then announced, where we found everything good and in pretty taste. The music and dancing were good, and everything was conducted witli propriety. What excited the best feelings of my heart was the ease and affection with which the ladies met each other, although there were a number present whose mothers sprang from the aborigines of the country. They appeared as well dressed as the company in general, and intermixed with them in a manner which evinced at once the dignity of their own minds and the good sense of others. These ladies possessed great ingenuity and industry and have great merit, for the education which they have acquired is owing principally to their own industry, as their father, Sir William Johnson, was dead, and the mother retained the dress and manners of her tribe. Governor Simcoe is exceedingly attentive in these public assemblies, and makes it his study to reconcile the inhabitants, who have tasted the pleasures of society, to their present situation in an infant province. He intends the next winter to have concerts and assemblies very frequently. Hereby he at once evinces a regard to the happiness of the people and his knowledge of the world; for while the people are allured to become settlers in this country from the richness of the soil and the clemency of the seasons, it is important to make their situation as flattering as possible."

The next visitor of distinction that Navy Hall sheltered was the Duke de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt. He had fled from France to escape the blood-thirstiness of Robespierre. His estates had been confiscated, and he wandered about America homeless and with a heart sick for home. His travels are still entertaining, and they give the best available contemporaneous account of early Upper Canada. The duke was an acute observer and a lively writer. His book is not entirely free from errors into which his feelings led him, but it is generally composed in great good humour, and his statistics are valuable and may be relied upon. Simcoe had been apprised by Hammond that the duke was to visit the country, and that he had a mind to proceed through Upper Canada to Quebec. But while making him welcome, the governor could not allow him to proceed without a permit from Lord Dorchester. While waiting for this, de la Rochefoucauld spent his time pleasantly enough in social intercourse with his hosts, of whom he draws an engaging picture. Simcoe he describes as "simple, plain and obliging. He lives in a noble and hospitable mariner without pride; his mind is enlightened, his character mild and obliging." Mrs. Simcoe, he says, "is bashful and speaks little, but she is a woman of sense, handsome and amiable, and fulfils (ill the duties of a mother and a wife with the most scrupulous exactness. The performance of the latter she carries so far as to act the part of a private secretary to her husband. Her talents for drawing, the practice of which she confines to maps and plans, enables her to be extremely useful to the governor." By some means unknown to the sex in this day he discovered her age and set it down in his book as thirty-six. The familiar tone of these and other remarks was not relished by Simcoe, who thought that they cast reflections upon the dignity of his position and his humanity in war. In a pamphlet printed at Exeter, probably in 1700, he rebuts the latter charge m words tending to scathe the noble marquis: "If the United States had attempted to over-run Upper Canada I should have defended myself by such measures as English generals have been accustomed to, and not fought for the morality of war, in the suspicious data of the insidious economist: my humanity, I trust, is founded on the religion of my country, and not 011 the hypocritical possessions of a puny philosophy."

In the autumn of 1704 the governor received a visit from Alexander Mackenzie, the explorer who had taken during the spring and summer of the previous year his adventurous trip overland to the Pacific. He had left a post on the Peace River on May 9th, 1793, and, after an arduous trip, had succeeded in crossing the height of land dividing the watershed. After proceeding for some days down the waters that flowed south, he had retraced his course, and had for the space of fifteen days travelled through a wilderness where no white man 188 had ever trod, and had been greeted at the end by a view of the ocean glittering around the rocky islands that towered off the coast. He had arrived again at his Peace River post on August 24th, 1793. Simcoe was no doubt deeply interested in this tale of daring and intrepidity. He says in one of his dispatches that Mackenzie seemed to be as intelligent as he was adventurous. As usual, Simcoe was alive to the advantages of the water routes, the means of communication and the trade possibilities opened up by such a voyage of discovery. The explorer sketched for him the advantages that would accrue from the establishment of two trading-posts on the Pacific coast, and mentioned the possibility of diverting, with advantage, the trade of the far north to the western ocean. It was thought that the East India Company should be favourable to the development of the fur trade, and that a national advantage would follow from the retention in the country of a large amount of silver that was then being sent to China. Mackenzie's experience had, however, taught him that the Indians of the coast must be conciliated, not coerced, as they too often had been, and he pointed out that a solid advantage from the commerce could not arise unless there was a reconcilement of rival claims and a blending of all scattered effort in one common interest.

While Simcoe was burdened with state cares, he found time to be interested in many matters that in our day would be considered unworthy the attention of the governor. He kept an ear attentive for all gossip or idle talk of sedition and disloyalty, and many a man and officer who had felt secure in his use of careless words was surprised to receive caution that a repetition would lead to his banishment or imprisonment. Spies had to be guarded against, and suspicious persons were detained and put across the lines. A French priest called Le Du gave him trouble in the summer of 1794, at a time when it was undesirable that any information as to the preparations of the country for war should become known. Rut he was apprehended, detained and finally sent into the country to which by sympathy he belonged.

Sometimes Simcoe had to adjust disputes between his clergy and their parishioners, and once the Rev. J. Burk, of Grand River, came under his censure for refusing a pew, and the honours proper to his station, to the lieutenant of the county. While it was impossible for him to prevent the progress of itinerant preachers from the United States through the country, lie put a stop when he could to such questionable rovers. One preacher, the Rev. Mr. Ogden, received notice that he could not officiate in Upper Canada as he was a citizen of the United States.

The administration of justice amongst the Indians was always a matter of the gravest concern to the governor. As settlements began to press in upon the reserved lands of the tribes, small depredations became frequent, and then the fear was constantly present lest some serious crime might occur that would bring the Indians into open conflict with the settlers. The arm of the law might be strong enough to punish an Indian criminal, but would the little army be sufficient to deal with the savage rebellion that might follow ? When the crisis came it arose in the family of Brant, and but for a strange and untoward circumstance it might have proved a test of that great chief's loyalty. One of his sons, Isaac, in the spring of 1775 murdered a white man who had settled at the Grand River. His name was Lowell. He was a deserter from Wayne's army, and as he was a saddler by trade he was a welcome addition to the settlement. The act was committed without any provocation upon Lowell's part, and from no cause that could be discovered. Simcoe considered the matter one of grave importance, and asked advice from the home authorities. He was prepared to demand the murderer, and wrote the Duke of Portland that in case of refusal he meant "to have supported the civil power in his apprehension with the whole military force of the country, for which I have begun preparations." The bold step was not needed. The murderer was allowed to go free during the summer, but in the autumn his career was suddenly and tragically terminated. At the end of a drunken bout he lashed himself into a furious passion against his father, and when the latter entered the room he rushed upon him with a knife. The blow Brant caught upon his hand, and, m self defence, struck Isaac upon the head with a dirk. In a moment father and son were separated. A week after Isaac died from tiie effects of the wound, and the application of the law to Indian crimes was for that time avoided.

The public health also received the attention of the governor, and at Niagara, in the year 1706, there was a general inoculation as a safeguard against smallpox.

The vast distances to be traversed between the capital and the chief towns of the country bred a hardihood in all those whose duty led them to travel. The aide-de-camp sewed his dispatches into the lining of his cloak or bound them in a girdle around his waist, and set off with a couple of Indian guides for Philadelphia or Quebec. It took a month to reach either place, a month of constant exposure and peril.

While remote from the scene of the world's great events, the little court in Upper Canada was stirred by them, and the governor would not omit any act or word that might demonstrate to those about him that he was the representative of the king. The dramatic incidents of the French Revolution affected the little circle at York as keenly as the court of St. James. Each one of these outbursts of a demoniac people would give such an ardent and confirmed monarchist as Simcoe deep pain. Public mourning was ordered for King Louis, and, a little later, for Marie Antoinette when the delayed news of their executions reached the government. The half-masted flag before the Canvas House upon the shore of Toronto Bay reminded the handful of soldiers and civilians that they, too, were in a current of the great stream of events.


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