1838 - The Adventures of Capt. Daniel D. Heustis
Coventry History

The first page of Captain Heustis' book. (1)

Daniel D. Heustis was a son of one of the original settler families in Coventry. He joined with the Canadian "Patriote" rebels in 1838 in an attack on the Canadian mainland from Upstate New York. The rebellion was suppressed by the Canadian authorities, and the rebels were either put to death or exiled to the penal colony at Van Damiens Land (modern day Tasmania). Heustis spent 5 years with some of his fellow rebels at the penal colony and subsequently wrote about his experiences in this book.

In 1923 the Watertown, NY Daily Times wrote a series of articles about the rebellion and summarized some of Heustis' accounts from his book:

The Hickory Island Episode

In 1834 he came to Jefferson county [New York] where an uncle, James Good, resided in Watertown. In his book he describes Watertown as the shire town of Jefferson county, and a place of some importance. It contains several manufactories and is the center of considerable trade. For a year young Heustis was employed in the shipping business between Sackets Harbor and New York. The next year he went to work for Clark & Burr, leather dressers in Watertown. During that time he made frequent trips to Upper Canada, buying hides and selling leather and there became imbued with the idea of Canadian Independence. In the spring of 1837, he went to work for a cousin, A. R. Skinner of Watertown, who was engaged in the meat and grocery business.

General Donald McLeod and Captain Silas Fletcher, two leaders in the Patriot movement in Upper Canada, came to Watertown, crossing the St. Lawrence in a small boat and landing at Oak Point near Hammond. They received a cordial welcome in Watertown and excited the sympathy of the people as they told of the wrongs which had been inflicted on the Canadian patriots. They afterward proceeded to Rochester.

Heustis records that on Jan. 10, 1838, he gave up business to devote his whole energies to the cause of Canadian independence. He started at once for Navy Island, accompanied by a number of other men, all well equipped and armed. They traveled by stage to Rochester, where they met other Patariot leaders and proceeded to Buffalo. There Heustis met Mackenzie, General Van Rensselaer and Admiral Bill Johnston. The Canadian government was aware of the intended plans to attack the frontier in the vicinity of Niagara and it was decided to strike elsewhere. After a considerable parley it was decided to attack Kingston.

Heustis, who had a captains commission, was ordered back to Watertown. He was accompanied by Mackenzie and his wife and by a Mr. Gibson, also a Patriot leader. Gibson took lodgings at a hotel under an assumed name, and Mackenzie was kept secreted about two weeks, during which time his mail was sent in care of Heustis.

Circulars were sent throughout Jefferson county, calling on friends to make contributions. Provisions, money and clothing were freely offered. Sleighs were sent to the various towns in the county and the munitions of war were collected at Watertown. Active efforts were also made to get men and ammunition. It was at this time that the arsenal at Watertown was entered and several hundred rifles were stolen. It was the general opinion the next day, wrote Heustis, that the arms had gone toward Canada: the United States Deputy Marshal, Jason Fairbanks, in his pursuit of them went in the opposite direction, and before he had traveled many miles ruined a valuable horse, worth nearly as much as the guns. For future security a guard was set over the arsenal, but arms were gotten from there on future occasions, and it was reported that the guards connived in the thefts.

On the evening of Feb. 21, about 600 men assembled at French Creek. Gen Van Rensselaer was in command. With a company of fifty men he marched over the ice to Hickory Island, about six miles. The next morning, wrote Heustis, I led another company of fifty men to the island. Captain Lightle soon joined us with another company. About noon Leman L. Leach made his appearance with a company from Syracuse. Colonel Martin Woodruff remained at French Creek for the purpose of forwarding the volunteers as they arrived. A large number of men in sleighs visited the island during the day, but many of them stopped only for a short time. At no time did our force consist of more than 300 men.

Three persons were arrested, suspected of being spies from Canada. They were placed under guard and detained until night when they were released. About sun down Bill Johnston joined us. Our number had then materially diminished. There was much disappointment manifested at not finding a larger force present. We had calculated on a thousand men, good and true, for this expedition, and had provided an ample supply of arms, ammunition and provisions. With feelings of deep mortification we were obliged to pronounce the enterprise a failure. But so unwilling was I to relinquish my attack that I still offered to go if ninety nine would accompany me in the hazardous assault. My proposal was considered too daring and impolitic, and but few were willing to embark in an expedition which promised nothing but inevitable defeat and destruction. We therefore returned to French Creek, Johnston and myself being the last to leave the island. Various excuses were made by those who disappointed our expectations.

Some of us remained at French Creek over night, but the larger portion dispersed in all directions. The inhabitants of the village, fearing an attack from the British in the course of the night, had fled into the country. The occupants of one or two houses, known to be tories, burned blue lights in their windows that their British friends might spare them in case of an attack.

Van Rensselaer, after the failure, went to Syracuse where he was arrested for violating the neutrality laws. He was tried in federal court at Albany and was sentenced to a term in prison and to pay a fine.

Heustis got as far as Depauville on his way back to Watertown when he was met by United States Attorney N. S. Benton and Deputy Marshal Fairbanks and questioned. On Feb. 27, Johnston was arrested on the charge of violating the neutrality law. At the time of his trail in Albany he was acquitted.

Heustis was also arrested but was discharged in United States district court. A number of others who were also arrested were likewise discharged, and the Hickory Island episode was over, as far as Northern New York was concerned.

The Hunter's Lodges

One of the most interesting features of the Patriot War in its relations to Northern New York was the formation of what was known as Hunter's Lodges. Practically every village in this section had its lodge, composed of those who were in sympathy with the struggles that the Canadians were making for their liberty. The headquarters were in Michigan however, [they] had their inception in the east, and the first one, of which there is record, was formed in Vermont in 1838. The various Patriot organizations merged themselves into this one.

The first Hunter's lodge was formed in Watertown May 1838, according to Daniel D. Heustis, one of the survivors of the Battle of the Windmill; Mr. Heustis was the author of a book telling of the Battle of the Windmill and his subsequent imprisonment and banishment to Van Dieman's Land. Some time in the month of May, wrote Mr. Heustis, a Mr. Estabrooke of Cleveland, Ohio, came to Watertown, and instituted a secret society or lodge on the same plan as those previously established at Cleveland and other places. I was admitted as a member the first night. Very soon lodges numbered nineteen hundred members. Some of our members went into neighboring towns and organized other lodges, and in a short time they were formed in nearly every town in the region.(2)

Contemporary engraving of the Battle of the Windmill

1838 watercolor depiction of imprisoned rebel (4)

The Battle Of The Windmill

In November 1838, a group of Hunters decided that it was time to invade Canada and restart the rebellion. They chose as their target the town of Prescott, on the north bank of the St. Lawrence River downriver from Kingston. Prescott is the site of Fort Wellington, a British military fortification which commanded the St. Lawrence River and which was serving as a fortified depot for the Upper Canadian militia. To initiate the strike, a large group of Hunters assembled in Sackett's Harbor, New York and descended the River to Ogdensburg in civilian vessels. Overall military command of the insurgent forces was held by John Birge, a senior member of the Hunter organization in New York State, while the naval operation was commanded by Bill Johnston, a Canadian mariner who had run afoul of the colonial authorities and was taking advantage of the border unrest to indulge in some old-fashioned piracy on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.

In the aftermath of the battle, almost all of the Hunters were captured and were transported to Kingston for trial. Eleven people, including the Hunter leader Nils von Schoultz, were executed; another 60 were sentenced to transportation to Australia. 40 were acquitted, and another 86 were later pardoned and released. (3)

1. A narrative of the adventures and sufferings of Captain Daniel D. Heustis and his companions, in Canada and Van Dieman's Land, during a long captivity; with travels in California, and voyages at sea, Daniel D. Heustis, Boston, Publ. for Redding & co., by S. W. Wilder & co., 1847
2. L.N.Fuller, series of article in the Watertown Daily Times, 1923
3. Wikipedia.org
4. Robert Shore-Milnes Bouchette, Les Captifs, 1838, watercolour and traces of lead on paper, 15,3 x 16,7 cm (irregular), Quebec, Musee du Quebec (56.302).