Despite a massive level of discontent that existed in Essex-Kent in the late 1830s, people here were still not dissatisfied enough to side with attacking “Patriots” from the United States who were trying to drive the British right out of North America, according to a visiting author who will lecture here on Thursday night.
“They simply overestimated the extent of the discontent in this area,” said Sandy Atal, whose latest book The Patriot War of 1838 describes how Americans organized themselves into militias to invade what is now southwestern Ontario, supposedly to bring American-style republicanism north of the border. “These people were simply not prepared to overthrow their own government for republican ideals.”
With the support of Upper Canada Rebellion leader William Lyon Mackenzie, who by the late 1830s had fled to the U.S., Antal said the Patriots staged a number of attacks on sites in Upper Canada, including Amherstburg, Fighting Island, Pelee Island and Windsor. The Patriots attacked Windsor in 1838, holding up at the Baby farm, now the Windsor Community Museum, until local militia arrived from Sandwich.
Discontent had peaked in the Essex-Kent area during that time period, Antal said. Many of the local residents felt abandoned by their own government and to make matters worse, a volcano in Indonesia erupted around that time, spewing massive amounts of ash into the atmosphere that eventually blocked out the sun, ruining crops. The area, he said, had turned into “a desolate backwater.”
Still, all that wasn’t enough to inspire local residents to side with the Patriots, he said.
“They had the opportunity for violent, republican options, but rejected them,” he said.
A former teacher and a retired major from the Canadian forces, Antal has turned his attention to historical research and writing. His previous books include Duty Nobly Done: The Official History of the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment and A Wampum Denied: Procter’s War of 1812
Antal will speak about his new book and about the historical legacy of the War of 1812 in Alumni Hall’s McPherson Lounge on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. The lecture, co-sponsored by the Department of History and the Essex County Historical Society, is open to the public.