THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY'S FOUNDING BROTHERS
History is way of experiencing at second hand all kinds of human behaviour.
Today Ontario, a huge province with a population of some ten million people, is one of the wealthiest of Canada's provinces. Two hundred and ten years ago, it comprised a few thousand impoverished inhabitants, whose primitive houses hugged the shoreline of Lake Ontario and the banks of the St. Lawrence and the Niagara Rivers, in a wilderness newly known as Upper Canada. 1792 was a historic year for the tiny Canadian colony for that summer saw the election of sixteen 'founding brothers' to Upper Canada's 1st House of Assembly. Representative democracy was effectively established in the heart of a land by men labouring to build lives and a legislature in the frontier wilderness.
In 1793 the capital of Upper Canada relocated from Niagara to York. A two-storey brick building was constructed near the corner of Front East and Parliament Street. It was known as the Palaces of Government or the Parliament buildings. The structure, in the words of J.Ross Robertson, a 19th century newspaper publisher and politician: " A humble, but commodious structure with, at the same time, some pretensions of elegance of design and construction." Today, the site of that historic place is the 'palace' for king of cars, a Porsche dealership as indicated in the photo below.
Who were the pioneer politicians who first faced the vicissitudes of the voters of Upper Canada? Unfortunately, relatively little is known of them or their legacy as individual legislators, for records are rare for the years 1792-94 and Legislative Journals for 1795 and 1796 are non-existent. It is difficult, therefore, to provide a comprehensive assessment of their individual work and worth as Members of the Assembly. They were certainly men of importance in their communities, and they must have impressed the voters, for the absence of political parties meant each individual had to sell himself to the electors. Vote getting was greatly facilitated by quantity of food and drink each candidate provided at voting time, for elections then were comparable to our carnivals.
Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, who was distrustful of democracy, was fearful lest the preference of the people would be for men of a lower order, men imbued with the 'levelling' [democratic] spirit, rather than men of means and status who with him would form and fashion the colony's rustic aristocracy. Those elected were military men and farmers. Eleven were born in the 13 Colonies, two each in Scotland and in England and one in Upper Canada. Eleven were veterans of the Revolutionary war, eight were half-pay officers and thirteen were United Empire Loyalists. Thirteen were justices of the peace and six were judges. Four were Anglicans, three were Roman Catholics and two were Presbyterians. They were a relatively young group with three in their 20s, six in their 30s, six in their 40s, and one in his 60s.With the exception of one member, the legislators were all levellers and as such generally held the belief that all were equal in status.
The first session of the first parliament opened on Monday, September 17th, 1792. It appears government moved moved slowly for by September 28th according to one member, D. W. Smith, "We have done little as yet." Not all of the Members elected were at the opening of the province's first parliament since some had decided to harvest their crops in order to survive the bitter winter weather soon to descend on the little settlement. The unanimous choice for speaker among those who were present was John McDonell who carried the mace of Upper Canada at the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly.
John McDonell, who represented the 2nd riding of Glengarry, was the unanimous choice for Speaker of the Assembly of those who were present at the first session of Upper Canada's First Parliament. McDonell was an intrepid Captain of the Rangers, a fervent Loyalist and a fierce fighter, once wounded while arresting a notorious American sympathizer. Colonel John Butler praised his spirited activity and said his leadership contributed greatly to the successes of the British military. His dedication to duty was such that he went on one raid tied to his horse because he was ill with a high fever and rheumatism in the neck. McDonell was a little below average size, of fair complexion and in his youth uncommonly strong, fast and active.He was called the most capable officer in the Corps and the one best liked by the Native warriors. Under his leadership as speaker, the hardworking House of Assembly got through a great deal of basic legislation, which included laws on legal and social matters, including replacing the ancient French laws of Canada with British laws and establishing trial by jury. McDonell voted against a bill that would have allowed persons immigrating to the province to bring their slaves. He was appointed one of three Upper Canadian Commissioners charged with negotiating an agreement with counterparts from Lower Canada on the sharing of rum and customs revenues collected at the Port of Quebec.This resulted in Upper Canada receiving one-eighth of these funds. McDonell was highly regarded by all Members of the Assembly and when he left the office of Speaker, he was assigned an honorary seat to the right of the Speaker's chair. Shortly after contracting a severe cold, he died in Quebec City on the 21st of November, 1809.Isaac Swayze
Isaac Swayze represented the riding of 3rd Lincoln. Described as a spry agile individual, he was 5 feet 9 inches tall with a swarthy complexion and a scar on one side of his temple burned there by a bullet. Swayze, a noted British Scout during the American revolution, was known to his enemies as a spy, which some considered a mere difference in terminology. Swayze was badly wounded and twice made prisoner. He escaped execution the first time by dressing in his wife's clothes and taking flight, leaving her to talk her way out of trouble. The second time Swayze broke out of jail, resulting in a reward of $5000 for his capture dead or alive. Somehow he managed to squirm out of this scrape, and when things calmed down he decided to run for office and was duly elected to the Legislative Assembly as the Member for 3rd Lincoln.
In the first Legislature Swayze established the reputation as a radical, supporting the cause of "farmers and the general classes," because, he said, he had their interests at heart. He led a popular agitation opposing a re-wording of deeds which many feared would prohibit the sale of their land.
Chameleon-like, Swayze decided to change his colours, and he became a fanatical anti-democrat, a politician with a price who was prepared to tackle any unsavoury assignment. One involved serving as stooge and informer for the civil authorities in the Niagara peninsula. During the War of 1812 Captain Swayze raised a corps called the Royal Artillery Drivers. He was cited for tireless exertions in the field and mentioned in dispatches for his daring actions at the Battle of Queenston Heights. When Niagara was burned by retreating Americans in 1813, Swayze's house in St. Davids was destroyed by fire. He requested compensation in the amount of 200 pounds, but this appeal along with many of his other war claims was returned marked "Not Allowed"in red ink. His reputation had preceded him and there was a strong suspicion that characteristically, Swayze, was attempting to get more than his due. During this period Swayze lived in Thorold for a time on land which is now part of Brock University.Swayze was arrested for robbery, but the authorities decided it might be wiser to eliminate the cause of the crime and simply release him on condition he leave town. Suspicions of criminality swirled about him and over the years he was accused of stealing, counterfeiting and horse theft. Swayze claimed in his own defence that he was a victim of ill-treatment, charging that he attracted "shafts of malice" from those who ranked themselves high because of his integrity. During these tense times with the United States when traitors were thought to be everywhere, Swayze's carping criticism of those in authority resulted in his conviction as an "Exciter of Sedition." His sentence was light, however, because his criticism of the government was judged to be griping, not treasonous. In spite of his tainted reputation and frequent run-ins with the law, Swayze to the astonishment of many was regularly re-elected to the Assembly. His detractors claimed he accomplished this by covering his true character with hypocrisy. Swayze lived out his last years quietly as a member of the Presbyterian church and proprietor of the Niagara Library. He died near Niagara in 1828. John White
John White, the member for Leeds and Frontenac, was handpicked by Lieutenant governor Simcoe for a seat in the Assembly. Simcoe was in Kingston at the time of the election, and he used his influence to persuade the public to elect White to the Assembly. White returned the favour by faithfully promoting and supporting in the Assembly Simcoe's government-sponsored legislation. This included bills providing for the eventual abolition of slavery and for the establishment of the Court of King's Bench and district courts. White's presence in parliament and his legal training helped ensure that legislation was stated in very accurate and efficient language. White facilitated the founding of the Law Society of Upper Canada and served as its president and treasurer. As the colony's first attorney general, he adapted English laws to suit the vastly different conditions in Upper Canada.
A trivial quarrel led to a duel in which White was shot and died in great pain thirty-six hours later. His senseless death was lamented by many who mourned the great loss "of a professional gentleman, sincere friend and an honest, upright man who was highly esteemed." In 1871 some labourers were digging for construction purposes and came upon the grave of Attorney-General White. His remains were removed and deposited in St. James Cemetery. Although White had a significant impact on the legal and judicial system of Upper Canada, tragically he is remembered mostly as the man who lost his life in a duel outside York on January 2nd, 1800.David William Smith
David William Smith, despite regularly expressing disdain for "this damned election business," spent freely to ensure his election for Kent County. This resourceful and conscientious public servant became Governor Simcoe's most trusted and capable subordinate. Smith was responsible for a bill to regulate the practice of medicine and he played an important role in passing legislation pertaining to the Clergy Reserves, judicial reform and the elimination of slavery.
Despite having no qualifications as a surveyor, Smith was appointed acting surveyor general. His recommendations determined the areas of the province to be surveyed and settled. Most township surveys were systematically conceived and carried out under his direction and he produced the first extensive gazetteer of Upper Canada. Although Smith did not have qualifications as a lawyer, he was named Deputy Judge Advocate of Newark. He received a licence under the hand and seal-at-arms of Governor Simcoe authorizing him to appear as an advocate or attorney in all and every of His Majesty's Courts. It was good to know the governor.
Smith occupied numerous other offices and acquired many acres of land, the total after ten years being some 20,000 in 21 townships. Fever and frustration began to sour him on a society, which he grew to find coarse and common. In 1802 he decided to return to England and his departure created what some considered an almost irreparable loss of leadership. He was made a baronet and died at the age of 73 in 1837.Nathaniel Pettit
Nathaniel Pettit who was elected for the riding of Durham, York and 1st Lincoln was at 68 years of age the oldest member of the Assembly. Prior to the American revolution Pettit had been a prominent member of New Jersey society. At the beginning of the revolution Pettit sympathized with the rebels, but when his failure to pay a Congressional tax resulted in him being fined and losing his various offices, he switched his support to the sovereign. Unable to fight because he was lame and infirm, Pettit assisted the king's cause by raising a battalion of 500 men. His backing of Britain resulted in rough treatment and imprisonment by outraged rebels. After paying a heavy fine he was released and fled to Canada.
Pettit's Loyalist leanings resulted in him receiving a grant of land located in the Ancaster-Grimsby areas. Known as `Judge' Pettit, he was appointed to various courts and commissions, but he never attained the prominence nor the prestige in Upper Canada he had known in New Jersey. He died in 1803 and was buried at Grimsby in a grave whose whereabouts was unknown. Some years later during the construction of a subdivision in the vicinity of his burial site, a single skeleton was discovered which was believed to be that of Judge Pettit.Francois Baby(pronounced "bobby")
Tall, ramrod straight, active in mind and body throughout a long and illustrious life, Francois Baby was elected for the riding of Suffolk and Essex. Baby, who was a member of a powerful and influential French family, was fluently bilingual and possessed qualities and connections which made him a natural politician. Baby is credited with originating bilingualism in Canada by having the legislative acts translated for the benefit of French constituents living in the Western District. He was described as "the most independent, the most upright, the most honest member" who ever sat in the Assembly." Baby saw action during the War of 1812 and was cited for being "indefatigable" on the Niagara frontier. When captured by an American raiding party, he was carted off to the United States "shamefully and inhumanely tied with cords," but he was quickly repatriated.
Baby was a raconteur of note and he delighted the famous American historian Francis Parkman with tales of his father's friendship with Pontiac, the renowned Native leader of the Ottawas who assisted the French at Detroit in repelling an attack by northern Native tribes. Parkman described Baby's home, which is now the Hiram Walker Historical Museum in Windsor, as "a fine old brick house with its waste and picturesque air - books, guns, neglected tables, old clocks, chests of drawers, garments and Indian equipment flung around." Francois Baby, who died in Windsor in 1852, lived as a gentleman on his inherited wealth and on the income he derived from his property. While his land holdings were relatively modest in quantity, their qualitative value was high for his Sandwich property was to become the future city of Windsor. Baby had eight sons and four daughters. One of his many grandsons provided this final word on Francis ."He lived in a feudal sort of way, was very proud and I might say, arrogant."
Built just prior to the War of 1812, it now houses the Windsore Community Museum and displays artifacts of that war. Shortly after its construction, it was used by American General William Hull as his headquarters when he made a tentative entry into Canada. Baby protested and reminded Hull of their framilies's friendship before the war, to which Hull replied, "Circumstances have changed."
Parshall Terry, a lieutenant in Butler's Rangers during the American revolution, represented the riding of 4th Lincoln and Norfolk. He settled on the east bank of the Don River where he constructed a saw-mill which became one of the most important in the province. Terry drowned in the Don River in 1808 while attempting to cross it on a floating bridge.William Macomb
William Macomb, an influential Detroit merchant, was one of two members elected to represent what was then the huge riding of Kent County. Macomb was a shady individual with loose loyalties and little integrity. He was described by government officials as an "absolute pest." He tormented the Native peoples with rum and ruses in an attempt to acquire extensive tracts of their land. He was also labelled a staunch friend of the American Congress, and one of the most dangerous subjects in the province. Simcoe suspected him of converting his knowledge of Upper Canada to the commercial benefit of the United States.
Despite Simcoe's suspicions regarding this devious character, Macomb for some reason remained in the good graces of the governor. Surprisingly given his bad relations with the Native peoples, he was appointed by Simcoe to a commission to oversee government purchases of Aboriginal lands. The mystery of Macomb's real allegiance is muddied somewhat by Colonel John Butler's disclosure, that while Macomb was in New York he kept Butler well informed regarding the whereabouts of English frigates. Perhaps Macomb, who died in 1796, was a double agent?Benjamin Pawling
Benjamin Pawling won the riding of 2nd Lincoln by defeating his opponent, a leading merchant, by 100 votes. For serving as a captain in a Loyalist militia during the revolutionary war, Benjamin received 3000 acres of land in Upper Canada. He settled in Grantham Township in the Niagara region on the Lake Ontario front near Twelve Mile Creek. By 1783 he had cleared eight acres of land; four years later the forests had fallen on twelve more acres and ten acres of rich wilderness soil had been sown with wheat.
Pawling was not your normal politician, for instead of seeking offices for prestige and purse, he actually declined patronage appointments. He even appealed to Governor Simcoe to relieve him from the weight of public occupations, complaining they encroached upon his private pursuits. One of these was publishing the Niagara Spectator, whose forthright but unusual motto was Nugas egit unusquisque invicem (Each of us in turn has played the fool).
The paper regularly featured an outspoken dissident's diatribes against the government, and this constant criticism incensed those in power. It finally resulted in charges of seditious libel being laid against Pawling and Bartemas Ferguson, the paper's co-owner. Ferguson was found guilty, sentenced to imprisonment for 18 months and fined 50 pounds. An added indignity of placement in the pillory for an hour a day during the first month's sentence was waived by the governor. For good measure Ferguson had to pledge 500 pounds as a guarantee to ensure his `good behaviour' for the next seven years. Pawling never suffered the same fate, for on the day both men were to be arrested, Pawling, who had died a few days earlier, was being buried in Grantham Township.Ephraim Jones
Ephraim Jones, a person of significance in Upper Canada, was the member for Grenville County. This exceptional man and his distinguished dynasty forged a firm link with the governing establishment that eventually became known as the Family Compact. Ephraim, who was born in an exceptionally elegant mansion, came from a very wealthy family. At the outbreak of the American Revolution they decided to support their sovereign and Ephraim became a United Empire Loyalist. He was nicknamed Commissary Jones because during the revolution, Governor Sir Guy Carleton appointed him commissary of forage in the army of General John Burgoyne. In addition to keeping the horses supplied with hay, Jones provided food and supplies for Loyalists. While serving with 'Gentleman Johnny' Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777, Ephraim was taken prisoner. Following his release he joined Jessup's Loyal Rangers as an ensign and served until the regiment was disbanded in 1783.With other members of Jessup's Rangers the young half-pay officer decided to locate in a Loyalist settlement along the St. Lawrence River. His success as shopkeeper and owner of a mill and foundry on the Gananoque River firmly established him as an important businessman. By 18ll Jones had accumulated some 11,260 acres scattered over 12 townships. Jones was active in the Legislature where he introduced a bill establishing trial by jury. In spite of owning slaves himself, he supported an act for the gradual abolition of slavery in Upper Canada. He also proposed a bill to establish a public market at York for direct sale of produce between farmers and consumers.
Jones's name and fame were carried on by his children for whom he made ample provision in his will when he died in 1812. One son received 900 acres of land, 200 pounds to purchase law books, and a large sum "for reasonable expenses till he shall be admitted to the bar." The two Jones' girls married judges, one of whom became chief justice of Newfoundland. Two of Ephraim's sons, one a judge and the other Brockville's most prominent merchant, were later elected to the Assembly. Both were appointed as well to the Legislative Council, where Judge Jones became speaker. Two other sons achieved distinction in business and banking, both receiving appointments as collectors of customs, one at Prescott and one at Brockville. The Jones' boys and girls did well in the tiny colony that became Ontario.Hazelton Spencer
The election of Hazelton Spencer for the riding of Lennox, Hastings and Northumberland did not go uncontested. His opponent swore before a magistrate that Spencer had won the election through the "partiality of the Returning Officer." However, because there were no witnesses to verify this charge, the case was dropped. While little is known of his work in the Legislature, Spencer was an important member. Governor Simcoe was extravagant in his praise of him, once describing Spencer as one of the most respectable members of the House of Assembly. Spencer was among the favoured few who received an entire township from Simcoe, a land grant that was later rescinded.
Hazelton (Hugh) Spencer was born in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, in 1757. He fled with his father from American rebels in 1777 and joined General John Burgoyne's British forces en route to Canada. Commissioned a lieutenant, Spencer served in the King's Royal Regiment of New York under Sir John Johnson until 1781. In the same year his name appears on a list of Loyalists where his occupation is given as `a hatter.' He retired on half pay in 1784 and settled on land in Fredericksburgh Township in eastern Ontario.
Simcoe's high regard for Spencer stemmed in part from Spencer's ready response to the Governor's 'beating orders' to raise one of the four companies for the Royal Canadian Battalion. Spencer was commissioned a captain in a letter which Simcoe signed "with great esteem." Spencer's crowning appointment came when he was made Lieutenant of Lennox County. For this office Simcoe selected only individuals he considered able, wealthy and worthy, and likely to be loyal in difficult times. Simcoe these considered them his local aristocracy.Joshua Booth
Joshua Booth represented the riding of Addington and Ontario. Because of his stature, his Presbyterian sense of duty, and his eagerness to promote the good of society, he was appointed justice of the peace. He also served on a commission to settle Loyalist land claims. Booth was a miller by trade and quickly recognized properties with potential for successful mills. He dammed these sites and exploited them with grist and saw-mills. At the time of his death he was the most successful mill operator in eastern Ontario.During the War of 1812 he was captain in command of the 1st Addington Militia company. Booth died while on duty searching for militiamen who were absent without leave.Hugh McDonell
Hugh McDonell, a brother of John, represented the first riding of Glengarry. During the revolution he was taken prisoner but managed to escape, and with other Loyalists fled to Montreal where he joined the King's Royal Regiment. When it was disbanded he was appointed deputy land surveyor and laid out concession and township boundaries in the eastern district of the province. Hugh was a Scottish Highlander, and largely because of the quasi-military society of the Highlanders in which he lived, he was appointed the province's first adjutant general of the militia. His investigation into statistics regarding the number of men who were eligible for militia duty disclosed inaccuracies which he corrected. He also discovered that guns and other supplies were often sold by soldiers to whom they were issued. He suggested improvements which Simcoe implemented. McDonell lost this job because of a prolonged illness.
Hugh later joined the Royal Canadian Volunteer Regiment as captain. When the regiment was disbanded he was unable to find employment in Upper Canada and became destitute. In desperation he travelled to England in 1804, where with assistance of the Duke of Kent, whom he had known in Montreal, he secured the position of assistant commissary general at Gibraltar. Later McDonell became consul general in Algiers, a position he retained until 1820 when he retired to Florence, Italy, where he died in 1833.Alexander Campbell
Alexander Campbell, the youngest of our founding brothers was the member for Dundas County. He took the oath of allegiance and was sworn in as an Assemblyman on September 17th, 1792. He was born in New York and fought as a Tory in the American Revolution for six and a half years. When it ended he became a half-pay officer earning 4 shillings and 8 pence a day. He was granted 500 acres and was among the first Loyalist pioneers to settle along the St. Lawrence River, "where the land is fertile and the climate better than at Montreal." Former soldiers were located here in order to be able to defend the border should that become necessary. In addition to occupying the office of justice of the peace, Alexander was appointed district register responsible for ensuring that deeds and other encumbrances affecting property were registered. He died in 1834.Jeremiah French
Jeremiah French represented the riding of Stormont in eastern Ontario. French was from Vermont and served as a lieutenant in the King's Regiment under General John Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Following the war French settled in eastern Ontario where he accumulated some 3800 hundred acres in the district of Lunenburg. He died in 1805 at the age of 62.Peter Van Alstine
Peter Van Alstine was elected for the riding of Prince Edward and Adolphustown. He replaced Philip Dorland, a Quaker, who had been elected earlier, but had refused for religious reasons to take the oath of allegiance. Since this was mandatory, Dorland was declared ineligible to take his seat and a by-election was held at which Van Alstine was elected. Van Alstine served as a major in a Loyalist regiment and was among those who left New York when the city was evacuated by Sir Guy Carleton in November, 1783. He wintered at Sorel, a concentration centre for Loyalists. In 1784 he brought a disbanded army unit to Adolphustown by the Bay of Quinte and organized the settlement of Quakers in the Bay of Quinte district.
In 1793 Van Alstine petitioned for and received a grant of four hundred acres at Marysville near where he erected a mill. In recognition of his military and local leadership, Van Alstine was granted the ultimate honour by Simcoe when he was appointed Lieutenant of Prince Edward County. He received the Governor's praise for the quality of the men he selected as officers and for his various military activities, which included the formation of a militia force of light infantry. Van Alstine died in 1828.First Assemblymen In A New Nation
No record was kept of the attendance of members of the Assembly, but from the proceedings it seems clear that of the sixteen members elected to the first parliament, at least fourteen were in attendance at some time during the first session. The names of all but Joshua Booth and Parshall Terry appear to have taken some part. There had always been difficulties in England, Ireland and Scotland in securing attendance of members and in Scotland's case absentees were fined. This does not appear to have been necessary in the early years in Upper Canada. Despite distance, difficulties and dangers of travel through the trackless forests, and the urgent demands of home and harvest, most members managed to respond to Simcoe's summons to assemble at Newark where they proudly added "their mite to the splendour and glory of the Empire." While he earlier had been apprehensive about the quality of the men who had been elected to the Assembly, Governor Simcoe was pleasantly surprised at the conclusion of the first session of the Legislature. He reported to his superior in London that overall, he had no reason to be dissatisfied with the work of Assembly, particularly since its members were "newly acquainted with power." Simcoe expressed the hope that with their efforts and the province's natural advantages, which he said were inferior to none, a foundation would be laid for themselves and their descendants that would last through subsequent centuries.
These men and the women who supported them readily accepted "the great and momentous trusts and duties" thrust upon them to create a foundation for the province that was steady, stable and secure. "Itis our immediate duty to contribute to the formation of a new nation." They built better than they knew for 212 years later, Canada is a great and thriving nation which will continue to grow and prosper through all succeeding ages.
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