[b.1751 - d.1828]
History records the crimes, follies and misfortunes of humanity.
Isaac Swayze, a noted British secret agent during the American Revolution, was elected member for the 3rd Riding of Lincoln in the Assembly in Upper Canada's first Legislature. According to Lord Dorchester, Swayze also served as a scout for the British army in New York and was known as "the pilot to the New York army."
His services for the 'Tories' and the King made him a marked man in the rebellious colonies and he had many narrow escapes. On one occasion he was concealed in a cellar when Americans broke into the house. Failing to find him the frustrated rebels wounded his younger brother whose blood dripped down on Isaac secluded in the cellar below.
Called a "spy" by his enemies of whom he had many, Swayze was badly wounded and twice made prisoner during the war. On the first occasion he was sentenced to death. While awaiting execution was visited by his wife. Tradition has it that he exchanged clothes with her and so escaped. He eluded his captors by slipping out a side door silent as a ghost except for the faint jingle of his spurs and fled with a $5,000 reward on his head. Swayze led a troubled life and suspicions of criminality swirled about the man for most of his existence. Described as a spry man with a swarthy, sandy complexion, Swayze was 5 ft. 8 or 9 in. tall and had a bullet scar on one temple. Prior to coming to Niagara he had been arrested on a robbery charge and was released on condition that he leave town immediately.
Isaac Swayze's (Swasey, Sweezey) original ancestor, John Swasey, was born in Bridgport, Dorset County, England in 1619. John arrived in America on the ship Recovery from London in 1633 and eventually settled settled in Salem, Essex County, Massachussetts where he married Catherine Kinge. They had seven children one of whom was Joseph, Isaac's grandfather. Joseph married Mary Betts and the couple had eleven children one of whom was Caleb, Isaac's father. Caleb married Penelope Horton. They had ten children and settled in Roxbury, Morris county, New Jersey where Isaac was born in 1751.
Isaac came to Niagara in 1784 and settled at St. Davids. He was married three times and fathered eight children. After his house was destroyed by fire in the war of 1812, Swayze is thought to have lived for a time in Thorold on land which is now part of Brock University. Fellow settlers doubted his loyalty, but he successfully proved his allegiance and was granted land as a Loyalist. He was married three times to Bethia Luce, Sarah Secord and Lena Ferris.
In the first Legislature Swayze had the reputation as something of a radical and was considered by the conservatives as a leader of the common people. He claimed to have the confidence of the "farmers and the general classes" because he had their interests at heart. When he was scorned and criticized by the Tories, he said it was because of his "integrity that shafts of malice were hurled at him by those who "ranked themselves high." Swayze led the popular fight against the wording of deeds which some people feared would prohibit the sale of their land.Times were tense in the exposed little colony because of fears of republicanism from both France and the United States. For this reason anyone at all critical of the government for any reason was suspected of subversive activity. For his rebellious behaviour, Swayze was charged and tried as "an Exciter of Sedition." He was convicted and fined 10 pounds and forced to find sureties for good behaviour for two years. His light penalty was probably indicative of the fact that Swayze's criticism of the government was thought to be due more to personal disgruntlement than traitorous thinking. Despite his conviction Swayze later received a commission as justice of the peace.
Swayze was not elected to the second parliament, but campaigned in earnest for election in 1800 to the third. Prominent merchants led by Robert Hamilton of Queenston advocated financing extensive and costly improvements to the Niagara portage by levying higher charges for their goods. This caused widespread anger and opposition and Swayze emerged as leader of this group. He opposed the powerful commercial leaders of the province and won. He supported legislation favourable to small merchants, farmers, Loyalists and small office holders.
During one election campaign, Swayze became the centre of a controversy when he was accused of having been a horse thief. In spite of this accusation, he was elected. Even after his election the allegations continued in the columns of the Niagara Herald. Swayze sued the paper and the accusations stopped. By the time he was elected for the riding of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Lincoln in 1804, Swayze had become considerably more conservative. In fact, he had established a reputation as a rabid anti-republican. The reformer had suddenly become a conformist, and before long he found himself within the circles of power. However, his former allies discovered that his support had a price.
Swayze still attracted trouble. When he was appointed inspector of 'shop, still and tavern licences' for the Niagara District, he reported that three men had broken into his house and stolen 500 pounds in licence fees. He petitioned the Assembly to be excused from restoring the money, but when his story of the theft was met with outright suspicion, he quickly withdrew his petition. Swayze's son repaid the licence money in four annual installments after his father's death.
Swayze became a `hatchet' man and tackled with relish the dirty work of politics. He chaired a committee which found an opposing member's language "false, slanderous and highly derogatory" for which the member was jailed. In return the member pressed for Swayze's prosecution for circulating counterfeit bank notes. To ingratiate himself with the establishment, Swayze named his first son Francis Gore Swayze after the lieutenant-governor and his second son, William Dickson Swayze after an important personage in Upper Canada society.
At the outbreak of the War of 1812 Swayze was appointed captain of a troop of men he raised called the Royal Artillery Drivers. The appointment of this famous or infamous individual appeared to be of great interest to the Americans, one of whom reported on it as he carefully observed British preparations for war taking place across the river. "The noted Isaac Swayze has received a captain's commission for the flying artillery of which they have a number of pieces." Despite resigning his command at a crucial moment during the war, he was cited as deserving of "the greatest credit for his indefatigable exertions." After the Battle of Queenston Heights, he was mentioned in dispatches for his daring. When Niagara was burned by retreating Americans in 1813, Swayze lost his house valued by him at 200 pounds. Many of his war claims were returned to him marked "Not Allowed" in red ink because there was a strong suspicion that Swayze, characteristically, was attempting to get more than his due. For his services he was granted 1200 acres of land in Pelham Township and Niagara Township.
Following the war Swayze resumed his role as a dependable government gofer and hater of republicanism. When the Assembly moved to question Governor Gore about the disbursement of a 2,500 pound civil list, Swayze voted against calling him to account. He also opposed taxing "wild lands," a measure directed against absentee landlords, many of whom were government officials. Swayze was a stooge of the executive government and became the eyes and ears of civil authorities in the Niagara peninsula. He became a vocal opponent of reformer Robert Gourlay, an outspoken critic of the government, whose attempts to get information from settlers for an 'Immigrant Guidebook' were thought to be tantamount to treason. Swayze's allegations against Gourlay were carefully framed to fit the provisions of the Sedition Act. Swayze swore before the legislature that Gourlay was "an evil-minded and seditious person" and he promised the governor's secretary that Gourlay would soon be "in safe keeping or sent across the river." Swayze also informed on the editor of the Niagara Spectator for printing Gourlay's article titled, "Gagged, Gagged, by Jingo!"[See Below *]
Swayze was quite prepared to perjure himself to please the circles of power into which he wished to be accepted. He became a fanatical anti-democrat who spent the rest of his life as a sycophant dutifully doing unpleasant tasks for others.
Swayze himself narrowly escaped prosecution for the murder of a man named William Morgan who had threatened to disclose the secrets of Freemasonry and then mysteriously disappeared. It was determined that Swayze, who was a Freemason, had nothing to do with the disappearance despite having boasted about it. Morgan's disappearance was never satisfactorily explained.
Amazed that such a rascal could regularly be re-elected, Gourlay asked the question, "How could such a man as Isaac Swayze be elected and repeatedly elected?" He answered his own question. "Swayze covered all the stains upon his character with hypocrisy." Whatever his formula for electoral success, it failed to work in 1820 when Swayze, "the puppet of executive influence," was soundly defeated. It was his final political campaign. He retired from the fray after the election and spent the last years of his life quietly as a member of the Presbyterian church and proprietor of the Niagara Library. He died near Niagara in 1828.From Obituary notices: "1828. Died, Isaac Swayzie aged 77. He suffered imprisonment for being loyal to his king and country, escaped to the British lines and has been the representative in Parliament for several years." [*] When the Legislature passed a law "to prevent certain meetings within this province," Gourlay wrote an article of protest which he titled, 'Gagg'd, Gagg'd by Jingo.'
"Dear sweet Canada! Thou art gagg'd at last,
A babe of mighty Wellington, come o'er the sea,
Has, with thy own foul fingers, gagg'd thee." The following appeared in the "The New Jersey Revolutionary War Documents"
Five Thousand Dollars Reward.
BROKE out of the goal of this county, on the night of Monday the 4th instant, a certain Isaac Sweezy, about thirty years of age, five feet eight or nine inches high, sandy complextion, and had a scar of a bullet or swan shot in one of his temples.--Also on the night of Tuesday the 12th instant, Caleb Sweezy, jun. John Swan, Thomas Douglass, and Nathan Horton, jun.--Caleb Sweezy, jun. is about six feet high, thirty-two or thirty-three years of age, has a clear skin, and black beard, and altogether a well made, good looking man.--John Swan is a small man, of a dark complexion, and about thirty-six years of age.--Thomas Douglass is about six feet high, has black hair and beard, is something ruddy in his cheeks, thick lips, is about twenty-eight years of age.--Nathan Horton, jun. is about twenty-two years of age, quite a small man, rather slender, and of a light complexion.--All of whom were confined on charges of felony for passing counterfeit money. Whoever takes up and secures the above described persons in any goal of this state, or delivers them to the subscriber, shall have the above reward; or one thousand dollars for either of them that shall be so apprehended or delivered to
Sheriff of Morris County.
Morris-Town, Sept. 19, 1780
[Caleb was Isaac's brother.]
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