William McCUTCHEON (3) (Samuel-2; Samuel-1) was born in Sloanstown, Donaghadee, County Down, Northern Ireland in 1818 and he died on the 17th March 1891 in Nottawasaga, Ontario. He married Anna SMITH (1829 – 24th February 1879) in 1845 by licence. They were both buried at the East Nottawasaga Presbyterian Church. She was born in Armagh, Ireland.
William’s life story is truly an historical one, full of adventure, and is the epitome of what Canada and Canadians were to become. William never left a biography. In the following pages, I am combining small amounts of the history of the era in which William participated, because he was a cog in the making of it. All we know of William is information gleaned from historical data and some folklore handed down by family members.
This entry, found in his son David’s obituary dated June 1941 states: “Mr. McCutcheon’s father was an officer in the Militia. The son, likewise, was a true Britisher……..” So far, no historical data has been found to support this statement. If William was an officer in the militia, it would have been during the Fenian raids, when he was 50 years old and by then a seasoned veteran.
McCutcheon, William: 5th Regiment of Gore Militia between ages 19-39: William Botsford Jarvis, Major Commander of the 5th Regiment, Gore Militia. In 1827 William Botsford Jarvis was the choice of the Family Compact (Early in the 19th century, the colony’s governor and his appointed council were nick-named “the Family Compact”) to be Sheriff of the Home District and was duly elected. In 1837, as sheriff, he led a volunteer troop and stopped William Lyon MacKenzie and his rebels during Rebellion of 1837 from entering York, Upper Canada, forcing them back to engage at the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern. The Gore District was an historic district, formed in 1816 and lasted until 1849 as part of the Home District, York. The County of Wellington was spawned from this district, with its major town being “Guelph”.
The above information suggests that William McCutcheon was a volunteer with the 5th Regiment, Gore Militia and would have been part of the troops that forced the rebels to retreat to Montgomery’s Tavern.
William McCutcheon as a young man of 19 years fought in the McKenzie Rebellion and later fought in the Fenian Raids. He obtained crown land in Nottawasaga and he, Anna and their children lived at Lot 12, Concession 6. Historical records also show William owning Lot 28, in Concession 7. He may have obtained this land in lieu of payment for his involvement with the Rebellion of 1837.
The building of the Welland Canal began in July 1825. The historian, Alice Burke stated that William worked briefly on the Welland Canal. His father Samuel worked there for 3 weeks before he died in 1828. Was William working there as a boy of 10 – 11 years? It is possible. The first part of the canal opened in 1829.
The McKenzie Rebellion was a revolutionary uprising inspired by William Lyon Mackenzie that was crushed by the combined efforts of the British Army and Canadian volunteers, of whom Sir John A MacDonald (Canada’s first Prime Minister) was one. William Lyon MacKenzie was a radical reformer who made outright demands for a republican government in the then province of Upper Canada.
MacKenzie was a Scottish immigrant who founded “The Colonial Advocate”, a reformist newspaper. He also won a seat in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. He became the first mayor of Toronto, newly renamed from York in 1834.
In 1835 there was an especially bad harvest which led to a recession, affecting all of the farmers in the surrounding counties. The banks reacted and started recalling loans, refusing credit to borrowers in the meantime. The farmers became restless and angry, calling for reform. MacKenzie gathered many supporters from the farmers around the Toronto area. He organized a march down Yonge Street, with his followers armed with guns and pikes for hunting fowl, beginning at Montgomery’s Tavern on the 4th December 1937, seizing an armoury.
Sketch of the “Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern” 7 December 1837
Robert Moodie attempted to break through the rebel’s roadblock. However, the rebels fired upon him, killing him. Then MacKenzie marched on city hall, presenting a list of the rebel’s demands to a truce party who was waiting for them there. Later in the afternoon of December 5th, MacKenzie’s rebel’s marched down Yonge Street again, but this time they were fired upon by the loyalist’s troops. As the troops bent down to reload their muskets, the rebel’s mistakenly thought they had killed the troops, so the rebel’s ran towards them. They were met with a new volley of bullets and the rebels fled.
One rebel recounted:
“Little Mac conducted himself like a crazy man all the time we were at Montgomery’s. He went about storming and screaming like a lunatic, and many of us felt certain he was not in his right senses.”
MacKenzie’s rebels numbered in the 400 and they posted themselves in Montgomery’s tavern and the woods behind the tavern. The rebels were largely un-armed. Pictured is a sketch of his rag-tag rebels and their rudimentary weapons.
By the 7th December, the loyalist troops numbered in the thousands and they marched down Yonge Street toward Montgomery’s Tavern. They bombarded the tavern with artillery fire causing the rebel’s to panic and flee. The loyalist troops then looted the tavern and burned it to the ground. The short-lived rebellion was over.
William was a volunteer and fought as a loyalist which meant that he probably fought alongside Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister.
Protestant Irish were generally loyal to England, while the Catholic Irish were not. Which takes us to the Fenian Raids.
Who were the Fenians? The Fenian movement was a combined effort by the Fenian Brotherhood (founded in the United States in 1858 by John O’Mahony and Michael Doheny) and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (founded in Dublin, Ireland in 1858). O’Mahony named his organization after “Fianna” the legendary band of Irish warriors led by Fionn Mac Cumhaill. They came to be called Fenians. The Fenian Brotherhood was a counter-part organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood. They fought for an Independent Ireland, separate from Britain. The Fenian Brotherhood’s main purpose was to supply weapons and raise funds for the parent organization in Ireland, the IRB.
~Fenian Soldier’s Song~
We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war,
And we’re going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore,
Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue,
And we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do.
Late on the night on the 31st May 1866, a telegraph went out from Ottawa for the second call to arms, and within an hour bugles and bells were heard echoing in every town, city and village in Canada. Within hours, a force of volunteers 22,000 strong was mustered. 68 Companies alone in Upper Canada were readied. The volunteers marched out singing:
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, Our boys are marching. Cheer Up! Let the Fenians come.
For beneath the Union Jack we’ll drive the rabble back,
And we’ll fight for our beloved Canadian home.
There were five Fenian Raids into Canada from the United States. The first one occurred in April 1866 at Campobello Island, New Brunswick. A war party of 700 Fenians arrived at the shores of Maine, across from the island, with the intent of seizing the Island from the British. This raid failed.
The second Fenian Raid into Canada happened on 2 fronts into Ontario. The first one was the Battle of Ridgeway, near the village of Ridgeway, across the border from Buffalo, New York on the 2nd June 1866. Canadian troops battled the irregular forces of the Fenians. This battle was the bloodiest of the battles. The Fenians were 700 strong; the Canadian Troops 850 strong.
Shown is an 1869 Illustration of the Battle of Ridgeway depicting General O’Neill’s charge upon Canadian Troops. The Fenians were victorious in this battle which lasted 90 minutes. The Canadian troops become dis-oriented and retreated. The Fenians burnt the small village of Ridgeway. They intended to blow up the Welland Canal. There were 6 Fenians killed, 10 wounded; 9 Canadians killed, 37 wounded in this skirmish.
The Victorious Fenians, expecting retaliation from the British troops, retreated to Fort Erie, Ontario and fought the second front of this raid a few hours later called the “Battle of Fort Erie”. The battle of Fort Erie was the last battle fought on Canadian soil against a foreign invader.
The second raid was the first battle fought since the McKenzie rebellions in 1837. The Canadian Militia, with over half of the volunteers only learning to fire a rifle the day before the raid, was in-experienced. Whereas many of the Fenians were civil-war veterans. However, despite the Fenian victories, the Fenians made haste back to the United States, many of them on logs, rafts, swimming, into the waiting arms of the US authorities.
O’Neill later admitted that if the Canadian volunteers had lasted for 5 minutes longer during the “Battle of Ridgeway”, the Fenians would have been defeated. He being a seasoned soldier mistook the volunteers for regular British Troops. He couldn’t believe they were mere volunteers who had never seen battle. This was an eye-witness report: “An officer who fell on the firing line during the final stage of the battle was taken prisoner by the Fenians. When asked by the officer in command of the enemy what troops confronted them, and being told they were Canadian volunteers, he would hardly believe it. Their Adjutant said that during his experience in the Civil War he had never seen troops extending in such order and steadiness as our men did that morning. He was under the impression that they were British regulars.”
The Canadian Companies involved in these two battles were:
- Queens Own Rifles of Toronto. (481 men and officers).
- 13th Battalion Volunteer Militia of Hamilton. (16 officers and 249 men).
- York Company Volunteer Militia of Essex County. (3 officers and 44 men).
- Caledonia Company Volunteer Militia of Haldimand County. (4 officers and 44 men).
The final three Fenian Raids were the Pigeon Hill Raid on the 7th June 1866, the Mississquoi County Raid (1870), and the Pembina Raid (1871) led by John O’Neill into Manitoba. These three raids were unsuccessful.
William McCutcheon was a veteran of the second Fenian Raid fighting in the very historic last invasion of Canadian soil. He possibly joined the Caledonia Company Volunteer Militia of Haldimand County which was closer to Nottawasaga.
Pictured is a medal given individuals who participated In the Fenian Raids and Riel’s first Rebellion. The medal wasn’t issued until January 1899; 8 years after William had died. There were 16,668 but it is not known if William received his posthumously.
Volunteers were also given land in lieu of service.
There were no casualties from the Caledonia Company and very few wounded. Most of the deaths happened in the Queen’s Own Rifles. William was not on the wounded list.
The Fenian Raids were one of the major deciding factors in the formation of Canada on the 1st July 1867.
William had a remarkable 73 years journey in life beginning in Donaghadee, Northern Ireland as an Ulster Scot, to fighting the Fenians defending his new country at the age 50 years. He was 51 when Canada became a country. His Galloglass/Redshank ancestry stood him well.
CONCLUSION: All of the illustrations used in William’s story are in the public domain because their copyrights have expired. They are photographic reproductions of original old art works, other than the picture of the medal. It should be noted here that if one was in possession of this medal today, the medal is worth a lot of money. Note Queen Victoria’s profile on the medal.
~CHILDREN OF WILLIAM McCUTCHEON AND ANNA SMITH WERE~
- Mary Elizabeth McCUTCHEON (4). “A” following.
- Samuel Donald McCUTCHEON (4). “B” following.
- David McCUTCHEON (4). “C” following.
- Charlotte L McCUTCHEON (4) (William-3; Samuel-2; Samuel-1) was born on the 9th July 1852 in Nottawasaga, Ontario and she died on the 19th April 1889. She was buried at the Creemore Union Cemetery in Creemore, Nottawasaga, ON. She married John Gowan CARLTON (1848-1922) when she was 33 years old on the 2nd June 1886. John died on the 23rd June 1922 and is also buried at the Creemore Cemetery.
NOTE: This couple had no children. Charlotte died of PHTHISIS PULMONALIS, an archaic term for tuberculosis. John was a blacksmith and had been married prior to his marriage to Charlotte. He had nine children by his first wife – Alice MacKAY (1848-1885). John married for a third time after Charlotte died to Sarah MOORE.
- Margaret Ann McCUTCHEON (4). “D” following:
- Sarah Jane McCUTCHEON (4) (William-3; Samuel-2; Samuel-1) was born on the 9th January 1859 in Nottawasaga, ON. and she died on the 4th December 1886. She was buried at the East Nottawasaga Presbyterian Church. Sarah never married.
- William McCUTCHEON (4). “E” following.
- Thomas McCUTCHEON (4). “F” following.