William On the road to Odelltown
November 9th, 1838 William Barr’s Account annotated by Mary Ducharme (December 2020)
In 1837-1838 British military units were ordered to drive out Patriotes by burning their houses. Outraged, The French farmers began to assemble militias. Further incited by incendiary speeches by Robert Nelson, Médard Hébert and Charles Hindelang, skirmishes between French and English were becoming more frequent. A similar escalation was brewing among the English.
William and John Barr, with their homes threatened, stood for the English. John enlisted under Colonel Scriver who commanded the Hemmingford Battalion. William signed up under Woolrich’s Company with his neighbours at Cleland’s Corners.
On November 9, 1838, in the thick of cold darkness, John Scriver spoke to the gathering volunteers who assembled at his house to begin the march to Odelltown to fight Patriotes. John Barr and William were both aware that Scriver knew what many of them thought of him because he had spoken against unfair laws regarding the French. He was met with accusations of disloyalty. “But I would now show what kind of a man I am.” Scriver said “if any man thinks I am disloyal in my actions, shoot me in the back!”
The night march was cold and miserable. “No wagons were taken, and each man stumbled forward in the dark, weighted by his musket, the 20 rounds of ammunition, and his day’s provisions.’’ Most of the men were without shoes, and poorly dressed.
William Barr’s narration that follows gives a vivid picture of what that early morning was like: “The roads were soaked with recent rains and the mud cut up by the unusual travel of the past few days, would have been almost impassible but for the frost. We pushed forward through the swampy flats, covered by a dense growth of tamarack and brush that marks the dividing line between Hemmingford and Lacolle. The column emerged on the cleared lands of the Roxham Settlement. Four miles and half miles were traversed and the corners reached, when the order sounded through the night air to halt. Captain Shields with his company had not come and the column would have to wait. While the men stood by, they munched the crusts they had brought and the neighbouring farmer, Charles Stuart, brought out all the milk he had. The eastern sky was lightening with the coming day, when Shield’s company came up, raising the force to 220 men.”
On reaching the turn that leads to Beaver meadow, a short cut was taken across the commons. The nearer farmhouses were approached to get what food each could spare “to eke out the provisions the men had in their pockets.”
The following incident describes a predictable blunder when lack of uniforms makes it difficult to discern friend from foe. Scriver had foreseen this and had his men tie a strip of white cotton round their arms.
It was eight o’clock when their column took the turn up the slope to Eldredge’s corners, which is marked by a lonely graveyard on the north side. Two men were seen waiting. One of them wore a blue military cloak, and he approached the front ranks confidently, taking it for granted that the “column of men in the workday clothing of farmers was a portion of the rebel force from Napierville or St. Remi coming to unite with the expedition that had gathered near Rouses Point. The man addressed them as French Canadians. He was quickly undeceived: in a twinkling both men were made prisoners.”
William and the men heard the distant boom of canon. By the time they had marched eight miles to Odelltown Street, (at the site of the Odelltown Church), “we found the other battalions drawn up in line. Our companies present were Captain Hayes of Lacolle, Weldon, Fisher, March, Edwards, Stuarts, Donald McFee, Woolrich, and the Sherrington Company. Fully 50 men to a company. We passed up the upper end of the line and halted. While the officers were consulting, we got a bite furnished by the houses around.”
“From where we were standing, we could see the rebels.”. . . . . . to be continued.
For a detailed and complete version of William Barr’s stirring story, go to The Hemmingford Archives Website : sites.google.com/sitehemmingfordarchives/