Queen’s Rangers 1837-38

It proved to be impossible to kill the Regiment, and thirty-five years later it would rise again.  In 1837, both Upper and Lower Canada were convulsed by political unrest. Armed revolts headed by Louis Joseph Papineau broke out in Lower Canada first, threating Montréal, and authorities rushed troops from throughout the colony to quell the insurgency. Firebrand newspaperman William Lyon Mackenzie seized the opportunity and urged the people of Upper Canada to rebel against the oligarchic Family Compact. In response, Lieut.-Gov. Francis Bond Head authorized Lieut.-Col. Samuel Peters Jarvis to bring weapons from Montréal, and to organize two battalions of active militia to defend Upper Canada against potential rebellion. 

Samuel Peters Jarvis the son of William Jarvis, who had been an officer in the Queen’s Rangers during the American Revolution. Samuel had also served the colours, fighting at Queenston Heights and other battles during the War of 1812. After peace was restored, he remained active in the militia and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1837, with rebellion brewing, he requested permission from the Crown to raise a regiment for the defense of Upper Canada, and to name it “The Queen’s Rangers” after his father’s old unit. In Fall of 1837, he received authorization to do so. This third iteration of the Queen’s Rangers included ten companies, each with a captain, a lieutenant, and an ensign:

Commanding – Lieut.-Col. S.P. Jarvis

Second-in-Command – Major Amos Thorne 

Captains – Samuel P. Hurd, William Botsford Jarvis (son of Stephen Jarvis and Sheriff of York), John Powell (son of Chief Justice W.D. Powell), William F. Brooke, George Munro, R. Baby, James McDonell, Lambert Brooke, Colley Foster, William Spragge

Lieutenants – John H. Cameron, Alexander Shaw (son of Aeneas Shaw), J. Buchanan, John Bell, John Moodie, George Wells, William Bridgeford, J. Hurd, John W. Gwynne, John Hector

Ensigns – John Watson, George Shaw, Grant Powell (son of Chief Justice W.D. Powell), Archibald Cameron, W. J. Bellingham, George W. Brock, A.J. Ferguson, Lukin Robinson, W.F. Jones, J.P. Carey

Adjutant & Capt. – John M. Coppinger

Quartermaster & Lieut. – John Ross

Paymaster – T. Douglas Harrington

Surgeon – William C. Gwynne

Ass’t. Surgeon – William Rees

Later added:

Ensigns – Frederick W. Jarvis, William D. Powell, Peter Heward, Septimus A. Ridout, Henry Cooke

Adjutant – George D. Wells.

In this period, the Queen’s Rangers are most remembered for their participation in the defense of Toronto and the engagement at Montgomery’s Tavern in December of 1837. The tavern, situated (at the time) on the northern edge of the city, had become a base of operations for Mackenzie’s rebel forces. On December 5th, 1837, rebel forces threatened to take the city as they moved down Yonge Street from the tavern. The militia were called out to respond, but they had been hastily assembled and were poorly equipped. An eye-witness described the scene:

[…] a large number of persons serving out arms to others as fast as they possibly could. Among others, we saw the Lieutenant-Governor in his every-day suit with one double barrelled gun in his hand, another leaning against his breast and a brace of pistols in his leathern belt. Also, Chief Justice Robinson, Judges Macaulay, Jones and McLean, the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General with their muskets, cartridges, boxes and bayonets, all standing in ranks as private soldiers under the command of Col. Fitzgibbon.

Fortunately, the rebel’s advance guard ran into a picket at Yonge and Maitland near College St., commanded by Sheriff William Botsford Jarvis. The picket fired, and the rebels retreated. 

The counter-attack was set for December 7th. The previous day, a group of Rangers had been sent ahead towards the northern outskirts of the city. On the afternoon of the 7th, they were joined by Col. FitzGibbon, who was acting as adjutant-general of the militia, and 1,000 hastily organized volunteers. The volunteers had only been issued muskets earlier that morning, which had recently arrived from Montréal. Once equipped, FitzGibbon and Governor Bond Head led their force up Yonge Street toward Mackenzie’s headquarters at Montgomery’s Tavern (just north of Eglington Avenue) where they rendezvoused with the Rangers. Together, they converged on the enemy position in three columns. The militia force formed the centre, the Queen’s Rangers led a parallel column to the right of the main body of troops,[1] and a similar large detachment advanced on the left. The skirmish lasted barely half an hour, and concluded with the burning of Montgomery’s Tavern. Mackenzie’s men were utterly overwhelmed, and quickly broke and ran. After the action, the Rangers were praised by the Lieutenant Governor for their courage and discipline. Interestingly enough, however, it was not until the following day, Dec 8th, that the unit finally received its official recognition as “The Queen’s Rangers.”

Although defeated, Mackenzie had escaped to Navy Island on the Niagara River, with roughly 200 of his supporters. He continued to foment unrest by advocating for reform. Consequently, the Rangers and other militia detachments were posted at various points along the Niagara frontier – including Niagara, Queenston, Chippewa, Allenburg, and St. Catharines – in order to repel any potential invasion. As the weeks passed, they watched The Caroline, an American steam ship out of New York, ferry supplies over to the rebels. On Dec. 29th, the senior militia officer, Lt.-Col. McNab, acting on orders from Lieut.-Gov. Bond Head, instructed Commander Andrew Drew of the Royal Navy to capture and scuttle The Caroline. Drew is said to have called for volunteers, explaining that “he wanted a few fellows with cutlasses who would follow him to the devil.” At midnight he led those volunteers, many of them Rangers, across the river in small boats. They killed an American sentry, Amos Durfee (whose murder Alexander McLeod was later charged with), and boarded The Caroline, which was moored on the American shore near Fort Schlosser. Drew’s men towed the ship into the middle of the river, set it ablaze, and let the current take the burning wreckage over the falls as they rowed back to the Canadian shore. Years later, in 1864, Drew would write an account of the action, entitled A Narrative of the Capture and Destruction of the Steamer “Caroline” and her Descent over the falls of Niagara on the night of the 29th of December, 1837.

Although successful, the attack on The Caroline – an American ship in American waters – stirred up considerable anti-British sentiment, and Mackenzie’s rebellion continued. In the early months of 1838, his supporters launched small raids at Amherstburg, Sandwich, Pelee Island, the Thousand Islands, and Prescott. These attacks were largely unsuccessful. In the spring, with the threat of invasion fading, the Rangers were recalled to Toronto. There they remained on special patrol duties along Yonge Street, guarding the wharves, board walk and harbour area. District orders issued May 24th, 1838, read as follows:

“Patrol of the Queen’s Rangers will in the course of their rounds proceed up Yonge Street as far as the boarded path extends. Night patrols are desired to be particularly on the alert, there being great reason to apprehend that evil-designing persons are plotting against the peace of the city… A guard of one captain, two subalterns, two sergeants, three corporals and twenty-seven privates will be furnished by the Rangers to-morrow to be called the Main Guard. A guard station will be provided at or near the market place. This guard will place two sentries at the head of each of the two principal wharves and one at the guardroom. Sentries at the wharf will pass the word for the guard to turn out whenever a steamboat shall arrive during the night. Sentries and guard must have their muskets loaded, and must be on the alert to repel any attempt to land which may be made by persons bearing arms and not belonging to Her Majesty’s service.”

The Rangers shared these duties with members of Toronto-based militia units as well, including the 4th North Yorks, commanded by Col. C. C. Small of Toronto. We know that they mustered at Richmond Hill on June 4th, 1838, with 701 of 725 men present, however, with only 31 muskets and 500 rounds of ammunition among them. Fortunately, neither force would be required much longer.

In July of 1838, with the danger of invasion past, orders were given to discharge most of the Rangers and militia from active service. A small Toronto City Guard remained. Although not officially active, the Rangers would continue to exist as a regiment for another ten years. They mustered for a few days each Autumn, provided their own clothes, and were unpaid. In 1848, The Queen’s Rangers were officially disbanded for a third time. Many men from the former unit would continue to serve in militia flank and rifle companies across York County, but this time it would take many years for the Queen’s Rangers to parade yet again under their old name.


[1] Jackson notes that: “A number of accounts say that the Queen’s Rangers formed the right wing or flank at Montgomery’s Tavern or Gallows Hill. From an examination of the order of distribution of forces for the attack on the rebel position there, I think this is an understatement. It arises from the fact no doubt that the memorandum of distribution of Col. FitzGibbon shows ‘Right flank under Col. S. Jarvis.’ But the first company of the main body, following the vanguard and then two guns, was commanded by ‘Capt. William Jarvis’ and the fifth company by ‘Capt. John Powell.’ These officers were probably Capts. W.P. Jarvis and John Powell of the Queen’s Rangers.” (66)

<==York Militia 1793-1866

The Voluntary Militia Period 1848-1866==>