Thursday, January 09, 2014

bonus features: john powell

This post offers supplementary material for an article I wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this piece.


An illustration of Powell escaping the rebels on December 4, 1837. I wasn't able to figure out the exact documentation for it, though it was suggested by the fine folks at Mackenzie House that it probably belongs to the National Archives. The image was sourced from this article about William Lyon Mackenzie and the rebellion.

Powell gave a lengthy account of what happened to him that fateful night to the Christian Guardian in February 1838. Here’s the preamble to the death of Anthony Anderson. Several names mentioned in this passage:
  • Joseph Sheppard owned a large lot on Yonge Street, and was pardoned for his role in the rebellion in May 1838. Also spelled “Shepard,” his family’s name lives on through Sheppard Avenue. 
  • Archibald McDonell (or Macdonald, or McDonald, depending on the source) was a wharf owner who accompanied Powell on his patrol that night.
  • James Scott Howard was the postmaster for York County, who was removed from his job after the rebellion by Sir Francis Bond Head for not taking up arms in support of the government. 
  • “Thomson” was Thomas Richard Brooke, an Orangeman who had accompanied Colonel Richard Moodie to Montgomery’s Tavern, where Moodie was killed. 
We were going leisurely along, when, at the rise of the Blue Hill four persons on horseback met us; we thought they were our friends; but as we approached, Mackenzie himself advanced and ordered us to half; the others immediately surrounded us. Mackenzie was armed with a large horse pistol, the rest had rifles. Mackenzie then told us that we were his prisoners; I demanded by what authority? He replied he would let us know his authority soon! Anderson (one of them) said, their authority was their rifles! Mackenzie asked us many questions as to the force in town? What guard at the Governor’s? And whether we expected an attack that night? To all these questions I returned for answer, He might go to town and find out. This appeared to enrage him very much, and he ordered Anderson and Sheppard to march us to the rear and “Hurry on the men.” Anderson took charge of me; Sheppard of McDonell. I went first; McDonell was about ten yards in the rear. Anderson was very abusive towards the Governor, and said he would let “Bond Head know something before long.” I asked him of what he had to complain, and reasoned with him on the impropriety of their conduct; he replied “they had borne tyranny and oppression too long, and were now determined to form a government of their own.” From all I could gather from him, I found the rebels were on their march to town, for the purpose of surprising it, and that they…were the “advanced guard.” 
Opposite Mr. Howard’s gate a person on horseback met us; Anderson ordered him to halt, and asked him who he was? He replied “Thomson.” I immediately said “Mr. Thomson, I claim your protection; I am a prisoner.” The person recognized my voice, and said “Powell, the rebels have shot poor Colonel Moodie, and are coming on to town.” He then put spurs to his horse and succeeded in passing them; they turned round to fire, but were prevented by our both being between them and Brooke, who was the person we met. Upon this intelligence, I made up my mind, and determined to make my escape at any hazard, as I felt confident the salvation of the town depended upon correct information being given at once. I made several attempts to fall back; but Anderson, who had me, threatened if I attempted to escape, he would “drive a ball through me.” I went as far as Mr. Heath’s Gate, when I suddenly drew my pistol and fired, not being more than two feet from him; he fell and I instantly set off full speed down the street; McDonell did so likewise; Sheppard followed, and fired; the ball passed between us. McDonell was far in the advance; I shouted to him to ride hard and give the alarm as my horse would not keep up.
At the Sheriff’s Hill we were again met by Mackenzie and the other person. Mackenzie rode after me and presenting his pistol at my head, ordered me to stop. I turned on my horse and snapped my remaining pistol in his face; the pistol must have touched him, I was so near; his horse either took fright, or he could not stop him, and he got some little distance in front of me.
Government House, 1834. Illustration by Jane Harris. Toronto Public Library, E 2-1e. This is the building Powell fled to after escaping the rebels.
City Council minutes during Powell's tenure as mayor contain little of his voice. One exception is an address to Lieutenant-Governor Sir George Arthur from the December 10, 1838 minutes offering thanks for the efforts made by the provincial government the previous month when rebel activity flared up again.



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