Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Patriots and the People

The Patriots and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in Rural Lower Canada

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 412
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Patriots and the People
    Book Description:

    In looking closely into the actions, motives, and mentality of the rural plebeians who formed a majority of those involved in the insurrection, Allan Greer brings to light new causes for the revolutionary role of the normally peaceful French-Canadian peasant. By doing so he provides a social history with new dimensions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-5732-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-19)

    In 1837–8 Canada came as close to revolution as it ever would. The parliamentary régime had ceased to function in Lower Canada as a movement (the ‘patriots’) pushing in the direction of democracy and independence ran into a stone wall of British intransigence. Protest provoked repression which in turn led to deeper popular alienation. After assembling military forces from across British North America, the colonial government moved in November to arrest all the leading patriot agitators. The troops met resistance from local militias, and in small but sharply contested battles at St Denis, St Charles, and St Eustache, the...

  7. 2 Rural society and the agrarian economy
    (pp. 20-51)

    Eighteen thirty-seven was not a good year for the Lower Canadian peasantry; times had been hard for several years, but in the previous autumn grain harvests collapsed totally in many parts of the province. The new year had scarcely begun when word reached Quebec City of the ‘frightening misery’ prevailing in communities such as Trois-Pistoles in the lower St Lawrence: ‘It is so bad that several farmers are eating their horses. There have been no crops for four years and many people haven’t even a potato. The most well-off barely have enough for themselves and their families, even living very...

  8. 3 Potatoes in a sack? Rural community life
    (pp. 52-86)

    Were the habitants of Lower Canada nothing more than ‘potatoes in a sack,’ isolated, disconnected, self-absorbed? Was theirs an atomized existence with each little agrarian family turned inward upon itself, unconcerned with any larger collectivity and incapable of joining others in concerted action for the good of all? As we have seen, the circumstances of rural life in French Canada – the absence of collective practices in agriculture, the weakness of local government – all seemed to conspire to make this peasantry even more fragmented than most. And yet we know that the habitants did act with some degree of...

  9. 4 The habitant and the state
    (pp. 87-119)

    The British colonial state in Lower Canada was rather a primitive entity, certainly by today’s standards, but even by the standards of the Atlantic world of the early nineteenth century.² Its laws were a confused amalgam of English and French, its finances were in chaos, owing to bickering among the different branches of government. Before 1836 there were no recognizably modern institutions of local government even in the cities, much less in the countryside. Routine administration by salaried officials was limited entirely to urban districts, while in the countryside, where the vast majority of the population dwelt, there were virtually...

  10. 5 The Patriot movement and the crisis of the colonial régime
    (pp. 120-152)

    Acute partisan strife was a feature of Lower Canadian political life from about 1805 until the Rebellion brought the parliamentary system to a close. Throughout this period the initiative belonged to a circle of like-minded Assembly politicians variously known as the ‘popular party,’ the ‘Canadian party’ and the ‘Patriot party.’ Like other democratic opposition parties of the day, this group was composed mainly of doctors, lawyers, and notaries, along with a sprinkling of small merchants and landlords. Educated and articulate, yet not well integrated into the existing regime, the men of the liberal professions were perfectly suited to lead a...

  11. 6 Two nations warring
    (pp. 153-188)

    Robert Hall was a farmer of British origin who lived in the predominantly French-Canadian parish of Ste Scholastique, north of Montreal. In late June and early July of 1837 he and other English speakers in the county of Two Mountains began to suffer various forms of ill treatment at the hands of their francophone neighbours. Several families fled to the city, Hall’s among them, and there he found a magistrate and swore out the following deposition.

    I have lived with my family in the said parish of Ste Scholastique for two years past. I have always lived on the best...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. 7 The queen is a whore!
    (pp. 189-218)

    Queen Victoria ascended the throne of England in August 1837, just as tensions in Lower Canada were reaching a boiling point. There is no indication that the seventeen-year-old monarch gave much immediate thought to the political squabbles wracking her North American possessions, but her coronation provided Canadians with an occasion for further reflections on sovereign authority and state forms. ‘Loyal’ Montreal managed to mount a parade to celebrate the happy event, and at Sorel the little garrison fired off a salute. A tavern-keeper’s wife remarked to onlookers at the latter, There you are, celebrations for the coronation of the queen;...

  14. 8 Parish republics
    (pp. 219-257)

    Meanwhile, as male republicans continued to insult the queen and revile the monarchy, the colonial government of her majesty suffered attacks of a more practically damaging sort in the parishes of western Lower Canada. The autumn months saw changes, momentous in their implications, in the way sovereign power was actually constituted and exercised at the local level. The ‘people’ were beginning to rule themselves, and this phenomenon, more than the declarations published earlier in the Patriot press or the blood later spilled on the field of battle, is what made 1837 truly a revolutionary year.

    Clashes over the allegiance of...

  15. 9 The question of property
    (pp. 258-293)

    ‘The whole French population of this Province are now united against the Government,’ reported General Colborne in mid-November 1837. ‘The habitans in all parts of the Province refuse to pay their rents; as they have been informed by the leaders of the Revolutionists that they are to have their deeds; and that the Seigniorial rights and tithes are to be abolished. Thus they are all interested in the success of the menaced revolt’¹ Several other observers at the time of the insurrections and in the years following concurred with this assessment: opposition to feudal exactions, ecclesiastical as well as seigneurial,...

  16. 10 Unsparing force
    (pp. 294-331)

    By the beginning of November events were clearly moving – and moving rapidly – towards a violent showdown. Lower Canada had been racked by intense political agitation for six months, and the civil government had proved itself utterly incapable of stemming the tide. Attempts at repression had only expanded and intensified the opposition, an opposition increasingly directed against the colonial régime itself, not merely specific individuals, laws, or institutions. Most ominous was the development of insurgent local administrations in the rural parishes of the District of Montreal. Their very existence represented a challenge to the sovereignty of the colony’s government,...

  17. 11 Repression, resurgence, and final defeat
    (pp. 332-363)

    By the beginning of 1838 Lower Canada was no longer a colony governed by British law; it was enemy territory occupied by military force. The constitution had been suspended, the elected Assembly replaced by a ‘Special Council’ packed with loyalists, and General Colborne himself now occupied the governor’s palace. In the District of Montreal a régime of martial law prevailed as of 5 December 1837, and habeas corpus was no longer in effect. Even more draconian legal restrictions followed the insurrection of November 1838. Jean-Marie Fecteau is right to draw our attention to the extraordinary character of this collection of...

  18. Picture Credits
    (pp. 364-364)
  19. Index
    (pp. 365-385)