Lecture Series

MARION L. PHELPS MEMORIAL LECTURES: Winter 2017

The 17th annual Jimmy Manson Lectures, a series of six talks, are now renamed the Marion L. Phelps Memorial Lectures. We appreciate Mr. Manson’s enthusiasm and knowledge and look forward to his stimulating talks on the following themes this winter:

1 p.m. at 15 St Paul, the Old County Courthouse, in Knowlton. Thank-you for donations received at the door.

Part One – The Enduring Legacy:  Townshippers and the British Connection From the American Revolution  through World War Two

January 7, 2017 – The Uneasy Alliance: Loyalists and “Yankee Land Grabbers” in the Eastern Townships, 1800 – 1814

The early settlement of the Eastern Townships by loyalists from the former Thirteen Colonies was, in many ways, unique when compared to the establishment of loyalist communities in Ontario and the Maritimes. Although the Atlantic colonies and the future colony of Upper Canada (Ontario) had received thousands of refugees from the American Revolution by the end of the conflict, the situation was different in the Townships. The smattering of loyalists who chose to settle in the Missisquoi Bay Region of the Townships were considered squatters by the Governor of Canada, Frederick Haldimand, in spite of their loyalty to England and were ordered out of the area. More than a few resisted the Governor’s edict and chose to make a stand, but the majority of the refugees agreed to be transported to the area around present day Kingston in what was to become, after 1791, Upper Canada.

Thus, by the time the British Government chose to partition the province in 1791, the area now known as the Eastern Townships was almost completely unpopulated, east of Missisquoi Bay. On the other hand Upper Canada, Nova Scotia and the new province of New Brunswick sported a growing population of settlers whose loyalist credentials could, for the most part, scarcely be questioned, although many of the newcomers who arrived between 1786 and 1791 probably left their native land for economic rather than political reasons. However, the situation in Upper Canada began to change substantially in 1791 when John Graves Simcoe was appointed Governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe was convinced that large numbers of Americans retained their loyalty to Britain and, accordingly, he opened the doors wide to American immigrants. Tens of thousands of so-called “late loyalists” poured into Upper Canada and by the time of the War of 1812, the original loyalists were outnumbered by the new comers by a ratio of five to one. The situation in the Townships was similar in some, but not all, respects. The Proclamation of 1792, which officially opened the Townships for settlement, led to a large influx of several thousand loyalists as well as “late loyalists.” Some of these loyalists, who arrived from Vermont and other areas of New England, had indeed suffered persecution during the early stages of the Revolution. Their reasons for waiting until 1792 to leave the United States varied, however it is significant that Vermont’s rift with New York during the early 1780’s had delayed Vermont’s entry into the Union until 1791. Moreover, the persecution of loyalists in Vermont had ended during the early 1780’s, when Vermont’s leaders indicated that support for Britain would be tolerated as long as those opponents of the American Revolution backed Vermont’s bid for autonomy from New York. The position assumed by the Vermont Government stood the loyalists in good stead and many of them did not migrate north until the opportunity to acquire land in the Townships afforded itself with the legal opening of the Eastern Townships to settlers in 1792. In spite of this fact, there is little doubt that the greatest number of settlers who arrived in the Townships during these years could in no way be viewed as political refugees and, in fact, have been labelled, somewhat sarcastically, by some historians as “late loyalists” or “Yankee land grabbers.”

Obviously, the U.S. invasion of Canada in 1812 was viewed as a potential disaster by the British, since the majority of settlers living in border areas had only recently arrived from south of the border. In theory the invasion also threatened to divide the English speaking population of both the Eastern Townships and Upper Canada between loyalists, who had been forced into exile because of their opposition to the American Revolution and “late loyalists,” whose families in many cases had fought on the side of the Patriots, and who were persuaded to come to Canada by the lure of cheaper land and not out of political loyalty to Britain. This lecture will examine the relationship between loyalists and “late loyalists” in the Eastern Townships between 1792 and 1812.

January 14, 2017 – Harriet Baker: The Life and Letters of an Independent and Cosmopolitan Brome County Woman During the early Twentieth Century

Harriet Baker is best known as the sister of Eastern Townships’ war hero and Member of Parliament for Brome County George Harold Baker, but this articulate and worldly woman, born into an influential and affluent Townships’ family, enjoyed a lifestyle that was beyond the reach of most women of her generation. Her life was a remarkable one spanning ninety seven years at the time of her passing in nineteen sixty two. In many ways Harriet was, like most of us, a product of her environment – an environment that would mould her political views and lifestyle for the remainder of her life. Those English Canadians, like Harriet, who were born just before or slightly after Confederation, came of age during a period of intense nationalism inspired by a belief that the interests of Canada could best be served by acting in harmony with Britain and its colonies in an effort to civilize and democratize the world. The Baker family subscribed whole heartedly to the imperialist idea. Harry Baker’s decision to raise a regiment for overseas duty in 1914, when he could just as easily have spent the war making pious and patriotic speeches from his lofty position as solicitor and Member of Parliament, indicates the sincerity of his beliefs. Moreover, Harriet’s letters to General Dennis Draper and her cousin Kenneth Erskine, which were written between nineteen twenty four and nineteen forty, suggest that the affinity felt by many English speaking Canadians towards the British Empire and the Monarchy did not disappear after World War One and, for that matter, continued to resonate even after the Statute of Westminster removed the last impediments to full Canadian nationhood in nineteen thirty one.

The environment into which Harriet was born also contributed to the manifestation of a spirit of independence which was a staple of her life. The affluence and social status of the Baker family, allowed her a level of autonomy to which only a minority of Canadians could aspire. The quarter century leading up to World War One, also allowed women of that period to become involved in the public discourse concerning the future of Canadian society. The suffrage and temperance movements are but two reminders that women’s influence during the early twentieth century was not limited to the private sphere. Unlike many women of her generation, it would appear that Harriet Baker did not become involved with any of the women’s groups which abounded during this period. Her strong streak of independence was manifested through her choice of lifestyle, not her politics, since for all intents and purposes, Harriet was at the same time a free spirit and a mainstream conservative, whose perspectives on world affairs had more in common with the imperialism of Winston Churchill than with the feminism of Nellie McClung. Perhaps, the most obvious example of her independent mindedness was her decision not to marry. Like her sister Effie, she chose to remain a spinster. Revisionist studies of “spinsters” who came of age during the late 19th century have portrayed unmarried women as “self-confident and outgoing.” From what we know of Harriet Baker’s life through her letters, she was an erudite and cosmopolitan woman who led a fascinating, if at times, tragic life. Moreover, her letters written from Europe during the interwar years, in which she commented on British and French politics as well as the rise of Nazi Germany, are remarkable when one considers that during this period, in spite of “first wave feminism,” world affairs and politics were still considered the domain of men. However Harriet, in her correspondence with General Draper showed no deference whatsoever when discussing these topics.

This lecture will focus on Brome County native Harriet Baker and her experiences as a traveller and resident of France during the interwar period up until the time of her narrow escape from France at the time of the Nazi occupation of that country.

January 21, 2017 – Resignation and Reconciliation: Reverent Charles Caleb Cotton and the Anglican Church on the Eastern Townships Frontier

 In the years following the Proclamation of 1792, the Anglican Church was involved in a seemingly uphill battle to win the hearts and minds of the recently arrived settlers from the United States. Many of the earliest settlers in the Eastern Townships, while living in the United States, had been exposed to an evangelical interpretation of the gospel that seemed suited to the mindset of the agricultural class on the Townships’ frontier. Moreover, itinerant Methodist preachers from New England continued to be active in the recently settled border townships. In spite of this situation, the Church of England was prepared to do whatever was necessary to establish Anglicanism as the dominant faith in the Townships.

One of the pivotal figures in the effort to win adherents to the Anglican faith was Charles Caleb Cotton, who in 1804 was assigned to St. Armand and Dunham. Cotton was a worldly and sophisticated Englishman and although he had previously served as a clergyman in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, he appeared on the surface to be ill suited for the rigours of discharging his ecclesiastical obligations on the Townships’ frontier. Indeed, it seemed, in the months following his arrival, that his tenure would be short and unremarkable. In a letter which he wrote to his sister living in England, Cotton remarked that he was, “obliged to submit to a thousand inconveniences which I have not before experienced.” He concluded his letter by suggesting that he would likely be returning to one of his former American positions before long. Moreover, his early letters to his sister implied that he was bored in St. Armand and he often noted that the people in the area seemed to have little respect for a gentleman. Reverend Cotton’s problems were compounded by the fact that, unlike the itinerant American preachers who regularly visited the area, he was not a skilled horseman.

In spite of a rough start, Cotton’s prospects did improve as the years passed. He was able to persuade the bishop to divide the parish in two, allowing him to concentrate all his efforts on Dunham Township. Moreover, as Eastern Townships’ historian J.I. Little has pointed out in his study of religion on the Townships’ frontier, Reverend Cotton not only became resigned to remaining at his post after his marriage in 1814 to Drusilla Pettes, the daughter of a loyalist settler, but he also helped to establish a strong Anglican presence in Dunham Township, which boasted the largest ratio of Anglicans in the Eastern Townships.

This lecture will focus on the tribulations and achievements of Reverend Charles Caleb Cotton during his years of service on the Townships frontier. The content will be based primarily on the correspondence between Cotton and his family back in England over a span of 35 years.

Part Two – A Social and Economic Profile of the Eastern Townships, Its People and Its Institutions, 1850 -1917

 February 11, 2018 – The Corrigan Affair: Religious Tensions, The Leeds’ Orange Lodge and the Murder of Robert Corrigan

On October 19th, 1855, the deep seated hatred that defined the relationship between the Protestant Orangemen of Leeds Township and the Irish Catholic Ribbonmen of nearby Saint-Sylvestre, reached a crescendo with the murder of Robert Corrigan. Corrigan, a Protestant convert, born in County Tyrone, Ireland in 1817 had long been viewed as a provocateur and instigator by the Ribbonmen and his relationship with the Leeds’ Orange Lodge had done little to dissuade them from holding that view. Both the Ribbonmen and the Orange Lodge traced their origins to Ireland and the long standing conflict between Protestants and Catholics in that land. The Orange Lodge had been founded in 1795 to commemorate William of Orange’s victory over the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne on July 12, 1690. The Ribbonmen, for their part, were virulently anti-Protestant and their support for Irish independence led to bloody and often deadly confrontations with the Orangemen in that embattled British colony. The Eastern Townships of the mid- 19th century seemed an unlikely place for the historic conflict between the two groups to erupt, given the preponderant population of Protestants. However, when several members of the Protestant minority in the parish of Saint – Sylvestre demonstrated an interest in becoming involved with the activities of the Orange Lodge in the neighbouring Township of Leeds, the foundation was laid for the violence that was to follow. Thus, when the Leeds’ Orange Lodge embarked upon what one historian has described as ‘an aggressive Twelfth of July march,’ concerned Irish Catholics in Saint – Sylvestre organized a new chapter of Ribbonmen to meet the challenge posed by Protestants in Leeds as well as in their own parish.

The conflict between the Ribbonmen and the Orange Lodge reached its apex in October 1855 at the county fair when Corrigan and Thomas Durkin, an Irish Protestant from Leeds, assigned a poor grade to livestock owned by John McCaffrey, a Ribbonman from a nearby parish. In short order, both Corrigan and Durkin were attacked by a large number of Ribbonmen and in the melee that ensued, Corrigan was beaten to death. Corrigan’s death inflamed the Protestant community in the region and 300 of them armed with rifles, transported his body to Leeds, where an inquest was held two days later. The suspected killers of Corrigan were indicted, however they were sheltered by Catholic sympathizers in Saint – Sylvestre and it would take better than three months before they were taken into custody. Eventually, the accused killers turned themselves in, convinced that there were no witnesses capable of identifying the person who delivered the fatal blow. Their confidence was well founded and in February, 1856 the seven defendants were acquitted.

Corrigan’s death and the subsequent verdict of not guilty had profound political ramifications in Upper Canada in particular. Many Protestants, in the future province of Ontario, reflecting on Judge Jean-Francois-Joseph Duval’s behaviour during the Corrigan case, concluded that whenever and wherever Catholics formed a majority, Protestants could not expect to receive justice. The execution of Thomas Scott by the provisional government of Red River in 1870 only confirmed this suspicion and as Robert Corrigan’s biographer Philippe Sylvain has pointed out, “Orange Sectarianism” would finally have its revenge eight years later when Louis Riel, the man who had condemned Scott to death, was himself hanged in Regina.

February 18, 2017 – The Heroic Townshipper: Edward Doherty and the Capture of Abraham Lincoln’s Assassin

On April 26, 1865, ten days after the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth, a party of 25 men led by Captain Edward Doherty of the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment, surrounded a tobacco barn near Port Royal, Virginia where Booth and his accomplice David Herold were holed up. Doherty ordered the two men to surrender and Herold complied, however Booth attempted to shoot Doherty through a crack in the barn door. Before Booth could discharge his weapon, he was shot dead by Sergeant Boston Corbett, whose alert response in all likelihood saved Edward Doherty’s life.

For Edward Doherty and his family, the capture of Booth was the highpoint of a life which until that time had been marked by struggle and, at times, misery. The Doherty family hailed from Sligo County, Ireland. In 1832, six years before Edward’s birth, his parents and older siblings witnessed a cholera epidemic which killed nearly the entire population. In fact, the epidemic caused more deaths in Sligo than in any other place in Ireland. An Irish journalist at the time was moved to write, “Sligo is no more.” One of the residents of Sligo who survived the tragedy was Bram Stoker’s (the author of Dracula) mother. Reportedly the impressionable Stoker was so affected by his mother’s account of “coffin makers knocking on doors in the night looking for corpses and of victims being buried alive,” that he was moved to write his classic tale of the undead. The Doherty family, like so many Irish, during the cholera epidemic and the potato famine that was to follow 15 years later, chose to emigrate. The journey which led them to settle in the Eastern Townships ended with their arrival in Wickham during the middle of the eighteen thirties. Three years later, Elizabeth Doherty and her husband Henry celebrated the birth of their third son, whom they named Edward.

While life in the Townships was a vast improvement over what the Doherty family had experienced in Ireland, it was still difficult for Edward, who was not in line to inherit the family farm, to make a living. However, the decade of the eighteen fifties brought about fundamental change in the Townships. The region’s relative isolation ended with the construction of the St. Lawrence Atlantic and Grand Trunk Railways. In fact, the Grand Trunk line passed close to the Doherty’s family farm in Wickham affording Doherty, like many other men in their early twenties, the opportunity to move south in search of a higher standard of living. By the time the Civil War began, Doherty was living in New York City and he enlisted in the Union Army shortly after the South seceded.

Doherty’s initial involvement in the war ended early in the conflict when he was captured at the Battle of Bull Run, a resounding defeat for the Union Army. Doherty would spend the next year of his life in a Confederate prison camp in Richmond, Virginia. However, a year later Doherty escaped from his captors and returned to New York City. Twelve months later, Doherty reenlisted, this time with the 155th Infantry Regiment for a three year term. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to the rank of captain. A year later, Doherty joined the 16th Cavalry in New York. The 16th Cavalry spent the remainder of the war helping defend Washington, while also engaging in a number of scouting expeditions which took them into Virginia, the heart of the Confederacy.

By the end of the war, Doherty had gained the confidence of his superiors, resulting in his assignment to lead the group of soldiers charged with capturing Lincoln’s assassin. He was paid a bounty of more than five thousand dollars for successfully fulfilling his mission. More importantly, he was given the honour of being buried in Arlington National Cemetery upon his death in 1897. In Sligo, Ireland a headstone was erected in memory of Doherty, in spite of the fact that he almost certainly never visited the home of his ancestors. The inscription on the headstone read, “The Brave Avenger of President Lincoln.”

February 25, 2017 – Let There Be Light: Southern Canada Power and the Electrification of the Eastern Townships during Its Early Industrial Age:  

Although a number of important industrial and urban centers had developed in the Eastern Townships on the eve of the First World War, the area as a whole remained primarily agricultural. Canada’s industrial revolution of the late 19th century had occurred largely in areas to the west and north of the Townships. In particular Southern Ontario, given its access to the coal mines of Pennsylvania, had become the manufacturing center of Canada. The Townships were much farther removed from areas that could supply it with much needed coal supplies needed to produce electricity and moreover, the small waterfalls of the Townships were not enough to provide an adequate base for the development of manufacturing. However, that situation began to change dramatically with the emergence of the Southern Canada Power Company (SCP) in the years leading up to World War One. One student of industrial development in the Townships, during the period between the two World Wars, accurately summarized the impact that the arrival of hydroelectricity had on the Eastern Townships by writing that, “On pourrait dire familierement que le chemin de fer est le pere de l’industrie dans les Cantons de L’est, mais que les forces hydrauliques en sont la mere.” Indeed the expansion of industry in the Townships was in direct proportion to the hydroelectric development fostered by the emergence of the SCP under the guidance of J.B. Woodyatt. Woodyatt, an engineering graduate of McGill University, undertook a power survey of the Townships in 1913 and concluded that the St. Francis River near Drummondville showed great promise as a source of hydroelectricity. In large part thanks to Woodyatt’s study, the SCP was incorporated with Woodyatt as its general manager. Thirteen years later this visionary would become President of the company.

The emergence of the SCP proved to be a game changer for the Eastern Townships as communities progressively began to abandon their antiquated, small scale power plants and entered the industrial age. Before the arrival of the SCP, municipalities in the Townships depended upon undersized and isolated power plants which were operated by either water power or steam. Some operated only at night, while others shut down at the end of the day. Cowansville served as an excellent example of a town, which had inadequate power supplies to attract large scale industry. In 1891, a small generator in a woolen mill supplied 33 customers with electricity during the evening hours. In 1905, a larger generator was acquired and Sweetsburg was provided with electricity. In 1917, Southern Canada acquired the mill with 250 customers and the industrialization of the town followed forthwith. Economic growth in Cowansville proved to be a microcosm of the development of the entire area over a 25 year period. In 1928 and 1929, 29 companies chose to set up operations in the Townships. Moreover, between 1933 and 1935, during the worst years of the Great Depression, 25 new plants were established in the region. Political Economist John Dales, writing in 1957, noted that, “For the past thirty years, the Townships have been one of the most rapidly growing industrial areas in Canada. [F]rom the evidence, it is not unreasonable to conclude that hydroelectricity has played a major role in this development…”

This lecture will focus on the seminal role played by the Southern Power Company of Canada in laying the foundation for the industrial development of the Eastern Townships and the subsequent transformation of the region.