BATTLE OF WOODSTOCK (1)
On the eve of the battle one hundred thirty years ago, the village of Woodstock — the “Creek Village” as it was popularly called — was a very recent development. From the advent of the Loyalists to this area in 1784 until at least the 1820s, the largest concentration of settlement here was at Bedell’s Cove in what is now Lower Woodstock. As late as 1826 there were only two houses at the mouth of the Meduxnekik — those of Jacob and Richard Smith. Yet a mere twenty-one years later, on the eve of the Riot, a substantial village had grown up. Within the space of a single generation the settlement on the Meduxnekik mushroomed from two houses and perhaps a dozen souls to 120 houses and 600 inhabitants. The Creek Village also boasted twenty stores, seven taverns, four schools, four churches, two banks, three hotels, six lawyers, three doctors, one printing office, a multiplicity of other enterprises, and a small military garrison. The source of all this rushed growth and apparent prosperity was the lumber boom of the 1830s and early 1840s. Indeed, writing in a Saint John newspaper the very year of the Riot, William Baird referred to Woodstock as “the lumberman’s headquarters.”
Such an enormous growth within two decades must have given the Creek Village an air of roughness, instability and confusion. This is certainly the impression conveyed by Baird in another 1847 newspaper article when he admitted that “At some seasons of the year, from the influx of persons engaged in the lumbering business, one quarter more is, at least, added to the population… [and] many of these persons are disposed to cause riot and disorder . . . ;” and in his book Col. Baird makes fascinating references to some of those riots and disorders of the early 1840s. No doubt the tendency to violence already existing in a lumber boom town was magnified by the effect of those seven taverns. As the great local historian W. O. Raymond commented, “These were the days of whiskey galore. Many sold it; nearly everybody drank it.”
When disorders did break out at the Creek Village, they must have been rather difficult for Sheriff Winslow and the local magistrates to quell. (The small military unit could only be called to their aid in an extraordinary situation.) The shiretown of Carleton County was, of course, Upper Woodstock, and it was there, to the county gaol and the county court house, that drunken lumberers had to be taken and guarded. And on the eve of the Battle of Woodstock this was a particularly difficult chore, for the county gaol had recently burned. All malefactors, therefore, had to be imprisoned in one of the upper rooms of the court house, a chamber which, according to A. K. S. Wetmore, was not much larger than a certain outbuilding. This then was the general scene of battle in 1847 — a little lumber boom town with its frontier roughness, its taverns, its crude policing force, and its inadequate gaol facility. But before we can understand what it was that brought Roman Catholics and Orangemen together in the kind of strife which would be remembered here after 130 years, we must first direct our view away from the tumult and confusion of riot day itself, and consider the two sides in that conflict, and we must try to understand the point of view of each.
I begin with Loyal Orange Lodge. The particular incidents from which the Lodge sprang occurred in the aftermath of the English Revolution of 1688, when King James II, a Roman Catholic, was replaced by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her Dutch husband, William of Orange. King James fled to Roman Catholic Ireland, whither he was pursued and finally defeated by William of Orange on the 12th of July 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne. It is this Protestant ascendancy in the British Empire to which the Orange Lodge is historically dedicated, and the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne — the Glorious Twelfth of July — has become the Orangeman’s day.
The Orange movement came to North America early in the last century. One of the first known civilian lodges on the continent was founded in Saint John in 1831. A provincial Grand Lodge was organized in New Brunswick in 1838, at which time, it has been estimated, there were between 40 and 50 local lodges. This rapid growth in this province was despite the fact that the Orange Lodge had been suppressed in Ireland, and that this extreme disfavour was shared by the men who governed New Brunswick.
Some of the local Orange Lodges who joined to form the provincial Grand Lodge in 1838 were probably in Carleton County. I do not know when or where the first local lodge was gathered, but I have been reliably informed that the surviving records of the Woodstock Lodge date from about 1836. I am also told that there may well have been two Orange Lodges in the village of Woodstock in the 1840s. And, by the time of the riot, it is certain that there were both Orangemen and Orange Lodges in the country districts. I have seen a banner carried by members of the Lindsay Lodge, #47, in the riot procession, and probably there were other area lodges represented as well. But before we take a closer look at the ideas and concerns of Carleton County Orangemen in the 1840s, it is well to pause and speak briefly about Carleton County’s Roman Catholic population.
In one sense, the Roman Catholic presence in this area is ancient. The chapel standing in the Meductic Indian encampment in from 1717 to at least 1767 is the first known Church building in what is now New Brunswick. But the modern phase of the history of Carleton County’s Roman Catholic community did not begin until the arrival of the first English speaking Catholic settlers. No one knows quite when this occurred, but I suspect it was not until the influx of disbanded soldiers after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815; and probably there was no significant number of Roman Catholic settlers here until the 1830s.
According to an anonymous historian of the local Catholic community, the first prominent Roman Catholic in the area was James McGrath, who settled at Jacksontown in 1828. The first priest to visit regularly was a Father McSweeney from Fredericton. He celebrated the first known mass here in the post-Loyalist era at Michael Boyle’s on the Houlton Road in September 1832. A chapel dedicated to St. Malachi was shortly built at Woodstock. This, however, almost immediately proved too small, and the foundation of the first St. Gertrude’s was laid in 1840. The priest at Woodstock throughout much of the 1840s, including the time of the riot, was Father Richard Veriker.
On the eve of the Battle of Woodstock, one can, I think, identify two distinct groups of Roman Catholics in southern Carleton County, a distinction which is of the greatest importance. There were those who had arrived before 1840, and those who arrived in the 1840s. The earlier group were probably few in number; they were probably farmers; and probably the most of them settled in the back districts of the County, where a good piece of farm land could still be found. Moreover, these earlier arrivals must have been a fairly prosperous group, for they managed to build two Roman Catholic chapels in Woodstock within a single decade. These were the Catholics who arrived before 1840. They probably fitted into the community rather well.
The Roman Catholic immigration to Carleton County during the 1840s — in the years immediately preceding the riot — was of an entirely different character. Again, it was a largely Irish immigration, but the kind of immigrant it brought to Carleton County was quite different. The Irish immigrants to New Brunswick in the 1840s, who arrived literally in the tens of thousands, were the famine Irish. Most arrived impoverished; and for a poor immigrant the quickest way to earn money in New Brunswick was by working in the woods. They headed off to the lumbering centres, one of which — perhaps the chief of which on the river St. John, was Woodstock. In other words, on top of the scattered and relatively prosperous Roman Catholic farmers who had settled in Carleton County during the 1830s was suddenly and dramatically interposed another group of Roman Catholics — lumbermen, accustomed to the tumults of the lumber camp, sensitive to their Irish reputation and their minority religious position and probably discriminated against on both counts, largely idle in the summer, and naturally gravitating to the fast life of the “lumberman’s headquarters” — the village of Woodstock. Unlike the earlier Irish Roman Catholics, they were not respectable farmers who spent the summer toiling on their scattered farms; they were rowdy lumbermen who spent the summer drinking and brawling in Woodstock. They were sufficiently numerous and sufficiently spirited to give offence to the local Orangemen, and they were also sufficiently numerous and spirited to strike back.
This is the general state of the Orange and the Roman Catholic communities on the eve of the Woodstock Riot, so far as I can state it. But let us go one step further and ask ourselves how the adherents of each side viewed the trend of events in the county and the province on the eve of the Riot. From an Orangeman’s point of view, it was quite clear that the county was being overrun by Irish Roman Catholics, and that the Protestant ascendancy was visibly in retreat. This was plain from the whole drift of events over the preceding generation. In the 1820s Roman Catholics had begun arriving in Carleton County. In 1832 they built a chapel in Woodstock. In 1840 they built another. In the early 1840s they established a provincial Roman Catholic newspaper published in Saint John. In 1845 New Brunswick got its first Roman Catholic bishop. And, of course, in the 1840s the province was being overrun by tens of thousands of impoverished Roman Catholics from Ireland. In 1847 alone over fifteen thousand arrived, and there seemed to be no end in sight. In fact, there are hints in Col. Baird’s Seventy Years that the Orangemen of Carleton County actually feared a Roman Catholic takeover, which was to begin with the election of members of the provincial Assembly sympathetic to their cause; and there was some rational basis to this fear. It must be remembered that in 1847 Carleton County included all of what are now Victoria and Madawaska Counties, including the large French Roman Catholic Madawaska Settlement. It was, therefore, not totally beyond conception that a numerous Roman Catholic population in southern Carleton County might combine with the Roman Catholics of the north to have a substantial or even decisive influence on the County’s political character. In short, when the trend of local and provincial events is viewed through the Orangemen’s eyes, their concern over the massive influx of Roman Catholics into the County becomes understandable. And this would be so even had the conduct of immigrants been completely unobjectionable. But this large group of Irish lumbermen contained many who did not spend their idle moments doing good works. In this regard Baird writes that “In Carleton County on election days respectable men, natives of the country, were beaten and abused. From this and similar causes, Protestants became exasperated . . .” And in their exasperation those Protestants concerned with the massive strides Roman Catholicism was making in their midst, and offended by the conduct of this new breed of Catholic immigrant, turned to the Orange Lodge.
The outlook of the local Roman Catholic population in the 1840s is less easy to state because records are scarcer. Nevertheless it is not difficult to understand how frustrated it must have made Roman Catholics to encounter the undoubted anti-Irish, anti-Roman Catholic prejudice of this area. Such prejudice was perfectly open. In the Woodstock newspaper of the time, for instance, there was a weekly column entitled the “Protestant Corner,” but it might more accurately have been called the Anti-Catholic corner, for such was the tone of its articles. But more aggravating still to the Catholic immigrants must have been the discovery here, in the new world, of their old antagonist, the Orange Lodge — the very symbol of generations of Protestant domination over Ireland. Here are the very terms with which four of the Roman Catholics who participated in the Battle of Woodstock described the conduct of the local Orange Lodge:
[A] very extensive organization of Orange Lodges has been lately going on in the . . . County, and . . . the persons belong thereto include a large portion of the Protestant inhabitants of the . . . County; …the conduct of the member of the . . . orange lodges has been of late very annoying to the feelings of the . . . Roman Catholics, and has tended to excite and stir up much prejudice, hostility, and ill-feeling among the Protestant inhabitants of the . . . County against Her Majesty’s Catholic subjects therein… * * * [A]t this season, the members of the Orange . . . [lodges] usually indulge in the most inflammatory language against Catholics, and this particular season too frequently results in scenes of violence and bloodshed; . . . proceedings which have heretofore proved disastrous to the peace of the Community, and which tend to worry the great body of Protestants in the . . . County against their Catholic neighbours and to cause hatred, strife and ill will between them.
One does not have to reflect long on the facts of life conveyed in such a statement to understand very sympathetically the reaction of local Roman Catholic immigrants to what they regarded as Orange aggression and Orange trouble-making. Similarly, one can understand how the Orangemen felt when the tide of provincial and local affairs seemed to be turning in favour of these immigrants and their mistrusted religion. And without being able to understand sympathetically the attitudes of both the Orangemen and the Roman Catholics, it is impossible to understand the Battle of Woodstock.
The first blows of the Battle were struck not on the twelfth of July 1847, but in a preliminary skirmish fought on April 21. This initial encounter consisted of nothing more than a fight between a number of Orangemen and a number of Roman Catholics, in which one of the Orangemen was severely beaten. At another time such an incident might have passed on with little notice in a frontier lumber village, but in 1847, for a reason not at all clear, relations between New Brunswick’s Orange and Roman Catholics were at an all time low. On the upcoming July 12 there would be major riots in both Saint John and Fredericton, and this incident in Woodstock on April 21 proved to be the prelude to the most famous riot of all.
The single most extraordinary aspect of the Battle of Woodstock is that it was in no sense an accident. Contrary to what we might expect, it did not begin as a drunken July 12th brawl which just got out of hand. Nor was it touched off when some Catholic deliberately insulted a parading Orangeman, or vice versa. It was not a chance happening at all. The fight was planned well in advance. There is clear evidence the Roman Catholic party deliberately armed and organized themselves. And when the Orangemen arrived in Woodstock for their July 12 parade, they came carrying rifles. And the Magistrates of Woodstock predicted what was coming with astonishing accuracy almost ten weeks in advance. Here is what the Magistrates wrote the Provincial Secretary a few days after the fight on April 21. The brawl, they said, had grown “out of the rancorous feeling at present unhappily created, and rapidly increasing and extending, between the Roman Catholic portion of Her Majesty’s subjects and the Orangemen organized in this place.” Fearing the worst, they begged the Government reinforce the tiny garrison in the Village before the annual Orange parade. Their letter closed with the ominous and strikingly accurate prediction of what was to come.
We are really and seriously apprehensive that the 12th July next will witness a riot unprecedented and unparalleled in the history of the County, and under this fearful presage, feel that we should be derelict in duty if we neglected to lay before . . . (the Governor) the present anxious and frightful state of things.
Two and a half months later this “riot unprecedented and unparalleled” in the history of Carleton County took place as predicted.
We come at last to the Riot itself. The account I am presenting tonight is based largely on three sources: Judge Parker’s remarks when sentencing the rioters, Sheriff Winslow’s account of his own activity the day of the riot, and Col. W. T. Baird’s published recollections of the conflict. I have found no account of the events of July 12 written from the point of view of one of the Roman Catholic participants; but the three substantial accounts I have already mentioned are in almost complete agreement as to what took place. Probably, therefore, they are accurate.
As I have already noted, it is clear that the Catholic party — which, by the way, certainly did not include all Catholics in the area at the time — plotted the disruption of the July 12th Orange procession some time beforehand. Col. Baird writes that it was common knowledge that the Catholics were organizing and drilling in preparation for a fight on the Glorious Twelfth. Judge Parker found clear evidence that the Catholics had planned a “general disturbance” for July 12th, and that people had previously been notified to come in from the country districts to take part in the planned fight, and that arms and ammunition had been collected in the village of Woodstock for that purpose.
On the evening of July 11th the four leaders of the Catholic party, including George McDonnough and James McCann, held a council of war to decide whether they would, after all, proceed with the planned attack on the Orange procession next day. Two of them were for peace, and two were for war. The final decision was left to Richard Veriker, the local priest, who decided against violence. Yet nothing was done to forestall those in the country who had been notified to come next day for the fight. And so, the following morning, Monday, July 12th 1847, Roman Catholics from all over southern Carleton County and from across the Line converged on the Creek Village to do battle. James McCann, one of their leaders, met the incoming rioters at a spring on the edge of the Village, but instead of telling them that the fight was off and to go home, he made a most dramatic and inflammatory speech, (part of which Ken Homer will shortly be reading to us). After this point there was to be no turning back; the Catholic party was determined to fight. They continued on into Woodstock. It was still early morning, but the day was oppressively hot.
Meanwhile in the Creek Village the Orange procession was forming to march northward to the Baptist Church at Jacksontown for a 12th of July religious service. At this point we go directly to Sheriff Winslow’s version of events, written two days later.
I visited the Creek Village (he lived in Upper Woodstock) early on the 12th, and soon afterwards the Orangemen started quietly for Jackson Town to a place of Worship; Immediately after this a most Savage Rabble of Catholics followed [them], probably about 200, armed with the most deadly Weapons of every description. (Here I should mention that while Winslow says 200 Catholics, 2 other sources say 300.) The troops in Garrison followed, and the Mob agreed to disperse under an arrangement that some means would be used with regard to the Orangemen, but the Catholics broke the agreement, and continued to parade about the Streets in procession armed as before in the most outrageous manner until the Orangemen were at the Upper end of the Village returning unarmed to their Lodge . .
Here let us pause briefly and review events thus far. As the Catholic party arrived in Woodstock that morning, the Orangemen, 200 strong, were commencing their march out to the Jacksontown Baptist Church. The Catholic party attempted to pursue them and persuaded them to go no further. But although the Catholics ceased following the Orangemen, they did not disperse to their homes. Instead they spent the next several hours strutting through the streets of Woodstock armed with “guns, swords, scythes and pikes.”
In the afternoon the Orangemen finished their service at Jacksontown and began to march back to Woodstock. As they approached the upper part of the village the Catholic party took up a position along the crest of the hill where the Orange Hall now stands — the crest whic is now called Boyne Street — and which looks directly down on Main Street, where the Orange procession would shortly be passing by. Here, says Baird, “the Catholics, lying flat upon the ground, with muzzles pointing to the road, waited.” Realizing that the situation was now grave the local Magistrates came before the Catholics and read the Riot Act, calling upon them to disperse. But this having no effect, the Magistrates hurried on up the road, halted the advancing Orangemen about where the hospital now stands, and read to them the Riot Act. The Orangemen, says Col. Baird, gave three cheers for the Queen, reformed ranks, and continued to advance. As a gesture of conciliation, however, they did put away their flags and banners, but onward they marched. Meanwhile Lieutenant Wickham and fifty men of the Woodstock army garrison positioned themselves across Main Street about where the Wesleyan Chapel now stands. They were thus at right angles to the Catholics waiting on the hill, and directly facing the oncoming Orange procession. Says Sheriff Winslow, “I was with John Bedell, Esqr, in front of the Catholics at the time, using every exertion to prevent them from commencing the conflict, and the greatest forebearance was shown by the Orangemen until fired upon . . . [in the most murderous manner].”
The first shot in the conflict was fired by a Catholic named McCabe, apparently hitting an Orangeman named Camber. This was [the] moment for which the Orangemen had apprehensively been waiting. They rushed to the wagon at the rear of their procession and grabbed the rifles which had prudently been concealed there. Meanwhile the Catholics on the Boyne Street ridge kept up a steady fire, but the fact that they were shooting downward from a considerable elevation threw off their aim to such an extent that none of the Orangemen was fatally injured. But here let us return for a moment to Sheriff Winslow’s narrative:
[T]he greatest forebearance was shewn by the Orangemen until fired upon, when they armed instantly from Waggons and returned the Catholics’ fire, upon which the latter retreated, leaving their arms on the field. The Catholics fired from an elevation, which under Providence saved no doubt the lives of many good Subjects to her Majesty, some of whom had the most hair breadth escapes.
In general, then, the Orangemen armed themselves, fought their way up the hill, and put their enemies to flight. They drove the Catholics all the way down to the Meduxnekik, where some were able to avoid capture by escaping across on a log jam. In all there were more than 300 shots fired, and probably much hand to hand fighting as well. Lieut. Wickham and his fifty men left the fighting entirely to the Orangemen, but everyone thought at the time that their very presence had had a considerable effect in unnerving the Catholic attackers.
These are the facts of the Woodstock Riot insofar as we know them. But I have found nothing which gives a more vivid impression of the mood of Woodstock on riot day than the remarks of Judge Robert Parker, delivered at the Court House in Upper Woodstock, when two of the leading rioters stood before him in the prisoner’s dock for sentencing. Mr. Kenneth Homer has agreed to read for us this striking passage from Judge Parker’s remarks.
“James McCann and George McDonaugh; I address you first because I regard your position as totally different from that of the mass of less favoured men with whom you were engaged in the riot, and over whom you appear to have had much influence. They are mostly ignorant, you are well informed; they, as a general thing, were poor, you are in easy circumstances; they had only their own responsibility, their own acts, to answer for, and hardly that in some respects, as they were led on by those they looked up to; you had more to answer for, as greater talents were committed to your charge, and had an influence which you could exert for good or evil; they did not fully appreciate the crime they were committing; you could not be ignorant of it; many of them may have acted under sudden impulse, you appear, by various evidence, to have premeditated the course you took.
“James McCann; you seem to be well aware of the public mind previous to the 12th of July 1847, to have anticipated a general disturbance, and to have aided in preparing for it. You knew that arms were collected; and, though you could have done it, you used no effective means to have them removed; though on the day previous you said you knocked out the flints from 14 muskets, you must have known that this would not prevent their being easily replaced in a village like Woodstock. You with three other persons held a council in the evening previous to the riot as to whether there should be an outbreak or not — two of you were for peace and two of you were for riot — and you all agreed to leave the decision to your pastor, your priest, to him who stands as your spiritual guide! whose duty it is to lead his flock in the paths of peace and virtue! as if there could be a doubt in your minds as to the advice he would give! It appears that he decided against the riot. Still those poor ignorant people who had been notified to come from many parts of the adjoining country, and some from a distance, were not turned back to their homes, and no effectual steps were taken to counteract the excitement which had been raised. When urged to leave the place, you declined, saying if the Orangemen walked, they should walk over your dead body. You met the rioters at a spring and urged them to fight till they should wade to the knees in the blood of Orangemen! a horrible advice to an excitable multitude, and one which I would fain believe was not given if I could. While the fray was going on, you went to a neighbouring store and procured a bundle of scythes, which you threw down on McDonaugh’s platform, reserving one for yourself, and leaving the rest to be seized upon by an excited crowd of people; and you could well anticipate the horrible use they would be likely to make of them. When I look upon your position in the community, and take into consideration the influence you exerted, and how you exerted it, I cannot but regard you as one of the leaders in this riot. Still, I have weighed your case deliberately, have given its full weight to every palliating circumstance, and while I feel bound to assert the supremacy of the laws, and make an example of you, as shall deter others from committing similar outrages, I am disposed to extend to you all the mercy which with justice I can; I sentence you to confinement and hard labour in the Penitentiary for twelve calendar months.
“George McDonaugh; there is conclusive evidence that you also acted a prominent and criminal part in this unfortunate riot. Firearms were collected on your premises, and people who came in from the country, were seen going to your barn, taking arms from it and loading them. You could not have been ignorant of this, nor could it have been well done without your being privy to it. Further than this, people were seen going to your store, where they were supplied with powder and balls, and where they loaded their guns and from which they took a supply of ammunition for future use. During the greater part of the day, your house seemed the gathering place for the riotous crowd. Though, when called upon by those you appear to have had an influence in collecting, to act as their leader, agreeably to your promise, you referred them to James McCann, your subsequent connexion and concert of action with that individual, necessarily places you on a similar footing with him. When I contrast the course of conduct you pursued with that which you ought to have followed, when I look at the results of that course, when I connect the prosperity which you had attained in the community, and how you have disturbed the harmony of that community, I cannot but express my surprise and deep regret. I sentence you to imprisonment, with hard labour, in the Penitentiary, for the term of twelve calendar months.”
Considering that the Battle of Woodstock was commenced with the murderous intent conveyed so dramatically in Judge Parker’s remarks, and considering that it was fought with rifles, scythes, swords and pikes, one would expect that injuries would have been numerous, and some of them fatal; but if so, this is not clear from the sources. Two days after the riot Sheriff Winslow reported that there were “only a few flesh wounds,” but I think he was speaking only of the Orange side. A day earlier the Provincial Secretary had noted that 30 men had been wounded. On the other hand, Col. Baird wrote 43 years later that several had been severely wounded on each side, but none fatally. The only generalization I would make is that it is quite certain that there were no Orangemen killed, for had there been an Orange fatality there would certainly have been a murder trial, and, very likely, a statue erected to the victim.
On the other hand, it is not nearly so certain that there were no Catholic fatalities. All we know is that no deaths were ever officially noticed. However, on the day of the riot the Magistrates of Woodstock reported that three of the rioters had been killed, and this report was widely circulated. And there have been persistent rumours down through the years that some of the Catholic party were indeed killed, and their bodies smuggled across the Line for burial. In sum, then, after one hundred thirty years we still do not know whether the riot produced any fatalities, though it is quite certain that there were none on the Orange side.
The aftermath of the Woodstock Riot is so important and far reaching that it almost deserves a full paper by itself. Tonight I can note only some of the highlights. The immediate concern of the forces of law and order after the riot was to prevent its reoccurrence, of which the Magistrates of Woodstock lived in the greatest fear. Two days after the riot they wrote to Fredericton to inform the governor of what they termed
the truly alarming State of things here at present. Houses have been searched and loaded Fire arms found secreted, and there is but too good reason to fear that another attack is meditated by the Roman Catholic Party, with greatly increased numbers. All is Terror, anxiety and alarm, and a Dread that the Town and [all the] Buildings will be burnt.
The reason the Catholic party would attack a second time would be to rescue their comrades captured on July 12. The number then taken into custody had been about seventy, and for some time that fluctuated daily as innocent people were released and more rioters were detected and taken. By late September, when the riot trial was originally scheduled to open, there were indictments against a total of 139 people, all of them Roman Catholics. Not all would yet have been captured, but most would have been in custody. To safeguard so many prisoners must have been a massive task. The County Gaol had long since burned, and there were no regular police in the Village, and the army garrison could be called in only as a last resort. To solve the problem the Magistrates had sworn over one hundred special constables, yet they still feared that an attempt would be made to storm the Court House, where the prisoners were temporarily housed in the upper rooms, to rescue them.
The first court after the Riot was held at Upper Woodstock in late September 1847, and everyone supposed that the rioters would there be tried. That certainly was the intention, but due to the alertness of defense counsel Mr. Ambrose Street objecting to the selection of the jury, the trial had to be postponed to the 11th of July 1848, a very dangerous time of year. In the interim, however, the prisoners were released on bail, to the immense relief of the Magistrates of Woodstock.
Predictably, a great many of the rioters availed themselves of their release on bail to remove themselves beyond the reach of the law, so that while 139 men were charged in September 1847, only 49 went on trial the next July. Some, of course, had never been captured and charges against others had probably been dropped or postponed, but it is clear that many of the rioters must have fled. One such fugitive from justice was the notorious Michael McCabe, about whom Sheriff Winslow had occasion to write the following letter seven months after the Riot.
[O]n the 21st Jan. . . (1848) the Deputy Sheriff made an unsuccessful attempt to arrest Michael McCabe, who, it is believed, was the first man who fired on the 12 July last among the Rioters, and for whose apprehension a warrant was promptly issued by the Magistrates and sent to Madawaska to which place McCabe made his escape . . . it having been ascertained that he was employed by Michael Kerlin in his Lumber Camp about ten miles in rear of the Sigasse. The Deputy Sheriff entered the camp before daylight when he found McCabe prepared and presenting two pistols (one in each hand) [and] swore the most horrid Oaths that the Officer should have the contents if he advanced one step to serve the warrant . . . Several other men got up with axes . . . and swore that he should never leave the camp alive, or to that effect. There were of Kerlin’s party 14 men, of whom Kerlin’s brother was one of the worst, the employer being present. The Deputy had only 5 or 6 Men indifferently armed for such an emergency, and very properly retired. I think as from the determined manner of the men with axes there is little doubt but lives would have been lost and probably the murderers would have escaped. I afterwards started with a posse, and the public were so indignant that my party increased to about 40 men with 5 double Teams . . . * * * We travelled 5 nights and 4 days a distance of 200 miles, but arrived too late, as McCabe had fled. It was reported that he intended to waylay and give battle, but an express sent on by his friends induced him to decamp.
These elaborate measures for the capture of Michael McCabe were probably far from typical, but they do provide us with a real insight into the immense problems facing the forces of law and order in the Upper St. John Valley in 1847.
In the village of Woodstock sectarian tension continued at a dangerously high pitch for many months after the Riot. As I mentioned earlier, the Magistrates were in extreme terror that a new Roman Catholic attack would be made to free the riot prisoners. And when the following summer it was learned that the riot trials were to open at Upper Woodstock on July 11, just one day before the Orangemen’s annual parade, the Justices of the Peace felt constrained to beg the Governor for more troops to maintain the Majesty of the Law in the village. The troops will duly sent.
The trials passed off without incident, however, and the Rioters were treated with extreme leniency. The government of New Brunswick and its judiciary knew that the province was moving dangerously close to open religious warfare of an ongoing nature, and everyone in authority was resolved to tread as lightly as possible. Consequently, the sentences handed down by Judge Parker at the Court House in Upper Woodstock were remarkably merciful. No man received more than 1 year at hard labour at the provincial penitentiary at Saint John, and most received only a few months’ confinement in the non-existant County Gaol.
If it could be said that Carleton County’s Roman Catholic party emerges from the riot affair suprisingly unscathed, then it could also be said that the Catholic attack of July 12 1847 was the best thing that ever happened to Carleton County’s Orangemen. All of their direful predictions of an attempted Catholic takeover had come dramatically true. Consequently, in the aftermath of the Battle of Woodstock, Carleton County’s Orangemen were riding high indeed. Judge Parker had noted, in the course of sentencing the Roman Catholics, that, due to their clumsy efforts, the number of Orangemen in the area had increased tenfold. And on the same theme John Dibblee, one of the Justices of the Peace, made this prediction:
I ha[d] always been opposed to the Orangemen until the 12th, but have altered my opinion & believe there will in future in this County be 10 for 1. [T]here will hardly be found a Protestant who will not be an Orangeman.
As a reflection of their new found strength and prosperity the Orangemen of Woodstock decided to build a monument to their great victory. They purchased a lot of land on the very ridge from which the Catholics had ambushed their procession, and, on June 1 1848 over 200 of them gathered in Woodstock to lay the cornerstone of the Woodstock Orange Hall, the one that still stands. And a few weeks later, on July 12, 1848, just after the riot trials had opened in the Upper Village, Orangemen from all over New Brunswick gathered in Woodstock for a grand demonstration of Protestant power.
Though Carleton County never had another significant Orange disturbance, I have found an account of one little incident which shows that the Battle of Woodstock was still arousing violent passions nearly two years later. The background to the incident is a petition sent by the Magistrates of the County to the provincial House of Assembly asking for compensation for some of the expenses incurred in suppressing the riot. The Assembly refused to pay a single shilling. One of the members of the Assembly who voted against riot compensation for the county was a James Brown, a representative of Charlotte County. In the summer of 1849, two years after the Riot, Mr. Brown visited Woodstock, and although he was personally unknown here, his vote against compensation for the County was very well known. Here is an account of Mr. Brown’s reception here, written by his English travelling companion. It is suspiciously colourful, but from another source I know that it is perfectly accurate.
At Woodstock in the evening we were gratified with an interesting musical entertainment. It seems that the Orangemen are numerous in some parts of New Brunswick, and that Woodstock has its full share of them. Some twelve months or more ago, a riot took place here between them and the Romanists (Mickeys, as they are here called) attended by the destruction of a considerable amount of property, which the county of course was called upon to pay. But the county applied to the provincial House of Assembly, to have the sum in whole or in part paid out of the provincial treasury; and in reference to this matter, my fellow traveller, Mr Brown, as a member of Assembly, had given a vote which was unsatisfactory to the Woodstock Orangemen. Hearing of his arrival, therefore, instead of lynching him, as they might have done a little farther West, they serenaded us all at the hotel until near midnight with a charivari of all the most discordant noises, vocal and instrumental, which the tongs, kettles, saucepans and throats of Woodstock could produce. There were also tar-barrels and bonfires on the occasion, and finally a burning in effigy. Fortunately the Orangemen did not personally know the man they thus delighted to honour, so that Mr Brown himself flitted about the blazing Barrels, and enjoyed the burning fun as much as any of them.
On the surface this chavari of noises, tar barrels & burning in effigy may have been light hearted, but beneath the humour of the occasion lay a deep and continuing excitement about the Battle of Woodstock. Indeed, despite Charles Connell’s statement in 1850 that the Orange and Catholic communities of Carleton County had learned to live together in peace, the 1847 riot made a mark on Western New Brunswick which is still visible. On one level we have a street in Woodstock called “Orange Street,” and we have another called “Boyne Street” — and can it be a coincidence that the street which commemorates the Protestant victory in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is on the very ridge where local Orangemen defeated local Catholics on the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne in 1847? We have with us as well the Orange Hall which was built in 1848 to commemorate the riot victory, again located on the very battle site. And, of course, the clearest indication of how important the Battle of Woodstock is in the history of this area is the wealth of riot stories handed down in local families from generation to generation; and which are in some minds as vivid and exciting as if the battle had been fought only yesterday. But the fact that some people still regard the Woodstock Riot with extreme pride, and others, with extreme disgust, cannot prevent us in the historical society from giving it the serious attention it deserves. The only requisite is that we try to understand both sides, and that is what we have endeavoured to do this evening.
Geo J. Dibblee Collection, N. B. Museum
13 July 1847. D. L. Dibblee, Woodstock, to G. J. Dibblee, F’ton.
“We had a hot time here yesterday — our Village was in a state of Seige for a great part of the day — the Greeks (so called) assembled from all points, from Fredn [to] the lumber woods 150 miles up the Restook Country (likely and believed by secret orders of the Priest) and when joined by those around the Village & Vicinity numbered about 200 — these fellows armed themselves with muskets, rifles, fusees, pitch forks, sythes, axes, sickles, bludgens, clubs, axehandles, &c _______ _______ 75 or 100 — and in a most tumultuous & riotous manner marched through & through the streets — and when they heard the orange men had left their lodge to go to Jackson Town to attend publick worship in a Meeting House there, they the Greeks, started in pursuit — The Orangemen have a lodge Room near the river a little above the church, from there they went off quietly (without any flags or badges except pieces of Ribbon tied round their right arm to distinguish them) to the Court House, where they met two other lodges from Jackson Town and Wakefield making the number probably 200 — they then proceeded to Jackson Town, attended service, & returned to the Ct House — after the rioters started in the Troops was immediately marched head[ed] by the Magistrates & Shff, overtook the Rioters before they had come up to [the] orangemen & headed them round with fixed bayonets, & turned the fellows back, here they remained until about 3pm when the orangemen came quietly down the Road, & when they got nearly down to Dr Rice’s, the fellows fired upon them from the Windows, from behind the Houses, & from the heights above the Road, as soon as the first shot was fired the orangemen halted, turned to a wagon that accompanied them with muskets all charged & ready, seized them, raced up the Hill & gave them a Volly — then the raskalls scampered & run like divils, pursued [?] & fired at by the O. Men whenever and wherever they could see any three of the rioters were shot dead & no doubt some Eight or ten more killed — about 6 were brought in wounded & their wounds dressed — not one or: man was killed several wounded through the legs, & several holes made through their hats, the fire was too high & too low, badly directed — they have taken about 50 of them & are knabing them wherever they can find em, the O men behaved cooly and with great courage — they knew the Greeks was determined to attack & destroy them if they could — the Troops marched in the rear of the orangemen, the shff & John with the officer but John would not give the order to fire & they did not discharge one musket — The fellows are now completely broke down — and our liberty & safety is mainly owing the despised & evil spoken of orangemen — If the villains had got the upper hand I believe a general massacre would have followed, & a protestant could not have lived in safety in this Village — You never saw such a bloodthirsty set of vagabonds in your life, & those fellows were supplied by the Irish shopkeepers here with sythes, pitchforks &c — I hope a Commission will be sent to the fellows at once, as there is not room to keep them ’til Sept the Justices have been very busy all day examg them & all are so far committed for trial the civil posse are all armed & the village has quite a Martial appearance —
“This is but an imperfect sketch but correct so far as it goes—”
1. Written by D. G. Bell and presented before the Carleton County Historical Society in March, 1978. Used with permission of the author.