By : Dennis Stein
Many things shaped our country in its early history, including military battles. In the summer of 1838, in response to a number of raids conducted by a group of reformers led by William Lyon Mackenzie and a number of American Hunter Patriots, Fort Wellington at Prescott was repaired and upgraded with a new blockhouse to repel threats from across the St.Lawrence. Although not fully completed, it was ready to play a part in a pivotal battle later that year...
In November of 1838, a group of 250 American Hunter Patriots gathered at Ogdensburg to liberate Canadians in Upper Canada from what they saw as oppressive British rule. A Swedish man by the name of Nils Von Shoultz lead these men across the St.Lawrence early one morning, and after a failed attempt to land at Prescott, the Hunters landed and took over the hamlet of Newport, where the group took up a position in a stone windmill, east of the town. They were of the belief that they would be immediately joined by thankful Canadians, ready to be free of the crown.This, of course, never happened. The Americans got a further surprise, because the Canadians were ready for them, having been tipped off by spies about the impending invasion.
The windmill was made of thick stone, standing 60 feet high, and provided a good defensive position for the American invaders. It stood on top of a 30 foot bluff, making it impossible for the British to approach without being seen, and was impervious to all but heavy artillery. It also afforded the Hunters a wide view, nearly to Brockville in the west, and the Galop Rapids in the east. Early in the morning of the 13th, a force of British infantry and 500 Canadian militiamen, including a group from the Brockville Rifles, attacked the Hunters. The initial attack failed, leaving 13 on the british side dead, and only 18 of the Hunter Patriots, along with wounded on both sides.
On the 16th, artillery from kingston arrived along with over 1100 Upper Canadian militiamen, commanded by Henry Dundas. Royal Navy boats blocked any escape for the Hunters, and being pounded by artillery with no supplies or reinforcements, Von Shoultz and his forces surrendered, with many men fleeing to avoid capture. Those who were caught, underwent trial in Kingston, with the Hunter leader being represented legally by a prominent young Kingston lawyer named John A. Macdonald, who would later become Canada's first Prime Minister. 11 of the Hunters, including Von Shoultz, were sentenced to execution, 60 were sent away to a penal colony in Australia, 40 were acquitted and 86 more were later released.
The site where the windmill still stands was declared a National Historic Site in 1920, and is accessible from Hwy. 2, just east of Prescott.