Macdonald lost one of his most important law cases as the result of an incident that took place on November 13, 1838, during the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada. An American leader of the Brotherhood of Hunters, John Birge, raised a force of 400 men to attack Prescott, Ontario, and thus drive a wedge between Upper and Lower Canada. In recruiting speeches throughout New York, Birge claimed that nine-tenths of the population of Upper Canada and four-fifths of the militia were “oppressed” and ready to join his invasion force.
The invasion force sailed from Sackets Harbor on November 11, 1838, but as it came closer to Prescott, Birge developed a convenient stomach ache, and asked to be put on shore at Ogdensburg. About half the force deserted with him.
Command then fell on a former Polish officer, Nils Von Schultz (He was born Nils Gustaf Ulric in October 1807; in 1836, he changed his name to “Von Schoultz” and had been drawn into a secret society known as the Hunters’ Lodges.) He was a brave, competent soldier, and under his direction, the invaders managed to capture a windmill on the river bank below Prescott and some stone houses, which they made into forts. They unfurled a Patriot flag, made by the women of Onondaga County, New York, on which they embroidered a star, an eagle, and the words, “Liberated by the Onondaga Hunters.”
Von Schultz expected help from the Canadians, whom Birge had claimed would join them. Instead, a British naval detachment from Kingston arrived on the scene on November 13. It was followed by Canadian militia which, far from being disloyal, attacked the windmill. Von Schultz and his deluded men fought bravely, but had to surrender after three days. British and Canadian troops had seventy-six men killed or wounded, while the Hunters lost thirty-seven.
The invaders were taken to Kingston where the leaders were defended by the young lawyer, John A. Macdonald. Von Schultz was the only one who pleaded guilty. He said he had thought that Canadians wanted to be liberated, but he had been misled by the Hunters. Eight of them, including Von Schultz, were hanged at Fort Henry on December 8, 1838. although Macdonald did his best for them.
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