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A Sketch of the Life of the Hon. and Right Reverend Alexander MacDonell
The Chaplain suggests the formation of a Regiment in Glengarry in Canada


Not long after his arrival in Canada, we find him, in 1807, cooperating with Colonel John Macdonell (Aberchalder),* then Lieutenant of the County of Glengarry, in urging on the British Government through Colonel, afterwards Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, the advisability of raising in Glengarry a Fencible regiment on the ground that a corps of that nature would greatly facilitate any future project of raising troops bra more general and extended service. besides being a great protection to the Province.

[* Colonel John Macdonell was the eldest son of Captain Alexander Macdonell, of the King's Royal Regiment of New York, one of the most distinguished Regiments of the Revolutionary War, of which Sir John Johnston, Knight and Baronet, was Colonel- Commandant. Colonel John Macdonell served during the Revolutionary War first in the 84th or Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, and afterwards in command of a company of Butler's Rangers. Colonel Mathews, who had long been on the staff of Sir Frederick Haldimand and Sir Guy Carleton (Lord Dorchester), bore testimony to the fact that he was an active and distinguished partizan of the Royalist cause, stating of himself and his family and clansmen.

"I was at that time quartered at Niagara, and an eye-witness of the gallant and successful exertions of the Macdonells and their dependants, by which, in a great measure the upper country of Canada was preserved, for oil little body a fine battalion was soon formed, and afterwards a second" (Letter to the Under Secretary of State for War, 23rd June,.1804.) He was one of the two first members for the County of Glengarry and Speaker of the first House of Assembly of Upper Canada in 1792. He raised in 1796 and commanded the 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Volunteer Regiment of Foot, which garrisoned this Province until disbanded with all other Fencible Regiments in the service during the Peace of Amiens in 1802. His brother, Hugh Macdonell, who with him first represented Glengarry, and had previously been an officer in the Kings Royal Regiment of New York, was afterwards British Consul-General at Algiers; and another brother, Chichester, who had also been an officer in Butler's Rangers during the Revolutionary War, continued in the service, fought under Sir John Moore at Corunna. for which battle he was awarded a gold medal, and died in India in command of the 34th Regiment of Foot.]

The following correspondence took place:-

"GLENGARRY, January 2801, 1807.
"SIR,-I have the honour to enclose you the proposals for raising a corps of Highland Fencibles in this County, which were submitted to your perusal. The alterations you made are adopted with very few exceptions: should they meet with your approbation, you will he pleased to forward them to the War Office.

"The permanent pay asked for the Field Officers and Chaplain may be considered unusual, but in this instance it is necessary and expedient for carrying the proposals into effect. The Field Officers must undergo a vast deal of trouble, and their time will be as much occupied as if the corps were constantly embodied.

"The County is almost entirely inhabited by Highlanders and their descendants, naturally brave and loyal as subjects, and firmly attached to the British Constitution and Government, yet from their situation and circumstances, being in general possessed of some landed trophy, and the high run of wages in the county, they are reluctant to quit these advantages to become soldiers. Nothing but a scheme of this nature, headed by gentlemen whom they know and respect, would induce them on any consideration to put themselves under the restraints of military discipline. The Chaplain having served in that capacity in the late Glengarry Fencibles in Great Britain, Ireland and Guernsey, has a claim to the favour of Government. He conducted a number of these people to this country, and having rendered himself useful in many respects to the people at large. has gained so far their confidence that his services in urging and forwarding this matter will be very essential. The adoption and successful issue of the present plan will greatly facilitate any future project of raising troops for a more general and extended nature of service.

I have the honour to be. Sir,
Your most obedient, humble servant.
J. MacDonell.
Lieutenant of the County of Glengarry.

Colonel Brock. &c"

Colonel Brock forwarded Colonel Macdonell's proposal to the War Office, with the following letter to the Right Honourable William Wyndham, then Secretary for War

Qubec, February 12, 1807.

"I have the honour to transmit for your consideration a proposal from Lieutenant-Colonel John Macdonell, late of the Royal Canadian Volunteers, for raising a corps among the Scotch settlers in the County of Glengarry, Upper Canada.

"When it is considered that both the Canadas furnish only 200 militia, who are trained to arms, the advantages to be derived from such an establishment must appear very evident.

"The militia force in this country is very small, and were it possible to collect it in time to oppose any serious attempt upon Quebec, the only tenable post, the number would of itself be insufficient to ensure a vigorous defence.

"This corps, being stationed on the confines of the Lower Province, would be always immediately and essentially useful in checking any seditious disposition, which the wavering sentiments of a large population in the Montreal district might at any time manifest. In the event of invasion or other emergency, this force could be easily and expeditiously transported by water to Quebec.

"The extent of the country which these settlers occupy would make the permanent establishment of the staff, and one surgeon in each company, very advisable. I shall not presume to say how far the claims of the field officers to the same indulgence are reasonable and expedient.

In regard to the Reverend Alexander Macdonell. I beg leave to observe that the men, being all Catholics, it may be deemed a prudent measure to appoint him Chaplain. His zeal and attachment to Government were strongly evinced while filling the office of Chaplain to the Glengarry Fencibles during the rebellion in Ireland, and were graciously acknowledged by His Royal highness the Commander-in-Chief.

His influence over the men is deservedly great and I have every reason to believe that the corps, by his exertions, would be soon completed, and hereafter become a nursery, from which the army might draw a number of hardy recruits.

"I have, &c.,

"ISAAC BROCK."

Colonel Macdonell's wise suggestion was not at the time carried into effect, but a few years afterwards, when our relations with the United States had arrived at a crisis, the British Government adopted his plan, and gladly availed itself of the services of the hardy band of Highland loyalists, who had made their home in Glengarry in Canada, and, fortunately, though Colonel John Macdonell was unable to aid his Sovereign and his country, the patriotic Chaplain, with the assistance, as will be seen, of another namesake and clansman, raised and organized the Glengarry Light Infantry Regiment, which (ought through the War of 1812, and caused the name of Glengarry to be respected by those who gloried in the freedom of British institutions, and feared by those who sought to overthrow them.

At this time there was but one Catholic Bishop in the whole of the British dominions in North America; the entire country from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast formed one diocese under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Quebec. In 1806, Monseigneur Plessis, the eleventh Bishop of Quebec, succeeded to that See on the death of Bishop Denant. One of his first thoughts was to divide his immense diocese. In announci1g the death of his predecessor, Monseigneur Plessis expressed a hope that the Court of Rome would soon come to all with the Court of St. James for the erection of a Metropolitan and some Bishoprics in British North America.. Meantime, he petitioned the Holy See to allow him three coadjutors, one in Montreal, one in Upper Canada and a third in Nova Scotia. his intention being to recommend as coadjutor for Upper Canada Mr. Macdonell, who had already been placed among the number of his Vicars-General. Local difficulties, however, added to the disturbed state of Europe and the war which occurred between Great Britain and the United States, delayed the consummation of the project Monseigneur Plessis had in view for several years.

When war broke out in 1812, Mr. Macdonell (Maighster Alastair as he was then known among the Highlander,) could, owing to the nature of his sacred profession, scarcely be said to have been in his element, but when there was fighting to be done, "the Chaplain" wanted to be close at hand to see that it was well done. It was a favourite saying of his that "every man of his name should be either a priest or a soldier," and had he not been a priest he would have been a great soldier. He had all the qualities of one. His stature was immense and his frame herculean. He stood six feet four, and was stout in proportion ; he had undaunted courage, calm, cool judgment, resolute will and a temper almost imperturbable; he had the endurance of his race, fatigue and privation were as nothing to him ; he was a man of great natural ability, great parts and a great personality which impressed all brought in contact with him ; he inspired confidence, admiration and respect, but above all he was It born leader of men. The gain to the Church was great, the loss to the army correspondingly great when he was ordained at Valadolid

It was necessary at once to raise soldiers for the emergency. It was "the Chaplain" who fired the heather! He had previously raised a regiment. He now raised another for his Sovereign. He was an unerring judge of men, and he nominated for his colleague the man best fitted for the task, and Captain George Macdonell was commissioned by the Commander-in-Chief to co-operate with him, and this gallant officer of the King's Regiment and "the Chaplain "had the Glengarry Light Infantry, who numbered four hundred rank and file, in the field by the 1st of May, "and we find that on Sir George Prevost's issuing orders to recruit for a still higher establishment, the officers engaged to double the number and did it."

The Glengarry Light Infantry Regiment thus raised was placed on the regular establishment of the British army, and served in the most conspicuous and creditable manner throughout the War of 1812-14, taking part in no less than fourteen general engagements. They were present, amongst others, at the taking of Ogdensburg, Fort Covington and Oswego; at the attack on Sackett's Harbour, and at the battle at York. They lost three companies with their officers at the landing of the Americans at Fort George, and were also at the battles of Stoney Creek and Lundy's Lane. The officers of the first battalion were as follows :-

The Chaplain and Captain Macdonell not only Idled up the ranks of the Regiment in Glengarry, but distributed rather more commissions among the gentlemen of the County than was anticipated by or altogether pleasing to the officers at headquarters, as appears from the following letter :-

MAJOR-GERAL BROCK TO COLONEL BAYNES.
"YORK,January 6, 1812.

"Capt. Macdonell, accompanied by the priest, arrived here some days ago. The badness of the weather has prevented his return as soon as he first proposed. All the junior commissions being already disposed of among the youths of Glengarry, I fear that little will be done in this part of the Province towards recruiting the intended corps. A few idlers may be picked up; but, without the aid of persons of influence, no great number can be expected, unless indeed the militia be called Out, and land promised.
"Understanding from Captain Macdonell that the Commander of the forces had applied to the Prince Regent for permission to offer some of the waste land of the Crown as an inducement to the Scotch emigrants to enlist, I stated the circumstances to Council, and have much pleasure in assuring His Excellency, that should he be of opinion the Present aspect of affairs calls for prompt measures, and that a direct promise of land would accelerate the recruiting, this Government will readily pledge itself to grant one, or even two, hundred acres to such as enlist on the terms proposed by His Excellency. This will be deviating largely from the King's instructions; but in these eventful and critical times, the Council conceives that an expression from His Excellency of the necessity of the measure will be sufficient to warrant a departure from the usual rules. Should His Excellency think it expedient to act immediately, and authorize a direct offer of land, I have no doubt that a number of young men might be collected between Kingston and Amhertsburg, in which case His Excellency may sanction the raising of two additional companies under my superintendence.

I have, &c.,

"ISAAC BROCK."

"The Bishop," as Colonel Coffin styles him, though he was but a priest at the time, "had been most active in raising and recruiting the Glengarries during the preceding winter. The fiery cross had passed through the land and every clansman had obeyed the summons." Well was he in a position to state in after years, "The Second Glengarry Regiment. raised in the Province when the Government of the United States of America invaded and expected to make a conquest of Canada, was planned by me and partly raised by my influence. My zeal in the service of my country and my exertions in the defence of this Province were acknowledged by His late Majesty through Lord Bathurst, then Secretary of State for the Colonies. My salary was then increased and a seat was assigned to me in the Legislative Council as a distinguished mark of my Sovereign's favour; an honour," he continues, striking out at some who had the hardihood to traduce him, "I should consider it a disgrace to resign, although I can hardly ever expect to sit in Council, nor do I believe that Lord Glenelg who knows something of me would expect that I should show so much imbecility in my latter days as to relinquish a mark of honour conferred upon me by my Sovereign to gratify the vindictive malice of a few unprincipled radicals."

But his attention was not confined to Glengarry alone, nor his vast energy to the raising of men; now he was to be found at York, again at Quebec, in communication with General Brock, Sir George Prevost and other leading military men, suggesting plans of various kinds, which readily met with acceptance, urging that the waste lands of the Crown should be offered to emigrants to encourage them to enlist, and with the eye of an old campaigner, seeing that communication was kept Open between Quebec and the Upper Country of Canada.

MAJOR GENERAL BROCK TO SIR GEORGE PREVOST.

"YORK, January 26, 1817

"The very serious inconvenience which the inhabitants of this Province experience for want of a sufficient land communication with Lower Canada induces me to trouble you on the subject. The Reverend Mr. Macdonell, of Glengarry, the hearer of this letter, is so well qualified to explain the causes which have hitherto impeded the cutting of a road to connect the two Provinces that I need not detain Your Excellency, particularly as reference can be had to Lieutenant-Colonel Bruyeres, who, having been employed by Sir James Craig to ascertain the grounds upon which a difficulty arose in the attainment of so desirable an object, can give every necessary information" and I find that a measure having been adopted to this end in the following year (15th February, 1813), the Reverend Alexander Macdonell, Alexander McMillan, Esquire, and Allan Macdonell, Esquire, were appointed commissioners to open a road between Upper and Lower Canada under the Act 53, George III., Chapter 4. I presume that the road then built is that now known as "the King's Road."

When Ogdensburg was taken by the Glengarry Fencibles and the Glengarry Militia under Colonel George Macdonell [Colonel George Macdonell was awarded one of the two gold medals given for the Battle of Chateaugnay, and was created a Companion of the Bath. He afterwards commanded the 79th Regiment of foot.] on 23rd February, 1813, the Chaplain was with his clansmen. A good story of him is told me by my friend, Mr. Kenneth Ross, of Lancaster, whose father was wounded in the attack. Ross was carried into the house of an inn-keeper near Prescott. a half-Yankee, like many of his ilk along the border. The Chaplain saw that the wounded man was as much in need of stimulants as of priestly counsel, and went at once in search of some brandy. Excuses of various kinds were made by the woman of the house. Her husband was absent and had the keys, and so on. The Chaplain told her he would take no denial, and that if she did not procure the brandy forthwith he would have it in short order. She still demurred, whereupon he walked to the tap-room door, and with one kick lifted it off its hinges, and not only Mr. Ross, but all others of His Majesty's liege subjects had all the brandy they required after their bard day's fighting. Though Mr. Ross was a Presbyterian and the Chaplain a Catholic Priest. I doubt if he could have been better served in his extremity even by a Minister of his own denomination.


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