Left: Samual Chandler (courtesy J. J. Talman collection, U. Western Ontario); Top right: Samuel Chandler Monument (Alex Ayotte); Bottom right: Monument and wooden plaque profiling Chandler (Alex Ayotte).
In an inconspicuous location in the sleepy little village of St. Johns lies a monument commemorating the storied life of one of Niagara's most fascinating historical figures, a political rebel whose stance against the British in favour of American Republican-style government nearly cost him his life.
In the village of St. Johns, about one hundred metres along Orchard Hill Drive from the intersection of Hollow Road, you’ll see what looks like a half buried millstone. Reminiscent of a stylized millstone or perhaps a wagon wheel, the Samuel Chandler Monument commemorates the wagon maker and millwright who lived for 17 years in the St. Johns Valley. It stands at the base of the steep hill where Chandler’s house was located.
Chandler's tempestuous later life belied the peace of his quiet Short Hills home. His adventures were legendary: a political activist and Patriot, he supported William Lyon Mackenzie, joined an armed insurrection, and fought for his principles against the British; was captured, tried, and exiled to Tasmania; escaped penal servitude on a whaler; was shipwrecked in Brazil; made his way back against all odds to the United States with the assistance of fellow Freemasons; and finally settled in Iowa, where he lived until the age of 75, never again returning to Canada.
Born on October 8th, 1791, in Enfield, Conneticut, Chandler moved to Albany, New York, where he lived until about 1818. He moved somewhere near Lundy’s Lane, Upper Canada, before 1820. Within two years he had established a wagon making business in St Johns, and in 1835 and 1836, he purchased two lots in the thriving town. Chandler paid 250 pounds for the first lot in 1835, and 300 pounds for the other in 1836, reflective of the high value of land in the settlement at the time. Chandler worked in the community for several years, fathered a total of 13 children, and became a citizen of Upper Canada, but his republican political sympathies changed his destiny.
Chandler left St. Johns in 1837 to join followers of William Lyon Mackenzie and other promoters of American-style republican government in their revolt against the British Crown. He went on to notoriety as a guide, organizer, and participant in the 1838 Shorthills Rebellion. On June 21, he and about 40 other rebels surrounded a contingent of 10 Queen’s Lancers lodged at Osterhout’s Inn, located on Holland Road to the north, only 275 metres from the Chandler monument. Eventually, upon threat of being burned out of the bullet-riddled Inn, the Lancers surrendered, and the rebels relieved them of their horses and weapons before releasing them ‘on parole’. Chandler was purportedly in favour of executing the Lancers, a factor which influenced his fate later on.
However, the next morning, British reinfocements arrived, and the rebels fled into the countryside. James Morreau, Benjamin Wait, Samuel Chandler, and 36 others were later captured, arrested, tried, and convicted of high treason. Morreau, Wait and Chandler were sentenced to death. Morreau was executed in Niagara in July of that year, and Chandler and Wait were banished for life to penal servitude in Van Dieman's Land, a British penal colony near Hobart, Tasmania.
They were taken first to London, with a journey across the Atlantic that took place "in abject misery". They were then shipped to the penal colony at Van Diemen's Land on a journey that took four months.It was an unpleasant trip. Wait wrote, "Surely, if there are places in human abodes deserving the title of Hell, one is a transport ship, crowded with felons, culled from England's most abandoned criminals."
They arrived at Van Diemen's Land on July 18, 1839. While conditions in the English penal colony were miserable, the prisoners still fared better than on the transport ships or in the temporary jails that housed them during the long journey.
Upon landing, the prisoners were marched to the Hobart Penitentiary. Compared with the wretched conditions in jails and prison transport ships, the terms seemed quite lenient. The prisoners were given a probationary period when they were allowed to leave prison during the day, assigned to "masters" on the island where they would work for free. After a satisfactory probation period, prisoners were issued a "ticket," and were able to seek their own masters and work for slight pay.
Eventually, Samuel Chandler and Benjamin Wait were assigned to a 2,000 hectare estate about 90km north of the Hobart Prison. Chandler worked as a carpenter and Wait as a clerk and storekeeper. "The work day," Wait wrote in his journal, "began at 4am and lasted until 11pm."
When they were off work, the ticket allowed them to roam the island. This presented the opportunity for escape, when the men learned several American ships were at the Hobart harbour.
In December 1841, Chandler obtained a 10-day pass and went to the harbour, where he was befriended by a fellow Mason and captain of one of the American whaling ships. The men made their escape plans. They could not board the ship in the harbour because it was thoroughly searched before it left.
They obtained a rowboat under pretext of going fishing and rowed laboriously out well past the harbour. They were in the boat, with little food and water, for several days and about to return when they spotted the American whaler Julian and were taken aboard. The men were on the first leg of the road to freedom, but still thousands of miles and seven months away from home.
Unfortunately, the Julian hit a violent storm off the coast of South America and was wrecked near Brazil. Wait and Chandler soon found themselves penniless, but glad to be alive, in Rio de Janeiro. Another American captain agreed to take them to New York, where Freemasons took care of train tickets and the pair travelled to Niagara Falls. Chandler rejoined his family and settled first near Jackson, Michigan. In 1843, Chandler and his family moved to Iowa, where he founded a Freemasons lodge and lived out his days as a farmer and miller. He never again returned to Canada, and died in 1866 at the age of 75.
The Samuel Chandler Monumen was erected in 1906 and is inscribed,
UP THE HILL 50 FT STOOD HOME OF SAMUEL CHANDLER, PATRIOT. HE GUIDED MACKENZIE TO BUFFALO AND HERE THEY HAD SUPPER AUG 10 1837.
A handmade wooden plaque to the left of the monument reads:
The St. Johns wagonmaker and reformer lived up this hill. He helped William Lyon Mackenzie flee to the United States after his failed Rebellion in December 1837. Mackenzie's sympathizers, with some Americans, attemptd to "free" Upper Canada again in 1838. The Shorthills Insurrection failed; many rebels were captured. Chandler, their local leader, was transported to Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania), a penal colony. Samuel Chander escaped and was later pardoned. He never again lived in St. Johns, prefering the United States.
On the bottom of the monument is inscribed the year of its erection, along with Chandler’s years of birth and death.