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Letterbook References

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Who’s Who1

Allan, William.

Prominent York (Toronto) merchant before his retirement in 1822. D.C.B. 8.

Brock, Isaac.

Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the early stage of the War of 1812, Brock was killed at Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812. D.C.B. 5.

Cameron, Duncan.

Scottish-born merchant in York (Toronto) from 1801; later held official position of Provincial Secretary (1817-1838). D.C.B. 7.

Chief Justice.

The Chief Justice of Upper Canada at this time was Thomas Scott. Born in Scotland, Scott had been Attorney General before his elevation to the Bench in 1806.

Drummond, Gordon.

General in charge of British troops in Niagara during the War of 1812. D.C.B. 8.

Durand, T.

Unknown. Had written to the Acting Attorney General for advice on how to proceed in a criminal matter.

Glegg, John B.

Brock's aide-de-camp; later held senior administrative post with the colonial government.

McLean, Lt. Col. Allan.

Kingston lawyer and Member of the House of Assembly, 1804-1824. D.C.B. 7.

McMahon, Edward.

Acting Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor/ Administrator, 1812-1813.

Quetton St. George, Laurent.

Merchant with branches in several Upper Canadian towns ranging from Amherstburg to Kingston. Returned to France, his country of origin, in 1815. D.C.B. 6.

Ridout, Thomas.

Surveyor General of Upper Canada, 1810-1829, and Member of the House of Assembly, 1812-1816. D.C.B. 6.

Robinson, Capt. Peter.

Brother of John Beverley Robinson. At this time Captain of the 1st Regiment, York Militia; later Member of the House of Assembly and public servant. Best remembered for having sponsored immigration settlement schemes in the 1830s. D.C.B. 7.

Rottenburg, Major General Baron Francis de.

Administrator and Commander of the Forces in Upper Canada, 18 June 1813 - 13 Dec. 1813. D.C.B. 6.

Scott, Thomas.

Chief Justice of Upper Canada from 1806-1816. Previously had held position of Attorney General. D.C.B. 6.

Sheaffe, Major General Sir Roger Hale.

Administrator and Commander of the Forces in Upper Canada, 20 Oct. 1812 - 19 June 1813. D.C.B. 8.

Sherwood, Levius Peters.

Lawyer and Member of the House of Assembly from Leeds; later became a Judge of the Court of King's Bench (1825-1839). D.C.B. 7.

Strachan, Rev. John.

Influential Anglican clergyman and teacher; a leader of the Family Compact. D.C.B. 9.

Warren, John.

Collector of Customs at Fort Erie 1801-1815. His son John Warren Jr. took over that post from 1815-1832.

Wood, Alexander.

Prominent York (Toronto) merchant before 1821. D.C.B. 7.

What's What

Administrator (also President).

During the absence of Lieutenant Governor Gore from Upper Canada between 1811 and 1815, the Commander of the Troops in the colony acted as the head of the civil government as well as the military leader. The position of Administrator, sometimes called President, therefore combined political and military authority in one individual.


Persons who, although living in the colony of Upper Canada, were not British citizens. Usually refers to people of American origin. The presence of large numbers of American citizens in the colony became a contentious issue in times of war between Britain and the U.S.


Travelling courts of superior criminal and civil jurisdiction. In Upper Canada, Judges of the Court of King's Bench and other officials travelled to each district several times a year to hold court.

Capital Felony.

A serious offence for which the maximum penalty upon conviction is death. At the time of the War of 1812, treason, murder, rape, and numerous property offences were capital felonies.

Circuit Commissions.

Documents authorizing the superior courts to go on their travelling circuit and try cases which arose in the various districts. Commissions also provided for the delivery of prisoners from the gaols to trial.


In this context, lawful expropriation, or a judgment that something that has been taken was lawfully captured. Opposite of detainer.


Wrongful retention of property or goods. Opposite of condemnation.

Executive Council.

Powerful body of men appointed by the Lieutenant Governor to act as advisors. Came under criticism by opponents of government who thought its members should be elected.

"ex parte".

Latin phrase meaning literally "from a party"; a legal expression meaning a proceeding in which only one side of the case is presented.

Family Compact.

Term used to describe the system of government in Upper Canada, which was run by a small group of men from elite groups, several of whom were related by birth or by marriage.


An archaic spelling of "jail."

Grand Jury/Juries.

A group of men called by the sheriff in each district to decide whether evidence in criminal cases was sufficient to warrant the case proceeding to trial. Grand juries considered indictments drawn up by clerks and found them either "true bill" or "no bill," depending on the evidence. "True bills" proceeded to trial; if the grand jury found "no bill" the accused was dismissed.

Half-Pay Officers.

Former British army or navy officers who settled in Upper Canada and who received pensions, or "half-pay," upon completion of their military service.

High Treason.

A serious offence punishable by death, high treason involved conspiring to overthrow or kill the lawful monarch or his representative.

House of Assembly or Legislature.

The governing body of the colony that consisted of elected representatives, and that passed legislation. More or less the same thing as today's provincial legislature.

"in bello flagrante".

Latin phrase meaning "during a state of active hostilities."


A legal document containing a formal charge in a criminal offence. Indictments included information about the identity of the accused and the offence s/he had allegedly committed. They were usually drawn up by clerks of the peace, and grand juries decided whether indictments would proceed to trial or not based on the evidence.

Information for Negligence of Office.

Local government in Upper Canada relied upon unpaid volunteers who nevertheless were expected to carry out tasks that involved a great deal of time and responsibility. If a person thought that a local official was not carrying out his office properly or did not perform it at all, he might accuse him of "negligence of office," a minor offence but one which could result in exaction of a fine upon conviction. In order to initiate such a proceeding, the person complaining would have to swear a complaint or "information" before a magistrate.

King's Bench, Court of.

The court of superior criminal and civil jurisdiction in Upper Canada.

Lieutenant Governor.

The head of the government in the colony; the representative of the monarch. Today this position is merely a figurehead with no real power. That was not the case in early Ontario, where the Lieutenant Governor was the political leader of the colonial government and exercised a great deal of power over the other elements of the government.

Magistrate, or Justice of the Peace.

Appointed officials with large areas of responsibility for local government and criminal justice administration. Magistrates tried minor cases and organized the paperwork for more serious offences which would be tried at the Assizes.

Martial Law.

A state of alarm during which many civil liberties were suspended and the authority of the state expanded, usually during times of war.

Michigan Territory.

Parts of what is now the state of Michigan were taken by British troops during the war of 1812, resulting in jurisdictional issues such as which government should have power over taxation.


All male citizens of Upper Canada age 16 or older were required by law to participate in military drills and, if necessary, be called out to defend colonial territory. A number of militia units fought valiantly in the War of 1812 and they, along with British regular troops and native allies of the British, helped repel the American invasion during that conflict.


A fine.


Documents issued by the sheriff calling propertied men for jury duty, either as grand jurors or trial jurors.

Quarter Sessions of the Peace.

Courts over which magistrates presided which had the authority to try minor non-capital offences. They also performed functions related to local government at this time.


The Secretary acted as an "executive assistant" to the Lieutenant Governor, having responsibilities for organizing incoming and outgoing correspondence, supervising other office staff, and handling a variety of administrative matters. During the absence of Lt. Governor Gore during the War of 1812, the Secretary worked for the Administrator.


Christian pacifist sects, such as Quakers, the members of which refused to perform military service. During times of war many people regarded pacifist sects with considerable suspicion.


An official responsible for certain tasks in the legal system, including execution of writs and other documents and enforcing court orders. Sheriffs were responsible as well for issuing praecepts that called grand jurors and trial jurors for duty at the Assizes and Quarter Sessions.


An offence involving injury to the plaintiff's person, land, or goods; or entering or remaining on the plaintiff's premises without lawful authority.


A legal action that provides remedy for a plaintiff who is deprived of goods, by wrongful taking, detention or disposal.


Refers to the work of eighteenth-century French author Emer de Vattel, whose book, The Law of Nations, or, Principles of the law of nature: applied to the conduct and affairs of nations and sovereigns..., Robinson cites (in English translation).

1 Where D.C.B. appears after the entry, it refers to the volume number of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography in which full biographies of those people can be found. Copies of the D.C.B. are available in the reference section of most Canadian public libraries.

Terms or Concepts Explained