Presentation given at Hearing into the proposed expropriation of the Frank Meyers farm - April 12, 2012 - Trenton, Ontario

John W Meyers: Historical Significance

Much of the controversy relating to Mr Frank Meyers' farm seems to relate to its association with the original owner of the land, Captain John Walden Meyers. I am a local filmmaker and I have spent over 20 years researching & producing a documentary on the life of Captain Meyers so I am in a good position to shed some light on the significance of this historic figure.

Born in 1745, Johannes, or Hans, Waltimeyer was the eldest son of German immigrants to the province of New York. He married, had children and tended a tenant farm on the Hudson River. Hans would have probably lived and died in total obscurity had he not been caught up in the American Revolution. As this was the 1
st American Civil War, Hans was forced to chose sides against most of his family and neighbours when he sided with the British. We don't know his reasons but such a decision would not have been taken lightly. Joining more than 1000 other Loyalists or “Tories” in the ill-fated Burgoyne Campaign, Hans seemed to rise above the regular rank & file as he had a knack for raising other recruits. Hans became a Captain in the Loyalist Provincial Corps serving in several (at least 5) loyalist regiments throughout the War.
An interesting fact - one of the units in which Meyers served, the King's Rangers, was founded by Robert Rogers – he had led the famous “Roger's Rangers” in the earlier 7-Year's War which became the model for the modern US Army Rangers and many other Special Forces! In fact John Meyers, as he now called himself, became a “one man army” operating as a spy, courier, and guerrilla fighter in the enemy territory between New York City and Quebec. Meyers was a very large man with wild red hair and he gained a fearsome reputation. Rebel mothers would keep their children in line with the threat that “Captain Meyers come and eat them”! He was one of the most hunted men in New York – had he been caught he would have faced certain death – yet despite many close calls, narrow escapes, and actually being wounded on one mission, Meyers eluded capture and always got through. Governor Haldimand of Quebec considered Meyers his most trusted courier reserving him as his last link to New York should the French invade Quebec. Meyers most daring raid was an attempt to capture General Philip Schuyler, one of the top generals in the Continental army. If you go to the Schuyler Mansion in Albany today, the raid is the centrepiece of the tour and a deep gouge in the bannister still remains as a reminder of the raid. An American historian noted Meyers for “courage and daring rather than brutality or ferocity”.

Despite all his effort & zeal, Meyers' cause was lost. As the new United States of America emerged independent and free, the situation for loyalists like Meyers was grim. Meyers farm had been confiscated by a cousin and he lost virtually all his property and belongings. Some loyalists hunkered down and tried to re-integrate into their former homes – but for Tories like Meyers who had taken such an active role in opposing the Revolution, there could be no going home. The Loyalist emigration remains the largest exodus FROM the United States in its history. Loyalists dispersed throughout the Empire but the largest group – about 40,000 – came north to the colonies of Nova Scotia and Quebec.

Meyers was not one to wait for his fate. Immediately after the cessation of hostilities Meyers led several 100 men and their families to start a new settlement on Mississquoi Bay on the Northern end of Lake Champlain. These people were essentially squatting on un-surveyed land – and the British did NOT want them located right on the new border! The land dispute between Meyers and the British authorities seems “strangely familiar”.

An officer sent to investigate reported...
I can only inform you at present that Capt. W. Myers ... with a number of men I believe mostly from Rogers Core are at work & have Erected some houses ... Capt. W. Myers ... had already got a sufficient quantity of land Clear'd to raise 1000 bushels of Corn ... those people were determined not to move off that land for the generals order or any other nor to be drove off Except by a superior force, for by Ld Norths declaration they had a right to settle on any of the Kings land they should Choose in this province.”
The British were as insistent as Meyers though and threatened to cut off Meyers rations and income. He was left with little choice but to move on - but the people he led to Mississquoi Bay stayed and created the English-styled Eastern Townships of Quebec – one of Meyers least known accomplishments.

Some 8-10,000 Loyalists in Quebec were primarily settled along the north shores the St. Lawrence River and the Bay of Quinte. The British government was making generous grants of land as compensation to the loyalists who had sacrificed all they had for the “Unity of the Empire”. The Meyers family joined this settlement first in King's Town and then moved far up the Bay of Quinte. Meyers was again squatting on land that was later surveyed as Sidney Township.
A map from 1787 shows Lots 8&9 going back 3 concessions allotted to Captain Meyers and surrounding lots allotted to his children. Some estimates have the Meyers family receiving up to 3800 acres of land.

Once established here, Meyers turned his energies to farming, brick-making, ship-building & shipping, brewing and distilling. He built mills on the Moira, or “Sagonaska”, River sparking the growth of Meyers' Creek – later Belleville. He traded with the Indians and was one of the 1
st emancipators of slaves in Upper Canada. Not far from here, Captain Meyers took part in one of the 1st Town Meetings to be held in the new colony – they were not even legal at the time but were an important step toward democracy in Canada. Meyers was elected the 1st Moderator in Sidney. He was also appointed District Magistrate or Justice of the Peace – the legal & civil authority of the day. He was the 1st Master of the Thurlow Masonic lodge and he was co-founder of the area's 1st Church of England (St. Thomas). One of his last accomplishments was establishing the 1st fair held by the Hastings County Agricultural Society – just a month later, in 1821, John Walden Meyers died. He was already a legend in his own time for his wartime exploits and peacetime accomplishments.

The Crown Patent for Meyers Sidney farmland was granted in 1798. In it, King George the Third
“GIVE(s) and GRANT(s) unto Captain John Meyers and his heirs and assigns forever, a certain parcel of land situate(d) in the Township of Sidney”. CFB Trenton now occupies much of Captain Meyers original land grant – I don't know how that was accomplished but it is clear that the remaining land is precious to Captain John Meyers' descendants. I don't know how much bearing, if any, that historical significance may play in the decision on the land's future. However, I do feel that this land as a working, viable farm being tended by the same family for over 225 years can be seen as a living link to a very important figure in our history – it has the same significance as any monument or historic site would. We are a young country yet we don't seem to treasure our historic legacy and I worry about that. If history does count then I hope that I have helped to reveal some of the significance of this remarkable man.

Thank you.