28 May 2012

1837, Rebellion or Patriotic War?

Whenever I feel like foreign travel, not often, it's an easy one hour drive to Prescott and across the bridge to Ogdensburg in New York state. Then the world changes, going backward in time to the days of gallons, albeit impoverished ones, miles, and dollar bills.

There's also a different spin on historic events.

That is brought home in reading the section Patriot War (1837) at the Northern New York Genealogy website. It's what we in Canada know as the 1837 Rebellion associated with Mackenzie and Papineau, names again joined together 100 years later in Spain.

According to the NNY Genealogy website "there is no more fascinating or romantic chapter in the history of Northern New York than the Patriots’ War. Though properly a part of the history of Canada, the United States, particularly Northern New York, played an active part in it." The site positions the rebellion from a US perspective as a natural extension of the American War of Independence.

As with today's student unrest in Quebec, economic uncertainty, high youth unemployment and a seemingly uncaring government, the context of those times is instructive.
The Panic of 1837 was built on a speculative fever. The bubble burst on May 10, 1837 in New York City, when every bank stopped payment in specie (gold and silver coinage). The Panic was followed by a five-year depression, with the failure of banks and record high unemployment levels. This undoubtedly affected Henry Shew & many others who being idle from unemployment, entered the Patriot Service as a form of excitement. Out of 850 banks in the United States, 343 closed entirely, 62 failed partially, and the system of State banks received a shock from which it never fully recovered. By the fall of 1837, one third of the work force was jobless, and those still fortunate to have jobs saw their wages fall 30-50% within 2 years. At the same time, prices for food and clothing soared.

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