Bloody Assizes Executions : Hamilton’s First

The Bloody Assizes took place where the Hamilton Cemetery and The Admiral Inn are today – MAP

It was 1814, two years after the Americans failed to push the British out of North America.

They came in strong and took the capital of Newark (today’s Niagara-on-the-Lake).  Then the British showed genius with the Battle at Stoney Creek.  Marching from Burlington Heights (location of Dundurn Castle and Hamilton Cemetery) they attacked at night with only 800 soldiers to the American’s 1400.

The British pushed the Americans out of Upper Canada (now Ontario) which led to the end of the War of 1812.  But the paranoia stayed.

American Spies – –
They knew Americans used spies.  Regular folks planted as Loyalists for when they won the War of 1812.  The spies set to rise up and take over British towns.  But when the Americans lost, the spies were trapped on enemy land.  Continued the charade or died, as the Loyalists searched.

They think they found them.  19 men charged with “high treason” at Ancaster’s courthouse once on Wilson Street.  Court held on the second floor of the Union Hotel (not to be confused with the other “Union Hotel” which stood across the street, now the Coach & Lantern Restaurant).

Painting of Ancaster's trail (courthouse once on Wilson Street) - - Prior to the bloody assizes, and now hanging at Fieldcote Museum
Painting of Ancaster’s trail (courthouse once on Wilson Street) – – Prior to the bloody assizes, and now hanging at Fieldcote Museum

Judges Thomas Scott, William Powell and William Campbell presided and at the end 15 men were charged with treason and sentenced to be drawn and quartered.

The “Saved 7” – – 
7 saved as facts weighed during a primitive version of an appeal.

The saved 7 sent to Kingston for exile to Quebec when complications arose.  In current day Port Hope they stopped for a night, the prisoners locked in a cabin.  By morning 4 of them had disappeared.  3 were captured, but a man named Stephen Hartwell was never found.

Some time later in Winter of 1814 typhus fever hit Kingston.  3 more died, leaving only 3 of the men who were given on-the-spot pardons.  The stipulation, leave Upper Canada and all your “British possessions” behind.  They agreed.

The Bloody Assizes

It’s July 19 1814 and 8 men have waited in the basement of the Ancaster Mill (today’s Ancaster Old Mill Restaurant) for a month.  This is the eve of their deaths, an event happening at Burlington Heights on Wednesday, July 20th, 1814.

The next morning transported to Burlington Heights on borrowed land from a mill owner named Richard Beasley.  Beasley was a pioneer of Ancaster with James Wilson (street named after him).  He owned the land that would later be purchased by Sir Allan MacNab for his Dundurn Castle.

We believe the gallows stood across the street, between today’s Hamilton Cemetery and Admiral Inn.  A long scaffold with eight nooses carefully draped.

This is where history fails us.  Were they only hanged, or was the full sentence carried out?

We don’t know due to blurred history and confusion from the event’s namesake.  The other “Bloody Assizes” was a series of trials in England after the Battle of Sedgemoor.  Some of the 300 men and woman sentenced to die were drawn and quartered.

If the men at Burlington Heights met this gruesome death, they would have went through horrific steps representing punishment for different offences…

Plaque in Ancaster - - Location of courthouse where trial occurred
Plaque in Ancaster – – Location of courthouse where Bloody Assizes trial occurred
  1. For Theft – – Related to ‘theft of trust’ from the monarchy, they would hang but not until dead
  2. For Turning their back on the Crown – – Coming between the King, Queen and their subjects, they would be disemboweled and their organs burned
  3. And so they’re unrecognized in the afterlife – – Bodies were quartered and the parts were left to decompose before the family was allowed a burial

The severed heads sent back to England to be at the King’s disposal.  Many times they were displayed outside the Tower of London, or in the traitor’s hometown… so everyone could see what happens when you defy the British Crown.

Hamilton’s Poor Execution Skills – – 
One depiction of Canada’s “Bloody Assizes” shows off Hamilton’s poor reputation of executing criminals.

**This story of a separate and insane historical act is told on Hamilton’s Dark History.

Few people know it started here, when the scaffold failed.  8 men hanging, struggling for air as the wood sagged.  Leaning over to one side and lowing them to the ground.

This was unacceptable at the great entertainment of the day.  Random men jumped out from the crowd to hold up the scaffold.  Joints were strengthened with nails and the execution continued.

What we know for sure – –
8 men died at Burlington Heights in 1814 for the charge of treason.  How they died and if they were guilty remains a mystery.

The hanging of traitors at the "Bloody Assizes" by artist Lori Le Mare (on display at the Fieldcote Museum in Ancaster)
The hanging of traitors at the “Bloody Assizes” by artist Lori Le Mare (on display at the Fieldcote Museum in Ancaster)