From Maine to Canada to Australia: Masonic Ideals and Punishment In 1830

By Brother Wallace McLeod, Ph.D.



At the time of the American Revolution, not very many Europeans lived in Ontario. There were a few French traders, three more or less ruined forts at the sites of Kingston, Toronto, and on the American side of the Niagara River, and a small settlement along the Detroit River. Otherwise the whole vast region was trackless forest and wilderness, tenanted only by Indians.


But towards the close of the Revolution, more settlers began to move in. The earliest Masonic record in what is now Ontario is the certificate, dated 1780, of Henry Nelles, a New Yorker who supported the British during the conflict; he was initiated in the Lodge in the King's Own Regiment of Foot. After the war many of those who had been on the losing side migrated north to Canada, so that they could remain under the familiar flag. More than 30,000 of them moved into the Atlantic colonies, 2000 settled in Quebec, and 7500 came to what is now Ontario.


And, after this first influx, settlers kept coming in, both from the United States and from Britain. As a result the population increased so much that, in 1791, Ontario was made into a separate colony, with the name of Upper Canada. The first Governor was a veteran of the Revolution, Colonel John Graves Simcoe; he had been made a Mason in Union Lodge No. 307 on the English Register, in Exeter, England, in 1773.


The inaugural session of his First Legislature was held in Freemasons Hall, Niagara, Upper Canada, in 1792. During Simcoe's term, on July 9, 1793, his government passed a law forbidding the importation of slaves the first step towards freeing the African-Americans, seventy years before the Emancipation Proclamation.


But, despite this evidence of progress, the traditions of government were very slow to change. There was an elected representative Assembly, but it could be overruled by two appointed bodies, the Executive Council and the Legislative Council. By and large the authority tended to remain in the hands of a fairly restricted group.


The man who was sent out as Governor in 1835 lacked both military and civil experience, and was, we are told, "entirely unfitted by temperament for dealing with a frontier community or with an Assembly that was demanding self-government."


There was a mildly radical party, who felt that the system was undemocratic, and wanted the government to be made more responsible to the citizens. They were known as the Reformers, and they called the ruling class the "Family Compact," and accused it of administering the country "according to its own good pleasure." (As so often happens in political disputes in democratic states, there were Masons on both sides.) Finally in 1837, things came to a head. There were several unsuccessful rebellions, and the next year there were invasions of "Patriots" who had escaped across the border.





Let us took at one of these Patriots in more detail. Elijah Crocker Woodman was born in Buxton, in southern Maine, on September 22, 1797. In February of 1819, he married Apphia Elden, of Buxton, and they proceeded to have seven children. He was a farmer and lumberman by occupation. He was initiated into Masonry in Phoenix Lodge No. 24, Belfast, Maine, on September 20, 1820, two days before his twenty-third birthday.


He was passed to the Second Degree three months later, and raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason after another month. Almost immediately he was made Junior Deacon of the Lodge (1821-22), but there is no record that he progressed any further.


In 1830 Woodman migrated to Upper Canada; whether he originally intended to pass on through and take up residence in the western U.S.A. is not clear. As things happened, he decided to stay in Canada. He settled on Otter Creek, near what is now Tillsonburg, and worked as a lumberman. He established a lumber mill there, and floated his timber down to Port Burwell, on Lake Erie, at the mouth of the creek, fifteen miles away. He brought his family to Canada in 1832, and that year their seventh child was born there.


These were not active days for Freemasonry in Upper Canada. The Provincial Grand Master, Simon McGillivray, was unable to visit his Province after 1825. Then there was the horrible Morgan affair in neighboring New York in 1826. The Masons were accused of abducting and murdering William Morgan, who had threatened to publish the full texts of their rituals.


This generated a lot of hostility, gave rise to the Anti Masonic political party in the United States, and caused many lodges to close their doors. Inevitably, the effects of this disaster spilled over into Canada. Actually in May, 1837, the Provincial Grand Master had sent his Deputy out to investigate the situation, and to get things running smoothly.


On his return to England, the Deputy submitted a very discouraging report. He had heard of only three lodges in the whole colony that were still active. At all events, there seems to have been no lodge that was working in Woodman's vicinity, so he was not able to maintain his Masonic connections.


After a couple of years, an economic depression overtook the colony. Even though Elijah Woodman had thousands of feet of cut timber in his mill and at the out-port, he was unable to sell it, because people simply didn t have the money. In 1836 he went broke, and had to give up his mill. He moved to the village of London, thirty-five miles further west. We don t know how he managed to survive.


There was a Masonic Lodge in London, Mount Morish No. 20 on the Provincial Register; it did hold two meetings early in 1836, before going into recess for nine years. Woodman's name does not appear in the minutes, but apparently he was a close friend of several of the members, if one may judge from the similarity of names.


In September 1837, while he was in Detroit, Woodman was in contact with a Canadian named William Putnam, and in fact he delivered a message from Putnam's brother Joshua, who was still in London District. Joshua Putnam had served as Secretary of Mount Moriah Lodge in 1829, and William Putnam was its Master in 1834.


Moreover, in August, 1838, Woodman wrote to his wife, naming two friends whom she should consult for advice if it became necessary for her to leave home, one was Mr. Van Buskirk. H. Vanbuskirk had been passed to the Second Degree in Mount Morish Lodge on September 1, 1835. In 1843 Woodman's family was living in a house south of London that belonged to Mr Odell. Joshua S. Odell's home had been the meeting place of the Lodge in 1830, and he served as Tyler in 1836.



DISASTER (1837-1839)


A year after Woodman's move to London, the violence broke out. On December 4, 1837, north of Toronto, there was one unsuccessful armed uprising against the government. A few days later, plans were laid for another one near London.


But this one was anticipated by the Loyalists, and fifteen of the "Patriots" were captured. Fresh arrests soon followed, and many Reformers, even if they had" played no part in the planned rebellion, found themselves imprisoned. There were of course Masons on the "Patriot" side. The actual leader of the abortive uprising was Dr Charles Duncombe, who had been the first Master of Mount Moriah Lodge, in 1820.


After the Reformer prisoners had been placed in jail in London, Woodman visited them and tried to provide for some of their needs. On June 9, 1838, he too was arrested, on the charge of "furnishing prisoners with knives and files to enable them to break out of their cells." After about ten weeks he was released, but then four days later he was arrested again. "These rascally proceedings made me a rebel," he later wrote, and he decided to leave the province. Actually he went as far as Wisconsin, but came back to Detroit in the fall months of 1838, with the intention of moving his family into the United States.


Woodman was by no means the only Patriot who escaped across the border. There were quite a number of.them. And several times that year they invaded Canada with the assistance of American "Liberators." (This was actually the third time that Canada was invaded from the States - the first two being 1775 and 1813.)


As one of the Liberators subsequently wrote, "I entered the Patriot service with the best of intentions, only wishing that our Canadian neighbors might, in the end, enjoy the same civil, religious, and political freedom, with which the citizens of the United States are blessed." In June of 1838 came the Short Hills Raid, an incursion across the Niagara River. The colonel and commissary-general was Bro. Samuel Chandler, of the settlement of St John in the Niagara District. He was the first of the raiders to be captured.


The biggest fiasco of the whole dreary sequence was the invasion from Detroit, and the battle at Windsor in which Elijah Woodman took part. On December 4. 1838, the Patriot army crossed the Detroit River and landed at Windsor. The commander was Major General Lucius Verus Bierce of Akron, Ohio, who on this occasion displayed neither courage nor leadership. (He subsequently became Grand Master of Ohio in 1853.)


The Second-in-Command was Woodman's Masonic friend, Brigadier-General William Putnam, who was killed in the battle. Within 48 hours, Woodman himself was captured, and imprisoned in Sandwich jail. Other Masons in the ill-fated venture included two American Liberators, Chauncey Sheldon of Utica, Michigan, and Samuel Snow of Strongsville, Ohio.


On January 4, 1839 Woodman was transferred to London. On January 18, he and Chauncey Sheldon, the last two prisoners, were brought to trial; they were found guilty of violence against the state, and condemned to death. (Altogether, 43 of these prisoners were condemned to death and at least five were actually hanged.) But the new Governor of Upper Canada, appointed in March of 1838, was Sir George Arthur, who had arrived from Australia, where he had been governor of Tasmania (then called Van Diemen's Land) since May 1824. And so, on March 27, the punishment for 18 prisoners was changed from death to transportation.


In fact, 58 prisoners from Lower Canada (now Quebec), and 92 from Upper Canada (now Ontario) were sent to the penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. These people included at least four Masons, Chauncey Sheldon, Samuel Snow, Elijah Woodman, and Samuel Chandler (the prisoner from the Short Hills Raid).





From the notes that Woodman kept, we can trace the slow progress of his journey. On April 2, he left London for Toronto. At the end of May, he moved to Kingston. On September 23, he left Kingston for Quebec, and on his arrival, four days later, he was immediately transferred on board H.M.S. Buffalo, which ultimately held 144 prisoners. The ship at once set sail, and on November 12, it crossed the equator. On December 28, it doubled the Cape of Good Hope. And finally, on Eebruary 13, 1840, after a voyage of four and a half months, it landed at Hobart Town, in Van Diemen's Land.


For the next two years Elijah Woodman worked in "road gangs." We have descriptions of what was involved here. There were teams of four to six men; it was their job to pull a cart full of stones, weighing close to a ton, from the quarry to the worksite, a distance that might measure as much as two miles, over rough and unfinished roads. They were expected to draw at least twelve such loads a day. Woodman tells us that he worked like this successively at Sandy Bay, Lovely Banks, Green Ponds Station, and Bridgewater.


Finally, after two years of hard labor and satisfactory behavior, on February 15, 1842, Woodman was given a measure of personal liberty, by being granted what is called a ticket of leave to work elsewhere. This allowed him to get a job on the estate of Hon. William Kermode, of Mona Vale. 


During his stay, there are occasional indications of his Masonic attitude, and sporadic mentions of his Masonic colleagues. In a fragment of a journal dated April 3, 1840, he expresses his worry about his family, and adds the words, "All I can do is to pray the Chief Architect to preserve, protect and dircct them." In 1841, we are told, his fellow-Mason Chandler escaped from Hobart by sea, "assisted at various stages by fellow-Masons" whom he had approached.


The others lingered on. Finally, early in 1844 Bros. Elijah Woodman, Chauncey Sheldon, and Samuel Snow addressed a joint petition to the Master, Wardens, and members of Tasmanian Operative Lodge, No. 345 under the Irish Constitution, at Hobart, asking for help in finding work. In November of that year Sheldon and Snow were pardoned, and at once they started for home.


On September 1, 1845, they got to Honolulu on board the whaling ship Stieglitz. After he reached home, Samuel Snow wrote a thirty-two page pamphlet on his adventures, called The Exile's Return; or a Narrative of Samuel Snow, wbo was banisbed to Van Diemen's Land, for participating in the Patriot War, in Upper Canada, in 1838. (It was published in Cleveland in 1846).


Woodman was less fortunate. His pardon did not come through until July 23, 1845. By that time his health was broken, and he could not arrange his passage home. He was ill and destitute. On July 8, 1845, he had "approached the Masonic lodge in Hobart outlining his connection with the fraternity." Bro. John Shick began to bring him a weekly allowance of four shillings. On one occasion several brethren visited him, and, as he says, "They also examined me, to prove that I was a master mason which I did to their satisfaction."





Finally, on February 8, 1847, the Captain of the Young Eagle, a whaling ship, agreed to take Woodman home. When at last he was preparing to go on board, the members of the Tasmanian Operative Lodge set about collecting the warm clothing, the medicines, and the petty comforts he would need for the long voyage.


Before departing Woodman wrote a brief note to his Masonic brethren. "I return you my sincere thanks for your charitable kindness toward me in making me comfortable on my passage home. I do not know how to express myself in terms suitable for the occasion. My feeble pen fails and my feelings are better felt then described ... I now leave you, praying God to protect our Institution and to overshadow the brethren with his tender care and protection."


It was on March 1, 1847, that he finally boarded the ship. One may well imagine that he was tempted to echo Samuel Snow's parting words:


Farewell, Van Dieman, ruin's gate,

With joy we leave thy shore:

And fondly hope our wretched fate

Will drive us there no more.


By now Woodman had several severe medical problems, including tuberculosis. His condition deteriorated, and on April 13, he was no longer able to write his diaries, but began to dictate them. By June 6 he was no longer able even to dictate. On June 13 he died, and two days later he was buried at sea. Not long after, the ship was wrecked; by some miracle, the notes he had written managed to survive.


Meanwhile, back in Canada, things had become somewhat better. As a result of the troubles of 1837-38, the British government had sent out a notable Mason, the Earl of Durham, as Governor in 1838; he had been initiated into Masonry in Granby Lodge, No 124, Durham, in 1814. On his return to England from Canada, he presented detailed recommendations as to how the problems should be dealt with. In effect, Lord Durham's Report, we are told, "Set the pattern for granting responsible representative government" to the British colonies overseas. As a matter of fact, in Hobart, Tasmania, there are two historical plaques erected by the Canadian government to commemorate the 92 prisoners from Canada who were exiled for their part in the rebellion and the invasions of 1837 and 1838. Their struggle," one of the inscriptions tells us, "was a significant factor in the evolution of responsible government in Canada and Australia." Is that a confession that it was wrong of us to punish these criminals? So here, in Elijah Crocker Woodman, 1837 and 1838. "Their struggle," one of the inscriptions tells us, "was a significant factor in the evalution of responsible government in Canada and Australia." Is that a confession that it was wrong of us to punish these criminals.


So here, in Elijah Crocker Woodman, we have a man who felt a certain sympathy for those who protested against what they perceived to be oppressive government excesses, who was driven to violence by the injustices inflicted on him hecause of this sympathy, who was sentenced to a punishment that seems to us excessive today, who was transported thousands of miles away from his family, who was forced to do physical labor that eventually destroyed his health, but who seems to have preserved his Masonic ideals, and was helped by the Masons in a far-off land. Once again, as so often, we find Masonic lessons in the lives of our predecessors.


  • W. McLeod, The Quest for Light, (Melbourne), 1997.
  • The main source for information about Elijah Woodman is Fred Landon, An Exile from Canada to Van Diemen's Land - Being the story of Elijah Woodman transported overseas for participation in the Upper Canada troubles of 1837-38, (Toronto), 1960.
  • The writer is grateful to John E. Anagnostis, PGM and Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Maine, for providing details about Woodman's Masonic career.
  • The writer is also indebted to Bros. Murray Yaxley and Jeffery Boyes, of Hobart, Tasmania, for taking him to see the two Canadian memorials to the exiles at Battery Point and Sandy Bay.

 Originally presented at the semi-annual meeting of the Philalethes Society

September 1998, Bangor, Maine


Copyright © 2003 by the Philalethes Society & Wallace McLeod

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