HARRY MCGEE: AUTHOR, EDITOR, PUBLISHER
PUBLISHED IN 2002
Some of the most puzzling data found in sterile archives years ago suddenly became a fiery challenge when a Californian lady visited Canada to resurrect places and people that figured in the most stormy times in Canadian history. She certainly startled me with incredible claims about a period in our beginning that I thought I knew something about. And after we were done examining the records, I had not only reconstructed my comprehension of Upper Canada's genesis, but gained a blinding insight as to how our mindset had formed. It was the key to what makes us distinct as Canadians.
The visitor was married to a descendant of one of Butler's Rangers. I was too. There was a mysterious void in this Ranger's later years, and she had combed Michigan's earliest records, coming up with answers. This caused me to re-immerse myself in Revolutionary history, long after my first plunge during the centennial of Confederation, 1967. I recognized that future generations won't have the time to make their own dips into the sea of the past, and therefore I should really record the lessons I had learned. That was the raison d'etre for this book.
The book is actually two in one. There were two couples that experienced the bitter times of insurrection in the Thirteen Colonies. One was Benjamin Knapp the Ranger mentioned above (an ancestor of my wife's) and his wife. The other couple , David Kemp and his wife Rebecca van Renssalaer, were antecedents of mine. The two families, Knapp and Kemp, encountered the same times and rather than repeat them in two books, I have integrated the bad happenings that befell them — all in one.
Canadians have always had their faces rubbed in a mythology fabricated in the United States. Their legends and films portray us as a backward moronic form of life that eschewed freedom and liberty and behaved as animals in their midst. This book turns that up-side-down. But the principal lesson lies in how the early settlers of what is now Ontario viewed the forced march of a captive United States army across Upper Canada in 1812 to imprisonment in Quebec. Here is an excerpt: "The rag-tag line of Canadian settlements and forts extending along the length of the Great Lakes were only familiar with uncertainty and ridicule from the republic. They now felt a rush of pride for the first time, and it became one of the nascent nation's defining moments."
The language of the times is revolutionized. The War of 1812-14, as it has hitherto been blandly known, becomes "Madison's War". Earlier, George Washington is not described as a hero. This is not gratuitous offence. It is overturning the myth-making of a bloody-minded adolescent aggressor — a nation that invaded what we know as Canada repeatedly — yet didn't get away with it as it did in Mexico. It takes off the rose-coloured glasses. And it makes some hard observations based on the facts that were experienced by these two families.
Exterior inscription on Benjamin Knapp’s Crown Grant
"However imperfectly, these pages have retraced the steps of two loyal men who came to Canada to escape retribution at the hands of a society that profusely spoke of the rights of man, of liberty, of freedom, yet hounded out over 100,000 of its compatriots whose patriotism didn't match theirs; a society that invaded Canada in 1775, 1812-1814, and 1838 to extend its brand of liberty to Canada by force; a society that refused to extend its concept of liberty to African slaves, causing them to seek refuge in Canada too........" And it keeps on going. It derides the republican propaganda that our form of government must ideally be republican to enjoy the fruits of democracy.
This book is only coincidentally a history of two families. The two families merely provide the vehicle to follow all the action that preceded our slow and steady evolution toward our made-in-Canada constitution — and the benefits of this kinder society, this peaceable Kingdom.
The book was published by Rosecom. It is 8˝ x11 inches, flex cover with spine, 77 pages, with 22 b&w rare old photos and several maps and diagrams. It is identified as ISBN 0-9686988-3-2 and two copies are in The National Library in Ottawa. It is priced at CAD or USD $15.00. The price covers mailing. To order, please provide your return address and your cheque made out to Rosecom. Mail them to Rosecom, 41 Outer Drive, London, Ontario, Canada N6P 1E1.
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