Bill of treason from Upper Canada Rebellion found at McMaster University

Uprising was led by William Lyon Mackenzie, journalist and first Toronto mayor

A team at McMaster University has uncovered a historical glimpse of Canadiana – a bill of treason connected to the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.

Written on parchment and dated March 1838, the bill was filed against William Rogers, a yeoman living in or near Albion, York Township, Upper Canada.

The uprising was led by William Lyon Mackenzie, a Scottish-Canadian journalist, reformer and politician who was also the first mayor of Toronto.

He rallied 400 rebels, including many farmers from the Toronto area, to fight as Crown reserves or in support of the Anglican Church against the allocation of land to wealthy owners in the government.

Rogers was arrested for treason on Dec. 13, 1837, for plotting an insurrection against the Queen, persuading others to join him, and assembling with about 50 other people.

In the indictment, Rogers is described as “not having the fear of God in his heart but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil.”

He was tried April 18, 1838, and ultimately acquitted.

The document was recently discovered in a cabinet drawer by Sheila Turcon, who has worked as an archivist for nearly 30 years.

“If you’re charged with something nowadays, of course there’s no mention of God and the devil as being the motivating factor in your crimes,” Turcon said.

“So that really popped out at me.”

The religious references in the document likely reflect an era when there were close ties between the government and church, said Carl Spadoni, director of the McMaster University’s William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections.

“At the time, it’s church and state,” he said. “There isn’t quite a clear separation.”

Experts say the document provides a spotlight into a time before Canada became a nation.

“The bill has great research potential for scholars of Canadian history and specifically of Canadian politics in the pre-Confederation period,” archivist Renu Barrett said in a statement.

This is the second discovery of an ancient artifact at an Ontario university this year.

An archivist at Brock University found a nearly 800-year-old document tucked away in a drawer at the school in St. Catharines, Ont.

Archivists at Brock believe the document, which details in Latin a land transfer in England between Robert de Clopton and his son William, was penned sometime between 1216 and 1271.

The document – made of stretched lamb or calf skin – was found in a sealed plastic bag with an accompanying seal and quill sharpener.

– The Canadian Press