Treason and hindsight: 200 years after Ancaster's Bloody Assize

This weekend marks the bicentennial of the Bloody Assize of Ancaster. The celebration will include descendants from not just the eight men who were hanged for treason, but their arresting officer as well.
Bob Rennie leads a group of captured soldiers in a military reenactment. Rennie is portraying is great-great-great-great-grandfather Henry Bostwick, who arrested many of the 19 people tried in the Bloody Assize of Ancaster, some 200 years ago. Eight were hanged for high treason.

Adam Chrysler had all but been erased from his family’s history. But when a death in the family unearthed a photo of an unknown woman, one descendant of the Chrysler family started to dig into his all but expunged past.

What she found was a family connection to a man convicted and hanged for high treason in the Bloody Assize of Ancaster, 200 years ago.

This weekend at the Fieldcote Museum, she’ll meet a descendant of the man that arrested Chrysler, an act that ultimately led to his death.

Cue the awkward silence.

“Adam Chrysler at the time would have been an embarrassment,” said Anne Jackson-Hogg, a descendant of Chrysler, one of eight people who were hung as traitors to Upper Canada.

“Nobody talked about it. We had no clue. We were told our descendants were that of the Chrysler Farm Battle, not the one tried for treason.”

The Battle of Chrysler’s Farm is a battle her family can be proud of. Part of the War of 1812, the Red Coats turned away an American invasion near Montreal, despite being outnumbered two to one. After her mother died, she found a photo of an unknown woman. In the ensuing searches to find out who the woman was, she learned about Adam, and the Bloody Assize of Ancaster.

“My initial reaction was, ‘Oh yeah, there’s a stellar moment in the family’s history,’” Jackson-Hogg said.

The moment is a particularly dark part of Canadian history in which 19 American sympathizers were tried for high treason. Eight were hanged on July 20, 1813. The remaining 11 were sentenced to exile. The trial took place in Ancaster, while the eight men were hanged in Burlington Heights, near Dundurn Castle, where the Admiral Inn now stands. 

This weekend, the bicentennial celebration will bring together descendants of the accused, as well as the presiding judge and arresting officer.

On Saturday and Sunday, the Fieldcote Museum will explain the trials, which lasted nearly two months, as well as acknowledgement ceremony, movie screening and a performance of “1812 Overture” by the Boris Brott Orchestra.

No, there will not be any bad blood, said Jackson-Hogg. But there may be an argument. And there most certainly be some explaining to do — on both sides.

“Of course my angle is a little different than others,” said Bob Rennie, whose great-great-great-great grandfather Henry Bostwick arrested the most of the 19 sympathizers. “I get there’s a lot of people who are looking at it with a different set of glasses.”

Rennie portrays his ancestor in military reenactments since finding out about his lineage through an online ancestry search. While he won’t be able to make the initial meeting of descendants on Saturday, he’ll travel to Ancaster Sunday for the acknowledgement ceremony.

“I’ll be in there in uniform. I’ll be there as Henry Bostwick,” Rennie said.

“There’s some dialogue around if they were wrongfully accused… Everything I see, they weren’t,” Rennie said, when asked if tensions will be high when he and the descendants of the killed are in the same room.

“You get into why they did what they did,” Rennie said. “There’s no animosity ether way. There’s an event that occurred and it’s a matter of looking at it with 20/20 hindsight.”


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