In 1814, Lieutenant-General Drummond sought new powers from the legislature of
. Drummond’s early victories provided him with much influence in the legislature and the fact that three of its members, Benajah Mallory, Abraham Markle and Joseph Willcocks, had defected to the Upper Canada , the legislature was willing to concede to Drummond’s demands. U.S.
Drummond suspended habeas corpus and introduced a new law to confiscate land from traitors, or anyone who did not swear an oath of allegiance or had fled the province. Despite these new laws, Drummond sought to punish traitors with the hangman’s noose. In May 1814, a grand jury indicted 70 men, but only 19 were in custody when the trial began on June 7. By June 21, one dying man pleaded guilty, and the jury convicted 14 more for treason.
One of the men convicted was Aaron Stevens, a former Indian Department official and farmer from
. In the summer of 1813, Stevens acted as a spy for the Americans and he even helped to defend the Newark U.S. camp at . The attorney general, John Beverley, described him as “a man formerly in the confidence of the Government, of respectable family and property, convicted of having acted as a spy for the enemy.” Fort George
Another man accused was Jacob Overholser from
Fort Erie. Overholser was a 40 year old illiterate who had lived in for only four years. During the American occupation of Upper Canada Fort Erie in 1813, Overholser turned to an American officer for redress when four neighbours stole his horse and threatened to burn his barn. Overholser’s neighbours later reported him to the British who convicted him of treason to show that no personal feud could trump the demands of the government for loyal service. Even John Beverley though the case was not that important, describing Overholser as “not a man of influence or enterprise, and it is though acted as he did from motives of personal enmity.”
The British wanted to have enough executions to demonstrate the power of the government and enough pardons to show that the government had mercy. Chief Justice Scott explained, “Example is the chief end of punishment & that the punishment of a few would have an equal, & I even think a more salutary effect in this province than the punishment of many.” He went on to comment that some would need to be executed as examples to “strike terror in all.”
The Ancaster court, or the Bloody Assize as it was later known, sentenced all 15 to hang but delayed punishment to allow some to be pardoned. Seven convicts, including Overholser, received a suspended sentence that included exile for life and the confiscation of their property. Those pardoned were sent to
to await deportation. One escaped during transport and the remaining six were placed in the crowded, cold and filthy jail in Kingston where three of them died from typhoid fever, including Overholser. Kingston
on July 20, 1814, the British executed eight people, including Aaron Stevens. The condemned stood in wagons beneath a quickly built gallows when horses moved forward, leaving the condemned to strangle to death. As they struggled, a beam broke loose striking one man in the head, killing him instantly. Once all the convicted were dead, their heads were cut off and put on display. Burlington Heights