October 10, 2012

Not one in ten thousand knows your name

This line comes from a song by Stan Rogers called Macdonell on the Heights. Rogers laments that although Macdonell led a charge up the heights to retake the redan battery during the Battle of Queenston Heights, his death from the charge is not remembered by many.

John Macdonell was born in April 1785 in Scotland. At the age of seven he came with his family to Canada where at the age of 23 he became a lawyer. He later earned a seat in the legislature and in September 1811 he was appointed attorney-general.

Macdonell was not loved by all, especially William Baldwin who duelled with the attorney-general, but his position brought him closer to Isaac Brock, who asked Macdonell to serve as his aide. Macdonell was a lieutenant-colonel in the York Militia where he served as Brock’s aide with energy and poise.
Plaque marking the spot near where Macdonell fell

During the Battle of Queenston Heights Macdonell was not far behind Brock, who had left in the early hours from Fort George to the site of the American invasion. It was not long after Brock’s failed advance up the heights that Macdonell led his own desperate charge to retake the redan battery. Macdonell’s small force did push the Americans back briefly, but a musket ball hit Macdonell’s horse, which reared up as a second musket ball struck Macdonell’s back. Macdonell was shot four times but it did not prevent him from attempting to stand and continue the attack. Fellow officers pulled the lieutenant-colonel from the battlefield as the attack failed to capture the redan battery.

The next day, Wednesday, October 14 in the morning Macdonell succumbed to his wounds. The Niagara Bee lamented: “one of the most enterprising men … has appeared and passed away from us like a brilliant meteor in the firmament.” As in life, Macdonell continued to be at Brock’s side in death as the two men were buried together at Fort George on October 16. Even today the two men serve together under Brock’s Monument on Queenston Heights.
Don’t forget that this weekend is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Queenston Heights. Make sure you check out all the activities taking place to commemorate this historic event. Click here for details.

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