By Fred Blair
On October 23, 1861, the Fifth Militia District Rifle Association held a garden party in Rosedale. In attendance were ten veterans of the War of 1812. From the left side of the commemorative photograph taken to the right, they were Colonel George Duggan, the Rev. George Ryerson, William Roe, Jacob Snyder, the Rev. James Richardson, Joseph Dennis, John Woodall, James Ross, Colonel Bridgeford, and George Ridout. This image may be the earliest War of 1812 veteran photograph.
Who were these men and how did they contribute to the defence of Upper Canada during the war? Solving this mystery required finding family histories and a search through a number of War of 1812 document collections. A similar document search could be done for your veteran ancestors.
From the militia service records, we have identified five of the ten men in the photo as 3rd York veterans: Adjutant George Duggan, Private William Roe, Sergeant Jacob Snyder, Corporal James Ross, and Lieutenant George Ridout.
George Duggan was recorded as an adjutant prior to the war and again in 1815 but there were no records of continuous service in between. He was a merchant in the Town of York and it is possible that he had an exemption from service as a supplier to the military. However, on April 27, 1813, like other exempted officers, he volunteered to defend the town from the American invasion. He was 31 years old at that time.
William Roe was 18 years old when he was given the responsibility of hiding the Upper Canada treasury as the Americans invaded the Town of York. Three months later, Elizabeth Derenzy, the wife of Captain William Derenzy of the 41st Regiment of Foot, wrote two letters to explain her and William’s role in this intriguing story. Sir Roger Sheaffe had decided to retreat and abandoned the town to the Americans. One of his advisers reminded him that there was a considerable amount of money in the offices of the receiver and auditor general of the province. Elizabeth was managing those offices for her father, Prideaux Selby, who was absent. She was assisted by her father’s clerk, William Roe. Sheaffe had sent Justice William Powell and Chief Justice Thomas Scott to remove the treasury. Elizabeth told the two men that as well as 2500 pounds in an iron chest, they were also holding $600.00 in army bills. Elizabeth placed the army bills in a bag and set it inside an iron case with office papers that was sent to the home of the Clerk of the Assembly, Donald McLean. According to William Roe’s grandson, Ned Roe, the money box with the larger sum of money was placed in a wagon and covered with market produce. William was disguised as an elderly lady and given directions to bury the money outside of town. If stopped by the Americans, he was to explain that he was returning home with unsold market goods. William buried the box east of the Don River near the farm of Peter Robinson. After hiding the money, William then returned to town in time to be arrested by the Americans with his militia company. The militiamen were briefly imprisoned, paroled, and released.
Jacob Snyder was about 23 years old in 1813, the son of a Loyalist, and another veteran of the battle for York. He was probably employed as a farmer in York Township at that time. I found his name on several service rolls.
In June 1812, James Ross volunteered, at 36 years old, to serve in one of the two 3rd York Flank Companies. This was about a three-month commitment in which he was trained to engage the Americans on the Niagara Frontier, but he was absent in October when his company fought at the Battle of Queenston Heights. He was also employed as a tailor in the Town of York.
Twenty-one-year-old George Ridout was promoted to lieutenant on June 30, 1812. Like James Ross he volunteered to serve in a flank company. He served at the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812 and in April 1813, he was captured while defending the Town of York. After the war, he was promoted to captain. We know the actions of some of the officers in both battles from history books, but George’s role remains a mystery.
The primary source used in finding militia service records was the War of 1812: Upper Canada Returns, Nominal Rolls and Paylists, RG 9 1B7 at Library and Archives Canada. Fortunately, they made their militia rolls available online in a digital format about ten years ago. More recently the 3rd York rolls were transcribed, a name index was compiled, and each name was indexed to the service rolls. It is now possible to find a veteran’s name and view their service record in the project pages.
 Library and Archives Canada, Adjutant-General’s Office correspondence, RG 9 I-B-1, vol 2, 1813-06-15: http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.redirect?app=fonandcol&id=4546779&lang=eng